This Week In Business

Don’t Be A Multi Level Marketing Nightmare

I’ve been wanting to write this post for months. And just when I would decide to do it, I get an update from one of my friends who has added me to a group or invited me to a party and hold off.

To summarize, multilevel marketing (MLM) is where people sign up to sell products direct to the consumer with commission. So for example, if I liked Cutco knives, I could sign up to become a sales person for them. Every time I sold knives, I would get some portion of the sale. The real power with MLM companies, however, comes from recruiting others for your ‘team’ … then not only are you getting a portion of your sales but also your team’s sales.

So you can see where something like this would be attractive: you have products, a business model, sales support, and more. If you believe in what you are selling (and actually like selling), you could conceivably do well. More often than not, however, only a small percentage of people do well enough to create a full time income for themselves.

As more people are selling Shakeology, Lifevantage, Lularoe, Athena Home Novelties, Pampered Chef, Plexus, etc., now more than ever, this post is needed and maybe even appreciated by MLM people trying to do a good job. I have friends running MLM businesses that aren’t spamming everyone. If you’re considering this income option, you can be ethical, non-annoying, and profitable about it too.


Give Me Six Months

Here’s the thing. There is a certain percentage of people in my life (and probably yours) that seem to always be onto the next thing. You know, you get another notification to like their new Facebook business page and think ‘Don’t they already have like four businesses?’

Typically, these are people who move from one MLM to the next. One month they’re selling t-shirts and next month, candles.

I get invited to like pages, go to events, etc. all the time but typically, before doing anything, I’m going to lurk for six months. If you’re really serious, you’ll still be there.

Demonstrate longevity and you’ll stand out from other people in our newsfeed trying to sell us the same things.

Social Media Isn’t An Excuse To Be Lazy

You can’t just slap an update on Facebook, connect with everyone you have ever talked to, and call yourself a marketer.

Trust me, if that’s all it took, I’d have a lot more competition.

Social media is a tool in your toolbox, not a way you run your entire business. This is why the most successful MLM people have websites, email newsletters, blogs, multiple different social media accounts, and real life events. They are in their communities, donating to worthy causes. They are actually using what they are selling and letting people ask them about it.

Diversify how you talk to people and build the relationship over time. Social media is as much pull as push so encourage interactions, questions, discussion (even if you don’t agree), and overall participation.

Do A Team Leader Gut Check

I went on a walk with one of my MLM friends. She was telling me what the ‘social media expert’ on her group call told her to do and I was shocked. The tactics were very aggressive and not at all like her.

Here are things you may be asked to do by a team leader, marketing expert, or other person in your MLM group:

  • Ask all your Facebook friends to have parties for you.
  • Add people to online groups without asking them.
  • Tag individuals in posts about your products.
  • Invite people to every ‘event’ you throw, regardless of their ability to attend or interest in attending.
  • Add people to your email list without asking.
  • Try new social platforms you don’t entirely understand. (I Periscoped via my private account there to show my sister how mean anonymous users can be. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime!)
  • Talk people into how they can ‘afford’ a product.
  • Posting 10-20 times a day on Facebook and other platforms.
  • Posting pictures of your children/family. (Everyone has different rules for this, just know how the people you involve feel about it.)
  • Using hashtags you don’t understand (trust us, hashtags can associate you with things you #sodontwant).

I personally think this whole list is gross… but you may have certain things you are and aren’t comfortable doing.

If your gut tells you something isn’t good, don’t do it, no matter what the ‘expert’ says. And if you are being pressured to sell in ways you aren’t comfortable with, ask if you really want to be part of a company like that.

Be Mindful Of Notifications

If you are using a social media platform, consider making a fake user (or enlisting a few trusted friends) to understand how your customers are seeing things. Example, how does a public post versus a private message work? Is the link in the photo caption clickable (and is it obnoxious)?

For example, if you post to your Facebook group six times in one day and I am in the group, I’m getting six notifications. Now to you, it’s easier to do it all at once but for me (your potential customer), I’m silently wishing you’d shut up and considering opting out of the group. Staggering your posts over three days, while less convenient for you, may be far less annoying to your customers.

