This Week In Business

Selling More Online 101

This month’s theme is all about selling more (using what you already have), so look for upcoming posts about specific concepts (like cross selling and upselling) but for now, let’s get started with some basics to get your head thinking in this direction.

Having worked on my first ecommerce site in a very long time recently, I realized that selling online can be tricky when it’s your own business. Certain things that may seem obvious from a distance become less obvious when you’re actually “in it.”

To sell more, as a business you have three general options:

  1. Sell different products/services to the same people.
  2. Sell the same products/services to different people.
  3. If you sell products, add services to go with and vice versa.

Here’s what each of those options looks like:

Selling different products/services to the same people.

This is the ‘easiest’ as your current customers already know you and trust you.



One way to get thinking about this is to use a large website like Amazon or Ebay to look at your products, paying attention to the ‘Best Selling’ and ‘People Who Bought This Also Bought’ sections:

Maybe it’s because I’ve never sold coolers before but I would have never though people would need a mountable wire rack to hold jugs.

This kind of thinking will get a bunch of potential products on your radar that you would have never thought of otherwise. Some you may be interested in carrying, some perhaps not, but it could give you a fresh perspective on your business that your current customers will appreciate.

Other ideas in this same vein:

  • bulk discounts
  • ‘bundles’ of products at a discount
  • loyalty programs

You get the idea; you want to increase your offerings so people have more of a chance to buy but not in a direction you don’t want to go in. Ex: If you do air conditioning repair but don’t want to sell the air conditioners themselves, don’t go there… or else you’ll have air conditioners all over your workshop AND be unhappy.


Selling the same products/services to different people.

This is a bit more nuanced because while you are spending more time (and money) to reach new people, you are doing less work as you aren’t making new offerings so much as repackaging/reframing current ones.

Let’s say you sell pint glasses to breweries. You put their logo on the glass and get them out. At a certain point, you may run out of breweries. So why not offer pint glasses for school fundraisers? Or pint glasses for beer festivals? Clearly, depending on how you want your business to grow, you may choose one of these options over the other as a starting point but you get the idea. Both of these will involve building a different kind of web page (note: I’m not saying a separate website, just a landing page on your current site with information for that particular audience), doing a different kind of advertising campaign, and building a different contact list.

‘White labeling’ is a popular concept that goes with this idea. This means simply taking a product or service and reworking it slightly for another company/group. You can give someone a ‘just for you’ experience without starting from square one. You see this concept a lot with software, like these two separate insurance websites running identical software, but you can apply this in other ways too.

Let’s say you write a book about finding the right social media career. You may rework it slightly to make it specifically for college grads, website developers looking to transition into marketing, or seniors re-entering the labor force. Each of these groups have slightly different concerns/backgrounds and you will frame the information you have slightly differently, but it won’t take nearly the amount of time it would take to write three separate books.


If you sell products, add services and vice versa.

Let’s say you’re a photographer who can think of different picture taking scenarios all day. Since you can’t clone yourself, at some point your revenue is going to reach a ceiling. What products can you offer that your customers need? Or how can potential customers become actual customers if they never book your intro photo package at $300/session? A course about taking better smartphone photos? A piece of software to help them edit photos more quickly and easily (and less expensively) than Photoshop? Cool lenses they can clip to their smartphones to take cooler photos? Only you know the answer…or more accurately, your customers will tell you over time by buying or not buying. Don’t commit to a large inventory (if you don’t sell products normally) or learning a lot of new skills (if you don’t sell services normally); just try a few things and see what works best.

Selling more, online or off, requires some research, flexible thinking, and testing. Whether you sell products or services, are a one-man show or have some employees/volunteers helping you out, there’s always a new way to think about what you already have (whether it’s products/services or a customer base). I hope the resources we are gathering together this month on this topic will help you (and us) sell more online!


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.”



Five Tips For Organizing Email

Sometimes, I think the universe assigns me these blog topics on purpose.

I run two businesses, have a few personal projects, and some social correspondence which means I check about ten different email addresses from one interface.

This can get a little overwhelming.

A few weeks ago, one of my friends helped me move everything into a Google Apps account which meant that suddenly, the kind of band-aid system I had in place became apparent because EVERYTHING was getting dumped into my inbox at once.

Tip 1: Make a generic Gmail for some purposes (you can have it forward to a spot in your real email that’s not your inbox).

One thing I’ve learned is lots of people have been spoofing my domain, sending email and pretending to be affiliated with Breaking Even.

One way to stop that (and to give your email a lot more street cred in the process) is to tell your domain which services you use to send email (ex: Mailchimp) and exclude all others. (This is kind of a technical thing but if you live and die by email like we do, worth getting it set up by a pro. Let us know if you need help; we know people who do this.)

