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Why We Don’t Do it All

Occasionally, we have clients and non-clients ask if Breaking Even can help them with certain services that, as a company, we’ve decided not to get into (like logos, print design, and video production). “But we know some people who do exactly _____.” “Is there anyone who does all of this stuff in-house?” Well…not really.

I suppose there are some larger companies that will churn out all these services for you, and that in theory, keeping all these services in one place sounds like less work to manage. In theory. There’s something to be said for small businesses that specialize, though, so don’t write them off just yet (especially since their choice to specialize can be beneficial to you).

The “divide and conquer” method was helpful when it came to getting more done in early civilization, and it’s clearly successful. Humans who knew what was what in the plant world grew and gathered. More athletic types with lots of stamina and endurance, not to mention weapon wielding abilities, were in charge of hunting. Some people learned how to build houses, others to make jewelry and clothing. Division of labor also had a pretty significant role in the Industrial Revolution and mass production in factories, but that’s probably enough of a history lesson. Throughout human history, division of labor has been present in some capacity, and generally, we agree that this specialization allows society to move forward.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t know how to do certain things just because we don’t have to. For instance, I can (and have) changed the oil in my own car. It’s not something I need to know how to do, but it helps me understand the basics of how my car works. And what the underbelly looks like. Based on my level of skill (very little), frequency of the task (once every few months), time it takes (way too long), and my level of interest (non-existent, I am only interested in having a running car), 98% of the time, I just take it to a mechanic.

This more or less looks like what we’ve done here at Breaking Even Communications. Yes, we can code a bit. Yes, we know about fonts and can dabble in Photoshop. But we’d rather leave that stuff to the people who are actually passionate about them, while we work on the stuff we’re passionate about. And that’s good for you, too:

You Get the Best Service.  I’m hardly the best candidate for changing the oil in my own car. Yes, we can code a bit. We could probably photoshop some rack cards for you, if you asked us. Not to boast, but we’re pretty intelligent people, and could probably tackle almost any problem our clients came to us with. Then why do we refer people? Simple. Just because we’re capable of performing a task doesn’t ensure that it’s in the best interest of our clients.

In other words, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” And if we refer to our graphic designer friends, they can refer internet marketing work to us. And we can all do more of what we like best.

It Spreads Risk. Let’s go back to my hunter-gatherer example. A mastodon has been seen nearby, so the hunters are going to go on a trip to hunt it down. No one is really sure how long this hunting trip will take, but it’s cool, because the gatherers are still around to provide food for everyone.

Spreading the risk benefits the business side of things, sure, but customers also reap the benefits. For instance, if our web hosts  away on vacation and one of our mutual clients is having an email problem, we can tag in. Working with other companies that have overlapping skills means you have a team working for you, even if geographically or otherwise separated in different companies.

Smaller Companies Have Lower Turnover. Smaller businesses and their employees generally have higher mental/emotional stakes in their work. There’s a different dynamic than what you’ll find at a large company or corporation. We really get into our work and finding solutions for our clients, and it’s pretty amazing that we get to collaborate with like-minded small businesses during some projects. And at the end of the day, that means you’re getting the best product we can deliver.

By contrast, we’ve gone through four payroll reps in four years at our larger local payroll company. So asking yourself if you want to deal with the same COMPANY or the same PERSON month to month may be a good distinction to make.

There Is A Lot Of Information To Keep Up With. The idea here that it’s hard to stay ahead on all technology. 95% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years and it’s not typically data about the Macedonians. We can be smarter faster by specializing.

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.

Donation Forms: A PSA (Part 1 of Many)

This series was inspired by Quarter Life Poetry and my fascination with Microsoft Paint. There are all kinds of excuses why people aren’t making online donations and, as the appeals letters, commercials, and annual asks roll in during the most generous time of the year, we like to think of this series as your public service announcement to get your cause (or your favorite non-profit) a donation form on your own website. More information here! 

Part One: I never have envelopes, so sometimes I have to whimsically make them. And it doesn’t go well (think kindergarten craft project, but it’s not as cute when you’re a 20-something). Most of the time, I have a book of stamps lying around my desk. That is, until this past spring when I accidentally mailed my stamps along with a letter and had to go into the post office to mail the letter (a week later than intended). In other words, this poem is silly but has a foundation in reality.

Stay tuned next week for another reason you need to take the hassle out of donations with an online form.

donationform_stamps

 

 

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.

Tech Thursday: Terrible or Not Terrible (Social Media Edition)

Kassie and Nicole weigh in on what they think is and isn’t terrible. Part game show, part nerd show.