If you don’t get how something works, do your research and test it with a small group of people (or on your fake user account). All social media sites work a little differently and understanding those differences will not only make you more successful but not alienate your base. Trust the feedback you are getting from customers. You are ‘in it’ but they aren’t… and ultimately, they need to like you and trust you before they’ll think about buying from you.

Nurture Relationships, Not Leads

If you see little dollar signs above everyone you meet, people are going to feel that in your interactions.

I know from my business experience it can take years for someone to become a customer. If you show up to one two-hour networking event and expect to leave with ten customers, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Let people like you. Post about your life, ask people about their lives.

At social events, my goal is to put off telling someone what I do for work as long as possible. I ask them where they are from, who we know in common, where they live, what they are doing during the upcoming weekend… anything but work. Trust me, nothing makes your business more compelling to another person than seeming completely uninterested in discussing business. It’s like you don’t need the money, and isn’t that the most relaxing kind of person to do business with? You seem content and confident, rather than another person trying to close a sale.

Desperation and sales never mix, especially in the MLM world where someone else selling the same thing you are is a literal click away.

So am I saying MLMs are evil? No. 

Am I saying you should think about what you are and aren’t doing very intentionally related to marketing and running your MLM business? Yes.

Four Noteworthy Apps (…for Taking Notes)

Last week, we shared tips about getting ideas out of your head and organized. In that post, we stressed the importance of being consistent with where you keep these notes. Some people prefer to have them physically written down, others prefer to have them stored on electronic devices.

For those of you who fall in the electronic note taking category, this is your post! (Or even if you’re in the first category- this post just might change your mind). There are tons of apps out there for notes, with as many or as little extra features as you would like. I’m only going to talk about 4 of the apps I’ve found that offer their own unique twists on the note-taking process that are also totally free.

Evernote: Arguably the most popular note taking app. You can download it on all your devices, that way the notes you take on your PC will be with you on your phone if you’re on the go. Free for 60 MB of uploads per month. If you want to upload more, save emails, have offline access, it does cost a bit of money. There is also a business plan (also paid) which aims to improve collaboration within a business. For a smaller company it might not make a lot of sense, but there are a lot of different people attached to a project, it seems like a useful and convenient way to stay organized.

Things that are cool: You can search through text and images, and easily share notes with others. The website has a pretty incredible blog/testimonial section, and this story about Nisha Harish using Evernote to help write a book about her experience in the Marathon des Sables caught my interest.

This was just the sample page after sign-in, and I already felt overwhelmed

This was just the sample page after sign-in, and I already felt overwhelmed

OneNote (Microsoft): Another app that’s available for free, and on desktop and mobile devices. It also comes with similar cloud-access so you can get your information wherever you are. The interface reminds me of Excel, with different tabs for different sections. From the perspective of a girl who breaks a sweat at the mere mention of spreadsheets, this isn’t how I want to keep track of my notes. Then I actually logged in and tested it out (clearly nothing serious) and it was actually pretty awesome.

Things that are cool: It’s very straightforward and easy to use. You have all the basic options, like drawing notes, writing, sharing, adding pictures-without it being overly complex. Easy to navigate, both in terms of writing a note and accessing it later on.

I had a little fun testing this one out...

I had a little fun testing this one out…

Google Keep: A free Google app that is a more organized version of the Stickies program that Macs have (which I totally loved in my tween-hood). Like Evernote and OneNote, you can share your notes with other people. You can also sync your notes with your other Google apps, add location based reminders (with the help of Google maps). As someone who already uses Google apps AND enjoys the visual organization, this is the app that gets my vote. (Unfortunately, I’m a physical note person).

Things that are cool: As mentioned earlier, I really like the interface on Google Keep. It’s more friendly for visually inclined individuals. You can enable dictation (which the other apps don’t have) and can easily move it to a Google doc for further editing/sharing.


