business

The Two Things You Need To Work From Home

Does working from home mean you are suddenly relaxed and attractive? Stock photography seems to think so. Check out istockphoto.com for more hilariously inaccurate gems like this.

Does working from home mean you are suddenly relaxed and attractive? Stock photography seems to think so. Check out istockphoto.com for more hilariously inaccurate gems like this.

‘It must be so nice to be in your pajamas all day.’

‘You can do whatever you want- that’s so cool!’

People think a lot of things about working from home, like somehow those who do have some magical gig where they get paid to watch reality television and eat Lucky Charms.

I wish.

For the first three years of Breaking Even, when it was only me, I worked from home. I read the usual tips about working from home. The ideas typically include things like putting on ‘real’ clothes and starting at a set time. In other words, treat it like a normal workday where you’d leave and go work elsewhere. I am completely behind this concept.

For awhile, I did this badly. But then I figured out the two secrets to working at home. You need:

1) transition ritual where you transition into work and out of work. For most people, that’s what their commute does for them.

2) discipline to train others and yourself not to distract you. Because how other people react with reinforce (or undermine) what you are trying to do.

Transition Rituals

My former office at home. Cute but having to have it in my living room meant I had to create my own work-life boundaries. You can too.

My former office at home. Cute but having to have it in my living room meant I had to create my own work-life boundaries. You can too.

My transition ritual into work involved taking a shower, drinking french press coffee, and walking my dog. I would then feed my dog, feed myself and then start work by 9 am. Yes, even in my 220 square foot studio apartment with a three step commute from my bed to my desk, I needed a ritual. For the start of the day, I recommend a combination of getting things done, eating breakfast, and anything you need to do that involves feeling like you are ‘waking up’.

My transition ritual out of work usually involved doing something moderately mindless like some data entry while watching a 20ish minute television show on Hulu. This way I was able to eek out an extra few minutes of productivity while getting into relax mode.  To end your work day, I recommend doing something that needs to get done businesswise but is kind of tedious (like putting in payments into Quickbooks or updating your email Contacts list) while feeling like you are ‘relaxing’.

These are my recommendations. Experiment and see what works for you!

Ask other people how they do it and read other people’s experiences and you may find something you haven’t thought of. Some people’s rituals will fascinate you. I once read about someone who got dressed, got in their car, drove around the block, parked in their driveway again, and walked back in the house to start their work at home day.  The only thing that matters is finding an into work and out of work ritual that work for you. Even if they are a little insane.

Training Yourself And Others

If your significant other comes to your house at the end of the day and comments about how you haven’t done the dishes, set that crap straight.

If your friends try to Facebook chat with you, ignore them.

If you find yourself starting to think about cleaning your bathroom or rearranging your closet by color, put the idea on a list to get it out of your brain and keep working.

The temptations of being at home are numerous. Sometimes you have a noble purpose of wanting to be productive so your family will wow at how you juggle both work and home in an effortless way. Sometimes you are trying to procrastinate and you feel like a naughty kid getting away with something when you do it. Or it could be that your friends have worked with other people all day and the only conversation you’ve had is with the mailman and you are a touch lonely. These are all valid. But these temptations trying to pass off  as needs can not be met during your workday.

In terms of being good to yourself, give yourself a break, one in the morning and one in the afternoon just like legally they’d have to give you if you worked at a job outside your house. I used to keep a kitchen timer on my desk at home and when it went off, I could stop working and take a break (usually after 2 hours). Use your break time to do some dishes (if you really want) or chat with people on Facebook (if you really want). Thing is it’s your break so do something that feels like a break. It is up to you but I recommend getting away from the computer if you can for it to truly feel ‘breaky’.

In terms of other people, it may take a few months to set expectations. People who aren’t in your situation aren’t trying to be jerky, they just don’t understand. So take some time and let them know you can’t talk because you are in the middle of something. Follow discussions up with behavior that is consistent with what you are saying: don’t answer personal phone calls during the work day, keep chats under five minutes that aren’t work related, and let people know they can’t just stop in because you may have a conference call or other time sensitive activity scheduled. The interruptions will die down and people will respect that you are working when they see that you aren’t doing fun stuff between 9 to 5. Or whatever set time you’ve established. ‘I don’t call you during the day anymore because I know you’re working.’ one of my friends said to me a few days ago, completely unsolicited. Exactly.

On the same level, I keep work stuff separate too. I don’t answer work calls during non work hours. If something is urgent, people will leave a voicemail and I can call them back. I try to take one full day off from the computer every week (usually Sunday). Because while you don’t want life to interfere with work, you also don’t want work to interfere with life.

