business

Seven Reasons You Should Work For Me

I’m taking the hiring of my first full time employee very seriously. As my friend Ogy put it, this is an important decision because I am essentially doubling my company. I can’t help but think more about this on Labor Day.

Jennifer Hooper has done some fine work here at Breaking Even Communications but she is off to get her masters degree so it’s time to find a replacement, quite a task really since Jennifer is so awesome.

Over the last month, as I emailed colleagues and friends about leads, they have asked me, “Nicole, what are you really looking for?”

Above all, I am looking for a good person: hardworking, smart, friendly, interested, and honest. Anyone who fits that description I can train on the technical aspects of the job. (And I am pretty patient too since I remember what it is like to learn this stuff!)

And I have decided whether it takes me a month, two months, or six months to get the right person here at the second desk here, I’m going to do it.

If you are thinking about applying to work at this company (and meet the basic requirements as stated here), here are a few reasons I think you’d like to work here at Breaking Even Communications:

1. Rewarding work.
Helping small business owners and non-profit boards is pretty rewarding. People contact Breaking Even Communications because they want to learn about the internet, and watching the light bulb moments people have is pretty fantastic. If you want a job where you are making a difference and solving problems, this is a job where you’d get to do that.

2. Different every day.
Whether it’s a bed and breakfast learning about Twitter, a retailer optimizing their Youtube channel, or a non-profit needing some blog direction, you get to learn a bit about the goals, and challenges of a variety of clients. Breaking Even Communications has between forty and sixty clients at a given moment meaning there is never a dull moment!

3. Get paid to learn.
Want to learn more about internet and business, both from online resources and directly from colleagues in the internet marketing industry? At Breaking Even Inc., we build in time for professional development so we can stay on top of it all. So if you like to learn about web development, this is a good way to do it.

4. Flexible schedule.
Honestly, sometimes you need to be in the office or helping at an event like a workshop. But a lot of the time, you can work from home, your favorite coffee shop, wherever! One perk we can offer you is the ability to work with your schedule. Yes, very aware that there are other things to life besides work!

5. Live in Downeast Maine.
The saying is you can’t be a real Mainer until you’ve spent a winter, so this job can totally help you meet this unofficial requirement. Plus, it really is very fun to be in such a beautiful place with nice people year round. And when summer 2012 rolls around, you already have a job in Bar Harbor.

6. Your boss is pretty cool.
I (Nicole Ouellette) am a pretty nice person, and I think I’m a pretty good boss. More importantly, I am always trying to get better. Here are some recommendations here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleouellette Even better, ask around about me!

7. Get in on a growing company.
If you are the kind of person who wants to make a lasting contribution to a company, Breaking Even Communications has been growing steadily (and at times exponentially) and is going into its fourth year (!) of operation. Your ideas will be heard and as the company grows, you could play an increasingly important role (and help shape it within the company). That’s pretty exciting!

So Happy Labor Day to you and if you know someone who’d be a good fit for this company, please pass this post along. (It’s my 800th blog post, can you believe it!? Time flies when you’re having fun!)

Selling Art Online: Some Ideas

This post was inspired by my friend’s father, who wants to get into selling comissioned poems online and wanted to know my thoughts.

I am always so excited when artists want to get online and sell their craft, whether it’s some fixed item (here’s a painting I’ve already done for $X) or some custom work (send me your thoughts and I will write you a meaningful poem for your occasion). The internet is niche and just because there is a small sampling of people in your corner of the world interested in, say, watercolors of elephants, doesn’t mean you can’t make a living, or at least part of a living, at your craft. Way to go you for not being limited!

What Do Your Customers Want?

Before jumping into the water with both feet, it may be wise (ok, it is wise) to do a bit of customer research. Some things to find out:

1) Are others doing what you’re doing? (If not, it may be a sign your idea doesn’t have a market… or it may be a sign that no one is as cool as you for thinking of it!)
2) What are people charging for similar work? Can you make money charging these prices?
3) What are people asking about? Do they want to be taught how to use pastels versus buying artwork that uses pastels? Do they want help finishing a drawing they’ve started versus one from scratch? Your idea is all well and good but if it’s not meeting a need, no matter how passionate you are, it won’t fly. What people are looking for will help make your idea better.
4) Who are your customers? Where do they live? What do they think? This may not only inform your marketing but your actual work.

Already your website will kick more butt because you’ve *thought* about what you want it to do and why.



Commissioned Art: Two Ideas For Revenue

There are two routes to go in terms of commissioned work (at least as I see it):

1) Package it as a simple transaction.
Iwanttodrawacatforyou.com is silly in premise but genius in the way it’s set up. Here is one related to poetry that is slightly less user-friendly but a similar idea: http://www.writemeapoem.net/

In both these cases, the idea (and price) are really clear though. I will draw a cat for you for $9.95. I will write commissioned poems for your wedding up to 25 lines for 75 pounds.

