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Tech Thursday: All about Coworking

Thanks to Old Man Winter, Nicole hosts this Tech Thursday solo. This also means that she is holding down the fort in the office solo, while Kassie works from home. This setup leads us to this week’s topic: Coworking spaces!

Coworking allows people to rent office space that they may not otherwise be able to afford (usually small businesses, startups and freelancers). It’s a way for likeminded professionals to get together and gain access to business resources that they may not have working from home.

If you’re in the Bar Harbor area and want to learn more about Anchorspace, check out the website here: www.anchorspace.com

And finally, some helpful resources about coworking: http://wiki.coworking.org/w/page/16583831/FrontPage https://www.sharedesk.net/home

2014 Year In Review

As the year rounds to a close, we thought it would be fun to check in with everyone at Breaking Even Communications about their year. Here’s what we done, learned, and look forward to in 2015:

John Swinconeck

Can you handle how cute John's new baby Sophie is?

Can you handle how cute John’s new baby Sophie is?

What was the coolest part of your year personally?
What hasn’t been the coolest part of my year? Any other time, I’d say that, hands-down, returning to Maine was the best. Reconnecting with great friends after a four year absence, and getting back to the way life should be. Except that this was the year my baby daughter was born, and as wonderful as it is to be back here, the arrival of the latest Swinconeck trumps everything else.

Now that I think about it, she’s the first Maine native in the family. What more could I ask for?

What is the coolest part of your year professionally?
Getting more active as an official part of Breaking Even’s staff tops the list. I get to work (albeit remotely) with great folks with diverse professional backgrounds. We’re a scrappy bunch carving out a niche in the small business landscape, and I think we’re pretty darn unique for our corner of New England.

Now, if you asked me what the most interesting part of my professional year was, I’d say it was the amount of time I spent exploring Pinterest. I’m a white dude in his late 30s who thinks that Hulk Hogan is still kind of cool. I still test the limits as to how many PopRocks I can put in my mouth at once. Bathroom humor to me is very much a fine art. I ponder belly button lint. So, to explore a branch of social media filled with Etsy-esque crafts, recipes, inspirational quotes and DIY projects is an eye-opener in the best possible way. #IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations)

What are you looking forward to next year?
I say more opportunities to explore outliers on social media. I’m looking forward to applying some of my photojournalism talents in an educational setting.
I’m looking forward expanding my skill set, delving further into Pinterest, further into Google + and maybe, just maybe, finally getting a tablet.



Nicole Ouellette

Nicole and Derrick got married and have lots of silly pictures like this to prove it.

Nicole and Derrick got married and have lots of silly pictures like this to prove it.

What was the coolest part of your year personally?
I actually got married this year, something I never thought I’d do! We had a great day and being married is so far seriously way better than I thought it would be. Apparently, I can commit.

Also, this is the first year I’ve lost 0.0 pounds and I’m actually perfectly fine with that. I’ve gotten way healthier: two standing walking dates with friends a week, a weekly yoga class, way better eating. I have energy, I feel healthy, I realize that is what’s more important than the number on the tag inside my pants (and I get that I say that every year but every year, I mean it more than ever.)

What is the coolest part of your year professionally?
January 1, 2014, Breaking Even was just me. December 31, 2014, there are two of us full time (Kassie and I) and two of us part time (John and Leslie). We’ve scaled up pretty fast and it’s been fun to finally get to have time to work on operations/getting more efficient now that we have a strong team in place. I would say a big part of the thinking big has been having an accountability partner and actively working towards goals I set in place all year long. As someone who usually drops resolutions by February 1, this was a vast improvement, even if I didn’t personally execute everything I aimed for.

What are you looking forward to next year?
I did some goal setting and am working on both personal and professional goals this year (last year was all business). Professionally, I want to work on systems/documentation as a main goal of the business. (Sam Carpenter of Working The System has changed my life!) But this year for the first time in six years, I am actively setting personal goals too, like finally finishing editing my novel I wrote two years ago and seeing if I can get it published. We’ll see. 🙂



Kassandra Strout

Only Kassie could look this happy after PRing in a marathon.

Only Kassie could look this happy after PRing in a marathon.

What was the coolest part of your year personally?
2014 was one of my biggest years ever (actually a little nervous that I peaked this year!). Running-wise, I had a great year and surprised myself with both marathons (it was also the first year I tried a spring and a fall marathon). Admittedly, the spring race didn’t end as smoothly as I’d have liked, but every run teaches you something. Even if that something is “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Another cool part of the year was committing more time to exploring the area. I found some beautiful places and spent my time with some beautiful people.

