professional development

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.

Personal Development for Busy People

One of the number one reasons we don’t follow through on something is because of the time commitment it takes to get it done. We’re all busy people, so when it comes to working out, reading that book the internet is raving about, or starting up a new hobby that you think looks interesting, the number one justification is “I don’t have time for that!”

I consider myself “busy people.” Until recently I was working 2 jobs (1 full/1 part time), helping my dad with housework at his place once a week, working out regularly, and trying to have a healthy pregnancy. When I was juggling all of those things, I did still manage to find time to incorporate personal development in my schedule. Here’s how:

Listening to podcasts. Podcasts are a great way for on-the-goers to work some personal development into their day. You can listen on your commute if you’re driving, taking the bus/train, or even walking. I also like to catch up on podcasts when I’m doing chores like dishes or folding laundry. Listening to a few episodes of “Side Hustle School” makes things feel less tedious.

Reading. Probably one of the most difficult personal development mediums for me to follow through with is a book. It’s the easiest one for me to bail out on at the end of the day when I start winding down. Do I really want to read this book that’s going to make me think more after a day of thinking, or should I just watch South Park and completely veg out? Knowing that this is the easiest way for me to self-sabotage, I started bringing my book to the gym after work and reading on the elliptical. Some days I will set my alarm 15 minutes early and spend that time reading before doing my morning routine. If audio books are your thing, you can also listen to personal development books using the same tips from the podcast section above.

Please appreciate that it was very difficult to snap a picture of me reading while also maintaining balance on the elliptical.

Online Learning. To me, online learning is anything from signing up for a 30 day course of some sort, following a certain blog/topic, or enrolling in an online class. These all have varying levels of commitment, but regardless you’ll want to have an internet connection and a computer/tablet/phone so you can participate. The next is creating the time to get online solely for personal development reasons (i.e. not Facebook). For an online course, you’ll obviously need more time than reading someone else’s blog posts, which you can do standing in line for groceries or on the bike at the gym.

Asking Other People. If you’re at a loss for what podcast to listen to or what book to read next, ask someone you know who is into that sort of thing. All of the podcasts I listen to were recommended to me by someone else. When I was looking into things like personal fitness certification and starting a blog for fun/just because, I asked for recommendations for books to read and started paying more attention to different techniques/plugins used on my favorite bloggers’ websites.

What do all of these things have in common?

No matter how you decide to get your personal development fix, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success.

  • Know your weaknesses. For me, that’s the desire to wind down at the end of the day and watch something brainless on t.v. Knowing this, I incorporate personal development time into a workout, while I’m doing chores, or by setting my alarm earlier in the morning.
  • Find something you’re genuinely interested in. If you’re already a busy person, it’s going to be even harder to motivate when you’re dedicating time to something you have “meh” feelings about. Find something that you want to pursue and it’s amazing how much harder you’ll work to make time for it.
  • Make the time. Speaking of making time, one of my favorite time related quotes is “You have just as many hours in the day as Beyonce.” Even if it’s not an ideal amount of time, spending 10 minutes on something every day is better than spending no minutes. You can also think of personal development as a way of shortcutting your learning time because you’re learning from an expert and that will save you time and money in the long run.
  • Be Organized. One of the best tips I’ve heard from Side Hustle School was that if you’re a busy person trying to work a side hustle, organization is key. If you only have half an hour of time set aside to work on a project, have an agenda before you sit down so you can get right to it instead of spending 5-10 of those minutes hemming and hawing about where to start. Making lists at the end of a work day or as you go to bed can be a great way to have ‘what’s next’ ready to go for next time.
  • Make yourself accountable. When you’re busy, it can be easy to just say “Eh, there’s always tomorrow.” The problem is when you keep pushing things to tomorrow you’ll never get them done. Find a way to make yourself accountable for personal development- if it’s a matter of paying for something because that makes you feel accountable, then consider signing up for an online course. If you’re more accountable when it comes to other people, find a friend who also needs some accountability help and make it a weekly check-in. Click here for the blog we wrote about accountability partners if this is going to be part of your lifestyle.

More reading when I couldn’t fall back to sleep on Saturday morning. Great way to start the day!

No matter what type of personal development you’re trying to pursue, there is always a way to fit it into your schedule! Try some of the tips mentioned above and find out what motivates you.

If you have any tricks for fitting personal development into a busy schedule, or recommendations for books/podcasts/etc, please comment or send us a message!

