This Week In Business

This Week In Business: Gas Station Coffee Edition

I always know I’m going on a big trip when I am drinking terrible gas station coffee. I kind of look forward to it actually!

After my presentation at Social Media FTW with Lenny Tracy of the Maine Real Estate Network, who sat through it. See how relieved I look? -Photo Courtesy of Maine Today

After my presentation at Social Media FTW with Lenny Tracy of the Maine Real Estate Network, who sat through it. See how relieved I look? -Photo Courtesy of Maine Today

This week, I headed to Social Media FTW in Portland to present about business blogging. Nothing like standing up in front of 150ish people with a mic on knowing you’re being videotaped. I had a good time but I was also really nervous… I think it went well anyway!

If/when the presentations go online, I’ll link them on this blog. But for the moment, here is a link to the slides of my presentation. You know, in case you want to feel like you were there.

Here’s what else happened this week:

Matt and I got a little more organized with the Downeast Learning workshops.

There seems to be two groups of people we contact about our workshops. 1) Publications who need to know about something way ahead of time to be able to publish it. and 2) People who only need it about a week ahead (as in they need a time constraint to actually register). Matt organized our press email list (and we have a separate email list we maintain off the Downeast Learning website of other people).  Now we can make sure the notification goes out twice: once a month ahead for the publications (and people) and once one week ahead to remind folks to sign up.

Matt and I are also going to try to live stream this next workshop to see if we can have people remotely register to attend workshops. We’ll keep you posted about if it worked.

To make sure we got in the print version of the Ellsworth Chamber newsletter, we also decided on our workshop topic for next month. You’ve Been Yelped! is all about the use of online review websites and how they can help businesses and non-profits can get and use online reviews to their advantage. There, now you know a month ahead! Though honestly, if anyone would sign up this early, you’d officially shock me.

My blog continued its move to Wordpress.

At the talk I gave, I told people how I’ve moved my blog three times to different software/domains. I swear this move to Wordpress was the last (from MyBlog, a Joomla component, in case you were curious).

Last week was the big move: making the software live and making sure everything worked overall. This past week has been tweaking things. I’ve been adding plugins, tagging blog posts, and otherwise polishing the content that’s on this site.

Do you believe it’s been four years since I’ve started the Breaking Even blog? Crazy!

I decided to tell people I would have to hold off on their work for a few days… and the world didn’t end.

I think those of us who work alone can think the world will don’t end if we don’t do everything right away. I had applied to be part of the Social Media FTW conference a few months ago and the last few weeks, work has gotten really busy. Ah, timing.

I had two choices: 1) Not sleep for the next month. or 2) Tell people there was going to be a bit of a delay. Since I need sleep so I don’t become Crazy Sleep-Deprived Nicole, I opted for option 2. Guess what? The world did not end. My clients were ok waiting a couple days. I love that people are reasonable…

I had breakfast with someone absolutely inspiring.

Samantha Warren is one of those rare people that has managed to be friends with a lot of my friends on Facebook without me having met her. And it’s not one of those cases where she knows people from one part of my life. I decided we should meet for breakfast, as cool people and fellow small business owners.

We had such a nice time: great conversation about life, work, and all the people we have in common. One idea she had that I thought was great was making a ‘procedures’ document, in case someone ever has to take over work for her (and also as a checklist to make sure all things she does get done on schedule). Anyway, if I ever need a wedding photographer, I think I’ve got one.

So while this week was a lot of driving, it was a great week in terms of meeting people and networking.

If you met me this week, I do hope you’ll comment below so I can follow you online as well. Have a good rest of the week!

This Week In Business: Moving Sporadically Edition

It has been one of those weeks where everything is turning up in unexpected places (ever find a book in your fridge?) Yeah, it’s been that kind of week.

My worst idea happened Monday night when I decided to not go to bed until I fixed something. At 2 am, I decided to just look at it in the morning. Guess what? I figured it out easy the next day. But then of course, I was thrown off for the week… and there was a lot of moving to be done. And because I was so tired, some of the moving was a little sporadic.

I went to the Schoodic Chamber’s meeting to give a talk… and I was an hour early.
I headed to Winter Harbor (an hour from my house in Bar Harbor) and I got to where I was supposed to on time. Only, the door was locked and the parking lot was empty. Hmph.

I started walking around and saw a man painting his house. Thank goodness he was actually in the Chamber (I love small towns). “Doesn’t that start at 7?” I look at my cell phone: five minutes of 6. Good thing Winter Harbor is a beautiful town to kill an hour in!

My Mac died.
So I will be the first to say I don’t know nearly enough about Macs but I do know when a computer is acting weird. I combed the forums, I tried moving/deleting files, but nothing would stop the spinning beachball of death.