What is the coolest part of your year professionally?
Being asked to join the Breaking Even team was definitely the coolest part of my year :). My learning curve had an aggressive slant: from the more technical part of things, like learning how websites work, to the marketing part of things, like writing, which I love, there has been a lot of professional growth taking place in the past year!

For the sake of the readers, I’ll commit to just ONE cool thing: Tech Thursday. Getting in front of the camera is still daunting, but it is always good to get out of your comfort zone once in awhile! Video editing was also my ideal challenge: working with the raw footage and realizing that there’s at least a million ways that the video COULD be cut. The videos weren’t highly produced or anything, but they brought a good deal of joy and a sense of accomplishment to my days. Seeing the support/encouragement from the online community was definitely a motivator, too!

What are you looking forward to next year?
In my personal life, I’m looking forward to seeing how much further I can push myself with running. I’ve signed up for the Sugarloaf Marathon in May, so far that’s my biggest plan for 2015. I also have a list of books to read and some old writing projects in the works to tackle. Finally, travelling more. Visiting new places is exciting, and it also helps me appreciate where I am in a more meaningful way.



Leslie Fournier

Leslie custom designed and built this cool barn/home and now gets to have her horses closeby.

Leslie custom designed and built this cool barn/home and now gets to have her horses closeby.

What was the coolest part of your year personally?
This year has been relatively quiet for me on a personal level, which I’m thankful for after the previous few years of major change, particularly building a new home/barn and moving. It’s been our first full year on ‘the land” as we still call it and there’s a sense of finally getting into the stride of things. When I say home/barn I could say barn/home as we now live above our horses in a barn… which is definitely cool (to me anyway). The best little part of the year was riding my horse Brenna again after almost 2 years.. a small milestone for both of us.

What is the coolest part of your year professionally?
Definitely the coolest part of my year professionally was finally connecting with Nicole and becoming part of the (wonderful) Breaking Even team. Doing web design and development had brought me back to my creative roots and I am loving every minute of it. It’s especially exciting to be challenged with learning the latest design techniques through Illustrator and Photoshop, and bring the resulting ideas to fruition through Wordpress and Joomla. Yeah.. I am really loving Joomla.

What are you looking forward to next year?
There’s a lot of excitement for new projects at Breaking Even. Also, I’ll be going live with the rebuild of my hobby/boutique web site which will feel like a major accomplishment. Finally I’ll be beginning a new adventure exploring and sharing ideas about barn home design, which brings my professional and personal goals closer together. Next year looks very bright indeed…



About My Advice Column

Pictoral proof I am a published advice columnist. I am as shocked as you are.

Pictorial proof I am a published advice columnist. I am as shocked as you are.

I have been reading advice columns for years. Miss Information on Nerve, Dear Prudie on Slate, Dan Savage on SavageLove, Dear Abby (when that existed) in the paper.

I will listen to advice on just about anything actually. Podcasts about how to pick up women, how to manage money, even how to do a perfect lunge. Something about advice, even advice I’d never use, is inherently interesting to me.

The biggest reason I’ve come to discover? I have a personal rule where I try not to gossip (sometimes I’m not successful but generally I try to talk about things and not other people unless they are immediately in front of me). But reading advice columns gives me that voyeristic thrill of knowing someone else’s business in a way I won’t allow myself to in my normal life.

I’ve got a few questions since writing this advice column so I thought I’d answer them here:



How did you get this gig?
So when I had to submit a bio for a regional conference I was presenting at, I thought I’d have fun and end it with. “Nicole’s secret desire is to have an advice column or do stand up comedy, whichever she decides would be funnier.” And within two weeks, I was sitting with the editor of my local paper as he proposed me writing an advice column. Not sure how much of a coincidence that is but there you go. In other words: might as well put out there what you want, you may get it!

But you aren’t even qualified.
Yes, I know. I find this hilarious on several levels. First of all, I’m not particularly experienced in life. I don’t have kids. I just got married about five seconds ago and before that, never really planned on getting married. I’ve never bought a house, I’ve been self employed longer than I was ever in the ‘real’ working world, I am not even from this town originally. In other words, not exactly a typical local person you may look for to write a local advice column in a local paper.

But Earl (the editor and a friend of mine) assured me that they liked my blog and as someone active in the community, people would know who I was. Plus I am known for my straight forward nature, which some people find endearing and other people feel very intimidated by. Anyway, we struck up a six month agreement to try it out.