Will you seem like a hardened drill sargent by enforcing this boundary? To some maybe. But this is your life we’re talking about and anyone who needs you to be available to them 24-7 with no regard to your needs or sanity is not someone you want to be buddy buddy with anyway. The enforcement stage usually is only a couple months until people get used to your schedule. And as they respect it, you’ll find yourself starting to respect it more too.

Working from home? It’s not that difficult but it takes a certain kind of person to do it well. Be that person.

Hosting A Better Event

No matter what kind of business your in, chances are you’ve had to host an event. Or will at some point.

Most of us like the actual event more than the stuff leading up to it, myself included. After hosting at least 20 workshops, here are some high and low tech ideas we’ve learned to make hosting your next event less painful.

Put event information everywhere.
For our last workshop, we created a Facebook event on our business Facebook page, put a snippet on the ‘Events’ page of our website, sent out a press release, emailed the local Chambers of Commerce to promote it, tweeted out the registration link a few times, and sent out notice of it in our last two email newsletters. (We still got messages about people not hearing about it, and you will too. You can’t win them all!) But put all the information for the event in every place you chose to advertise it you can so that people can note the day, time, location, etc. from wherever they first find the information. Because while it doesn’t make your life easy, it makes theirs easier.

Send an information email to who is going before the event.
People like having a lot of information, myself included. Sending an email (blind copy all the recipients) with directions, the internet password at the venue, etc. will save you at least a dozen emails or phone calls to answer. Bonus is the people in the know can forward it on or tell the people who don’t know, meaning you won’t have to have those conversations either.

If you want people to show up and pay, let them pay online.
You know what’s not fun? Managing 100 checks, trying to note who paid and who didn’t while you try to set up for your event. Having online payment/registration means less day of event headaches and gives you a fairly firm head count. We use Eventbrite and even though they take 3% of ticket sales, the lack of hassle is well worth it.

Create a hashtag for your event.
If you are at an event with social media types, at the beginning let everyone know they can use a specific hashtag so you can follow Twitter, Instagram, and other event related shares. For example, at the Joomla World Conference, we all used #jwc12 so we were able to follow what was going on with different speakers, when lunch was being served, and other important information. Even if the conference isn’t big, hashtags can let you follow the conversation and questions during the event.

If your event participants aren’t social media savvy, consider text messaging.
The makers of Mailchimp have a mass texting app called Gather. (Thanks to Matt at Svaha LLC for that find!) Attendees of your event can get text alerts related to your event (sudden location change or weather cancellations for example) at a very low cost to you.

Cohost the event.
Having an event cohost means you get double the exposure while doing the same amount of work. Find an event partner that makes sense. For the last workshop for example, we partnered with the Maine Crafts Guild who promoted the workshop to their email newsletter recipients and Facebook fans. We were then able to gear the workshop towards artists, so it was a win-win. We got a full room and they got a workshop specifically for them.

Don’t overlook the little things.
Nametags help shy people talk to each other. Coffee and treats make people happy. Good background music as people come in can set a tone. Comfy chairs mean people will sit a little happier for two hours. Think about the little things that don’t cost a lot that you can provide to make your attendees have a bit more fun.

So while we aren’t the perfect event hosts, a mixture of internet and in person efforts, you can fearlessly host your next event.

What are your favorite event hosting tricks?

Why A Website Costs At Least $3000

When I first meet someone, I will ask them anything…except what they do for a living. I do this for a couple reasons. First, I once had a job that made me dread this question. Second, the most interesting thing about someone usually isn’t their job.

That said, I sometimes get asked this question. I say ‘online marketing and website design’, then change the subject.

This seems to intrigue people because, no matter what, the topic always comes back around. They are bound to ask me what I charge and I am bound to horrify them.

“Well, basic websites we do start at $3000.” I can see the color drain from their faces and while no one has actually screamed in agony yet, I can tell what they are thinking. “Why do you charge so much money?!?” Here’s a blog post to save on the boring explanation in case you ever meet any of us at a party.

You charge what?!? (The Scream by Van Gogh seemed appropriate both from a sentiment and non copyrighted standpoint)

You charge what?!? (The Scream by Van Gogh seemed appropriate both from a sentiment and non copyrighted standpoint)

Billing by the project, not the hour.

Do you love sitting at a desk with your stopwatch, timing every task you do during your workday? Yeah, us either. Working like that would drive anyone nuts. ‘How many hours will that take?’ is a common question but it is one we are trying to change.

