This Week In Business

Seven Tricks That Save Me Hours On The Computer

Over the last few years of sitting my butt in an office chair day in and day out, I am often asking myself how I can do more while sitting here less. This post is a collection of little tools I’ve found over the years. The beauty is:

  • You don’t need a fancy computer/smartphone to have any of them; they are mainly web based. 
  • They are mainly free. The most expensive in my list is $10/month.

Google Chrome (but basically any browser that involves not using Internet Explorer)

My friend Phil visited me a couple years ago and was browsing on my computer. “You use Internet Explorer?” he asked, in a tone that might have suggested he found something illegal or immoral on my computer. Google Chrome is faster and has just recently surpassed IE as the most used internet browser.

Besides its speed and lack of lameness, Google Chrome (much like Firefox) has extensions/apps that you can add to your browser bar. Three of my favorites:

Pick how much time you are allowed to stay on a website per day. Surpass that amount and Google Chrome kicks you out.

Pick how much time you are allowed to stay on a website per day. Surpass that amount and Google Chrome kicks you out. Brilliant.

Google Apps
I use Google Apps to run my business life on my domain. In addition to being able to easily create email addresses and email lists (like I could make email all my Facebook clients- and no worries that address doesn’t actually exist so good luck spammers!), I can also create and manage calendars, manage document editing and sharing, and otherwise feel like I am in control of my life.Here’s a video all about it. Since Google is really good at this kind of thing:

This is a Gmail App that works with Google Chrome. When I am writing someone an email, it pulls up their photo, our history of correspondence, and their latest social media updates.
Now you can congratulate someone at their new job or simply recognize them at the next Business After Hours. Literally puts a face to the name… er their social media avatar to their email anyway.
Smartrr may be borderline creepy but it helped me learn the names of just about everyone when I joined Rotary really quickly.

Smartrr may be borderline creepy but it helped me learn the names of just about everyone when I joined Rotary really quickly. Here’s what Alice’s info looks like!

These Computer Shortcuts

Control + A (Command + A on a Mac)- Select all
Control + Z (Command+ Z on a Mac)- Undo (go back one step)- This one has saved me a lot of heartache in particular
Control + C (Command + C on a Mac)- Copy
Control + V (Command + V on a Mac)- Paste (Control + P is print so that’s why it’s not that)
Alt + Shift + 5 (Command + Shift +5 on a Mac)- Strikethrough (because crossing stuff off on a computer list feels good too)

Control + F (Command + F on a Mac) 
Ok this is still included in the above list but should be separate and noticed. This can help you find a word on a long web page, a snippet of code in CSS, a file on your computer. Use your search functions my friends and stop the skimming/scrolling. It’s hard on your wrists… and your brain.

Automatic File Backup
So most everything I use is in ‘the cloud’ (which is just fancy for saying on the interwebs). I do this so I can access email, client files, Quickbooks, passwords, etc. from anywhere and also so it’s backed up.

I also have my main computer (with my fancy expensive software on it) backup up three times a day. Seems redundant? It is. But that’s the point. Think of what it would feel like to lose the album of pictures from your last vacation. Your taxes from the last five years. Anything that makes you freak out slightly while you are reading this. What’s it worth to you? $100? $500? Priceless?

This is the system I use for file backup (which is probably not perfect but works great for me):

Main computer– Backed up with Mozy
Other computers– External hard drive periodically (Files at the end of each day are added to Dropbox or Google Docs)
Client files (images, videos, any archives)– Backed up to Dropbox, stored on main computer which is backed up by Mozy
Client files (active documents)Google Docs backed up by InSync (more on Google Apps later)
Email– Imported into Gmail, backed up by Backupify and kept on my web server
Passwords– 1Password system (more on that later) installed on two computers in the office, including the main computer which is backed up by Mozy
Social Media updates– Backupify and Hootsuite

I pay about $500/year for the combination of these tools but I think of how much money as a business I would lose if I didn’t have redundant backups in particular of client stuff.

As an individual, you’ll pay under $100/year for Mozy and have 2G free with Dropbox. Very affordable and may one day save you hundreds of dollars and/or a lot of agony. So even if you back up with an external hard drive, have a backup in case you forget. You’ll thank me later.

A client asked me yesterday ‘How do you remember all these passwords?’ Everyone has several social media passwords, a website admin login, a web host login, and any number of other online services. Multiply that by 70ish clients, add our own individual stuff and you can imagine the hundreds of passwords I’d have to remember. And while my brain is great, I’d just as soon have a backup (see above)

1Password is $20 (or $50ish for three licences) and it will pay for itself when you are able to store your passwords, search them in the database, and create and store highly secure and encrypted passwords.