But if like me you made accounts that send auto-updates (ex: automated backups in Wordpress) with your usual email, then you are out of luck. I had to move these to a generic Gmail.

Switching things like this and online shopping accounts, etc. to a generic Gmail can filter the non-work (i.e. non-productive) stuff to another area before it even hits your work email.



Tip 2: Use Unroll.me or similar service to batch your marketing emails.

Unroll.me is a free service that connects to your email and pulls in any marketing emails. From the interface, you can select which ones go to your inbox, which ones get ‘bundled’ for a once a day delivery/processing, and which ones you want to unsubscribe from.

With over 1800 email subscriptions (many of which I swear I didn’t even sign up for), this has been a huge timesaver for me. And if you run a local business or non-profit, you can tell people about this and make sure your emails get in your customers’ inboxes (if they want them to anyway).

Tip 3: Use filters.

The easiest way to organize something is to organize how (and if) it comes into your life. With filters, I can have things from certain clients go into certain areas of my email, meaning I can batch tasks. Much more efficient than dealing with a mass pile of email looking for one particular thing.

Filters may seem like a technical thing to set up but most of the work is just deciding how you want to get information. Here’s how to create filters in Gmail and other popular services.



Tip 4: Templates are your friend.

If you’re like us, there are certain kinds of emails you get all the time:

  • I want to be a member but I’m not sure. (for Anchorspace)
  • What are your rates?
  • I don’t know anything about X service. What do you do?

I have a Google Doc called ‘Email Templates So I Don’t Have To Rewrite Them All the Effin Time’. I never remember exactly what it’s called but I can always find it via the word ‘effin’ in search. (Whatever works for you.) Taking the time to thoughtfully write these once and use them over and over will save valuable brain time. Part of my template says ‘INSERT PLEASANTRY HERE’ which allows me to add a personal touch before clicking send.

Tip 5: Find your most soul sucking email task and see if you can automate it.

Is it sticking reservations into a Google Calendar? Scheduling meetings? Sending out weekly Google Analytics reports to the team? All these things can be made automatic.

For me, my email used to be a place of some excitement… and as it turned to more dread, I realized why. It was because I was spending an average of 7 emails to schedule a one hour meeting.

Then I got Evie and she schedules things for me, and it’s lovely. Point is, since I got rid of the thing I dreaded most in my email, it has become a lot funner of a place once again.

The thing you hate the most about your email may be something you can have automatically happen. Give it a shot.

Email is here to say; it’s part of all our lives and by helping get it under control, we can feel more organized about a lot of our digital lives.

More Resources:

5 Tips To Achieve Inbox Zero

Send emails later (or reminders) in Gmail with Boomerang

27 Prewritten Templates For Your Toughest Work Emails

Email Game (because we all need a little incentive)



Distributing Your Instructional Videos

So you made an online course, congratulations!

Believe it or not, you did the hardest part already. Now it’s time to make a technical decision, which is what most people THINK is the hardest part. At this point, you’re probably asking yourself: Do I distribute/sell my course on my own website or on a third party website? Here’s how to answer that question:

Step 1: Compare fees vs. features vs. subjects of third party software.

Most third party software that allows you to sell courses is going to take a fee for making it easy for you. Also, you’ll notice some platforms attract certain types of courses. Sure, you can be the only cooking course on a mainly design/development tutorial website but why fight City Hall? Start with a list like this and narrow down to one or two options that seem to work best for you: http://www.learningrevolution.net/sell-online-courses/

Step 2: If you have a robust website, ask your website service person how much it would cost for you to add course registration software to your website.

In some cases, we can do this with a software license and a couple hours of integration. In other cases, your website may need to be rebuilt to handle it. Most web people can at least give you a ballpark range without doing a full quote. Never hurts to ask!



Step 3: Do the math for low enrollment and high enrollment scenarios for your two third party options and your own website.

In our example, we will pretend you’ve made a course and you want to charge $24.99 for it and your low enrollment goal is 100 and your high enrollment goal is 500 people. You are using a typical online payment processor like Stripe to take credit card payments (2.9% + $.30/transaction).

Let’s say your developer will charge you $500 to add course registration to your website and you are also looking at Udemy as your other option.