Do you get paid?
Yes, they pay me $30 a week. I know, clearly I am in this for the cash. But since I own the rights to the content (and they are just getting to publish it first), a low rate seemed fair enough. Plus it’s fun!

How can I read your column?
You can read my column if you subscribe to one of the local papers in this area (either the MDIslander or the Ellsworth American). I’m ‘premium’ content. Another hilarious idea.

Oddly enough though, a recent house guest told me he found my column online so I guess it’s published here: http://www.mdislander.com/living/columnists/ask-nicole

Have you learned anything writing this column?
I’ve learned a few things.

Like how to be brief. Unlike this blog (where I tend to ramble, I admit), I have 300 words to show both the question and my answer… and often this even gets edited down. It took me about four weeks to get my writing cut down to this smaller format. Now I can write something and have a good idea what 300 words looks like.  The first few weeks was writing like 800 words then fiercely cutting.

I also found I am sensitive to being edited. My first column had a few jokes in it which, I’m sure for length, got edited out. But when I saw it in the paper, it felt like a part was missing. My initial (and very mature) reaction was to be pissed off. But I realize this is dumb. This column has been a good exercise for me in being comfortable being edited. Just like putting my writing out there, I have to put being edited out there to be more comfortable with it. This editing is a small step towards being comfortable, say, with someone editing a book I’ve written.

I have also learned who reads the paper. I’ve had far flung friends email me or people stop me in the grocery store. My mother-in-law reads it, people in my Rotary club who would never read my blog read it. I kind of like that what I say isn’t necessarily super public, it’s much different than the blogging/social media world I’ve lived in where everyone knows what I am up to.

I had stopped reading the paper after I stopped working there (mainly because I spent a lot of time editing which meant I had to read lots of articles about people arguing against funding the local library or vandalizing peoples’ mailboxes. Reading that kind of content all the time can destroy your faith in humanity if you aren’t careful!) But I think I may go back. Seems like it attracts a nice community.



What’s the weirdest question someone has asked you?
Sometimes I just hear questions and think, how did you let yourself even get in this situation?!? The one that comes to mind is the guy who bought Viagra from an acquaintance and was wondering if he should take it. I mean, I’m as cheap as the next person but drugs from someone you don’t know? Common sense, people. But most questions are situations we can relate to: wanting to make more time for an important relationship or telling someone something that’s hard to say.

It’s easy for me to say the right thing. I don’t know these people and I am emotionally distant from the situation. But like everyone, I sometimes struggle to do the right thing. And isn’t that what advice columns do? Remind us to do the right thing, which we already know in our hearts but just need someone else’s explanation to justify it?

Is it weird giving people advice?
I mean I give people advice all day. (Ask Derrick, I can be accidentally bossy because I am used to telling people what they should do, myself included, all day long.) It isn’t weird for me. But at the end of the day, we are responsible for our own actions and behavior. People can take my advice or not. Though I am waiting for that moment where someone walks up to me in a public place and slaps me… or at least chews me out for something I’ve said. Good news? I have a pretty thick skin.

I want to give advice, how can I start?
Start reading advice and writing advice. Starting a blog (or Facebook page, Tumblr account, etc.) has gotten easy. I have been writing this blog for SIX YEARS and it is just starting to catch on so if you are one of those instant gratification types, I suggest another calling. But put your writing out there where people can see it. Tell everyone you want to do this. Apply for blogging jobs in this field. Comment on other advice columns. Once you find your voice, you can either create your own platform from scratch or find someone who has a platform who believes in you. You can actually do both! Just be yourself, be content with you and four friends reading what you write, and keep practicing writing. You never know because, let’s face it, if I can write an advice column, anyone can.



Holy Crap I’m Married

This past weekend, I got married. It was really fun.

medrinkingatwedding2

We decided to do a brunch wedding for several reasons. 1) It meant people had the rest of the day to do something else. 2) Open bar before dark = less ridiculousness. and 3) Who doesn’t love breakfast food?

Between the brunch menu, the historic schoolhouse for the reception, and post and beam church we got married in, the vibe was low key.

We took our photos by the Stone Barn, which is on the corner of Norway Drive and Crooked Road about two miles from our house. It is a beautiful property but what I like best about it is we drive by it everyday which is nice to remember things.

10661625_10154649928520343_669668647151103927_o

Our service was at a Lutheran church (a church we go to). Our pastor gave a great sermon that included everyone from religious family members to atheist friends. Our friend Geraldine sang a beautiful bilingual solo and our friends Liz and Debby were cantor and musicians respectively.

thelookiheldoutfor

tablescapes(I have held out for YEARS to see someone look at me like Derrick is doing in that picture. And it was worth the wait.)

