Websites

Your Guide To Bar Harbor Barter and Swap (And Websites Like It)

To some people in our area, there is an epic Facebook group called ‘Bar Harbor Barter and Swap’. It’s a closed and small group, mainly of people getting rid of random stuff (SCUBA fins!) or looking for random stuff (universal car seat stroller). Two examples from the past hour.

Whether unloading a cactus or buying a trailer, Facebook groups and other online spaces let you get in front of people who can join in your transaction.

Whether unloading a cactus or buying a trailer, Facebook groups and other online spaces let you get in front of people who can join in your transaction.

I’ve learned a few things from buying and selling items on Bar Harbor Barter and Swap… and I think this knowledge may help you on your own local swap/sell group on Facebook, Craigslist, or other online locations where you are wheeling and dealing.


Using the term ‘reasonable offer’ will leave you hanging.

If you post something you are selling and ask for a ‘reasonable’ offer, beware for the sound of crickets. Here’s why.

Clearly you have some notion of what your item is worth (or what you think it’s worth) yet you want the negotiating power that comes from letting someone else say a figure first. You can not have it both ways, my friend. Also from the point of view of the people seeing this, they are afraid their offer isn’t reasonable…so they aren’t going to say anything. So either let people make an offer or communicate your desired price. This ‘reasonable offer’ business helps none of us.

Sellers: Include information like dimensions

Those five pairs of shorts do look cute but I have no idea if I can cram my body into them. Tell me they are a Gap size 4 and people like me can pass and you can spend your time chatting with people who could theoretically fit into them.

We just gave away Derrick’s cactus and included approximate circumference (3 feet) and height of cactus (6 feet) so people would know what they were getting into if they wanted to come pick it up. Don’t make people ask, give them all the information.


Seekers: Include information like what you are willing to pay

I see lots of people seeking objects that no one responds to… but the difference between ‘I am looking for a dishwasher’ and ‘I am looking for a dishwasher that hooks up to my sink for $50 or less’ is significant. If I know you are willing to pay me some money, I might go in my basement and see if my dishwasher would work for you. Also more details makes you more memorable so people can seek items out on your behalf.

Include a link to specs if possible

Including a link to the same product you are selling on Amazon.com or another website. These websites have full product specs and this will save you a lot of duplicate question answering. Especially if you have a technical product (tablet computer, motor, laser printer), include a link to the related product. Bonus: people see how much it would be to buy the thing new… and are much more likely to pay your lower price.

Give me some assurance I am not buying something bad.

So with the cactus post, we put that we were getting rid of it because it is “getting too big for our space”. In truth, it is beginning to take over our small kitchen near the kitchen table and we have no where else to put it. (I know, nothing like having to argue over who has to sit next to the cactus at dinner!)

If you are posting a picture of a printer and you say you’re getting rid of it because you’ve gotten a newer fancier one, that let’s me know I am not buying a hunk of garbage. (Getting rid of kid’s stuff is usually kind of self explanatory that maybe your kids have grown.) ‘Printer works’ is good ‘Printed something last week from my Dell laptop’ is even better. See what specifics can do to give people confidence?


Get second (or third or fourth) in line. 

I’ve been looking for a filing cabinet for months but the idea of buying a new one that I was going to paint bright orange anyway seemed silly. I saw a perfect filing cabinet go by… and someone else had bid on it. I commented ‘Second in line if this doesn’t work out.’ And I got the filing cabinet in the end.

If you see something you like that someone else has dibs on, let the seller know you’d like to be considered if the deal falls through. I think this happens way more often than any of us know.

Know your audience.

There is someone trying to sell a really nice convertible for $8000ish. Problem is we live in a place where there are a ton of dirt roads and snow 8 months of the year (slight exaggeration but you get the idea). If this guy would put this thing on eBay motors or Craigslist, I bet he’d get his asking price.

It’s best to get a feel of the culture of your buying/selling/swapping site first before you post… and if you are in the wrong place, find another where you can get the best price for your efforts. This particular Facebook group seems to do best with transactions at or less than $100 with an occasional exception. Just because a certain website is convenient for you doesn’t mean that’s where your customers are.