If you spend any amount of time managing social media profiles, this will save you so much time logging in and out of websites that it’s totally worth taking an afternoon to set up tabs and lists and otherwise make it work for you. Oh and it’s free for five accounts or less but we gladly pay $10/month to use it with all clients.

Collectively, I’d say these tricks save me five hours a week but it could be more. It’s hard to put a price on piece of mind and finding things quickly but in this crazy world of ours, we should spend less time chained to the desk and more time doing lots of other stuff…. even if we do run a web company.

Do you have anything that saves you time/money that I may have forgotten in my list above?

Friends And FreelanceSwitch: Why I Am So Lucky

For 24 hours (yesterday) the story of my business was on the front page of a major website. I’ve gotten so many calls, emails, and social media messages congratulating me (that I’m still following up on) but I think it’s only right to explain the reason for this ridiculously good luck.

A brief moment on the 'home page' on FreelanceSwitch. I'll take it!

A brief moment on the 'home page' on FreelanceSwitch. I'll take it!

Melanie Brooks, the author of the article, has been a colleague, mentor, and friend since I’ve met her and I’d like to write a short ‘love’ letter about her.

What drew me to Melanie at the small business conference we met over four years ago at was her enthusiasm. Nothing fake about it, she was genuinely into what she was doing. She was also smart, funny, and warm. It was one of those ‘instafriends’ situations but as we talked, we learned we actually had a lot in common. We both worked in newspapers, had ridiculous online dating stories, and were known as the ‘tell it like it is’ person in our respective social circles. Mel is a true kindred spirit and I am lucky to have gotten to know her as well as I have (and to continue getting to know her).

But what I am most thankful for about Melanie, even more than her writing this article, is that from the moment she met me, she believed in my business and in me. Some days even more than I did. She is one of the few people in my life who never thought I was crazy and went so far as to actively support me in my venture mainly in the way of dealing with a teary or exhausted version of myself. (When you can call someone crying, you know they are worth keeping around!)

While it’s nice that people are congratulating me, telling me they ‘always knew’ I could do it, I will always remember the few people who said it first. Melanie Brooks was one of those people. And as one of the smartest people I know, I believed her.

Ok so my point is while I’m flattered that  I even got on this really cool, well-read website, the friendship that got me there means the most. And that makes me tear up a little. Maybe I should call Mel crying. :^)

You can read the full article here on FreelanceSwitch.

Seven Reasons You Should Work For Me

I’m taking the hiring of my first full time employee very seriously. As my friend Ogy put it, this is an important decision because I am essentially doubling my company. I can’t help but think more about this on Labor Day.

Jennifer Hooper has done some fine work here at Breaking Even Communications but she is off to get her masters degree so it’s time to find a replacement, quite a task really since Jennifer is so awesome.

Over the last month, as I emailed colleagues and friends about leads, they have asked me, “Nicole, what are you really looking for?”

Above all, I am looking for a good person: hardworking, smart, friendly, interested, and honest. Anyone who fits that description I can train on the technical aspects of the job. (And I am pretty patient too since I remember what it is like to learn this stuff!)

And I have decided whether it takes me a month, two months, or six months to get the right person here at the second desk here, I’m going to do it.

If you are thinking about applying to work at this company (and meet the basic requirements as stated here), here are a few reasons I think you’d like to work here at Breaking Even Communications:

1. Rewarding work.
Helping small business owners and non-profit boards is pretty rewarding. People contact Breaking Even Communications because they want to learn about the internet, and watching the light bulb moments people have is pretty fantastic. If you want a job where you are making a difference and solving problems, this is a job where you’d get to do that.

2. Different every day.
Whether it’s a bed and breakfast learning about Twitter, a retailer optimizing their Youtube channel, or a non-profit needing some blog direction, you get to learn a bit about the goals, and challenges of a variety of clients. Breaking Even Communications has between forty and sixty clients at a given moment meaning there is never a dull moment!

3. Get paid to learn.
Want to learn more about internet and business, both from online resources and directly from colleagues in the internet marketing industry? At Breaking Even Inc., we build in time for professional development so we can stay on top of it all. So if you like to learn about web development, this is a good way to do it.

4. Flexible schedule.
Honestly, sometimes you need to be in the office or helping at an event like a workshop. But a lot of the time, you can work from home, your favorite coffee shop, wherever! One perk we can offer you is the ability to work with your schedule. Yes, very aware that there are other things to life besides work!

