New Website Launch: Ellsworth Public Library

We were very fortunate to be trusted with redesigning the Ellsworth Public Library’s website.

Like many of the libraries in Down East Maine, the Ellsworth Public Library (EPL) was still running a basic HTML site. When it was built years ago, it was top of the line.

Since the site was built, not only has the library changed, but its patrons have changed too. The typical library patron five years ago didn’t even have a home computer, and now the average visitor to the EPL not only has a computer, but a smartphone, tablet, and or eReader as well. Serving these customers with an old website platform was becoming increasingly difficult.

The library staff really wanted to be involved with their new site so they could easily add current information, and also they wanted their new website to represent the ever changing and growing community they serve.

The old website had about ten static pages, so in that way, it was fairly easy to navigate. But there were some limitations. For example, some pages didn’t provide navigation so you had to use your browser’s back button to find the menu again. Email addresses to library staff were visible on the staff page, inviting spam. And most importantly, it required a knowledge of HTML for any new information to be posted there. Despite these frustrations, the library staff felt that the overall look of the site well represented the library, and they wanted to stay close to the theme.

To stay with the same feel with the website update, a similar color palette was chosen to provide the consistent look:

The old and the new


While the old website was static, the home page of the new site offers four areas for the visitor to interact:

  • Slideshow of images helping users navigate to resources, see event information, and view important content that the library continually changes.
  • News- Updates of library news including upcoming events and new resources
  • Library Resources- Links to some of the library’s most popular offerings
  • Recent Events- Displaying participation and photographs from past events
The new logo that the library had decided on was also incorporated:

 Menus and Sidebars

While the main navigation menu stays regardless of location in site,  the sidebars reflect the area of the library the page represents. For example, if you are looking at the Kid’s page under Youth Resources, the sidebar offers up links that kids or parents will find helpful.

This plan for the sidebar grew as we got to know the Ellsworth Public Library better. With every conversation, we learned more about what information they wanted online, and they learned that there were possibilities that they hadn’t thought of to make their jobs easier. For example, twelve contact forms each get distributed to a different department or staff member, ensuring information gets to the right staff member quickly and efficiently and that they collect the information they need from patrons.



The primary goal of  the new website is to offer more information, resulting in more pages and in depth navigation.

  • A current events and news area, where the staff of the EPL can post.
  • Online services offered through the library, with links and  instruction pages are provided on how to use these resources.
  • Contact forms on the website, which connect users to the appropriate staff members at the library, streamlining the communication process between patrons and staff.
  • Links to other social media sites
  • Individual department pages
  • Visual elements like navigation buttons that make scanning a page for information easy
  • Current photographs of staff and the library itself

Because the site needed to be interactive, it was build the site in Wordpress, which has a very user friendly Dashboard set up. This makes training people (even the so-called non-technical ones) easy, allowing them to make new pages and update existing ones. Like most open sources CMS systems, Wordpress has a thriving community of people who are constantly improving the platform. Plugins which allow interaction with other technologies and sites, such as Facebook and Flickr, help keep the time spent on website maintenance down. The library already does a lot of work on these platforms so connecting them with the website cut down on time staff was spent posting information and allows them more time to do what they love: helping library patrons.

We’d like to thank Charlene and the rest of the staff for being a pleasure to work with. Nicole and I enjoyed learning more about the library’s resources, in particular the digital ones. Congratulations EPL on your new website!

Do you want to know more about your website options? Here’s our short guide on different kinds of websites. Want to support the great work of the Ellsworth Public Library? Like them on Facebook or join them on any of the other social media sites they are a part of.

Is Website Maintenance Worth It?

Here at Breaking Even, we offer website maintenance to our clients, whether we built the site or not. And here is when we give people choices: monthly fee or as needed.

Most clients seem to understand ‘as needed’ help. When they notice something extremely messed up on their website, they can give us a call. We can unhack the site or fix the major error.

The maintenance is a much harder sell but would really save some of these folks a lot of money (and possibly emotional distress) in the long run.