I do hope you have some kind of fun distraction in your life like Bar Harbor Barter and Swap. It can help you get rid of the extra crap in your life and occasionally you can buy something you actually need from someone you actually know. I have met some fun people through the site who live near me… a bonus real life benefit in this online world.

And to those of you with some experience in this, is there any tips I might be forgetting?

New Website Launch: National Park Sea Kayak

When Robert approached us about a website redesign, we could see that while the information on his site was current, he needed a visual refresher.

The old National Park Sea Kayak homepage was text heavy and needed an update.

The old National Park Sea Kayak homepage was text heavy and needed an update.

Robert wanted to use a logo that Z Studio had made several years ago. He also wanted it really obvious how to make a reservation request on the site:

The new design uses more of the width of the page, showcases photos, and has a very obvious 'make reservations' button and the phone number on top.

The new design uses more of the width of the page, showcases photos, and has a very obvious ‘make reservations’ button and the phone number on top.

We wanted all the visitors’ most common questions answers on their homepage:

  • What will we see?
  • What should we bring?
  • Why are tours four hours?
  • Where will we go?
  • How do we make a reservation?

We also wanted to put some ‘trust’ symbols on the homepage. Trust symbols let people know they are dealing with a legitimate business. Since they have excellent Tripadvisor reviews and all kayak guides are certified Maine guides, we made those prominent so the visitor would have confidence in booking a four hour tour with people they may have never met in real life.

A lot of what we did we editing the content. By making the website less wordy, we hoped that users would get the information they needed quickly and easily. We also used the extra space to showcase large scale photos by local photographer and friend of Acadia Kayak StealthVader Photography.

Congratulations to Robert and his team, who are planning on blogging this summer on their brand new site! Catch them on the water if you are in Bar Harbor this summer!

When Bad Things Happen To Good Websites

If you’ve read this already on Facebook, my apologies but I did want this to become part of the ‘official’ record on my blog. It also explains why I disappeared from this blog in the middle of a 30 day blogging challenge.

About three weeks ago, I said out loud to Derrick ‘I just wish I could go 24 hours without checking my email and nothing bad would happen to me.’

Last Thursday, the server where the Breaking Even website/email (and many clients) are stored online completely crapped out and needed to be replaced. This happened sometime around 9 am EST. A time everyone was bound to notice.

Sorry everyone. My powers to influence God/the universe are even beyond my own understanding. I got my requested day off from email but not in the way I expected.

svaha-offline

What happened? 
This server is on a very secure server farm in the Midwest. Most of the time (ie the last five years I have been with Svaha) all was well. Like you, I picture the server to be somehow cow-shaped and eating grass.

Then in the internet equivalent of a freak accident, an air conditioner keeping everything cool broke unexpectedly. That meant the server had to be replaced, old data moved, and any corrupted data needed to be restored for hundreds of people also sharing the server.

Because Svaha’s website has also been down, they have been posting updates to Twitter https://twitter.com/svahacom and Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/SvahaLLC

svaha-corruption

Is this typical?
Now I have been with this web host for over five years and nothing like this has ever happened.

Do server outages happen? Yes to every web host, even to Google.
Even Facebook.

The difference? They have dedicated IT teams numbering in the hundreds or thousands and all backup servers and other helpful equipment you can think of.

svaha-new-server

Is there any server that will promise your website 100% uptime? 
No. If your uptime is 99.9% (what many web hosts promise) what portion of the year does that translate to?

365 days x 24 hours = 8760 hours
99.9% of that time = 8751.24 hours
0.1% possible downtime = 8.76 hours

(Thanks to Michael Johnson for correcting my initially wrong math!)

svaha-solved

Could I have my website on my own server?
Yes you could. Any computer connected to the internet can be set up as a web server. You could have a server in your basement or your office. Some organizations do this.

You can also have what’s called a dedicated server, which means you have your own server you share with no one else. This is located in the same kind of place Svaha’s servers are.

But can your server overheat? Be hacked? This can happen to any server in any environment. It is less likely to happen in the secure, climate controlled environment of a server farm and more likely to happen in your closet in my opinion. This is why I host with Svaha and not a computer in my office.

If something happens to where the server is, you are in the same trouble we were in for about 72 hours (and some additional small issues regular people aren’t noticing but are still being fixed). You are less likely to have trouble, but that’s not to say it will never happen.