5. Live in Downeast Maine.
The saying is you can’t be a real Mainer until you’ve spent a winter, so this job can totally help you meet this unofficial requirement. Plus, it really is very fun to be in such a beautiful place with nice people year round. And when summer 2012 rolls around, you already have a job in Bar Harbor.

6. Your boss is pretty cool.
I (Nicole Ouellette) am a pretty nice person, and I think I’m a pretty good boss. More importantly, I am always trying to get better. Here are some recommendations here: Even better, ask around about me!

7. Get in on a growing company.
If you are the kind of person who wants to make a lasting contribution to a company, Breaking Even Communications has been growing steadily (and at times exponentially) and is going into its fourth year (!) of operation. Your ideas will be heard and as the company grows, you could play an increasingly important role (and help shape it within the company). That’s pretty exciting!

So Happy Labor Day to you and if you know someone who’d be a good fit for this company, please pass this post along. (It’s my 800th blog post, can you believe it!? Time flies when you’re having fun!)

This Month In Business: Spending So Much Money Edition

Before I became a business owner, I always marveled at the sheer number of microbusinesses in Maine, specifically those with one employee (the owner).

“They could grow if they could hire help” I thought, kind of naively.

This month, I hired my first employee. This was a needed and welcome change but I realize now what a huge step and financial risk it is to go from one to two people. Suddenly, I needed office space and equipment, workers comp and liability insurance, payroll services… I spent money much quicker than I made it this last month. And I’m really hoping my huge financial gamble pays off.

In addition to the financial stresses, I’ve also had to get organized and create systems: an employee handbook, email accounts, a shared calendar, file sharing, etc. The stuff that worked great (or at least ok) living in my brain and on my computer now suddenly has to be out there for someone else to share, add to, etc.

I ran into a fellow business owner a few weeks ago who was very skeptical about my hire. “You can’t expect to do twice as much work now.” he said, trying to be helpful.

I certainly don’t expect my employee to put in 60 hour weeks, lie awake a night worrying about money, etc. That’s my job. If someone would do that besides me, I’d worry about them!

I do hope this will allow my company to move into that next level. Because if it’s a question of turning down work or being able to do more, I bet you know what I’d rather do.

Has anyone else went from a one man or woman show to a multi-person business? What advice do you have for this transition?

This Month In Business: Needing Help Edition

So the good news is, while I used to write this business update every week, I now seem to be writing it every month. I’ve been doing this because I’ve actually had a lot of work to do. (I know, *gasp!)

But it really does help to have some kind of check in with myself, since I don’t have a weekly meeting with my boss, a quarterly report, or other sort of evaluation. You, as my blog readers, help hold me to some accountability. For that, I am very grateful. Because I totally need some!

Here’s what I’ve been up to besides actual paid work:

1. I enrolled in an online business course.

You may have heard of Earn1K which is a business course aimed at freelancers. I’ve been on the email list for awhile and finally decide to take the plunge after a couple of months of realizing I’ve been not as focused as I should be on the overall direction of this business. In terms of business course experience, I took an eight week seminar from Women, Work, and Community two years ago, read a couple business books, wrote a business plan, and called it good. Plus it’s been about 6 years since I’ve taken a full on course and I figured it was time for some much needed personal development.

So far it’s been going really well and already the time and effort I’m putting in to develop my ideas is paying off.

2. I got a cash infusion from Mom.

I realize there are a few things I’ve considered doing for money that are unrelated to my business but was considering because I needed some cash. A combination of a few projects running longer than expected and a couple bills paid at the beginning of the year meant I had less cash on hand than I was expecting at this point.

My debt to income ratio is around 1 (breaking even!) but a bank will pretty much only talk to you if you’ve got a ratio of about 1.5.

Over Christmas, my mom had told me to ask for help if I needed it so I decided to take her up on her offer and borrow some money. She was kind enough to present a zero percent interest rate and put the check in an ‘I’m proud of you’ card. Thanks Mom! I’m already sleeping better and plan to pay her back in full by the end of the year if not sooner.

3. I’ll be having two upcoming seminars which one of my more connected friends is helping me organize.
Anyone who has ever eaten dinner with me knows how much I like food. My friend Paul is a food distributor who sells to many local restaurants. When he came to me and suggested we do a couple workshops geared at the hospitality industry, I jumped at the chance.

So if you are in Downeast Maine and run a food-related business check out the two workshops: and

4. I finished a really big project, with much needed help.
A couple months ago, a friend of a friend wanted some help developing a real estate website. I looked at the online landscape at other real estate companies and saw that what she wanted was possible, even if the websites themselves weren’t the prettiest or most functional websites I’d ever seen. So I gave her a quote for her real estate website and she accepted.

