business

BEC Retreat: How, What, Why

Back in March, we had our fourth company retreat. This means that Nicole, John, and myself all got together for an entire day to check in on current projects, things that are going well, processes that could use improvement, and some professional development (this is a very watered down version of the actual agenda).

Different people reading this probably have different ideas about what a company retreat looks like. Some will think “strategic planning” and power points, others may think a volleyball game between different branches or departments (I got that one straight from The Office). The thing is, a company retreat can really be any of these things (and more). While our company retreat didn’t involve volleyball, or Michael Scott for that matter, it was still a productive and fun day for the three of us, and will be beneficial to BEC in the future.

For small businesses like ours, planning something like this can be intimidating. How do you have a company retreat if you’re not even a big company? What if it’s boring? What if employees aren’t interested/engaged? Where should we hold the retreat? And so on. This post will give you an idea of what our retreat looks like, and may be helpful as you consider planning one of your own.

(You can also watch our Facebook Live video where we talk about company retreats 101 here:)

How

There are a few ingredients you’ll need to create a productive company retreat. First, pick a date in advance that everyone can commit to and puts in their calendar. We only have 3 people’s worth of schedules to juggle, but you may have more, which can make it feel a bit like scheduling a family reunion.

After scheduling, make sure everyone has that date/time blocked off in their calendars. Next you’ll want to plan the venue (more on that later). You may also want to make sure that customers/clients know that the retreat is happening in case you’re going to be unavailable for the day. Gather any necessary materials (big sticky paper and markers are a retreat must in our opinion), technology, snacks, and whatever else you can think of to make retreat day a success.

What

Circulating the agenda in advance gives employees a chance to not only prepare, but voice any other items they feel should be addressed during the retreat (this also saves things from getting off topic during retreat day). A few of the items on the BEC Retreat Agenda are here:

Overview of current and upcoming projects. This is where we touch base on things that are ongoing or will be starting soon. Even though there’s only 3 of us, I still find this section helpful because there are some clients and projects that I’m not necessarily working with, so it’s a chance for me to step back from my own work and see what the company as a whole is doing.

What things are going well. We’ve found that a “what’s going well” exercise is a good icebreaker because it gets the ball rolling on a positive note. People tend to be more comfortable sharing positive feedback, especially when the day is just getting warmed up. Plus it starts things off on a positive tone.

What things could use improvement. This isn’t a chance to complain about benefits or requesting longer lunch breaks. This is usually what could use improvement in terms of processes- maybe a better system for following up with customers, increasing staff members at a certain time of day, etc. After identifying two-three items that you want to take action on, create a plan of attack. One of the things that got brought up at our first company retreat was finding a decent password management system. We then made it a priority over the next month or two to research different password management systems, choose one, and do a ton of data entry to move everything in. Three or four retreats later, our biggest item on the list is organizing files better.

Professional Development. One way that we get everyone involved in the retreat (so it feels like less of a classroom lecture) is having a professional development section. As the agenda gets circulated, each of us has an assignment for a 10 minute presentation on a program or bit of software that the company uses. While I’ve never been a big “talk in front of people” person, this part of the retreat is awesome. It’s been incredibly beneficial over the years and I still use what I’ve learned in this section of the retreat in my day to day work.

Goal Setting. At the end, we set some goals for the company, as well as a few personal goals. By this point at the end of the day, we’ve gone through quite a bit of material and discussion, so it’s a chance to reflect and look at some big picture stuff. It encourages us to think about where we’d like BEC to be in a year, but also where we as individuals want to be in the next year.

Where/When

In terms of where to have the retreat, usually offsite is recommended. Sometimes a change of scenery can get people’s brains working a little differently. A few things that might help you make this decision are the number of people coming, technological needs (if you have a projector and screen, for example), proximity (how far are people willing to drive?)- that sort of thing.

Company retreats are often an annual thing. We usually do ours in the late winter/early spring since that’s a good time of year in our business to commit a day to retreating. The idea is not to schedule it during your busy season if you have one- that’s a lot of stress.