I brought it to the monthly Downeast Mac Users Group meeting and guess who may have messed up her computer enough to need a new hard drive? That would be me. But no worries, I have a backup computer and use Dropbox (free up to 2 Gigs) so most everything is saved. But still, a pain…

I moved my blog to Wordpress… ok Matt did but I helped.
Nine months ago, Matt began helping me move the blog part of my website over to Wordpress. But work kept coming up. Finally, this week it happened. And tonight, the whole thing officially went live on my site.

Now you won’t notice much different as we’ve kept the same design (and actually Matt is still fixing stuff). But you will notice features like better search and archives, a fun tag cloud, and some functional Wordpress plugins doing things, like detecting how users get to my site and giving them a proper greeting.

I applied to try out merchant services.
I’ve been really dragging my feet about accepting credit cards. I’ve wanted to but it’s this whole process and I didn’t want to go through the whole setup only to find one person prefers it to paying with their checking or Paypal account.

I got an email offer from Quickbooks to try their merchant services for 60 days only paying the transaction fees. I find out tomorrow whether I’ve been approved but at least I’ll get to answer my questions like “Will people use it?” and “Will I get paid quicker?” with some actual data from trying!

I think one more good night’s sleep will leave me moving a bit less sporadically tomorrow. But I’m willing to accept that some weeks have days that feel like Monday every day. This was definitely one of them! Happy almost weekend!

This Week In Business: Remote Services Edition

The beauty with a website business is that, at least theoretically, you should be able to have a customer anywhere. Note the ‘should’.

In my first year of being full time, all but one of my clients was in Downeast Maine. (And the non-local one I met at a local party through a local friend). I like being in Maine so this was fine with me. But the whole point of an online business is to reach out further than you would in terms of geography. Ideally, I think my lack of remote work made me a bit worried that my skills wouldn’t translate beyond my geographic area.

In addition to making a video on the main page of my site (which a few new clients have told me made them a lot less nervous about contacting me) and otherwise proactively seeking out work, I now have multiple remote accounts, and my first ever client I’ve never met.

I finally set up an Elance profile to be even more proactive about seeking out work.

My friend Dorrie had written me out a bunch of links she had heard on a business radio show a few months ago. The paper has been on my desk since; I had enough work at the time but thought if I was going to reach beyond coastal Maine, this might be the way to do it.

I finally set up an Elance profile a couple weeks ago, if only to have the chance to bid on projects that sounded interesting. I’ve bid on a small one and, since I haven’t heard back yet, I’m guessing I didn’t get it. Oh well, you win some, you lose some!

I’ve been awarded the bid for my hometown Chamber’s new website.

I put in a bid for the Chamber of Commerce’s website in my hometown of Fort Kent Maine. Months went by (and I checked in a few times) but when I hadn’t heard a few months later, I decided to start taking steps to ensure I’d have enough work through the winter. I set up the Elance profile, beefed up my LinkedIn account, contacted anyone who might have leads for me, and bid on parts of larger projects with friends/colleagues.

I just got the call yesterday afternoon that I got the bid for the Chamber. Getting to help my hometown market itself and getting my business funded through the winter? Win win. Also it just goes to show you that when you just let go, sometimes the thing you were holding on to just shows back up.

I got a call from a professional organizer in Texas, and got my first ever client I’ve never met.

I’ve done some work with Kim, a web/graphic designer (a friend of a friend, someone I’ve only talked to once on the phone and exchanged a few emails with). Then one of her clients contacted me about possible work this past week. Now, I have a client in Texas, and hopefully will have a few more more if I do well.

I began helping manage a friend’s website… in the UK.

My friend Phil (who I actually met through this blog) decided a few months ago to buy a website or two as an investment. I semi-helped him look at stuff on, which in case you didn’t know is the Ebay of websites. He ended up buying two costume selling websites (or as they say in the UK, fancy dress) that we’re in the process of doing some SEO on, adding products to, etc. As the site manager, I’m getting some good experience in managing an ecommerce store (and not just marketing it). For my efforts, I get a cut of the profits, which motivates me to do more on the sites and also helps my friend out.

Once we figure out international shipping, etc. I’ll link it on here but for now, it’s fun to tweak/improve a website that’s already profitable. Starting from zero can be exhausting so this is a nice, different experience for me.

In other words, while I am still doing lots in Maine, I know that my business can only grow if I can look not only at my area but beyond it in terms of possibilities. This allows me to try different kinds of work, make new contacts, and maybe eventually the opportunity to travel.

Here’s to proving to myself (and others who may want to hire me) that I can not only do work remotely but do it well, and beginning to reap the benefits of having a web-based business.

So out of curiosity: Who is your furthest away and/or most random work contact or client, and how did you meet them?

This Week In Business: Better Light Edition

I’ve gotten a few emails. “I miss your blogs!” I miss them too!

Last weekend, I was in a wedding in Massachusetts and, combined with being busy at work in general, updating my own blog often seems like something I want to do and don’t have time. Maybe when I get a smart phone in a couple months, it’ll be easier to do these things in transit.