My mom (who really ought to be a professional wedding planner) helped organize it all. She ordered table cloths, made cloth napkins (all different fabrics), hunted down silverware, ordered mason jars, made enough jams for everyone to take home as favors (‘spread the love’) and helped me figure out plants for tablescapes. The end result was very cool: homemade but classy.

ellawithprogramsWe had friends decorate the 22 chalkboards at the Schoolhouse (including Kassie) and Derrick’s mom made the wedding cake. A dear friend Julie made our wedding rings. “I think at least once a week how great it is you two found each other.” she says.

Our friend Mike emceed the event and toasts were given by my sister Michelle (maid of honor), Derrick’s best friend Corey (best man), Derrick’s dad and my mom. We then all ate and danced a bit.

Friends came from as far away as England (Phil and Geraldine!), Montreal (Alice, my other bridesmaid), and Portland Oregon (college friends Bailey and Jeremy with their daughter Alex). I couldn’t believe all the people that made an effort to be there.

nicoleandderrickduringtoasts

Overall it was a great day that felt like it was over too quickly. But the food was great, the drinks were strong, the love was felt, and the people around us were amazing. It was nice to look around the whole day and see different people playing roles in the day, right down to niece Ella who took it upon her three year old self to hand out the wedding programs.

I hope everyone had a great time but so long as Derrick and I did (which we definitely did), it was worth all the work to put it on.

chalkboard3

Happily ever after? I sure hope so. But I have a feeling no matter what, someone truly amazing has my back. And isn’t that all any of us can really ask for?

 

What Running 20 Miles in the Middle of the Night Taught Me About Life

Many months ago, one of my friends jumped out of bed and proclaimed (with meaningful background music), “I’m going to go for a 100 mile run this summer!”

Actually, I’m not sure how it all went down, but I like to imagine it with a dramatic flair.

Once I determined that he was still sane, I agreed to help to run a fraction of it with him. After all, this is the person who convinced me a couple years ago that I could totally run a marathon, and has dragged me through a couple so far. So, I figured the least I could do was return the favor.

And that’s the story of the (first) time I volunteered to run 20 miles in the middle of the night on the Sunrise Trail. My friend started running around 4 p.m., and I joined in from midnight to 4 a.m. (aka The Graveyard Shift). Here are a few life lessons I learned along the way:



1) Sometimes, you need to readjust. Less than 2 miles in, I got vague pain in my head. No worries, I reassured myself, this is all new territory, you had a lot of caffeine today and are running at midnight. But by mile 5, this headache had grown to epic proportions.  I didn’t want to say anything, partially because of the searing pain and partially because I felt responsible for getting my friend through the next few hours of running. Don’t be a flake! screamed the voice in my head.

And then, we made a brief pitstop to adjust headlamps (this was my first time wearing one). Almost as soon as I took mine off, a surge of blood rushed back into my head. That’s right. My headache was the result of cutting off circulation to my own brain via headlamp.

A crude artistic rendition of the incident. Note: There was actually a bunny, and the stars were amazing.

A crude artistic rendition of the incident. Note: There was actually a bunny, and the stars were this amazing.

While this was, to say the least, uncomfortable, there’s a good life take-away: as you move about your day/life in general, if you feel like your head is about to explode (literally or figuratively), then something needs to change. The answer may not be as simple as oxygen deprivation, but once you find the solution, moving forward becomes a lot easier.

2) Trading passion for glory isn’t worth it (that’s right, Eye of the Tiger). So, the biggest question people had about the whole running 100 miles was “Why?” Well, my friend basically said, “Why NOT?” It amazed me that someone could be so passionate about, well, anything. The fact that there was no tangible prize at the end of this thing baffled me. He was just doing it for the sheer sake of doing it.

This reminded me how refreshing it is to do something you love free of ulterior motives. I’m guilty of getting a bit too competitive when I run, despite the knowledge that it’s bad for my mental well-being. In this undertaking, my friend reminded me (note: he has also told me this on many, many other occasions) that relying on external factors, be they medals, praise, a promotion, etc., isn’t a great reason to do something. Do it because it’s what you love to do, and let that be all.