Why

From big companies to small businesses, company retreats allow everyone to “regroup.” You may gain a better understanding of a department outside of your own, other company projects, etc. Retreats are also give employees a chance to step back from their daily grind and look at the big picture of the business,  remembering what the actual mission is. Another big reason why is the improvements that get made over the years from dedicating even just one day completely to company focused thinking. As I said in the “What Could Be Better” area, the things we are working on now seem a lot smaller than the bigger issues we tackled after our first retreat. Your company/business could undergo a similar process after a few years.

And this article from Forbes perfectly articulates the ‘Why,’ especially for those who may be worried about losing an entire day’s work: “It’s almost impossible to overestimate the return on investment for a retreat that gets everybody smiling and working together.”

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.

Sharing is Caring

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

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

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

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

On Social Media.

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

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

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

On Your Website.

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

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

In Your Newsletter. 

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

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

 

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

Phone Cases That Do More

Most people with cell phones consider cases a necessary add-on. After all, who wants to be left in the lurch with a shattered screen or malfunctioning phone after it has a little lovetap with the ground? Phone cases are also a way to show off a bit of individuality (since we all have the same 2-3 phones, it’s nice to feel like we’re standing out in some small way). My favorite former case was my iPhone 5’s Otterbox, which finally had to be retired, but if I dropped my phone it would just bounce right back up into my hand (more or less).

Although phone cases are a necessity nowadays, there are a variety of functional cases that can actually benefit your business while protecting your phone.

In1 Case Tool Kit: If you’re like me, you don’t think a whole lot about having a tool kit until that moment strikes when you suddenly need one. The In1 Case not only has a built-in kit with different tools, including ball point pens, a nail file, tweezers, a set of scissors, a Philips screwdriver, a flat-head screwdriver, a bottle opener, and a kick stand. So, you probably aren’t going to be able to do any major renovation projects with this phone case, but you can safely remove a splinter or tidy up your nails before a meeting on-the-go. And, it’s TSA compliant, so you can still travel with it.

Lifeproof: Lifeproof is perfect for anyone who needs something that’s a step up from Otterbox (which I wasn’t even sure was possible until recently). For those working around a lot of water, dirt, or out in the elements in general, this case has you (and your phone) covered. Beyond just being waterproof, this case can remain submerged in 2 meters of water for up to an hour without any damage to your phone. It can handle a drop from 2 meters high, and you can take it on your next ski trip without worrying about snow getting inside. This case is perfect for anyone who is active/adventurous/maybe a tad careless.

Megaverse Anti-Gravity: If you’ve ever tried watching a YouTube tutorial on something that requires both hands while also trying to hold your phone, you’re not alone in this predicament. Instead of trying to grow a third arm, the Megaverse Anti-Gravity case is the perfect solution. This case can stick to just about any surface: “…windows, mirrors, whiteboards, metal, kitchen cabinets, tile, flat car dashboards and more.” You can lift weights or bake while binge-watching your latest show on Netflix and not having to worry about dropping a dumbbell or spilling flour all over your phone. It’s also perfect for hands-free selfies/live-videos. The cases are also slightly more customized, with built-in wallets and bottle-openers (why have a case that can only do one cool thing?)

Cases that Charge: A lot of freelancers or even just on the move a lot during the workday and don’t have time to sit around plugged into a wall, a phone case that acts as a battery pack may be a good idea for you. Since there are so many different types of phones out there, I’m just linking to the Amazon best seller list (personally I’m an iPhone user but Samsung is represented here as well). Continuing on the “more than one cool thing” idea, some of these cases have kickstands or other features.

Edible Gummy iPhone Case: This was an intriguing find during internet travels that I had to look into. Although I’m not convinced this case provides a lot of protection to your phone, you can still at least gnaw on your phone case if you find yourself trapped somewhere without access to other food. The flavors are pretty intriguing, too, with offerings like Bubble Tea, Fermented Apple, and…Fish Lips? I also really enjoyed the product photo (below).