Scenario #1: Your Own Website

Low Enrollment Costs: $500 + 2.9% of $24.99*100 people + $.30/transaction*100 people = $500 + $72.47 + $30 = $602.47
Low Enrollment Income: $24.99*100 people= $2,499
Net: $1,896.53

High Enrollment Costs: $500 + 2.9% of $24.99*500 people + $.30/transaction*500 people = $500 + $362.36 + $150 = $1,012.36
High Enrollment Income: $24.99*500 people= $12,495
Net: $11,482.64

Scenario #2: Udemy
Since these guys have a different fee structure depending on whether you or they make the sale, we’re going to assume you sell half and Udemy sells the other half in our calculations.

Low Enrollment Costs: 3% of $24.99*50 people + 50% of $24.99 *50 people = $37.49 +$624.75 = $662.24
Low Enrollment Income: $24.99*100 people= $2,499
Net: $1,836.76

High Enrollment Costs: 3% of $24.99* 250 people + 50% of $24.99 * 250 people = $187.43 + $3,123.75= $3,311.18
High Enrollment Income: $24.99*500 people= $12,495
Net: $9,183.82

As you see, in the low enrollment scenario, the costs are comparable. But if you have your own platform and feel like you can market your course as well as an online learning platform (or nearly as well), you can make more money. More heavy lifting, more ‘risk’, more money. Makes sense.

Unless we know exactly how your course is going to do enrollment-wise, there is literally no right answer to your software question.

So don’t let this choice paralyze you. Pick something and go with it for your first online course. In using it, you’ll learn its quirks and what you like or dislike about it, so if you decide to do another online course in the future you’ll have a better idea of what changes to implement.

Step 4: No matter what, make sure your new course is easy to get to from your website, social media, and email newsletter.

Make giant ‘Captain Obvious’ buttons. Make a giant photo for your scrolling slideshow. Put a link in your email signature. You want to avoid ever hearing the phrase “Oh I didn’t know you had an online course” ever come from the lips of a customer, potential customer, or anyone you know (unless it is a person who doesn’t go on the internet at all).

Technology is your friend with online courses and there are lots of powerful third party options to get your course started. So put it out there and see who can learn from you (and what you can learn from this process). 



Creating & Editing Instructional Videos

Video has become a popular way to share information and instructions online. Whether it’s a YouTube tutorial, Instagram or Facebook video, Snapchat stories, an online course system like Udemy, or a video you’ve uploaded to website, there’s a lot of options for sharing (which we’ll discuss in detail in a later post). For now, let’s focus on the behind the scenes work that people who watch your video won’t get to see.

Creating an Outline/Storyboard

Planning is an important part of the video process, whether you’re going to broadcast (or rebroadcast) a live video or you plan on editing after the fact. Even if you’re great on the fly, it helps to go in knowing what the general structure of the video will be so that you have a flow that makes sense to the people who will be watching.

What sort of things need to go in the outline?

  • Objective of the video: what do you want people to take away from your video? Narrow it down to one or two sentences if you can.
  • Setting: where will you be filming? Is there a specific date/time of day that it needs to happen? For example, if you are using natural lighting, there may be certain times of the day you want to use of avoid.
  • Script/Talking Points: ideally a conversational tone, including any physical cues or props, lighting changes, etc. that need to happen. (You may think “ah, I know what to say!” but this can be helpful if you have more than one person involved in filming or plan to add things like title slides for different content sections)
  • Length: think about what your audience will want in terms of length. Is it 2-5 minutes, 10-20 minutes, or longer? Note: You can always film in one long take and then edit; it’s better to have too much to work with than too little!
  • Rehearsal: Again, this depends on the level of production and number of people involved, but a run through can help you feel more prepared for the main event.
  • Editing notes: If at some point during the video you want there to be a cutaway to a product or screenshot, it can help to add this in the outline (especially if you aren’t the one who will be editing). Any title slides, credits, subtitles, etc should also be included here.

All you really need to create an outline for your post is some paper and a pen/pencil, but depending on how professional you need it to look (i.e. if you have to submit it for approval before filming or share with others) it may be a good idea to invest some time in an online template. A few free resources for doing this include:

As long as you have the basic information necessary (objective, script, editing notes, etc), there’s no reason why you can’t design your own template that suits your needs, even using something like Google Docs or Powerpoint.


Editing Software

Once you’ve finished filming (unless you’ve done a live video), odds are you want to do some editing. Most people don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on programs like Final Cut Pro or Sony Vegas, but the good news is that there are plenty of editing programs that are far cheaper, and will do everything you need. A few examples include:

If you’re new at the whole editing video thing, don’t worry- it gets better as you practice more. Some general things to look out for are consistent volume (especially if you include audio tracks from other sources- you may end up with a video with deafening intro music but the rest be barely audible), lighting (is someone getting washed out?), cropping (the sign over to the right of the presenter is distracting). Another note for audio if you’re adding outside sources (and using one audio track, as you may in iMovie)- make sure it doesn’t bump the rest of the audio tracks out of alignment with their video counterpart.

iMovie lets you create title slides within the program, but perhaps you want to customize any text you have, or edit product stills. You can also use other photo editing software like PicMonkey (which we use), Canva, or Pixlr (all web based)- this is by no means an exhaustive list but will give you a jump start.