What are my options if I want my website online all the time? 
You could pay for two hosting accounts at two different web hosts and then when something went down, you could change the DNS from the primary to the secondary server. Then you’d still have some downtime as the change propagated, which can take up to 24 hours.

No matter what, you are relying on a webhost and/or a backup that will take time to restore. You’ll just be paying twice as much as you do for your current hosting… and still have some downtime anyway.

What can be learned?
We can learn that the world doesn’t end when we don’t check our email. And that web hosts do things like backups and restores so we don’t need our own IT team to get our website back online if there is ever a problem. Many of you pay Svaha less than $100/year for being our go-to people.

While this was a crappy situation, I appreciate that Svaha dealt with it in a timely manner (they have hundreds of clients).

I have also learned that even if my internet only world, there is plenty of work I can do that doesn’t involve my website or email. For example, I got a ton of research done yesterday that I was able to approach in a very focused way without constantly responding to email.

Will this happen again?
It is highly unlikely this will happen again for a very long time.

Will I switch web hosts?
It’s kind of like when you go into a hospital and get amazing care. Yes, something crappy happened but you can’t blame the doctors. You are just grateful you have smart, competent, and genuinely caring people helping you out. Did Svaha crash the server? No. Did they fix the problem and try to keep in good communication? Yes.

(Full disclosure: I am a Svaha partner. But even if I wasn’t, I’d stay right where I am. )

I recently had a client with another hosting company (rhymes with FoPaddy). Their website was offline for two weeks. After spending an hour on the phone with customer service, they told me I couldn’t have automated backup software on their site, something that’s part of our standard install. They also told me the site was ‘very big’. It has 25 pages and only five installed plugins in Wordpress. *eye roll* (To give you an idea of how ridiculous this is, the website you are on right now has 900+ pages and about 30 plugins on it including an automated backup.) We moved the site over Svaha and poof, it was online no problem.

In other words, I like to ask myself who will stay up all night installing a new server? Who will call a client back who they charge $5 a month to help get their email configured? I know who.

So to those of you who missed me (and missed your website/email), I apologize again for this outage. But going through this has made me confident in the Svaha team that hosts websites for us and our clients.

How To Make A Good RFP

When larger organizations or businesses put a web design project (or other projects) out to bid, they often make an RFP (request for proposals) that they email to prospective candidates or post online somewhere. This includes basically a summary of what they are looking for. Then if someone is interested in bidding, they can write a proposal based on the criteria and submit it for consideration.

As someone who reads a lot of RFPs and occasionally consults people on how to write them, I thought now might be a good time for a blog post about them from a designer’s perspective (writing proposals/bids with them in mind). I use the example of website design but some of these can apply to any RFP.

Think ahead.

When you are in an industry where you do subcontract work, you have to line up work months ahead of when you’ll actually do it. Because you have to build in time for the projects you already have going on, the stuff you’ve promised people you will do, and any sporatic stuff that may come up for inactive clients. It’s a balancing act.

Just to give you an idea, I’m bidding on work I’ll do in July. So think of approaching your RFP process before your busy season, for your sanity and your designer’s sake.

Creating an RFP will make sure you are comparing apples to apples. 

I once lost a job for a restaurant website. I somehow got to see the winning bid afterward. It did not include putting their menu online, making a mobile friendly version of the site, and other (I thought) necessary items for the website that I had included in my more expensive proposal. Clearly the person making the decision had just went to the bottom of each bid sheet and looked at the final number.

Different web designers think different things are necessary. Different clients think different things are necessary. The only way to put everyone on the same page and fairly compare bids is to write an RFP including your requirements, your timeline, your budget, and anything else you want considered in your website design. Yes, it is worth taking the time to do because you will get what you want in the end. Because you’ll have asked for it.

Focus on what you want in terms of functionality. 

As my friend and virtual coworker Matt Baya would say, we have to bake the cake (put the content and functionality into a website) before we ice it (design it).

Now content on websites had been made relatively easy by content management systems like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal. I can probably show your board, staff, and you how to update content on your website in about an hour once it’s online. (But if you are doing a responsive site, your designer will need all the content going on the website up front.)