Having a phone inevitably means having a phone case, but you might be able to find something that can bring something extra to the table for you and/or your business.

 

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.

Six Phone Apps Worth Paying For (For Your Business)

So I was sitting in an airport when I downloaded Osmos without even a second thought of paying for it. It was a fun game (and totally mesmerizing if you never have played… your objective as a bubble is to get bigger by absorbing other bubbles. It’s like more fluid Tetris).

And yet, I totally hesitate when it comes to spending money on apps for functional things like my business. I get that it’s probably because business apps seem more expensive (or maybe your phone is supposed to be your destination for fun). I will say, I’ve been glad to have paid for some of these features because they are handy, have saved me money, or simply made me look good to the professional people I have the pleasure of dealing with. Here are six apps I have paid for and, looking back, I’m glad I’ve done so:

Split Screen Multitasking ($3.99)

How many times have you wanted to watch a Youtube video while checking your Facebook messages? I used to like how my phone made me do one thing at a time but now that I know this exists, I am not sure what I did before.

Cloze ($159.99 annually)

Hope you’ve picked yourself off the floor from reading that price but here’s my thing: I have A LOT of contacts to manage and sometimes, I need to be prodded to contact them. I also want to classify people (Customer, Family, etc) and add notes about them (birthday, kids’ names)… and have things like phone number and email addresses automatically synced. For all that $160/year doesn’t seem so nuts. Plus you can try it for two weeks free and see if it’s you’re thing before buying.

Quickbooks Online (Monthly fee)

So many people have tried to tell me that I should install their free Quickbooks on ONE COMPUTER. This terrifies me for many reasons which is why I use Quickbooks Online. But the best thing I wasn’t expecting about Quickbooks Online is being with a customer and having them say “I think I owe you a check, can you remind me of how much that was?” I’m able to tell them in about thirty seconds and send them a receipt, right from my phone. If it costs a few bucks to get paid faster, in the long run it is worth it for you not having to chase people. Trust me, I resisted forever and now I am a total convert.

Genius Scan+ ($6.99)

So the free version of this app served me for years. You can scan PDFs and email them to yourself or other people. It was great for collating, say, all my physical receipts together every year… until I realized that since I don’t have automated backups on my phone (I know, I know) it could all go poof. The pro version automatically syncs things into whatever Dropbox folder I want and I personally appreciate the backup. The scanning is great on this; I’ve had some people come into Anchorspace looking for a scanner and when they see the results of me scanning with this app, they are blown away. If you need a historical photo scanned to retouch, by all means go to a real and high quality scanner, but if you just need to get a lease to your lawyer, this is more than adequate, doing things like straightening out the document and finding the edges of scanned items automatically for crisp edges.

It looks like they have a cool app called Genius Sign too, which allows you to sign and annotate documents (how many times have you printed something only to sign it and rescan it?)

MileIQ ($59.99 annually)

I resisted this for years thinking I could keep track of own driving. I downloaded this app as a free trial and within the first month, I saw how many business meetings I drove to I wasn’t counting. I got more mileage tax credit than I paid for the annual subscription. Also, classifying drives is something I can do while sitting waiting, say, for a doctor’s appointment where I can check off a business to-do rather than just waste time on my phone. Generating my spreadsheet of driven miles every year for my accountant made me crazy but this year, it’s going to be a one click thing.

Note: This is an affiliate link where you save 20% and I get a $25 kick back if you sign up.

iMovie ($4.99)

You know when you take a video and think ‘Gosh, only ten seconds of this is actually funny’. Having iMovie on your phone lets you lop off those too-long videos. So you can just send the part where your dog runs toward you in the snow without the part where she stops and pees a little. Remember that some light video editing before uploading a video is something 99% of people don’t do so by even trying to do this before uploading to Facebook, your customers will take notice and appreciate (plus you can add your website URL at the end or something similarly useful in case it ‘goes viral’).