Simplenote: A slight step up above the Note app on your phone- it’s text only and doesn’t let you add any attachments or images, or share with others. However, it does have a cool restore history feature, so if you accidentally delete something you can easily get it back. (Note does not have this, trust me.) You can also tag notes, share the note URL, and invite others to edit. In other words, it has a lot of the same features as the other apps but with a simpler interface.

Things that are cool: It’s pretty minimalist, so if you’re the type of person who JUST wants to jot things down without dealing with annoying extra features, this is your app. The ability to retrieve older notes is a nice safety feature, too.


These are just four of the MANY apps you can download for note taking, but they’re a) popular and b) free, so if you’re in the market for organizing notes in a digital way, you’ll probably be able to find something that will get the job done.

June is note month! Stay tuned for more posts about note taking and keeping, and remember to check out other posts as well:

Take Note: Tips on Having (and Keeping) Your Ideas

BEC Story #7: Closing Time

One of the most stressful things you’ve have to do as a business owner is close your business. Whether it’s for a good reason (Ex: Getting married and moving to Tahiti) or a bad reason (Ex: bankruptcy), every business ends in some way. My mom very recently sold her business, which is another ending. I have seen first hand what it’s like to go through closing a business, whether it’s turning it over to someone else to run or closing it for good.

Sure we do internet-related marketing, maintenance, and training for people… but sometimes working with clients means operating in a bit of gray area.

Problem: Some of our clients have had to close businesses. It’s often a stressful and emotional time for them and, as compassionate people, we feel their pain and want to help in whatever ways we can.

Solution: When one of our customers tells me they are closing or thinking of closing, we have three steps we go through with them :

1) helping them maximize assets (Ex: what do they have and how can we help sell it or use it to communicate business value)
2) making sure they have their information, should they ever need it (ex: password to get into hosting account) and
3) helping them announce it online.

Maximizing assets is where it’s hard for us to walk the line between internet marketing people and business consultants. Most of the time, I see the internet as a helpful tool for maximizing assets. We can help a client at least, say, understand the difference between Craigslist and Ebay for liquidating excess inventory. We try to point them in good directions and connect them to those who can help… but business consultants, we are not. I am always the first to say this in meeting with a client in this situation. We want to help, but we can’t be more than we are.

Making sure the client has up-to-date information also helps. Do emails need to be forwarded to new accounts? Is the domain name on autorenewal and needing to be transferred to a new owner? These are questions the client isn’t thinking of but we try to. We also try to keep passwords and client files going pretty far back, on the off chance five years from now, we are contacted and asked about it. (Yes that has happened.)

The one thing we very directly help with is messaging. Who needs to know? When do they need to know? What is the plan for rolling this out?

For example, our longest term client Meg at Local Color recently decided to move back home to the Maryland and close her retail store in Maine. She was exhausted at the idea of having this conversation over and over… so we got her on video which we posted to Facebook:

We did a couple takes until Meg liked how it came out. Then we help publicize her going-out-of-business sales, making events for them online and a way for those who love Meg to come and wish her well. Finally, we sent an email to her email list explaining the upcoming change and where the sales were happening so her most loyal supporters would know.

Self-employed people have a team and we are part of a lot of those teams. Part of being a team member is being there from when the business begins until when it ends. And maybe having a little toast after it all to wish this person well we’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Values Demonstrated: collaboration, compassion, professionalism, helpfulness, friendship

How Could This Story Be Better: Business stories sometimes aren’t fun to think about. I actually tried this as Story 4, Story 5 and Story 6 of this series but only now am able to articulate it how I want to. I guess this story would be better if it was more common. If we talked about things that were hard maybe not as easily and as often as the happy stories but definitely more often than we do now.

I could have used a few other examples of closing businesses: how they were handled and what we helped with but I chose to use Meg’s because it’s the most positive one I can think of. So maybe I’m part of that problem.

More visuals, some quotes from Meg, and other elements mentioned previously could make this story better. But the care in how we handle things like this I think will make our company better.