Here’s the thing: You can compare a website to anything that’s been built that you use in your daily life: your car, your house, your computer. All of those items require maintenance, most of it smaller tweaks to prevent larger problems in the future. You get the oil changed on your car regularly so it gives you better gas mileage and prolongs your engine life. You fix that crack in your foundation so it doesn’t get bigger and compromise the structural integrity of the house. You run software updates and regularly clean out files on your computer so it runs faster and you can keep it for five years instead of two.

You have to do the same thing on a website, and either you need to learn how to do it yourself or let someone do it for you. 

Here are the kinds of smaller things that need to be regularly taken care of on a website:

  • Add new content (delete old employees, change prices, add Pinterest icon to your social media bar, etc.)
  • Figure out/fix weirdo issues that tend to crop up over time (weird spacing around your images, archive links not working, etc.)
  • Update software of your website (if Wordpress do this quarterly, if you have Joomla do so around the software update schedule)
  • Update plugins/extra installed programs so they continue to function

You may not care about how your website performs but consider these scenarios which all actually happened to people I know:

  • Someone hacks into the server because your website software is out of date and that infects 100 other websites that share the same server.
  • A potential customer emails the contact form on your site for a price quote for a huge job and you never get receive it because you didn’t realize the form wasn’t working.
  • An employee who died over a year ago is still on your site, making some site visitors uncomfortable when they visit.

In other words, your lack of maintenance could not only make you lose money but could effect your customers and even people you don’t even know in a negative way.

So make sure your website is up to date on a monthly basis, whether you log in yourself and do it or pay someone like us to do it.  By fixing issues when they are small, it prevents them from becoming larger. In websites and in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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.

Building Your Own Website: When To DIY

So you could build you a website. You also could cut your own hair and change the oil in your car, but that doesn’t mean you are going to. You may ask yourself, “When should I attempt my own website? How am I going to know when I am in over my head?”  Here is when I say go for it:

Wondering if you should build your own website? As usual, we have opinions on this sort of thing.

Wondering if you should build your own website? As usual, we have opinions on this sort of thing.

If you have way more time than money.
Chris owns his own stand up paddleboarding (SUP) business. As someone who has worked seasonally for years in Bar Harbor, he has about five months of downtime when he goes to Florida or the Bahamas, takes a part time job, and recovers from his insane summer. During his downtime this past winter, he spent hours figuring out websites and built his own very functional site. If you have the discipline and desire to spend hundreds of hours learning anything, you are going to be successful at whatever you do.

This is a functional website. Would I have built it differently? Yes. Does it work though? Yes.

This is a functional website. Would I have built it differently? Yes. Does it work though? Yes.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers’ says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. But can you learn enough carpentry to build a table in 100ish hours? Probably. Would it be functional? Yes. But if you did 10,000 of practice could you build a better table? Absolutely. I can build you a better website if only because I’ve spent longer doing it. (Well there are other reasons too but let’s say that one for sure.)

If you want to figure things out on your own, I am not going to be the Negative Nancy saying you can’t. But I will say it may not look or function exactly how you envisioned at the end.

When you see yourself having to do it again.
Do I need to learn how to set up Quickbooks for my online business? No because that is a one time thing. But I should know how to invoice properly? Yes, I will do that repeatedly. Hopefully.

If you run several business and see yourself building several websites over time, it might be worth learning how to do it and applying what you learn several times over. Otherwise, you can just learn enough to maintain your website once it is build. Your time is probably better spent on your business making money the way you best know how.

If what you want isn’t complicated.
Like most things in life, web development can surprise you. As my friend Calvin once said “I spent three hours putting in five lines of code to make a site show up properly in Internet Explorer.” In other words, stuff that looks easy to do might be really hard, and vice versa.