(And please don’t steal our Halloween costume idea)

 

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.

Customizing Templates: Why We Do It

whywebuildwithtemplatesI hate it when I hear people talk bad about me. Thankfully it doesn’t happen often. In part, I’m sure, is because my friends know my ‘don’t tell me if it’s bad’ policy.

In reality, I’m a pretty sensitive person. But occasionally something does get back to me.

“She just customizes templates.” was actually someone’s idea of disdain for my work.

My response?

Uh, yeah I customize templates. But there’s no ‘just’ about it.

Hear that world? We customize templates! I admit it freely and openly in many blog posts even.

So why do we do this? Thought it may be good to clarify why!

Because templates save us time and, as a result, our customers money.

The whole ‘coding from scratch’ thing sounds pretty noble. Like having an architect custom design your house. Or creating your own recipe. Or building your own computer.

But guess what? Having a framework is helpful. That’s why we buy computers with already existing operating systems and software installed, plans to build our houses, and cookbooks.

Letting people figure out and test something then modifying it for our own uses is something we do in lots of areas in our life, why not websites?

I have actually tried build from scratch.

To the delight of parents of picky eaters everywhere trying to get their kids to try new vegetables, I’ve actually tried hand coding websites before I said ‘No thank you, more sweet potatoes please.’

I have hand coded exactly two HTML sites, neither of which are online anymore. It took long (don’t worry, I don’t charge customers for my learning curves, it was only painful on my end) and the results were lack luster compared to what is available today. So yeah, if I have the option of giving someone something better that I have the ability to do more easily anyway, I’m going to do it.

Because the amount of people who have gotten together and created a template is more than one (in almost all cases).

Kind of like how a composite photograph will always be more attractive than a photo of an individual person, a design worked on by multiple people is going to be better. It just is.

By working in collaboration, you can work out the bugs, get different points of view, and have a much better end product. And that’s what we’re starting with before our team even creates a custom design to go with.

(We even try to work with frameworks that are powerful and well known. If you really want to geek out on the difference between a template and a framework: https://cohhe.com/wordpress-themes-vs-wordpress-theme-frameworks/)

Because giving a customer something they can work with means that they are not stuck with us ever.

Because we use a standard system (Wordpress and Joomla) and follow the standard rules (creating child themes, putting design customization in the right file location, etc.) other web types can locate where to make changes in my code easily.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever inherited someone’s filing cabinet (when you bought a business or changed jobs) but it’s kind of annoying. A template means we’ve agreed on well labeled folders so when and if that handoff happens, it’s a smooth transition. Thinking of the person coming after you of course isn’t necessary but something I feel is the right thing to do.

And if you hear of a company that uses a ‘custom CMS’ please run for the hills.

Because templates mean when the customer creates new pages, they will look consistent. 

Do you really want to remember that you have to copy the menu on top, make sure the text is 18 point Helvetica and that the standard photo size is 450 pixels. What about headline fonts/colors, link colors, spacing, etc?

Even if you build something ‘from scratch’, you are going to end up making a page template so the site looks consistent as people browse from one page to another.

With templates you can set rules that all pages follow, when a customer creates a new page, I know that it’ll match all the other pages. Rather than restricting a customer to editing only certain elements of a page, I can let them go wild (I mean it is their website) and know it’ll still look pretty good at the end.

So we customize templates. And everyone who works with us gets a custom design that is unique to them. But we think this is a good thing, versus a bad one.

If I thought something was an inferior product, I wouldn’t offer it. Honestly. I live my life by the French proverb “There is no pillow so soft as a clean conscience”, in my business and personal life.

But as a company, I can firmly say we believe the collective wisdom and work involved in templates is a great start to a great website that is unique to each individual, company, or non-profit we work with.

I guess if this is the worst thing I hear about myself, I’m doing ok. But here’s hoping this clarifies why we customize templates versus building from scratch… and why we’ll keep doing this moving forward.

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.

Gift Cards: In Theory, Easy. In Practice…

I have a funny story to tell you.

This May, my brother was having a tough time after his childhood pet passed away. He lives in Boston, and I wanted to send some sort of condolence his way. The new Mad Max had just started

The gift of the ultimate cinematic experience.

The gift of the ultimate cinematic experience.

playing in theaters, so I found a movie theater close to his apartment, and proceeded to order a gift certificate online. Instead of following through with my original plan of buying a card and having it mailed to his apartment, I decided to go paper-less and ordered a digital certificate, which would get sent directly to his email. He could go to the movies that night, and I’d basically be Sister-of-the-Year. Boom.