When you are all finished and have exported your video file, make sure you watch it to make sure nothing weird happened in the exporting process-or have someone else look if you need another set of eyes on it. Also ask yourself or another if it hits the objective and sends the message you intended.

Additional Materials

Will you have written resources (i.e. PDF handouts) to go along with your video? If so, you may need to upload them somewhere to link to them in your video description.

Does it need a written transcript/annotations/subtitles? Note: adding subtitles makes your video way more accessible. Online transcription has gotten much more affordable at around $1-2/minute or you can DIY if you want to save money.

Should it also have social sharing or email forwarding options, or is it exclusive content? (Exclusive content could mean an online course which people register/pay for, which we’ll be discussing in a post later this month). In any case, having some action step at the end, whether it’s to sign up for an email newsletter or simply watch another video you’ve made, is a great way to reward audiences who get to the end.

Our theme this month is Getting Instructions Online, so stay tuned for more ideas on creating instructional content for your customers and followers!



Alternative Workplaces for the Freelancer/Entrepreneur

Working from home is tougher than one might realize. For one thing, there’s a bevy of distractions and temptations (I’m looking at you, Netflix) that makes it difficult to be productive. For those of us who need a work environment geared toward discipline and efficiency, working out of the home lacks structure that is critical to productivity.

I learned this the hard way when I worked for two years without an office, when I was writing for hyperlocal websites. I had to get creative about where I worked, especially in light of having a toddler in the house (try explaining the concept of “telecommuting” to a 3-year-old — can’t be done).

With that in mind, here’s a list of alternative to working from home for freelancers/entrepreneurs:

Coworking space

The coworking concept is a shared space where one can rent a desk, usually by the day, the week or the month. Coworking, it turns out, is more than a trend. It’s a movement that is actually growing.

The drawback is that it’s not free — there’s the cost of rent. The pluses, however, to having an actual, professional workspace without the cost of leasing a full-blown office are innumerable.

If you’re in Mount Desert Island area, I actually recommend checking out BEC’s sister company, Anchorspace. Make a reservation, rent a desk for a day or longer. If you need to meet with clients, there’s a conference room. Arguably most important: There are a number of good places to eat nearby in downtown Bar Harbor (Hello, Jalapenos).

Public libraries

Libraries are a wonderful community resource. Most offer free internet and a quiet environment.

The disadvantages are limited hours and a lack of privacy. Unless your library has a cafe, it’s difficult to hold conversations with clients or interview subjects, and even then, the environment may not be ideal. Libraries often have limited bandwidth or place a limit on the amount of time you are allowed online.

I’m actually writing the first draft of this post at a public library now, where, I just overheard someone explaining how they got fired from KFC for hiding dirty cookware under the kitchen sink. That’s a little distracting.



Cafes/Restaurants

McDonald’s, Starbucks Panera and other quick-serve joints usually have free wifi and will do in a pinch, that is if you can avoid spilling ketchup on your laptop. I’ve worked at coffee shops, but those get noisy real quick, especially when the blender is activated to whip up someone’s frozen soy macchiato latte whatever.

Seating is often at a premium, especially during lunch. Your wifi access will often be limited, especially during peak hours. And, because you’re not a jerk, you’ll have to buy something to justify using their wifi.

Your car

Probably the least comfortable office I ever worked at was in the passenger seat of my old Mustang. (Don’t get me wrong, it was a beautiful car that I miss dearly, but I promised myself that once I hit 40 I wouldn’t be one of “those guys” with a gut tooling around in a young man’s car.) I invested in a hotspot for my phone and wrote wherever I had signal. The advantage is that there’s privacy for making phone calls and you are completely mobile. The disadvantages are numerous. Cars, when they’re not running, get cold or hot pretty quick. Besides, explaining to a client that you live out of your car for 8 cramped hours a day makes you sound like Gil Gunderson.

Recommendation: Coworking Space

Having experienced all the above, I say make the investment and rent a desk. The payback is in more productivity. Do more, make more.

Coworking spaces are also more secure than the alternatives. You can go to the bathroom without having to pack up your laptop and mouse and charger, and your seat will still be there when you get back. You have a dedicated spot where you can work for eight hours. In other words, you’ll look like a professional.