BEC Story #6
BEC Story #5
BEC Story #4
BEC Story #3
BEC Story #2
BEC Story #1
Why I Am Writing All These Stories About My Business

The Weirdest Places We’ve Worked From

One of the cool aspects of our work is that it can be done remotely (I’ve talked about this a bit before).

While 90% of the time you can find Nicole or I in the office, occasionally we are working from…elsewhere. And with John and Alilia on board, we have an eclectic combined work history. You’ve seen our posts about working effectively on the road or from home, but today, we’re going to share the weirdest places we’ve worked from (so far).

In compiling this list, I feel like I’ve learned some interesting things about my coworkers here at Breaking Even… maybe you will too

Weird Places Where We’ve Worked

Nicole worked on a houseboat in Amsterdam. Let's say the house across the way was much nicer than the one she was in but hey, still cozy with coffee and WiFi.

Nicole worked on a houseboat in Amsterdam. Let’s say the house across the way was much nicer than the one she was in but hey, still cozy with coffee and WiFi.


When I was in Europe two years ago for ten days. Because it was in July (our busiest time), the two hours daily of checking email wasn’t cutting it so I decided to have one work day while I was there to get a chunk of work done. My travel friend Sarah and I had rented this houseboat in Amsterdam on AirBnB. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the houseboat but it had better internet than any cafe… so I parked it at the kitchen table and left the screen door open while I watched the boats go by. There were also some very friendly ducks and a coffee maker that was relatively large for the size kitchen it was in, so I was pretty content.

On a different European trip, I actually went to Bosnia to visit a friend who started a web development company there. I worked from his company’s office and had a great time. When I work I need it 1) quiet and 2) some place where I can really settle in (get snacks freely, leave my stuff set up for a few hours)… maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to the idea of coworking spaces?


I once was in California visiting my grandparents’ house where my mom and sisters also live, and I was in the middle of a software conversion project, so for one of the status call meetings, I was prancing around on my sister’s trampoline while on the project call. That was my best working remotely experience.

My worse  working remotely experience was on the same California trip. I had set my desk phone in Colorado to forward to my cell phone, and I had asked the front desk to please not transfer any customers to me without letting me know first. They clearly disregarded my request as evidenced by the customer call I received while shopping at Costco with my relatives. I had to take the customer’s name and number and get back to them when I could get in front of my work laptop back at my grandparents’ house.

I once tried working remotely from a hospital waiting room while my son was in surgery. This isn’t as callous as it sounds—-I was desperate to keep my mind off what was happening in the operating room, and working was as good a way as any to do that. It was either that or watch the Fox News program that was blaring in the waiting room. Everything turned out well in the end and the operation was a success, and I took a few days off to be with my son and watch our daughter at home.
This past fall, I experienced a lot of unfortunate car problems. During one such incident, I worked from a VIP Auto while waiting for cylinders in my car to be replaced. It was actually awesome- no one else was there, so I got a lot done, until a lady came in with her dog who clearly didn’t want to be there.
One of the coolest places I’ve gotten to work was Gillette Stadium (also this fall). I was trying to write a blog post before a Monday night football game in a hotel room with my parents, brother, and brother’s girlfriend. The lobby downstairs was packed with fellow Pats fans, so I was stuck writing on a cot in the hotel room while The Godfather was playing in the background (which John will appreciate, I am sure). It wasn’t a great writing experience- fortunately I’m highly skilled when it comes to tuning out my family- but then again, I was getting ready to watch a Pat’s Game. You win some, you lose some (also…the Pat’s lost that game).
The internet lets us work weird places… and if you work online, I’m sure you have some fun stories too.
Out of curiosity, do you have any weird/interesting remote working experiences? Let us know!

A Simple Guide to Customer Loyalty Programs

As businesses, one of our goals is to increase our number of customers, right? As this number grows, retention also becomes a point of concern.

How do you strike the balance between gaining new customers and encouraging repeat customers? One common method is a loyalty program. If done well, these are win-win situations that encourage people coming back to your business time and time again.