The ‘hard’ part of website development though is how the site will function. Do you need a bilingual website? A website that updates from a real estate data feed? A form that populates a spreadsheet? These functional things will take up a majority of your website designer’s time. If you want an interactive map, business directory, ad spaces with the ability for advertisers to log in and change those ads themselves… these are the things to put in your RFP to get a true quote.

Good, fast, or cheap, pick two. 

Speaking of this, make sure to communicate priority of each item. If you want a $4000 website with a ton of functionality done in four weeks, it’s not going to happen. I mean I want to marry a millionaire sushi chef who does supermodeling on the side and loves cleaning my house. (Just kidding, Derrick.) But you get my point right?

If you have a tight timeline and a limited budget, you’ll need to give up some functional requirements. If you have a limited budget and want a website ‘like the New York Times’ (I have actually heard this before), you’ll need to work on a longer timeline with someone who’s probably very busy with other projects.

In your RFP, let people know what your main concern is…. and don’t feel bad that it’s your budget. Just say so up front.

Everyone wants a ‘nice clean’ design, instead ask about design process and example work.


I would be shocked (well actually really amused)  if anyone told me they wanted an awful, cluttered design for their new website. Everyone wants a clean design that’s modern, like Apple’s website. (Three different clients have told me this exact example.)

But here’s a common thing I’ve seen. People will show me their brochures, business cards, sign, pictures of their store and then they’ll show me a website they like that looks *nothing* like their brand that they want me to make for them. This is where there has to be some meeting of the minds because your website should look like your brand. Maybe just in a more modern way then your 10 year old brochure can.

If it were me, I’d trust the firm you choose to come up with something for using any materials you have to give them, assuming you like other designs they did for people. Ask to see their portfolio and ask about their design process rather than specifying design in the RFP. If you like the firm’s past work and their process, you’ll end up with a design you like, trust me.

Asking for things like spec designs before you award the project is like trying to eek free work out of us, not cool.

If you seem high maintenance, we will stay away. 

There are little clues in your proposal that will make spending the four hours I’ll take to write it not worth the effort, mainly if it seems like you will be a giant pain in our butt.

I may write another blog post on this sometime but let’s just say if you are asking me to jump through a lot of hoops to get to a project, it makes me think you don’t want a partner to create an amazing website but instead someone who will kiss your butt. If we are going to have an open honest dialogue together and I am going to work really hard for you, this is not a healthy dynamic to start with. I promise not to be a drama queen if you can promise the same!

So to summarize, writing an RFP is totally worth it if you want a website to look like and work like you want with your main criteria met. It also makes sure that as you are comparing different design firms that you have more of a fair even basis to do so.

How Do I Get More Links To My Site?

There are one of three ways people can get to your website:

1) Using a search engine to look up some term(s) Ex: Google, Bing, Yahoo
2) Referral websites (sites linking back to yours) Ex: A link to your site is posted on Facebook or your local Chamber’s website
3) Direct traffic (this is people typing in or clicking on a link to your site directly)

The top ten referral links on this website for this month. Some are social media listings, some are blogs, and some are search engines.

The top ten referral links on this website for this month. Some are social media websites, some are blogs, and some are search engines.

If you want to read a post about search engines, check out this one. You can also look at everything tagged ‘seo’ on this site.

SEO (search engine optimization) is a combination of techniques that lead more people to find your site on search engines. I actually kind of hate the phrase (it conjures up for me the internet equivalent of sketchy used car salesman) but I am forced to use it because 1) people care about it and 2) what I do for clients actually does help them do better in search engines.

Is it magic? Not really. While reaching the summit of a mountain might seem magical, most of the work involves preparing and the climb to get there.

Is it hard? Not really. It’s more of a consistent targeted effort 1) get more content on your website and 2) to get more links coming into your site.

How do you create more content (part 1)? This is where a blog can come in. This blog post is that other part of SEO (part 2): link building.

More links

Let’s say Website A has 10 links coming into it from other sites, and Website B has 1000. All other things seeming equal, which one will seem to do better?

How do you get links coming into your site? First, understand who is already linking. You can use Google Analytics for this or you can go to Google.com and type in “link:yoursite.com” and see everything linking to it.

