Instagram And Your Business

Did you know people can ‘tag’ your business on Instagram and upload pictures about it?

Don’t worry, people, that’s what I’m here for.

Now if you want to use Instagram for your business, here’s a quick guide for creating an account (with screenshots) someone else wrote.

But if you’re sitting there thinking ‘How can I see what people are posting about my business?’ that’s what I’m going to tackle here.

First of all, you need 1) a smartphone and 2) an Instagram account.

Sorry, you just do.

Now let’s assume you have both these things. The easiest way for me to see  my business stuff is to take a photo and upload it tagging my business. (There might be other ways to do this, this is just my way):

1) Take a photo:


1a) You can pick a filter/crop it a bit:


2) Add some information in the caption (I tagged Derrick, my man friend, in this case since he transplanted this for me.)


3) Click ‘Name this location’ and add yours. (Aside: Instagram pulls in map data from a bunch of different sources like TomTom and Yelp so if you aren’t coming up, get your business datamapped!)


4) Click ‘Share’ on the bottom.

Once your listing is uploaded, you can click on the writing in blue…


And see who else has uploaded photos.

Since my business is tiny, I took screenshots of another business (in this case Side Street Cafe) to let you see some cool stuff:


So don’t assume because you don’t use Instagram that people who come to your business aren’t. (Classic mistake to think everyone is like you… and one I make almost daily.)

LinkedIn: The Sleeper Social Network

linkedinMost of the time, when people talk about social media, what they are really talking about is Facebook.

No one has ever asked me to give a LinkedIn seminar and when I talk about building my network using it, I usually get a couple eye rolls.

Here’s the thing though. To me, LinkedIn is that quiet but really nice nerd in your high school class that goes on to found the Fortune 500 company. You kind of wish you would have invested a little effort getting to know him while you sat at the same cafeteria table. And quite honestly, all the nerd wanted is just a little bit of effort (which is a lot more than you can say of your high maintenance friend Facebook, which requires you to post multiple times a day since only 2-3% of people see your posts ever.)

Here’s why I think LinkedIn could be doing more for you if you spent maybe 15 minutes a week updating your profile, sharing links/ideas, and recommending other people you’ve worked with:

1) It got me my biggest contract ever.

On my skills, I listed a familiarity with Joomla among other softwares. I thought no more about it.

A year later, one of my contacts, someone I don’t even know that well, sent me a private message about his organization’s Joomla site. What that short message exchange turned into was a 1.5 year contract that is the biggest I’ve gotten to date. Turns out that, while they were most interested in my marketing background, the fact I could use Joomla is what sealed the deal.

LinkedIn allows you to display your skills to a group of people you already know. Because let’s face it, people like to hire people that they know… but your Facebook friends might not know you can use InDesign or have a job history with medical non-profits. LinkedIn allows you to display these things in a completely non-selly way.

2) Your information is visible and lots of people in the market for someone like you are looking at it.

Here’s a screenshot of a slower week on LinkedIn for me:


While I’m sure lots more people look at my profile on Twitter in a given week, I bet most of them aren’t looking to actually hire me like the 11 prospects on LinkedIn searching for someone like me this past week.

People spend so much time on their own websites that they don’t understand that people in decision making positions are using LinkedIn to do their research.

Why is this still true of a very old social network. In my opinion, LinkedIn has partly survived as long as it has because it’s never been a trendy place to be. If you want a broken down demographic of LinkedIn compared to other social networks, this giant but useful infographic is for you. (Summary: LinkedIn skews older, higher educated, and higher income than the most popular social networks.)

3) Make it look like you are on top of your game with weekly digests.

While Facebook is cluttered with vacation photos and links to Buzzfeed quizzes, LinkedIn is all work. You get notified if 1) Someone changes job or 2) shares some likely work-related link (most people don’t so if you actually do, you’ll stand out) or 3) wants to connect with you.

My LinkedIn weekly email digest gives me my network at a glance in a way looking at other networks doesn’t do.

Also by actually posting articles, I show up in other peoples’ weekly digests. Several people have emailed me after seeing a blog post or link I shared on LinkedIn. No one does that about what I share on Pinterest, no matter how cool it is.