Dandelion with seeds blowing away in the wind across a clear blue sky with copy space

Implementing a loyalty program can seem complicated but it honestly isn’t. It just requires thinking about how you’d like to reward your customers and deciding on how to deploy the idea in your business. Here’s a few examples to get you thinking in the loyalty direction:

Loyalty = Current Customers Getting First Dibs

An easy thing that all businesses can do- when you launch a new product or service, offer it to your already loyal customers first (it’s like a “right of first refusal”). You can even take it a step further and offer it to them at a discounted price (usually the discount price has an expiration date). This isn’t so much a “program” as a “best practice” to show appreciation for the people who already support you.

Loyalty = Rewarding (Financially) Frequent Purchasers

Probably the most common type of loyalty program is some type of number system, like a punch card. A person has to come into your store a set number of times before receiving the reward. A common example is a punch card, like a “Buy 10 get the 11th free” deal. Service-based businesses can also use this type of reward system (i.e. get five haircuts at this salon and get a free manicure). It works because customers view the reward as either something they would purchase anyway, or something of value that they are interested in but haven’t purchased for themselves.

Loyalty = Letting Frequent Purchasers Play A Game

Games are another way to reward (or create) loyalty. McDonalds is a pro at encouraging repeat customers through games. One prime example is their Monopoly game. The contest only runs for a couple months out of the year. To play, you just have to buy food at McDonalds (I think it has to be a certain size in order to get stickers). Customers are encouraged to play for the bigger prizes (which require more stickers/purchases), but there are also smaller scale prizes as an incentive (like a free Double Cheeseburger). Irving had a similar contest a few summers ago involving Monopoly (I think the prize was a lifetime supply of fuel). I won a lot of free soda that year.

Loyalty = Giving A Freebie (Bonus Points If Unexpected)

Another easy way to reward loyalty is giving your customers something they already want. Sometimes when you go grocery shopping, you get some coupons with your receipt. Frustratingly, these are usually items that you’ve just purchased. That’s because you’re not getting these coupons at random. The machines assume you purchase the items on a regular basis (which may or may not necessarily be the case), and offer an incentive to return to the same store to purchase those items again.

Online stores have a unique advantage here- they can keep track of purchases and send follow up emails to encourage customers to “buy it again.” There’s a risk of appearing intrusive if you consistently offer specific rewards- there’s actually an entire episode in the last season of Parks & Recreation involving the ethics of data mining (all the citizens in Pawnee received unique gifts that were eerily specific and pointed back to information on their phones). In other words, your loyal customers want to feel like you know them, but not like you’re spying on them.

Loyalty = Letting Customers Purchase Membership For VIP Treatment

Some of the more successful customer loyalty programs actually require a membership fee. It seems a bit counter-intuitive to make people pay to be loyal customers, but in practice it makes sense. Amazon Prime is a great example of this- customers pay an annual fee, and as a result, they get certain products free or discounted, automatic 2-day shipping, and audio/video streaming. Another example is Dunkin Donuts Perks program. This past football season, whenever the Pats won a game, DD Perks members would receive a free medium coffee the next day (I almost signed up for that very reason).

In terms of services offering memberships, at some airports, you can even purchase a pass to the “Admiral’s Club”, a lounge where you can wait in the relative abundance of electrical outlets and free snacks (and relative quiet).

Customer Loyalty Programs not only give your current customers a reason to keep coming back- they can provide incentive for new customers to jump on board.  Think about rewarding the one you’re with and you may find your customers are even more loyal than you realized.

You Make How Much Per Hour?!

timevsmoneyIt’s everyone’s dream to get paid more to do less, or nothing at all (which is why everyone was clambering for Powerball tickets recently). You’ve probably heard the statistics of corporate CEOs and how their salaries translate to an hourly rate. If I just had their job for ONE hour, I could rule the world…or at least pay off my student loans.

Part of you thinks it’s obscene for one person to have all that money, but another part of you wonders how you can reach this higher plane of financial glory.