How do you get more links? My website can give you some clues:

1) Use social media and share your website on it.
2) Network with other bloggers (it helps to blog yourself). You can offer to do a guest post on their blog for example, which would give you a link back to your website.
3) Get any ‘free’ links you can, like a Bing Local listing for your business or a listing on that vendor’s website you buy $10,000 worth of product from every year.
4) Take advantage of the press and get links from their websites. You want the link and they are an (ideally) credible website to get a link from.

Crap That’s Stopped Working

These are the things that people used to do to build links. Some of these actually worked for awhile, some have always been ‘illegal’:

1) Write generic articles and post them places like EZArticles with a link back to their site.
2) Write one article and ‘spin’ it so it seemed different enough. Then post it a bunch of places.
3) Buying links or joining ‘link farms’.

People who work at search engines (and the search engines themselves) are smarter than this. This doesn’t work anymore. Links from these generic sources aren’t worth much, spinning will mark you as a content spammer, and buying links will get you blacklisted on Google.

Don’t believe me? SEOMoz and others smarter than myself can back me up.

So if you are looking for the website link building equivalent of lap band surgery, I’m sorry to say that in my world at least, it doesn’t exist. You’ll have to grab your sneakers and hit the gym like everyone else.

As you probably realize, a lot of ‘link building’ can be accomplished with blogging and using social media effectively over time. Oh and asking for links from people you have actual relationships with. 

So check out your link situation now, trying building links for six months then do it again. At a certain point, links will just start multiplying on their own. (I’ve got over 3,000 coming into Breaking Even and I can tell you less than two years ago, it was half that amount… in other words, momentum can build once you get going!).

New Website Launch: Quigley’s Building Supply

What happens when you run three different kinds of businesses but want to run them on the same website platform? This is the issue Quigley’s Building Supply had… until their new website we launched yesterday.

Three Templates, One Website

Quigley’s Building Supply has always evolved to respond to community needs during its over 60 years of existence. These past couple years, this has meant moving beyond building supplies and into two other areas: equipment rental and an outdoor department. These businesses within the business have related but separate logos and operate in different parts of the same building. How do we represent this idea of separate but cohesive online? Three templates running one piece of software.

buildingsupplyminirentalminioutdoorsmini

Designwise, Alice made the images in the menu, headers, and sidebars all different. There is one template for the building supply side (We love the red hammer and were glad when Quigley’s did too!), one for the rental business, and one of the outdoor supply store. It’s really important that website visitors be able to move around on the website so tabs to the other sections are on each page. We also have breadcrumbs and site search allowing people to navigate the website beyond using only the menu.

What’s great is while these three parts of the website all look different, they all run on one install of Wordpress. This allows the site search to work best since when a user submits a term or phrase, it searches all three parts of the site to find the information. From the angle of Quigley’s staff, this also gives them one administrative panel to log in and update the site.

To keep the look similar as website visitors move from one part of the site to another, the logos were placed in the same location and the same background color was used throughout the site. Each part of the site shows a different ‘business’ but it gives a unified sense so the web visitor understands that it is the same business.

Pro Staff

Part of the initiative of Quigleys Outdoors was to partner with area outdoor guides and give them a place to showcase their work. Many guides don’t have their own websites so this should be a valuable marketing opportunity. Each guide page has photos, information, and a contact form which gets emailed directly to the guide, allowing both Quigley’s Outdoors staff and the guides themselves to monitor referrals.

Mobile Template

We created a simple mobile template (with simplified menu going to each of the three main sections) using Obox Mobile. This way, if users are visiting from their smartphone, they can still get the information they need.

Third Party Integration

Quigley’s uses external services like social media, their eBay store, and a credit company called BlueTarp they use to give contractors and others store credit. We made all these resources easy to access and prioritized them on different parts of the website.

While the Quigley’s website seems simple, the three templates mean it only looks that way. Congratulations to Justin and the Quigley’s team on your new website!

Breaking Even Communications would like to thank Matthew Baya and Tom Beal for their contributions to this site. 

Full disclosure: This business is owned by my mom and managed by my brother-in-law. Not sure what this means since they paid us to do it and we aren’t receiving any other kickbacks from it but thought I’d disclose that anyway!

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