So if you are at all in the market to be hired for something, whether you are underemployed, self-employed, or the kind of person/firm that gets hired by other businesses, I recommend you spending a bit of time on LinkedIn. It might not be the coolest thing you’ve done this week but when you are sitting on your nerd friend’s private jet six months from now, that won’t matter so much.

How Hiring A Caterer Made Me Better At My Job

hiringacatererSome of you may or may not know I’m getting married this year. And even though I’m holding a small wedding, there is some coordination that needs to happen.

For me and Derrick, the two most important things to spend our money on were 1) food and  2) photography.

While other things are also important, food is something everyone who attends the event will experience… plus Derrick and I like to eat. We knew it was going to take up a large majority of our wedding budget.

As someone who’s never planned a large event before, it was a very enlightening experience to spend a good amount of money on something I didn’t completely understand but know I need.

I now get how most of you feel hiring a web professional.

Here’s what I learned along the way.

I judged people based on their websites.

I was told there was a very good but very expensive caterer… which I had a hard time believing when I went to the website. The large format pictures were blurry, it was not mobile friendly, and there was no useful information on their site (like sample menus or how much per person could be expected).

Now I may be more web savvy than the average person but all of us have seen enough websites to know when someone looks legit or not. These people looked like they could barely run their business by looking at their website.

I want to tell about half the people I looked at to pony up some funds and get their website looking legit… because they might be leaving a lot of money on the table.

Open ended questions scared the crap out of me.

I’ve NEVER done this before. I have no idea how it works.

With one person I emailed with, they wanted to know what I wanted to know ‘what I had in mind’. Like that was all they asked me.

This put pressure on me to think of what they meant. I had given them the number of people, the day and time, and the approximate vibe I was going for ‘casual buffet style brunch’. What else do they want to know? Did they want a menu? Did they want me to send pictures? I still have no idea.

Having a questionnaire would help me understand what they need to know to quote me. Our eventual caterer had a list of what she wanted from me so that was a much easier initial email to answer.

Other people have thought of the questions you should ask. 

When you are ready to hire someone (you’ve got past that initial stage), you need to be really clear on what you’re getting or not getting.

The great news is wedding websites, blogs, and your friends have great ideas of questions you should ask before you hire someone.

Armed with questions from a Real Maine Weddings checklist, I asked questions of our caterer and got my answers which helped make the decision.

Hire someone you like.

If someone is providing you services, you’ll have to be able to talk with them and have it feel like they are addressing your concerns.

If someone seems pushy, difficult, or otherwise has personal traits that are going to grate on you, that’s a good enough reason not to hire them. Your gut instinct is an important instrument, use it!

So yes, hiring a caterer was an exciting and terrifying step. Exciting because it means we are closer to our goal, terrifying because we are writing a check to them bigger than a mortgage payment.

Those of you who have hired Breaking Even on some good interactions and faith in us, I thank you. I now understand that feeling better than I ever have and I am lucky to have you.

And to those of you out there providing services and not getting a lot of phone calls or emails, ask yourself:

Does my website look legit and answer some basic questions for potential customers?
Do I have a list of questions I need answered to give a proper quote/follow-up answer to frame the discussion?
Am I prepared to answer the basic questions other people have told my potential customer to ask me?
Could a personal trait be holding me back?

Three People Who Will Never Pay You (And How To Sniff Them Out)

I’m pretty good at reading people. It’s part having a constantly on B.S. detector, part having met a lot of different kinds of people in my life and business.

Some people have tried to waste my time. And I don’t want them to waste yours too.

Here are three kinds of people I completely avoid; why I want to stay away from them; and how I know when they are standing in front of me.

rightdowntobusinessThe Right Down To Business Person
Traits: Usually wearing straight-from-work clothes at the party even though it’s Saturday night; knows next to nothing about you as a person; doesn’t really do small talk
Most likely to: Ask me some work question at a party then walk off when someone more important walks in the room.