Just as a very general frame of reference, the following items are examples of complicated features to implement in a website:

  • Custom search (like if you wanted people to be able to search your rental website for number of beds available, location, and price range, that has to be custom built to search the correct parameters)
  • Building an ecommerce site that takes credit card payments (Paypal only is easy since the financial transaction part of it is technically taking place off your website)
  • Custom design (this takes layout skills and experience customizing templates with CSS or a programming language like it) and/or running different designs on different portions of the site
  • Integrating third party functionality. Whether it is porting in your real estate data feed or making sure your reservation system works when people book a table online, there is some gears that have to work in the background to give your customer a seamless experience.

But if you just want a web page with some information, photos, and, say, a contact form, that’s kind of easy. Go for it if you’re interested!

So are the options to go it alone or pay someone to do it all? Not necessarily. Think about the following alternatives:

1) Take a class. You might be able to find something through adult ed or a local college but if you have a more constrained schedule/budget, there are also some great online courses. I recommend for online learning and at $30/month, that’s pretty affordable professional development. Love this blog so much you want to take our class? Sign up for our email newsletter (look left to where you are reading this on our website) and then you’ll know when we’re having it! Hint: It’s twice a year.

2) Get ‘coached’. Maybe you’ve taken your site so far and just want another set of eyes to look at it or want help with a certain aspect of the project. We coach people and others like us do too. While you’ll typically pay an hourly rate, it’ll save you time, money, and headaches to ‘talk it over’ with someone who knows more.

3) Join an online (or in person) user group. Whether it’s a Wordpress group on LinkedIn or a Joomla group that occasionally meets up for beers and conversation, there is something to be said about a group of people talking about the same topic. Usually you can even ask questions of other users in the group for free. The downside is these groups are often nerds talking to each other so get the basics down in terms of a vocabulary or risk being slightly overwhelmed and/or not know what’s going on.

In other words, there are lots of paths you can follow to get to your own website. It all depends on your enthusiasm to learn, time constraints, budget, and talents. With those in mind, you can make the best decision for you and your company.

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 Flash Websites Stink

People ask me sometimes: Do you do Flash websites?

I don’t. And I have better reasons then being too lazy to learn Flash.

For those who don’t know, Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is a multimedia platform used to add animation, video, and interactivity to web pages. (Thanks Wikepedia.)

If you want to see some websites that run on Flash, here’s some examples: (Which is actually Herbal Essences, you couldn’t tell from the URL there)

If you look up ‘flash websites’ in any search engine, you’ll see there are plenty of beautiful looking Flash websites out there. So why am I a hater when it comes to this technology?

It’s expensive (and usually overkill) for the average website.
Most people I work with are small businesses who can’t afford to pay a lot for a website. When a Flash website loads, it’s basically like running a mini movie in which every frame has to be thoughtfully put together. You need special software, and expertise. Flash websites cost double (or more) than your typical CMS website.

If you have an interactive game or a vodka empire to fund your website design, go for it. But if you are a small business owner who just wants your website to be findable by the average person, Flash is likely too flashy for you.

It’s not search engine friendly.
When a search engine like Google looks at your website, it’s not looking at your pretty fonts or your bold color choices. It sees how your site is organized as well as page tags, titles, descriptions, and written content. Search engines have a hard time reading Flash websites (you have to go out of your way to make them search engine friendly). And since search engines are what drives a majority of website traffic for many businesses, few people want to decrease their likelihood of being found.

It’s not customer friendly.
Flash websites can take 2-5 times as long to load as regular websites. And most people don’t like to be kept waiting. Here’s one company that switched away from Flash just for that reason.

Also some devices can’t even load Flash (like Android phones, though there are some workarounds), alienating a whole group of customers for you. Only recently has Flash become supported on iOS devices (re: Mac). HTML and CMS websites show up on any device that can access the internet.

Flashy can equal sketchy.
Flash websites to me kind of remind me of those people who get really excited about Powerpoint’s features. You know, every slide is a different background, they have a different transition for every slide, etc. As your potential web developer, I want to spend the time making your site clean-looking, useful, easy to navigate, and informative. In other words, the information on the actual slides are what’s important to me, not how clever you can be about it. I think part of me just thinks things that are overly filled with bells and whistles are trying to conceal something, like the flashing lights on some Vegas venue trying to cover up a decaying facade. My personal bias but certainly a reason.