What followed were many unexpected complications: database access issues, formatting issues, code for site design interfering with search function. You name it and it happened. It became clear very early on that I could not handle this on my own so I pulled in a friend to help. Then another. Then another. Through coding, coffee, and sheer determination, we finished the site, exhausted from late nights and early mornings.

I learned three things from this experience:

1) Don’t be cocky in your abilities to do something you’ve never done before. Take the time you think it’ll take and double it. Worse case scenario you give money back.
2) If you are pulling people in, outline the project tasks and responsibilites clearly. Chances are the work will be difficult enough and there’s no need to add communication issues to the mix.
3) You don’t have to know everything but you have to know people who can help so you can collectively know everything you need to.

So the website is launched and I thank Nicholas Peterson, Matthew Baya, and Jeremy Mason for their help with it. And that said, if you know someone who needs a real estate website, I’m now your gal.

Anything you needed help with (and got help with) this month?

(Come on, make me feel there are a couple of you out there who needed the help of other people this month!)

These Three Weeks In Business: Crashing Edition

These past three weeks, my Mac, my PC, and me have all crashed. Let me explain.

Many people think if you happen to be good at internet stuff you are also good at computers. Not so.

I am truly terrible at physical computer issues. And in the past three weeks, both of my computers have bit it.

My Mac was the first to go. I was giving a group presentation when it decided to do software updates. So I could continue with the presentation, I did a force quit. Two friends, one week, and a lot of Mac Forums reading later, I had to reinstall my operating system. I get it, if the Mac is updating its programs, let it finish. Lesson learned.

While dealing with my sad Mac, my PC (which is a desktop computer I do a lot of my work on) began acting wonky. It quit programs mid-use, stopped backing up my files with Mozy, and other nonsense. I tried the usual stuff: defragmenting, running virus scans, etc. but nothing worked. Hundreds of registry errors and a few days with a computer savvy colleague, it’s back.

Then I crashed. I was sick for a week and last Saturday, I slept until 11 am. And I’m a normally early riser. Must be all these late nights working, which I am finally going to do something about. But more on that in a minute.

Besides all the crashing, here’s what has been going on:

I got a smartphone.
I finally bit the bullet and got an Android phone. Verizon has much better coverage in my area than ATT and since I do a lot of things with Google anyway, it was a good choice for me. On a recent trip, I found I had much less anxiety when I was able to check my email once in awhile and not walk into hundreds of emails after the weekend was over. Also when I was in computer limbo, it was nice to be able to check email and keep up with what was coming in.

I turned down work.
I got an email from Elance saying someone wanted me to bid on a project. I was flattered… until I went to look at the specifics. The bid was $25/hour below my minimum hourly rate and it was a very short term project. It felt good to turn something because I didn’t need to do it but at the same time, it made me wonder how many legitimately cool projects I was missing working on, which made me realize.

I realized I needed help… and no, not that kind of help.
It’s time to hire someone. And before announcing this in a formal way, I thought a lot about the kind of person I wanted to hire and why.

What I really need help with is administrator type stuff: invoicing, answering emails, and some basic copywriting to start. That’s not to say there couldn’t be more but to be able to work on big project, I need some help taking care of the small details.

I’d love to pay someone $25-$50/hour but this is such a gamble that I have to start off much lower in terms of pay. If I take on someone else in terms of being responsible for their pay, I need to know I can make payroll. If I can’t, I’ll never sleep. Plus it’s much easier to say “Wohoo, we’re kicking butt, I can pay you more now!” than “Wow, I’m paying you too much, I need to cut your salary.” That would not go over well.

The second thing to consider is if I am going to train someone, I need someone who is going to stick around, preferably in my geographic area which is where I am and where a majority of my clients are. Downeast Maine is an expensive place to live that alternates between a busy summer season and a dead winter season. That said, I need the help year round and I can’t have someone who disappears in the summer.

And thirdly, I  need someone who is going to listen to me. Now I’m not a big ‘power’ person but I do need there to be a bit of professional distance for my first employee.

I’ve put out the call to the guidance counselors at my local high school and to a contact at the local liberal arts college. We can debate the pros and cons of high school versus college students but in terms of the trainable tech savvy person who can be happy with a part time job and stick around for a couple years, students seem to be a logical choice. But we’ll see.

When things happen like this in a business, it’s really easy to get bogged down trying to fix it all yourself. But at a certain point, it’s smart, and even just sane, to say, “Hey, I need help” and throw some money at the problem.

Have you crashed anything recently? If so, how did you uncrash it?