As someone who grew up with a father constantly questioned about business stuff in social situations, I am trying to do the opposite of what he did by changing the subject when I am at a party/social thing and someone brings up work. Sample exchange:

Right Down To Business Person (RDTBP): So Nicole what do you think of this Google+?
Me: I think it’s a good tool for reaching certain markets and doing better in search… Hey, how’s your daughter liking college?
RDTBP: She likes it… but what about how I would use Google+ in my business.
Me: You know what? Why don’t you email me about this Monday? I’ve had a couple glasses of wine and I might not give the best answer. (smile and pause) But I’m so glad Sarah is doing well, have you been down to visit her yet?

I have this kind of exchange, at least once, at every social gathering I go to. It’s not that I don’t love my job, I am also actually genuinely interested in other people outside of their work… and I want them to be in me too!

These kind of people take themselves really seriously, and they don’t seem to want to talk to someone unless they can get something for it. It makes me feel like they’re using me and I don’t like that feeling.

(Note: They never email me on Monday about the question they had. They are content to hold on to the next question until next time they see me rather than pay for any of my advice. Oh well!)

fakeprenneurThe FakePrenneur
Traits: Super vague about what their business does/sells; lurking on Facebook groups and anytime someone asks about their type of business they chime in “I can do that”; probably has not actually made enough actual money at their business to sustain themselves; (100% of the time in my case they are male)
Most likely to: Stand in the back of the room at a presentation I am giving, arms folded with a skeptical look, and approach me once everyone leaves with a vague but seemingly important business deal.

These people, to me, are hilarious. They usually carry themselves like they’re really important. They don’t have the quiet confidence of the actual important person in the room; they are more showy because they want you to notice them.

Usually the best way to get rid of these people is to ask them for more information. Like most insecure people, if you ask them for more than they know about, they freeze.

Fakeprenneur (FP): So your presentation was interesting but I don’t entirely agree with it. (Most fakeprenneurs appear to be dudes who have all read the same pickup artist book about negging.)
Me, shrugging and uneffected: Well we all have our areas of expertise and ways of communicating. Glad you liked it!
FP: I have this commodity that I need to move quickly, it’s something in every household so my target audience is everyone. I have no interest in doing this, I want to hire you. What’s this going to cost me?
Me: This sounds intriguing. If you can send me your website link or product info; a specific profile of the target customer who purchases most often from you; and what your marketing budget is, I’d be happy to work something up. Here’s my email address.

I then proceed to never hear from them again.

These people are a nightmare to work with because they think they are smarter than you without actually knowing what they want.

knowledgejunkieThe Knowledge Junkie
Traits: Quotes Seth Godin/Gary Vaynerchuk/insert-tech-guru-here; sits in the front at a presentation and talks more than any other person there; follows you on social media, subscribes to your email newsletter and will do anything else with your business that’s free
Most likely to:  Email me after a presentation with everything they would have added; use jargon incorrectly

As the internet doubles in size every 20 days or so, there is no way I can keep up with EVERYTHING going on… and these people really have ideas and opinions on what I should know:

Knowledge junkie (KJ): Did you read that article in the New York Times about how Snapchat’s servers were compromised. (Aside: I made this up)
Me: No but it sounds interesting and security is always a big deal online. What did they find?
KJ: Really? You haven’t read it? I mean you are in that industry so I thought you would have see it. Anyway, it seems like… (go on for about five minutes while I listen)
Me: Well I’ll have to check it out!

These people are a nightmare because they think they already know everything about your area of expertise. Heck, even I’m not that arrogant. And as I’ve learned, talking someone out of a bad idea is harder than talking them into a good one.

So as you see from my post here I have a hard time with:

1) People who I feel are using me.
2) People who feel like they are better than me.
3) People who need my help enough to (sort of) ask me for it but won’t actually use the good advice I give them.

So if you see these people in your travels, exchange a polite email, smile at them across the room, like an occasional status update but otherwise stay away. You’ll be happier (and richer) for it!

P.S. If anyone is an illustrator who’d like to draw these people, I’d totally pay you to do it! I love using credited stock images for comedic effect but I do wish I had the artistic knowledge to properly back up this blog post!

Why You Should Run Screaming When Someone Mentions A Custom CMS

buildinopensourceI am all for paying for a great product. But I am a big believer of using open source (free) content management systems (CMSes) to build websites.