Proprietary stuff is not something to build on.
There is lots of software on the internet that is open source: OpenOffice and Wordpress are great examples. The obvious benefit to open source is the whole free (or really cheap) aspect but something even better than that: there are hundreds of thousands of people all working on making it better.

Adobe owns Flash. If there is a bug with some Flash update, we have to all wait for Adobe to fix it. Bug in your favorite open source software? Gets fixed almost instantly (or post it on a forum and someone will tell you a workaround).

Experts in the web development field don’t like Flash.
When I don’t like something, sometimes I wonder “Is my judgement bad?” But when enough other innovative people don’t like something, I feel better.

Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Like Flash:
Why Google doesn’t like Flash:
Why designers hate Flash:

You don’t need Flash to have a dynamic website.
You can have, say, a Javascript slideshow. You can have video on your site. You can have drop down menus. There are plenty of ways to have some ‘cool’ factors on your website without using this software.

So if you are considering a website or a redesign, please know that friends help friends say no to Flash.

More information on website types can be seen here:
More on website costs in this month’s Website Magazine:

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.

Selling Art Online: Some Ideas

This post was inspired by my friend’s father, who wants to get into selling comissioned poems online and wanted to know my thoughts.

I am always so excited when artists want to get online and sell their craft, whether it’s some fixed item (here’s a painting I’ve already done for $X) or some custom work (send me your thoughts and I will write you a meaningful poem for your occasion). The internet is niche and just because there is a small sampling of people in your corner of the world interested in, say, watercolors of elephants, doesn’t mean you can’t make a living, or at least part of a living, at your craft. Way to go you for not being limited!

What Do Your Customers Want?

Before jumping into the water with both feet, it may be wise (ok, it is wise) to do a bit of customer research. Some things to find out:

1) Are others doing what you’re doing? (If not, it may be a sign your idea doesn’t have a market… or it may be a sign that no one is as cool as you for thinking of it!)
2) What are people charging for similar work? Can you make money charging these prices?
3) What are people asking about? Do they want to be taught how to use pastels versus buying artwork that uses pastels? Do they want help finishing a drawing they’ve started versus one from scratch? Your idea is all well and good but if it’s not meeting a need, no matter how passionate you are, it won’t fly. What people are looking for will help make your idea better.
4) Who are your customers? Where do they live? What do they think? This may not only inform your marketing but your actual work.

Already your website will kick more butt because you’ve *thought* about what you want it to do and why.

Commissioned Art: Two Ideas For Revenue

There are two routes to go in terms of commissioned work (at least as I see it):

1) Package it as a simple transaction. is silly in premise but genius in the way it’s set up. Here is one related to poetry that is slightly less user-friendly but a similar idea:

In both these cases, the idea (and price) are really clear though. I will draw a cat for you for $9.95. I will write commissioned poems for your wedding up to 25 lines for 75 pounds.

With one glace, we see that we can get a cat drawn for us for $9.95. The attractive feature here is the novelty and price point but even more serious sites can learn for the ease of this sale.

With one glace, we see that we can get a cat drawn for us for $9.95. The attractive feature here is the novelty and price point but even more serious sites can learn for the ease of this sale.

2) Custom quotes.

This will have a lower conversion rate (most forms have a less than 10% conversion rate) but you can charge more money for the work.

Here is a custom quote form from a UK guitar maker:

The longer the form for a price quote, the less likely people will be to fill it out... but theoretically, these potential customers are more serious and will pay the price for a very customized guitar.

The longer the form for a price quote, the less likely people will be to fill it out... but theoretically, these potential customers are more serious and will pay the price for a very customized guitar.

So Door 1, charge less for a higher volume of smaller projects, straight-forward payment system. Door 2, more high quality (re: expensive) custom work at a lower volume. Payment less straight forward but you are able to be flexible.