Just for fun, let’s take a look at the astronomical figures some people are pulling in each year. One of Chipotle’s CEOs, Montgomery Moran, makes about $13,500 an hour. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good burrito, but that number seems pretty steep for convenience food. Moran’s hourly wage is utterly eclipsed by Larry Ellison’s (CEO of data sharing service Oracle) $267,779. To put this in a bit of perspective, Ellison is making more per hour than the average American brings home in a year (roughly 5 times more, in fact). He’s making more per hour than the cost of 4 years of college tuition.

Moving away from CEOs, what do some of our favorite celebrities bring home? In spite of griping about Spotify ripping her off, Taylor Swift had an excellent year. It’s estimated that she makes about $40,000 per hour, putting her slightly behind Katy Perry who makes $67,500 per hour. (Interesting fact: both ladies are ahead of Beyonce now.) The highest paying celebrity in 2015 according to Forbes is Floyd Mayweather, mainly because of the boxing match this past spring.

Each of these high-rollers offer us entertainment or run companies that contribute to our quality of life as we know it. But what are CEOs or celebrities doing that contributes thousands upon thousands of dollars an hour? Checking email? Traveling? Writing songs? Singing? When you consider many of these tasks are actually handled by someone else, maybe some CEOs and celebrities just get paid to exist. It’s difficult to say. As Gigi Hadid recently pointed out to us on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, “Modelling is hard. You have to look good and be nice to people.”

What about the blue-collar end of the spectrum? Anesthesiologists (not quite blue collar in the traditional sense, but not quite at the CEO/celebrity level) usually make around $100/hour. This position is high-stakes with a clearer value to their contribution. Tattoo artists, commercial pilots, and underwater welders all make about $120/hour per project. Even though these jobs usually only require 15-20 hours of work per week, it still averages out to a decent hourly rate.

But, what about you? Using some of the ideas below, you can develop a strategy for making more per hour without necessarily working more.

Idea #1: Charge according to value from the start. Say you’re a freelance sandwich maker. You’ve been doing this for awhile, so you have your routine down to a science, and as a result you’ve significantly whittled down your production time (4 minutes per sandwich). When you get an order for 5 sandwiches, it’s only going to take 20 minutes of your time. If you charge by the hour, you might be selling yourself short. Charging per sandwich (or per project) is the way to go. For other sorts of projects, you’re better off charging per hour.

Clearly as a freelancer, there are going to be some five foot long party subs in your life but the greater percentage of standard sandwiches you can make with your time, the greater your hourly take home pay.

Idea #2: Be on retainer. There is a cost to being available and let’s face it, there are some clients who want you to be available. Getting paid for a set amount of time to be available (and not needing to necessarily be doing something) is a great way to increase your take home… but beware when all your retainer clients need you in the same week! (This is why you don’t want to take on too many of these.)

Idea #3: Profitshare your pay. Take a cue from some of our CEO friends and, instead of getting paid a large base salary, get paid a percentage of profits. There is plenty of revenue sharing softwares out there but, maybe in building that up and coming software company a free online shopping cart and taking 10% gross revenue for 5 years will mean a higher hourly rate than they would have paid you up front. Note: only do this when you truly believe in the company.

Idea #4: Sell people the same thing. Let’s say you get really good at making flyers for musical theater. If you have clients spread out around the country, why not use the same layout for multiple events? This is clearly something only applicable in some instances but if you’ve packaged something together that works for a certain type of client or job, why reinvent the wheel? Please note that we’re talking more along the lines of systematizing than producing carbon copies for clients (depending on your line of business).

Idea #5: Outsource. (Full disclosure: Nicole hates this idea but it exists so we’ll talk about it.) One way to make money off something is to find someone else who will do it for cheaper and be the middle man between them and your customer. Many people make six figure incomes by finding freelancers and designing processes that use their skills effectively. The freelancers get to do what they like at a cost they agree with, the middle man gets to build a team for a fraction of what an employee would cost, and the customer gets a good product. Or at least that’s the idea.

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If Paris Hilton is able to get paid $374,00 an hour to DJ in Ibiza, you should be able to gain a little something for your work, too.