Point is, our phones are less the music players/gaming devices they started out as and more like computers that help us run our businesses. As such, investing in them can be a no brainer for your business or productivity.

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.

Online Systems: People and Relationships

Ah people. Chances are, you know a lot of them. Apparently 15ish years in the workforce and 35ish years in the world has translated into roughly 6,000 email addresses in my ‘Contacts’.

A pile of email addresses does not a system make. What to do with those email addresses? How do you use them?

You may also have physical addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and other information about the people in your life you want to track or organize.

To CRM Or Not To CRM

If you just want to make sure you don’t forget your college roommate’s birthday, a CRM might be an overkill solution. CRM stands for ‘customer (or contact) relationship management’. Most CRMs integrate with your social media, cell phone, etc. and track how often you talk to certain people, what they are up to, and otherwise help you understand patterns that could increase your sales and otherwise help achieve goals.

A CRM may be right for you if:

  • you want automatic syncing/integrations.
  • if you want to cultivate some of your relationships intentionally.
  • if you are kind of scatterbrained and need occasional reminders.
  • if you don’t mind paying a little something to get any of these things to happen.

If you want to see what your options are, this is a good place to start.

Managing Your Contacts

Now that you have a list of contacts, if you have decided to use a CRM, you can kind of skip this section since most CRMs have some kind of system to do everything below.

If you are DIYing (ex: using an online address book of some sort), this section is for you. Here’s what’s next:

  1. Get them all in one system. Maybe you want to make Facebook and LinkedIn contacts go to your phone then import into Gmail. Whatever you decide, figuring out where you want your contacts to end up and making a list of all places where you have contacts will dictate how you do this. My CRM syncs everything together and updates information when it notices, say, a new phone number for someone or an address change. The price of a CRM may be worth it for this function alone but you can totally bring everything together without one if you put in some thought.
  2. Decide what is worth knowing or tracking. If you want to know peoples’ birthdays but not their wedding anniversaries, that’s ok. The more information you are tracking, the deeper your relationship can get… but it’s also more of a PITA to stay on top of. Draw whatever lines you want, I won’t judge you.
  3. Delete duplicates/update. You may need to combine some people together (ex: your friend got married and changed her last name on Facebook but not in Gmail so it’s treating her as two different people). A lot of times, the easiest way to do this is on a spreadsheet that you either work on online or print off. I had one client who DREADED this task so she literally made an appointment with me to make her go over her 2,000 contact spreadsheet. Guess what? It took her less than an hour once she sat down and committed to the task. I only tell you this story in case you feel similar pain. Like most things, it won’t be as bad as you think.
  4. Decide on a system to regularly check things. One idea is to check in quarterly you make sure new contacts are added into your system. Another is to set up some auto-syncing tool on your computer where you are dumping everything right off the bat. Whatever you do, you don’t want to make something awesome then have it not be maintained. Every system needs maintenance, especially systems you use often, so schedule some time to do this. It won’t take much but it’ll work so much longer (and better) if you do.

Now since I’m lazy/sporadic/business oriented, my CRM does this stuff. And I am thankful it does every day, though I do want to figure out how I can get it to track birthdays automatically (I see it has ‘birthdays’ as an information field but no way for them to automatically get pulled in according to the documentation).

Managing How Often You Communicate With Those Contacts

OK so you have your contacts in a central location with useful information associated. Now the only thing to decide is how often you communicate.

Some people may be ‘happy holidays’ only, while some may be people you want to check in on more frequently. You may want to create groups for your use only ‘Acquaintances’ (the kind of happy holidays only types), ‘Contacts’ (happy holidays and birthdays), ‘Friends’ (happy holidays, birthdays, and quarterly hellos), or ‘BFFs’ (happy holidays, birthdays, and monthly check-ins).

Now you can name these groups (and add people to these groups) however you want, the point is you’re being intentional about how and when you contact people. 

If you have a CRM (not to keep coming back to this), you can ‘set the pace’.