There are clearly pros and cons to both and deciding what kind of art you’ll be selling may determine what kind of category you’ll fall into.

Taking Online Payment

Most people find that a Paypal or Google Checkout merchant account to take online payments is more than acceptable. These services charge a flat fee (around 2-3%) per transaction but totally worth it. Integrating one or both of these services with a website can be tricky so it’s worth getting a pro to do it.

If you want to take payment directly through your own website directly, you need merchant services as well as a secure certificate on your website. Unless you are doing a lot of transactions, this ends up not being worth it which is why so many people use Paypal and/or Google Checkout. To learn more, check out my post about using Etsy to sell art, which also talks about the pros and cons of doing your own ecommerce.

Selling Physical Goods: A Bit More Complicated Than Digital

If you want to get into selling physical goods (versus sending someone some writing or a image via email), that is something to consider.

BigCartel.comand other services off a DIY shopping cart solution that works well for many selling physical products for a low monthly fee. This may be good if you are trying out Ecommerce and don’t necessarily want to throw down $500+ for a custom shopping cart until you know your customers are out there for sure.

Yes, you too can buy needless Breaking Even crap (and yes, this web developer was too lazy to set up her own shopping cart)..

Yes, you too can buy needless Breaking Even crap (and yes, this web developer was too lazy to set up her own shopping cart):

The thing is with any online shopping cart software is you have to handle the orders as they come in, put items in boxes, perform customer service, etc. And with physical goods suddenly you are weighing everything and thinking about shipping options. Think of what it feels like to list one item on Ebay and multiply that by how many products you want to sell that may or may not frequently change. (You can clearly see how I feel about this… annoying unless you are making enough money to justify the time spent!) ;^)

If you want some third party company to handle the printing of your items (like you don’t want to keep stuff physically at your house ready to ship at all times), you could use a service like You upload the image and chose what products to sell (prints, canvases, etc.) Smugmug does the printing, shipping, and order handling for you. They have base prices on all their stuff and the markup is the money you make. Coffee mug is $7 and you mark it up to $10 on your site with your photo on it? You make $3. There are lots of ‘print on demand’ services for artists and here’s a long post about them if you feel like seeing what your other options are:

Make It All Stupid Easy

The key to all things web is to make it stupid easy. Having an ‘order your portrait’ button on every page, contact info in the footer, etc. The easier you make it, the easier it is for people to spend money on your artistic endeavors.

Any artists selling their art online reading this blog? Comment on your issues/ideas and leave a link back to your website so we can see some more examples! (Heck, you might even sell something!)

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.

Website Types

What kind of a website do you need for your business?

Well, good news is you’ve got choices!

The way I see it there are three types of websites.

1) HTML (hypertext markup language) sites- Old school, hand coded.
2) Template sites- Plug and play. Click, click, click you’re done.
3) CMS (content management system) sites- Run off a database, new school, need a bit of time to get them up and running.

Below are the break down of options with some examples:

HTML Sites

OK, so all websites run on HTML but the old school websites I am referring to here are hand-coded. Sometimes I use Frontpage or Dreamweaver to help generate the code but no matter what you use, each individual page is coded separately. I am hard pressed to think of web companies who still do this but there must be some out there…

Relatively cheap option (in the hundreds of dollars versus thousands)
Easy to ‘throw together’ quickly
Good for a ‘brochure’ website (that you aren’t going to change much)
Can add some dynamic elements (slideshows) using Javascript and other ‘languages’ like it

Making changes requires you either 1) know code or 2) pay someone who knows code
Can look ‘dated’
Adding some functionality is difficult
Need to change a phone number in your footer? Every change needs to be done on each individual page on the site. Tedious.
Files need to be downloaded and uploaded to make changes. No username-password interface.