Our online course, Internet Marketing For Artists, is online and ready for you! For $30 and 30 days, you can learn the basics of online marketing, search engine optimization, and business marketing best practices for your artistic business… all in 15 minutes a day or less. Click here to learn more or sign up: http://breakingeven.teachable.com/p/internet-marketing-for-artists

 

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.

My Five Favorite Business Books

100startupIt’s no secret that to be a good writer, it helps to be a good reader.
And when I first started this business and time was short, I decided I was only going to read business books (and occasional biography of a business person helped break things up). I now read other things for fun but someone asked me about what my favorite business books were. Here they are in no particular order (with no affiliate links):

$100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

It’s always great to think in the bootstrapping mindset because at the beginning, you want to spend time and money on everything but can’t. His ‘launch’ checklist alone is worth the price of admission but it is available on his website too: http://100startup.com/resources/launch-checklist.pdf There is an awesome amount of case studies that will make even the most hesitant person inspired to try a business on the side.

Lessons of A Lipstick Queen by Poppy King

Mainly a memoir, this book is about a young woman running a business. In a lot of ways, I saw myself and in a lot of ways, I didn’t. She has a lot of great one liners and her candidness is appreciated because so many people aren’t. It was nice to hear about someone feeling insecure, making ‘bad’ decisions, and otherwise admitting to the things no business owner ever wants to admit. Plus I love learning from people outside our industry in particular.

Your Best Year Yet! by Jinny Ditzler

If you are worried people are going to know you read self help books, this will tip them off for sure. From the clouds on the cover to the exclamation mark in the title, you know you are in for it. I do this goal setting exercise with myself at the beginning of each year (or I guess more accurately, at the end of the current year for the following year). You don’t have to read the whole book; just use if for the questions you are supposed to ask yourself (the book has elaboration on those questions, which is sometimes needed honestly).

Problogger Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett

Written before social media was anything big, this is how to get blog traffic without it. A lot of what he says is still true today. If you want to use a blog as part of your business strategy (and if you want more traffic to your website or to build relationships, you might as well have a blog), this is a great book about the tech, the content, the marketing (though again, the social media piece is missing) and the money parts of blogging.

Jab Jab Jab Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

The hundreds (literally) of social media case studies are great for showing and not telling. Also a great overview of each social network, its strengths, and its weaknesses. Whether you are just starting with social media or have been doing it for awhile, this will get you thinking. Content is king but context is God indeed! Enjoy all the pictures of actual posts with their own ‘how to do it better’ makeovers, I did!
I’ve certainly read more than this but these are ones I really enjoyed. What five books influenced the way you started your business/career?
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.

4 Ways You Can Introduce Technology to Your Current Job Description

integratingtechinyourjobLearning more about technology involves not only research but application. And I think that’s where a lot of people fall short in terms of increasing their tech skills.

The question is, if you already have a full time job, how are you supposed to increase your technology skills within it? Here are some ideas we’ve had about that (all things I’ve actually tried in less technological jobs than I have now!)

1) Propose a technological solution for a non-technological problem.
Let’s say you hear your boss mentioning the uptick in customer service phone calls related to the release of your latest product. You could offer to create an orientation video showing the product’s features or FAQ section for the website addressing specific concerns after interviewing several customer service representatives. Make sure you get permission from your supervisor before you do this (and get your actual work done!), but in demonstrating you can solve problems with technology, your boss will be much more interested in your next idea. And if what you do becomes a hit, you might find yourself with a modified job description!

When I used to work at a school, there was lots of technology but none of the teachers were using it. So rather than another memo, I started a monthly ‘Tech Thursday’ for the teachers. They could come after school and for an hour learn about something technical, like setting up the LCD projector or using iMovie. I’d try to make it fun, like giving out a prize to the person that could set up the LCD projector the fastest. School leadership was appreciative that I tried to help them tackle the issue and I got a once a month excuse to learn something new.

2) Do volunteer work with a technological slant.
Many jobs not only allow but compensate individuals for doing some kind of volunteer work. Consider a volunteer opportunity with a technological slant that is related to what you want to learn, like teaching a computer course at the assisted living center, running a robotics team at your local middle school, or redesigning the website of a local non-profit. This work will not only teach you your new skills but in teaching what you learn to others, you’ll solidify your knowledge.

In my old job at the newspaper, I volunteered at a local middle school starting a tech club called Zoey’s Room. I had to help the girls troubleshoot tech issues and had a lot of fun. On the days I did that, I just came in an hour early into work to get what I needed to done.