It’s understandable why people ask: they want an idea of how much a project will cost. If it were me, I’d need to know too! On the web developer though end, I am wanting to solve their problem/give them something fantastic. So working with those two points of view, quoting on a project basis makes the most sense, for everyone.

At the beginning, we want to take time to:

  • Do a ton of research, both about you and your industry.
  • Find the best integrations with the website software.
  • Figure out ways to save you time and money with your website.

We plan out the project based on content, design, and functional website requirements and quote based on that. If the client sees the quote and says ‘Eh, we really don’t need to accept credit cards.’ we take that part out and resend the adjusted quote.

We think this complete, project-based quoting attracts the right kind of people, ones who want us to solve problems and grow their business, not stopwatch enthusiasts.

‘Affordable’ Is Relative

“I can’t afford that.” said Anonymous Prospective Client. Almost in the same breath, he told me about his new computer. I added up the components in my head and realized he had a computer worth twice as much as mine. I had to smile; ‘affording’ is relative.

The point is we all have different priorities. We want to work with people who have put a priority on their online presence. Thinking of it another way, we want to build websites that will make people way more than what they paid for it.

‘Simple’ Is Also Relative

Much like the word ‘affordable’, the word ‘simple’ is also relative. Just because something is online doesn’t mean it is simple, which is why the project quoting we outlined above also works well in another way: people know what part(s) are complicated.

If someone wants something truly simple, like a one page website they are going to slap online and never touch again, there are plenty of people who can build them. We just won’t.

We expect that even for the simple sites we build that people will take pride in them and want them to be beautiful, informational and functional. Plus since our reputation is our most important commodity, we need to not hide our faces when someone says, ‘Breaking Even did this.’

We won’t compete based on price. We will based on service though.

Our quest to be the best means taking the time to learn new technologies and work with clients directly. We can’t take this time if we are frantically cranking out 20 websites a month, answering thousands of emails, and maintaining so many social media accounts our heads begin to spin.

There is always going to be someone, probably in India, who can make a cheaper website than we can. And that’s ok. If someone is just looking at the number at the bottom of the quote to make a decision, why would they hire us anyway?

Taking the time to do it right. Training your staff on updating your site. Answering your questions when you call as straight forwardly as we can. That’s what you are paying for. We need to build in that time for you because we want to, and those who want an awesome website want that too.

We are competitive in our industry. 

According to Website Magazine, the average website design costs between $2000-$10000. So $3000 for our lowest priced websites are actually fairly competitive in terms of market value. And if you talk to our clients (many of whom we’ve charged more than $3000 for their website) they’ll tell you that working with us saved them time, money, and hassle.

For people who can’t afford $3,000, we have an alternative: training. That’s right, we will sit with you and show you how to use the open source software we use. I don’t know of any other web development company that does this, at least openly.

But in the training situations it is the client who is driving the design process, not us, which in our experience means things get done slower and maybe not as completely as we would have done the project. (Just as fair warning.) But we do it because we want to help people with more time than money.

We are in it to win it. 

Breaking Even isn’t some ‘until something better comes along’ project. I quit a job to do this full time and I’ve turned down several ‘real’ jobs to keep doing this work. Trust me, if I wanted to do other things, I’d be doing them.

If you go with Breaking Even, we aren’t going to go *poof* in the night. We are Chamber of Commerce and Rotary members. We have an office in Bar Harbor you can actually visit. We give seminars on a regular schedule. We work with an online team of highly skillful people. This business is in it for the long haul and we have priced ourselves to survive and thrive in this economy, and to help the businesses we work with do the same.

Is it worth it to spend thousands of dollars on  a website? That’s up to you to decide but from what we see, the internet is only getting more popular and easy to access so ignoring it is really no longer an option. But if you need to outfit your work truck or buy a photocopier instead, we aren’t here to stop you. You do what you need to do, and we will do the same.

A website tailored to your needs using open sourced software created by talented competent professionals who take time for you? Now I think that’s a bargain.

Where Are My Customers Online: Three Places To Start

Whether your target customer is a kid using their parents’ iPad or a senior citizen using their smartphone, there are significant numbers of the exact kind of person you want to find online. So how do you find them?

If you are here, where are your customers?

If you are here, where are your customers?

To make this easier to think about, let’s think of your customer going through a sales process.

Stage One: Investigation
Your potential customer is interested in what you have to offer. They are at the stage of visiting websites and getting information.

Stage Two: Interrogation
This is where you start seeing posts on Facebook like “We’re considering blah-blah-blah, who’s good?” or you get someone who fills out the contact form of your website. They’ve looked and are interested, and they have some questions.