Example site:

The LaClaires maintain their own website using Microsoft Frontpage. Front Page and Dreamweaver are two programs that do some of the coding for you while you use a WYSIWYG editor (What You See Is What You Get). That said, you still have to know some code to do some troubleshooting. You also need to make all your website edits using whatever computer this software is installed on.

By far the most annoying aspect of HTML sites for me as a web developer is how long and tedious it can be to make changes. When we wanted to add Google Analytics to their site, I had to individually add the code to each page on the site (the five page on the menu, plus internal pages). It took me an hour. Doing this in a CMS would have taken me five minutes. But the LaClaires are great people who have maintained their own website for almost ten years so they know what they’re doing… if you build a site like this, you will get to know it well too!

Template Sites

Many companies (, Intuit, Typepad, Squarespace, Weebly, Godaddy, more than we could ever write here) offer a  ‘build your own site’ tool. Sometimes this is free until a certain point (your site gets to a certain size or there is some trial period) but sometimes they charge you right off some small monthly fee.

Technically some of these are CMS websites (since some of them are database-y), but proprietary ones.

Easy to use software- a few clicks and you have a working site
Web-based (username and password mean you can log in anywhere there is the internet and make changes)
Not so ugly templates
Whole shebang is on a database, meaning it’s easy to add things like site search, etc.

Hey, I have the same template as 10,000 other people!
Tied into that particular company (ie, you can’t take your ball and go home)
Relatively expensive over time
Limited functionality (ex: Under Agreement A you can only have some set number of pages on your site, etc.)

Example site:

Seth Godin is a prolific blogger. He uses Typepad as his blogging platform but you’ll notice, for example, if you click on buying one of his books, you’re sent to another website (Amazon and a few other places). If you look at other Typepad sites, you may recognize a few Typepad-y things, like the style of the sidebar (that would be the bar on the side of the screen- I love it when web terms are actually what the thing is!).

To fully be able to customize your design, you pay $30/month. But someone like Seth Godin probably makes at least $30/month from his blog so maybe he’s fine with that. If he wanted to move from Typepad though, he’d have to start from scratch, developmentwise (you can *theoretically* export the writing in your blog posts but importing them into Joomla or Wordpress is a big pain in the butt- trust me!).

CMS Sites 

CMS (content management system) websites run off a database. This is awesome in terms of development (Sure, let’s add a site search for you! Want social media icons below all your posts? I can do that!) but it also means it’s easy to update on your end. For example, I can teach most people how to use Wordpress in about two hours (at least the stuff they need to know).

Note: If you do get a CMS site developed by a website company, make sure they are using open source software. Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress are all good. If they say they have a ‘custom’ CMS they use within their company, it means only they know how to use it and, essentially you’ll be stuck with them. Since thousands of people use Joomla, Drupal, and Wordpress, that means you can have many people work on your site. You aren’t stuck with any one web development company, and that’s a win for you!

Easy to use software
Web-based (username and password mean you can log in anywhere there is the internet and make changes)
Customizable everything (Make it look exactly how you want)
Add whatever functionality you want (ecommerce, 100 individual pages, whatever!)
Not tied to a company (if you use open source software like Wordpress, Drupal, or Joomla) You can take your files and move web host, etc.
Whole shebang is on a database, meaning it’s easy to add things like site search, etc.

Most expensive option up front ($1000+)
Takes time to develop/customize

Example site:

This website (and most every other site in my client list) was developed with an open source CMS (Drupal, Joomla, or Wordpress). The cost up front is higher than the other two options but the good news is your site is your site once it’s done. You can make edits to it without knowing code or paying a web developer to code them, you can move your files to whatever web host you want, and you can make whatever customization to the site that you want: ecommerce, booking calendar, real estate database integration, etc.

You can do this functionality on an HTML site but it’s essentially like paying someone to take your CD and convert it to an 8-track tape. If you are going to develop something, you might as well go with what’s new and working well versus something older that people are moving away from.

No doubt this is a simplification (and clearly as a web developer, I have my bias) but there really are a lot of options out there for having a website. No more excuses, go get one!


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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