If you are DIYing, you may want to use something like http://www.miniwebtool.com/random-picker/ and put your list in there and have it pick someone random (or several random people) every day. If you said you’d contact someone at a specific time, make sure it goes in your calendar so you can keep your word.

Your network is a powerful thing, whether you want to throw the best holiday party ever or upsell your favorite clients on your new service. Making sure you have a centralized, organized system to keep their information at hand and your relationship a priority is a great investment of your time. 

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.

Online Systems: That’s a Lot of Info

As we move about our day, we might see a blog post we want to revisit, or a video that looks interesting but can’t watch right this second. Maybe we have a cool idea for something but need to table it for later when you can give it more thought. It’s really annoying to forget these ideas or lose track of something you wanted to follow up on, only to remember it at another inopportune moment (like, I dunno, the dentist’s chair, when you can’t really do anything about it and will probably forget again).

Fortunately, we live in a day and age where it’s relatively easy to have a systematic approach to organizing this type of ‘stuff,’ so you can access it whenever and in whatever way that works best for you.

Everyone’s brain works differently, so an efficient way for me to store information may be totally ineffectual for someone like my brother. My brain is best at retrieving information when it’s separated by “type”- (Work related, Fitness, Just for Fun, Decor/DIY/Baking, etc) but that doesn’t mean everyone thinks that way. No matter how your brain works, there are systems you can implement to save and store incoming information online.

Information that Comes from Internet Browsing

This information is typically in link form. Here are a couple ways to save links for later reading:

Pocket

Pocket is a pretty incredible service when it comes to saving online information for later. You can have it on all your devices, so nothing gets lost between phone to desktop browsing and vice versa. And, part of what makes my brain happy is that you can organize the articles you save into different categories, which makes it easier to find again later. As a bonus, you don’t need internet connection to read articles you’ve saved for later. Pocket will also offer recommended reading if you are looking for new material.

pcket

Pinterest

I like using Pinterest for information in the realm of DIY/Baking/Cooking/Anything vaguely creative. You can create different Boards, which are the categories where you’ll save different articles. Like Pocket, the way you choose to organize this information is totally up to you. My Pinterest Boards have names that make sense to me, but maybe not everyone else.

Some websites have pinnable articles/images. If you’re browsing outside of Pinterest, sometimes a little “Save” button will appear (example below), which allows you to pull that into one of your Pinterest boards. As you “pin” things, you can write a little caption that can either explain what the pin is or why you’ve saved it (like “Recipe for Dad’s Birthday cake).

pinterestsave

Information that Comes from Email/Messaging

Sometimes, information comes at you in a way that isn’t browsing the internet/social media. Most people get a lot of incoming information from email- the kind you don’t necessarily need to act on but need to organize anyway.

My “system,” if I can’t deal with the email right away, is to star it or put it in a folder for later. Then it’s a matter of extracting important information and putting it in the right place– if it’s an event, it goes to the calendar, if it’s something I’ll need to follow up on, it goes in Asana (our project management system), and so on. Extracting and organizing information as you read it can really boost your productivity.

Another idea for gathering incoming information is to use a note taking service, like Evernote, have it synced on your phone and desktop, and pull any information from text/email that you need into a note form, where you can add your own annotations. More on that here. 

Other Tips For Creating Your Own Online Information Systems

  • Be consistent. If your system is only applied every two or three times you collect information, it’s not really much of a system. Find something that is a bit of extra work but doesn’t feel like pulling teeth.
  • Do an information clean-up every month or so. Any notes or articles that you no longer need can be removed from wherever you’re storing your information. This keeps your bank of information easy to navigate. After all, your retrieval method should take less time than it did to find the information in the first place, right?
  • The best piece of advice I’ve seen about organizing information? Put it where you look for it. This may sound a bit obvious, but trust me, when you’re hunting for that article you wanted to read and can’t find it in your usual spot(s), it may be time for something different (just think of all the time you save by not digging around for missing links).

Do you have a system for organizing the “I should probably file this for later” type information that wasn’t mentioned above? Tell us about it!

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