Stage Three: Enthusiasm
Whether they end up buying from you or not, these people like you. They follow you online, comment on your stuff, share with their friends and, directly or indirectly, you’ll probably get a customer.

Clearly we’ve got people at different levels looking at our businesses all the time. So let’s look at some questions here:

Where is your target audience spending time online? (Investigation)
Source: www.alexa.com (You’ll need to install the toolbar to get some of the data you want but trust me, it’s worth it)

It’s important to know where your customer is hanging out online. To paraphrase from Gary V’s book ‘Crush It’, money follows eyeballs.

Here’s an example. About three years ago, I looked at an office space above one very steep flight of stairs but I didn’t take it was that I thought my growing business would involve older people that couldn’t want to walk up stairs.

It turns out my best customers are business owners in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. In other words, looking at the data, the people spending money with Breaking Even are skewing younger than I was expecting. So I went ahead and got an even better deal on an office… and didn’t even hesitate when I saw it was up two flights of stairs.

Age demographics for social networks on Alexa. Among seeing whether a website skews to one age group or another, you can check out whether visitors will typically have kids, aveage household income, and more.

Age demographics for social networks on Alexa.com. Among seeing whether a website skews to one age group or another, you can check out whether visitors will typically have kids, average household income, and more.

At first, you will guess who your customers are but after you have some data, you’ll actually know who they are. Where your ideal customer is, be there online. So if we look at the comparison above and see that Facebook and Twitter are skewing younger, Pinterest is in my target and LinkedIn is in my target and skewing older. If we look at other kinds of data (and more websites) where to be becomes more and more clear.

Take this idea beyond social media websites. Look at blogs, news websites, anything. Knowing where your customer spends time is knowing where you should spend time, and potentially buy ad space if it comes down to that.

Who is talking about my business online and what are they saying? (Investigation)
Source: Socialmention.com

SocialMention, like Google Alerts but on steroids, allows you to see what keywords are being associated with a phrase, who the content creators are, and what blogs, Twitter status updates and more.

Hint: You might need to tweak results using the ‘Advanced Search’ function (see green circle upper right). Otherwise you may get a lot of extraneous results. I also recommend making a Google Alert for your business name and possibly your name, just to keep tabs on what’s going on.

Knowing who is talking about you means you can talk to them back… and potentially get even more ideas of what your customers are doing online.

Who is actively engaged in your brand/business?
Source: Facebook Insights (linked on your business’ Facebook page) or other metrics like Twitter retweeters, etc.

This statistic is a bit less straight forward. You can often collect names and sometimes contact information but this process is manual and involves individual followup if you are serious. But if someone is taking the time to repin twenty items of mine on Pinterest or retweet half my blog posts, the least I can do is make a personal connection by messaging them.

As social media stats get more robust, this will not be so manual as it is now but at the very least, it’s worth taking some time to pay attention. You may be surprised just who your enthusiastic advocates are!

So if you find your potential customers at the investigation, interrogation, and enthusiasm stages and keep in touch with your current customers, soon you should have a good idea of where places you can maximize your online time. Then do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

What about you: Where are your customers online?  And more importantly, how do you know?

What A Website Designer Can (And Can’t) Do For You

What can your website designer do for you? They can do a lot. But there are some things that are unrealistic to expect. Here’s the breakdown:

Making Decisions

Ugg Boy, Shoes, August 17, 2010, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/4901412031/

In a world of choices, consult an expert to bring you back the best choices for you. Trust me, this photo was a more interesting illustration of choices than the website version would have been. Photo from Ugg Boy, Shoes, August 17, 2010, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/4901412031/

A website designer can create a website that minimizes your headaches/decisions.
This morning, I trained a woman who is going to make her own Wordpress website for her business. ‘Wow, there are a lot of choices!’ she said. I know she’ll get through it but she seemed so overwhelmed. And that’s when it hit me.

A big part of hiring a designer, a contractor, a wedding planner, a caterer? We take all the choices possible and give you a couple really good ones just for you. We do other stuff too but not overwhelming clients is a big part of it. Think about getting the best choices brought to you versus having to research all options yourself in any task and you’ll see why this is valuable.

A web designer can not make business decisions for you.
Want me to figure out if offering free shipping is financially viable for you? How to draft a contract for an affiliate you want to work with? These are much bigger questions that aren’t for your designer to decide, especially if they involve something legal or financial. (Fun aside: I can tell you that most successful Fortune 500 companies spend 10% of their gross budget on marketing. In other words, you gotta spend money to make money as the adage goes!)