I think this for a few good reasons. I thought of this analogy story to illustrate my point.

Once upon a time, there was a large group of builders who lived and worked in Dreamville. They used materials like plywood and sheet rock to build houses for homeowners.

The homeowners were, for the most part, satisfied. If they decided they didn’t like a particular builder, they could always use another. When builders got busy, they referred work to each other. 

Then came along The Flashy Company. The Flashy Company was also a contracting company but they built all their houses out of kwah, a material that has the toughness of quartz with the flexibility of plywood. They were the only ones who could use kwah and when the contractors tried to look up information about it, they could find very little about it, in Google or otherwise.

Soon people in Dreamville heard about kwah and how amazing The Flash Company was telling everyone it was. Many jumped on board and had kwah houses constructed. Soon there were twenty houses in the town all made of kwah.

One day, The Flashy Company left Dreamville. At first, this was no problem since the houses were so durable. But eventually, even kwah started to fail. Houseowner Hugo called up Contractor Carl to come fix his kwah roof.

The problem was threefold:

1) No one outside The Flashy Company knew how to make kwah so all Carl could do was rig a half-ass solution with his plywood and other materials.
2) It took the Carl a long time to figure out how the house was built. Since the material was so strange, regular solutions didn’t work. This time Carl spent trying to understand kwah meant money to Hugo and was frustrating to Carl since he couldn’t offer a fast efficient solution.
3) Since The Flashy Company hadn’t worked with any other contractors while in town, it was difficult for the homeowners with homes built in kwah to find contractors to be able to work on their house. Contractors had to figure it out quickly yet had no information they could look to to help them.

Carl had to tell Hugo the sad truth: eventually he’d have to rebuild his house. Yes, even though he paid a lot of money to The Flashy Company for kwah, and even though he just paid Carl to come up solution for the room, eventually it would start to completely fail and need to be built in other materials.

What can we learn from kwah (besides it’s an amazing fake building material that should exist elsewhere besides my brain)?

1) Custom CMSes mean only the company that built your site knows how it works. If you need someone else to work with you on your website, they are either going to have a steep learning curve and/or they are going to have to rebuild the whole thing for you.

2) Open source CMSes (like Joomla, Wordpress, and Drupal, among others) have multiple people that can work on them. That means people can share work, find solutions, and otherwise tap into a collective intelligence. Custom CMSes are at the mercy of the relatively small team that built them. Would you rather have a product that 10 people worked to improve or 1 million people worked to improve? Exactly.

3) It’s nice to build in something that has been tested by others. While it is attractive to work in something that’s new and shiny, materials with a track record will stand the test of time, online and off. Joomla has existed since 2005, Wordpress since 2003, and Drupal since 2001. By comparison, many proprietary CMSes haven’t existed that long, or have had millions of people use them in that time.

4) Proprietary CMSes are slower to innovate. Because their code isn’t open to developers around the world, these systems move much slower in terms of features. We had one client using a proprietary software but wanted a responsive site, which the software hadn’t yet started to offer. So they had to pick between keeping their current system or having something their customers were asking for (mobile friendliness).

Now what if you have a very specific kind of business (like you sell farm shares) and this one company has a system that just does that thing perfectly? Then you should do it… but you should do your homework first. Does that monthly fee include payment processing? Are you signing up for this for a certain period, like one year? Do you own the rights to the design, should you want to take it and move it into another platform later? What features does it have to address your concerns like mobile and social media users?

In other words, really look into it and make sure it’s a good fit. Because the kwah website you build may last as long as you need it to. But someday you will need to rebuild, like we all do, and picking a material you know people can work is a good step to ensuring what you build remains standing, long after any company you work with.

Why Directory Websites Are Probably A Waste Of Your Time

When I started my blog in 2007, I took any free listing I could get. This did a couple of things:

whydirectorywebsitesareawasteoftime1) Connect me with people who were looking for blogs to read about certain topics.
2) Put my link on a new domain.

Did I really think posting my blog link on was going to catapult me to fame? Not so much but when you have, like, ten people visiting your site per day, you might be a tad overexcited about an extra two visitors. Plus way back then (sixish years ago), all links were good links.