Here’s what’s going on at Breaking Even Communications:

I moved my office into my living room.
I was most excited about my move from 220 square feet late last year precisely because I could have aseparateoffice and living area. There was really only one logical choice for my ‘office’.

Fast forward to months later. Why is my energy so low? My office had one small window behind me and it was not motivating to work in a cave.

So I moved my desk to my living room(other office-y things like printer, stationary, etc. stayed in the old office). Yesterday morning, I watched a gold finch hover near a flower. I also got a ton of work done. For the whole separation of work and life, I might eventually get a screen to close off the area in the after hours but for the moment, this arrangement is working, and well.

Let there be light, even if it does mean my work space is in my living space.

Let there be light, even if it does mean my work space is in my living space.

I got selected to present at Social Media FTW about blogging.

I’ll be presenting as part of the Social Media FTW Fall Conference in Portland in September. I’ll be presenting on business blogging (as the intro to Rich Brook’s advanced blogging). There are still tickets available and, based on who else is on the roster, it should be a pretty good conference. Click this link to learn more.

Preregistration for workshops are now required.

This past week, Downeast Learning (my coventure with my friend Matt) had a workshop about email marketing. We were about to cancel it because no one had signed up when I had three people email me about it over the weekend, which is just enough to cover the room rental. “Do we have to preregister? Can we pay you then?” “Sure!” I said in an attempt to be flexible.

One person showed up. I emailed the other two people. One had forgotten and one couldn’t come at the last minute. I bet paying ahead would have been more motivating. Lesson learned: preregistration only! No more Too-Nice Nicole!

I made a deal on a beach.

I had to mention this because it was so random.

So my dog got lost while we were on a walk (long story but let’s just say my dog thinks she can catch deer) and about an hour into the search, I went down to the beach to see if she had turned up there. I waited to see if she’d come off the island we were walking on when the guy next to me started talking to me about my dog. It came up in conversation that I lived in Bar Harbor and he asked me what I did. When I told him internet marketing, he took down my contact info into his iPhone. He runs a video production company in Maryland and needs some website and social media revamping. It just goes to show you that you never know when you’re going to meet people. I’ll let you know if he calls!

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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These Two Weeks In Business: The Package Edition

It’s been said that hairdressers have the worst hair and the cobbler’s kids are the last to get their shoes. Growing up in a hardware family, we were often the last to get handy people at our house. Good thing my mom is pretty good with powertools!

Well, with web people, this idea translates to sometimes your web professional having a poorly maintained site (while still doing a pretty good job on yours).

While I do keep things up-to-date on my site, the list of little things to improve it end up stacking up until it reaches a breaking point.

Last week, mostly while I was avoiding creating a presentation, I did a lot of work on my own site. It’s not something you’d necessarily notice but mind if I give a little tour?

I created packages and then a chart to help understand them.

If you got to, you’ll notice a bunch of packages for businesses and non-profits starting at $200/month. I’ve asked a few business owners (and maybe they were just too nice to tell me) but they said the prices seemed fair and the packages were easy to understand.That said, if anything with my packages seems off/weird, please comment! If you’ve ever met me (and heck, even if you haven’t), I hope you know I appreciate it when people are honest with me. :^)

Basically, I calculated prices based on my hourly wage, since I know about how long it takes me to do something. Also by pricing monthly, I was hoping to make people understand a lot of this stuff is on-going and is something I am able to maintain/create on a regular basis that’ll add value to the business.

I am all about making things simple to regular people… so I made this handy dandy flow chart.

I was on vacation with my mom, who owns a business, when I showed her my service packages. (Admittedly, this is probably a pretty biased audience to start out with but I thought it was better than nothing!)

“These all look good,” she said, “but how do I know what I need?”

In the hotel room, I immediately began sketching a flow chart. When I got back home to Photoshop, I made the chart below and emailed it to her.

“Oh this is great!” she said.

When my friend Matt told me making an image map is ‘easy’ (i.e. making it so when you click on parts of the chart, it goes to different links), I gave it a shot. And you know what? It was. Now when you click on the package you need, poof!, you are taken to a web page with the package description and, in the future, example clients, testimonials, screenshots, etc.

So you can click on the chart to see it up close… Let me know if you find it easy to follow or if you see any improvements I could make!

My mom wanted to know how she would know what services she needed, because they all sounded good. How about a flow chart? I said. And guess what, it's clickable!

I sent out my monthly newsletter, and got tons more subscribes from it than ever before.

I got an email from my sister about a month ago about blogging software and, since I had practically written up a whole thing for her, I thought I would also send the information in my monthly email newsletter. To see my summary of some ‘free’ blogging technology out there, here’s the archive link to it. ‘You should put this on your website’ my friend Chris said. And I did, along with a way to subscribe to the newsletter. So if you want, you can subscribe on the main page of my site or on the Breaking Even Facebook page.
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