We can give you the website end of information but as the person that runs your business, you know much more about its focus, goals, price points, etc. than I do. If you need help, try a business counselor/consultant. Women Work and Community, CEI, and SCORE all have counseling services, in the state of Maine (where this blog is written) and beyond.

Training

The right teacher can and should make it look easy. Photo from Kheel Center, Maria Vargas, October 4, 2010, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/4901412031/

The right teacher can and should make it easy. Well, except for that annoyed looking lady in black. Photo from Kheel Center, Maria Vargas, October 4, 2010, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/kheelcenter/5279015653/

A website designer can train you on making website updates.
One of the major improvements in website technology the last few years? The ability to create a system where someone can update a website.

In my famous example: I trained a definitely-over-65 year old lady on how to use Wordpress. We did two, 1.5 hour sessions. The first one I did a basic overview, the second she brought her questions and we did more advanced stuff. I haven’t heard from her in over two years and her website is still online. Success, and an illustration of how we all should keep learning everyday.

A website designer can not train you on how to do their entire job.
I find it kind of funny when someone thinks they can figure out my entire job in two weeks. Or even a year. Honestly people, I’ve been doing this for years and I still see things daily that make me say “What the…?”

In other words, I could train you… to a point. And to be fair, I don’t think I could learn your job in a few short sessions either. So trust me when I say something is ‘a bit complicated’. I’m not trying to make a quick buck; I am trying to save your sanity.

Maintenance

Sometimes that tiny bike needs five guys to repair it.  The same with even the tiniest seeming website. Photo from Ian Munroe, Bike 5, August 27, 2009, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ian_munroe/3862828181/

Sometimes that tiny bike needs five guys to repair it. The same with even the tiniest seeming website. Photo from Ian Munroe, Bike 5, August 27, 2009, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ian_munroe/3862828181/

Web designers can build ‘insurance’ into your website.
From my point of view, handing over a website to its owner is like handing over a beloved car you’ve been driving awhile. Its new owner could be a reckless driver or someone who cares of the car like a member of their family; you have no idea.You just hand over the keys and hope it gets a good home.

The point is, it’s your site when we’re done. Yours to tackle the Indy 500… or crash in a explosive wreck. What we can do is have automatic backups and other insurance in place to cut down on spam, block repeatedly failed logins, etc. It doesn’t completely prevent bad things but it helps.

Website designers can not make you a site that will never break or need maintenance. 
Do you expect to drive your car without oil changes, periodic maintenance, or gas for 250,000 miles? Of course not. Yet some people expect that you can have people visiting and using a website everyday and not update it. Or that they’ll never get hacked.

First off, there is no rhyme or reason to hacking most of the time. There could be just some bored 15-year-old looking for something to do on a Friday night. It’s (usually) nothing personal. But it can happen. Especially if you don’t update your software. So you see, the two are related.

Truth is much of the maintenance you can do yourself, some of it you’ll need help doing though. You’ve invested in a website, treat it with periodic care… sometimes care that is needed by your trusty website mechanic.

Marketing

Website built with automatic traffic pouring in? If that were possible, I'd be lying on a beach somewhere, and so would you! Photo from Chris Brown, Traffic, March 19, 2007, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/zoonabar/458499400/

Website built with automatic traffic pouring in? If that were possible, I’d be lying on a beach somewhere, and so would you! Photo from Chris Brown, Traffic, March 19, 2007, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution. http://www.flickr.com/photos/zoonabar/458499400/

A website designer can build search and user friendly features into your site.
It’s interesting when I get a list of requirements for a website and on it, the business/organization has listed ‘SEO’ or ‘search engine friendly’ features. To me, it’s like saying ‘I want a house with windows and doors’. We automatically set things up to be search friendly… though I can see why people include this to ensure it happens.

Things like search engine friendly URLS (www.breakingeveninc.com/about versus www.breakingeveninc.com/page=22), unique page titles, and images with alt tags are standard in how websites are done. Or at least should be.

A website designer can not make traffic go to your site.
So there’s two parts of search engine optimization. One part is called ‘on page SEO’ which is stuff you do on your own website to make it friendly (like examples above). The other part is called ‘off page SEO’. These are things you do not on your website, like using social media or having links from other websites/blogs. These are equally important to what you do on your own website and some would argue even more important.

Besides thinking about off-page issues, you also have to keep your website up-to-date with useful information. If a website has old information, no one will visit it, no matter how amazing the features.

So as you think about hiring a web designer (or using your web designer), keep these in mind. Like most service professionals, we will always try our best to give you as much as we can.

[schema type=”person” name=”Nicole Ouellette” email=”nicole@breakingeveninc.com” ]

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