Unfortunately, there was some room for user error. Long story short, I ignored the multiple warnings to double check the recipient email address, and now some random person with Gmail has a e-gift certificate to an AMC in Boston. You’re welcome. 

Fast forward a few months, and my dad (successfully) used a similar strategy to order my brother’s birthday present (a gift card to a menswear store in Boston). He was looking for a gift of professional clothing, but didn’t want to be responsible for size, color, or even the article of clothing (maybe Stephen needed a tie and not yet another button down shirt), and it made more sense to get a gift card to a store in Boston rather than in Maine.

These anecdotes prove a few different things: a) that I’m an impulsive shopper, b) that my dad is better than me at online ordering, and c) that my brother gets a lot of email gifts. But let’s take a step back. What role to online gift cards play? In a), online gift cards helped fuel my spur-of-the-moment desire to send comfort to a loved one far away. In b), ordering a gift card online allowed dad to purchase something thoughtful that he was able to research, and remove any sort of responsibility in a clothing related decision making process. In c), my brother, who lives slightly more than a stone’s throw away, is able to receive gifts that he can use where he lives, not where we live. Dad and I didn’t physically have to go into a store in Boston, and it was awesome (well, minus the part where I wasn’t visiting Boston).

From a business and marketing perspective, this got me thinking about online gift cards. Why do people buy them? Why do businesses sell them? Here’s what I came up with:

Why give a gift card online?

Location. Maine to Boston doesn’t necessarily cover a lot of ground, but one of the benefits of purchasing a gift card online is location. Giving a friend in Colorado a gift card to their favorite local burrito place when you live in the Catskills is completely possible now. How cool is that??

Convenience. If my whole gift certificate debacle had been successful, my brother could have gone to see Mad Max. He could have also gone to see Pitch Perfect 2. He could have waited until November. He could have brought a friend or gone alone and bought a ton of popcorn and candy. With a gift card option, the user can cash in when it’s convenient for them. It’s different than buying him two tickets to the 9:00 p.m. Mad Max showing. What if he can’t go then? What if he’s sick, but feels the need to drag himself to the movies because of these tickets? Gift cards take off a lot of pressure from both ends.

Low-Pressure. Remember those old “Oh, you shouldn’t have…you really shouldn’t have” commercials? Well, the cool thing about gift cards (besides being “free money”) is that you take the pressure off yourself. Don’t know someone’s shirt size? Can’t remember his favorite color? With a gift card, you’re putting the ball in the other person’s court. The recipient can go out and get exactly what s/he wants, and it’s all thanks to you!

Should you sell gift cards?

Pretty much all the larger corporations sell gift cards on their website (whether through email, physical mail, or both). However, only 3% of small/local businesses sell their gift cards online. What?!? These businesses may offer gift cards, but you have to physically go into the store to purchase them. Honestly, sometimes I am just feeling a bit lazy and would rather order a gift card online than walk down the street, wait in line, purchase one, and walk back.

Another statistic that might appeal to businesses: 72% of customers will spend more than the value of their card (usually around 20% more). Over 50% of gift card recipients will make multiple trips to completely redeem their gift card, and who knows, they might bring a friend or two to shop with. The bottom line: you’re getting more bodies in the door and more money in the bank. 

Amazon offers gift cards to hundreds of business that are deliverable via email, print, or mail. But, what about the people who would rather purchase from a smaller business?

Amazon offers gift cards to hundreds of business that are deliverable via email, print, or mail. But, what about the people who would rather purchase from a smaller business?

If you do…

The good news: it’s really not that difficult to set up. You’ll need a few different things (we outline them in greater detail in this blog post, so I’m just going to gloss over them here).

First, you need a form that accepts payment and a secure certificate. You’ll also need a way to accept that payment, usually via a third party system. We use Stripe, but Paypal is common. Then, it’s a matter of putting the form on a page on your website, making it pretty, and making sure the instructions are clear. Clear enough that people won’t accidentally send a non-refundable gift card to a rando and still be bitter about it…

Alright, to be honest this was 90% user error.

Alright, to be honest this was 90% user error.

For “extra credit,” mobile friendliness is a huge bonus. Millennials are leading the way with online gift card purchases. Personally, I like the convenience of multi-tasking and if I’m in line at the grocery store, I can kill two birds with one stone by ordering a gift card on my phone while waiting. How’s that for multitasking?

Gift card sales online have been on an upward trend for the past few years, especially for small and mid-sized businesses. They’re easy to set up on your website, and are incredibly convenient for the donors and recipients. People love to shop local when given a chance, trust me! If you have any questions about selling gift cards on your website, feel free to email us or leave a comment on this post. Always happy to help!

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