The rules, my friends, have changed.

Here’s the thing, while search engines really like links coming into your website, not all links are created equal.

The following factors matter in varying degrees (Skip bullets if you are not a nerd or don’t care):

  • Domain age. I’ve owned this domain since 2009 and, at that time, I bought it for like five years in a row. A domain being owned and used for a long time means the website is less likely to be sketchy. And Google likes non-sketchy and rewards domain age.
  • Google Page Rank. Not all websites are equal. Google Page Rank, which ranks web pages between 1 and 10 (9 being, 10 being, 3 being the website you are on right now). A link off a higher ranked website is worth more (here’s how you can check your page rank:
  • Keywords that are linked. When people do a search, they use words. (You know, since Google can’t yet read our mind.) If someone writes about ‘social media marketing’ and links the words ‘social media marketing’ to this website, Google takes it as this website must know something about social media marketing. Over time, the words used to link to your website give search engines an idea of what other websites think your site is about, versus what you say you’re about. This is called ‘anchor text’ and if you want to know more:
  • Pages that are linked to. Linking to a homepage of a website is cool but linking to other pages means there is useful info deeper in. More pages mean your website is better indexed by search engines and more links from other sites to internal pages means your site is a trusted source.

Throwing up your link in a fly-by-night seeming online directory, as you can probably tell, is kind of like casting your fishing pole in the middle of the ocean. Sure you could catch something but you probably won’t. Best to cast your fishing line in a part of the water where you hear that other people are getting fish… which brings me to.

Most directories have no track record.

If some new directory has sprung up and is asking you to pay money monthly for your website to be listed, ask to see their data. Total number visitors is not impressive. Trust me, you can make numbers look pretty flattering when people don’t understand what they are.

What you want to see in terms of stats from an online directory is how many eyeballs 1) use the directory (how many people landed on that part of the site, how long they spent there, and how many pages they looked at.) and 2) clicks to business listings on that directory. If the directory owner actually gives you examples of #2, they are likely the best performers they’ve got so assume lower results for you.

And to top all this off, some links are actually bad links.

That’s right, in a Google update, some have found that having spammy links coming into their site actually hurt their search ranking. In other words, that sketchy directory website (or spammy looking blog) linking to your site could actually be hurting you. So not only are you casting your fishing line into unproductive waters, you might find  sharks in those waters that are eating your boat.

Get out of that water and head to safer waters, my fisherman friend!

So what can you do to prevent this nonsense from adversely effecting your life?

1) If you are really gung ho to spend some money on a not proven directory, agree to pay per click, not for a listing… and agree to a trial period of a couple months to evaluate.

A click to your website is a potential customer and worth A LOT more than eyeballs on an ad. PPC (pay per click) might be a cheaper (and higher quality) way to evaluate an advertising prospect.

2) Ask businesses outside your industry what is working for them.

I say outside your industry because I think those people will be more candid with you. For example, in actually talking to people a couple years ago I could have saved myself $200 and not bought a Better Business Bureau online directory listing (which I stopped paying two years ago yet is miraculously still online). See, I fall for this crap too. In case you were wondering, I got exactly 0 referrals from it and so have a few other businesses I’ve talked to.

Ask people in your industry too, maybe just people outside your geographic region or otherwise not in direct competition with you.

3) Write to webmasters who have spammy links connecting to your site and ask that they be removed. If you noticed your website traffic tank around mid-May 2013 (or you’ve gotten a notification from Google), you might be being penalized for bad links. Here’s what you should do in that case:

4) See who owns a website. Directory listing with a downtown association or your local chamber of commerce? That is legit. But How do you know what wizard is behind that curtain?

You can do a WhoIs lookup on the domain to see who owns it and begin Googling with the information you get. Can’t find out? It’s probably not because it’s a good secret. Go with your gut on this one. Any business transaction is about people and if you are getting a ‘sketchball’ vibe from someone, steer clear. There will be other marketing opportunities for you.

Am I saying all directory websites are bad? Of course not! I am saying it’s worth taking the time to evaluate a directory to see if it’s right for your business… and planning on where you cast that fishing line is more important than ever.

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