3) Find a technology mentor in your company.
Just because you work in the sales or accounting doesn’t mean you only have to associate with others in your department. Seek out a potential mentor in your company who has a more technical role, and offer to take them to lunch. When it becomes clear that you aren’t gunning for their job but simply want to learn more about, say, PHP programming, your new mentor will likely be excited about your interest. You can then figure out a structure that works well for you, whether it’s ‘learning sessions’ 30 minutes a week or collaborating on a company project together. Your employer will likely be excited about cross department collaboration and the potential that brings.

I’ve had many mentors since starting this business who are more tech savvy than myself. That said, a mentor relationship is one of give and take so I tried to use my skills to help my mentors out in return for their generosity with their time and knowledge. Like with Matt, I try to draft emails, manage projects and do other tasks to make his life easier while he teaches me about, say, advanced CSS.

4) Document what you learn.
Whether you record what you learn in a blog, on a Youtube channel, or even presentations you upload to Slideshare, documenting what you learn using technology not only increases your skills but allows the world outside your job to see you as an expert in your chosen technological field. This might turn into a new employment opportunity or simply a way to help others out not as far along in their learning process as you are. Either way, it’s good for you and the world. This blog started as a way, in part, to document what I was learning… and turned into something even more amazing than I could ever expect. But it wouldn’t have come my way if I wasn’t putting my ideas out there.

We live in a world where technology infiltrates almost every job… and if it doesn’t, there are easy ways for you to increase its role within your work. Get more tech in your work life, you’ll be smarter and happier for it.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

This Week In Business: Why I Charge For Workshops And Seminars

I often get asked, “Why don’t you give free seminars?” I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and here’s my response:

First of all, it isn’t true that I don’t ever give free seminars. Once a month, I do a free seminar for a business-related non-profit: chambers of commerce, Rotary, and other groups of that nature. If I get two requests the same month, I ask the person who contacted me second if they’d mind holding off. This is because I need to reserve time to do paid work so I can keep going as a business. Also, these free presentations are very general, usually introducing basic concepts as that’s what time allows (and usually what the group wants).

Everyone else gets charged, whether it’s a customized training session ($75/hour or $500, whichever is more applicable) or as a fee for a Downeast Learning workshop(between $25-$50/person). Am I just a money grubbing jerkface? Well, I might be… but even if I am, I have some good reasons for doing this:

1) It takes time to create workshops.
I spend on average of 10 hours preparing slides for a typical workshop. I usually create an outline, get feedback on it from colleagues, make slides, and then get feedback on the slides. If you’ve ever been to one of my presentations, I hope you can see the thought that goes into them!

In addition to the time making the presentation, I also write a press release, post the workshop on several online event calendars, post it over Facebook and Twitter, update my blog, put up posters, contact all the local chambers, and do other things to get the word out, probably to the tune of a couple hours per workshop.

2) It costs money to present workshops.
You’ll notice if you go to my workshops, they are held in a space that isn’t my home office. Since my house is tiny (not to mention ill equipped to handle 20ish people and their computers comfortably), I have to rent space.

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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.

This Week In Business: The Educational Edition

This week was busy at Breaking Even Communications but since I was waiting on a few different stages of some ongoing projects, I found myself with a little time for some professional development then usual. That’s right, I schooled myself!
Here’s what happened:
I attended a webinar, and actually paid attention.
Most of the time, I am quite the slacker webinar attendee. I am usually filing papers or making lunch while I listen to a presentation. When I listened to a webinar sponsored by Verizon and given by John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing. I made myself get out my notebook and actively listen for the next 45 minutes.
You know, paying attention really does help you get more out of things! Being a good student paid off in some new ideas for improving my product. Partnerships with complementary organizations and video testimonials anyone?
Wish you had sat in on the fun? All of the Verizon sponsored webinars are achived here. And it looks like there are a few good ones for me to go back and listen to later.
I got a couple iBooks from a school sale for a song.
Those of you who live outside the state of Maine may not be familiar with the fact that Maine has a laptop program, which gives students 6th grade and older access to their own laptop. Beginning in grade 7 or 8, students can take it home after signing a sort of “I will be responsible and so will my parent/guardian” agreement. Every few years, the schools replace the machines, which are all Apple iBooks. To make a bit of cash (but probably more accurately, save themselves from disposal fees), the schools sell them off on the cheap, in my local case $25 a pop.

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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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