3) It’s an adventure! Towards the end of my shift, neither one of us spoke unless necessary (me due to sleep deprivation, and my friend because he’d been running for almost 12 hours at this point). The only noises were our feet hitting dirt, some bullfrogs, and an owl. At one point, probably around 3 a.m., it was dark- as if all the light but our headlamps had been sucked in a vacuum. And then, the sun started to rise.

Perhaps delirious, I got inexplicably excited by this. We were running toward the sun! It was all an adventure! Life is an adventure!!! My brain was full of exclamation points.

This was definitely the song playing in my head.

This was definitely the song playing in my head.

At this point, I was reveling in the craziness of running 20 miles at midnight, and was struck with how awesome my surroundings were- the trees, the frogs, the flowers, the sky. Finding joy in the simple things genuinely makes the world seem like a better place, no matter where you are.

4) Never underestimate your friends. I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again: it’s comforting to know that other people will support you, no questions asked. Even if they think you’re a little off your rocker for wanting to run 100 miles in the heat of summer. I was just one of many who participated in this run, and there was a ton of support via Facebook. Sometimes, just showing up is enough. No matter what your goals are, it’s always good to have a support team.

5) Push your limits, but know when enough is enough. Ultimately, due to the heat and humidity, my friend decided to stop running after 85 miles. It was a smart decision, anddifficult to make. Setting goals and aspiring to do things you didn’t know you could do (running 85 miles, learning how to use Photoshop, teaching yourself how to breakdance) leads to personal growth (which you probably already knew), but the tricky part is balancing this with knowing when it’s time to tap out (and not viewing it as ‘giving up’). This is something that I struggle with, and don’t have a cookie-cutter answer for (maybe because it doesn’t exist).

I’m thankful that my friend asked me to be part of this run, and am so proud of what he accomplished. It was a tremendous feat, and it all happened because, quite simply, he wanted it to happen. How many times will you get to run the Sunrise Trail at midnight with a good friend? As many times as you want.



Office Makeover (with Photo Gallery)

This is one over the very rare times this is just a post for fun. No greater lesson, just ‘hey we did this.’ 🙂 As some of you are far flung and never actually see the office, thought this would be fun.

officeafter1For years, I worked out of my small house with my desk in the corner of my living room (it was a studio situation). But when I wanted to hire, I realized I couldn’t exactly ask the person I worked with to sit at my kitchen table, pet my dog, and otherwise get anything done. I had also been getting increasingly annoyed having a pile of work in constant view.

So I got an office. The owner of the building was welcoming and the affordable price let me make the leap. It came with furniture and cream colored walls which hadn’t been painted in at least ten years. The only thing I actually had to do was get internet hooked up.

Anyone who has ever worked with me knows I have a Zen like focus. This ability to ignore crap around me is what makes me so productive… but it also meant I put 0.0% thought into how the office looked and felt. It seemed secondary, silly, not worth spending time or money on.



One day I looked up at the cracking wall and the too-big-for-me desk with the busted drawer and thought “This blows.” My office looked like the office of a struggling business owner, not someone on their way up.

First, I had a bold idea. The office I was in had no door, which made it difficult to close off distractions when my landlord used our common meeting room. So I asked if I could have his office, to have a bit more room and also to have a closable door. After a couple weeks thinking it over, he agreed to a switch.

So I embarked on a mission to make the office as cute as I possibly could and spend $600 or less doing it.

The biggest investment is one that most people probably wouldn’t have thought of: covering up part of the floor with cool Flor tiles. This did two things: 1) Added a pop of color and 2) Leveled out the unevenness of the floor in the old building. Pretty and functional, just my style.

I also had these letters spelling ‘Breaking Even Inc’ I ordered a couple years ago and never got around to painting. So I dug them out of the basement and put them up with two sided tape.

And, even though technically I had office furniture, I decided to give the big old desk back to my landlord and order a sleeker looking Ikea table, which is a bit more airy and also offered more surface area for additional monitors, etc. (I kept, and probably always will, the desk I started the business with as the second work station.)

I asked my landlord to pay for the paint and in exchange, I’d paint the room. He agreed and in return, I picked a non-offensive but pleasant blue color for the walls and painted the trim in white to make the color really pop. (Thanks to my mom for coming down and spending the better part of one day visiting doing this with me!)

As you see, there are some dormers that needed to be worked around but overall, I think it turned out well. The twinkly lights give more lighting to the darker portion of the room and Kassie and I regularly switch desks which means no one is banished to the desk without a window for more than a couple days at a time.

I mean honestly, I am not sure if this increased productivity or boosted morale or anything but now when I walk in, I am definitely happier. And that, I suppose, is a start!

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