With one glace, we see that we can get a cat drawn for us for $9.95. The attractive feature here is the novelty and price point but even more serious sites can learn for the ease of this sale.

With one glace, we see that we can get a cat drawn for us for $9.95. The attractive feature here is the novelty and price point but even more serious sites can learn for the ease of this sale.

2) Custom quotes.

This will have a lower conversion rate (most forms have a less than 10% conversion rate) but you can charge more money for the work.

Here is a custom quote form from a UK guitar maker:

The longer the form for a price quote, the less likely people will be to fill it out... but theoretically, these potential customers are more serious and will pay the price for a very customized guitar.

The longer the form for a price quote, the less likely people will be to fill it out… but theoretically, these potential customers are more serious and will pay the price for a very customized guitar.

So Door 1, charge less for a higher volume of smaller projects, straight-forward payment system. Door 2, more high quality (re: expensive) custom work at a lower volume. Payment less straight forward but you are able to be flexible.

There are clearly pros and cons to both and deciding what kind of art you’ll be selling may determine what kind of category you’ll fall into.



Taking Online Payment

Most people find that a Paypal or Google Checkout merchant account to take online payments is more than acceptable. These services charge a flat fee (around 2-3%) per transaction but totally worth it. Integrating one or both of these services with a website can be tricky so it’s worth getting a pro to do it.

If you want to take payment directly through your own website directly, you need merchant services as well as a secure certificate on your website. Unless you are doing a lot of transactions, this ends up not being worth it which is why so many people use Paypal and/or Google Checkout. To learn more, check out my post about using Etsy to sell art, which also talks about the pros and cons of doing your own ecommerce.

Selling Physical Goods: A Bit More Complicated Than Digital

If you want to get into selling physical goods (versus sending someone some writing or a image via email), that is something to consider.

BigCartel.comand other services off a DIY shopping cart solution that works well for many selling physical products for a low monthly fee. This may be good if you are trying out Ecommerce and don’t necessarily want to throw down $500+ for a custom shopping cart until you know your customers are out there for sure.

Yes, you too can buy needless Breaking Even crap (and yes, this web developer was too lazy to set up her own shopping cart).. breakingeven.bigcartel.com

Yes, you too can buy needless Breaking Even crap (and yes, this web developer was too lazy to set up her own shopping cart): www.breakingeven.bigcartel.com

The thing is with any online shopping cart software is you have to handle the orders as they come in, put items in boxes, perform customer service, etc. And with physical goods suddenly you are weighing everything and thinking about shipping options. Think of what it feels like to list one item on Ebay and multiply that by how many products you want to sell that may or may not frequently change. (You can clearly see how I feel about this… annoying unless you are making enough money to justify the time spent!) ;^)

If you want some third party company to handle the printing of your items (like you don’t want to keep stuff physically at your house ready to ship at all times), you could use a service like SmugMug.com. You upload the image and chose what products to sell (prints, canvases, etc.) Smugmug does the printing, shipping, and order handling for you. They have base prices on all their stuff and the markup is the money you make. Coffee mug is $7 and you mark it up to $10 on your site with your photo on it? You make $3. There are lots of ‘print on demand’ services for artists and here’s a long post about them if you feel like seeing what your other options are: http://www.squidoo.com/Art-pod#module13644552

Make It All Stupid Easy

The key to all things web is to make it stupid easy. Having an ‘order your portrait’ button on every page, contact info in the footer, etc. The easier you make it, the easier it is for people to spend money on your artistic endeavors.

Any artists selling their art online reading this blog? Comment on your issues/ideas and leave a link back to your website so we can see some more examples! (Heck, you might even sell something!)



Website Types

What kind of a website do you need for your business?

Well, good news is you’ve got choices!

The way I see it there are three types of websites.

1) HTML (hypertext markup language) sites- Old school, hand coded.
2) Template sites- Plug and play. Click, click, click you’re done.
3) CMS (content management system) sites- Run off a database, new school, need a bit of time to get them up and running.

Below are the break down of options with some examples:

HTML Sites

OK, so all websites run on HTML but the old school websites I am referring to here are hand-coded. Sometimes I use Frontpage or Dreamweaver to help generate the code but no matter what you use, each individual page is coded separately. I am hard pressed to think of web companies who still do this but there must be some out there…

Pros:
Relatively cheap option (in the hundreds of dollars versus thousands)
Easy to ‘throw together’ quickly
Good for a ‘brochure’ website (that you aren’t going to change much)
Can add some dynamic elements (slideshows) using Javascript and other ‘languages’ like it

Cons:
Making changes requires you either 1) know code or 2) pay someone who knows code
Can look ‘dated’
Adding some functionality is difficult
Need to change a phone number in your footer? Every change needs to be done on each individual page on the site. Tedious.
Files need to be downloaded and uploaded to make changes. No username-password interface.

Example site: www.thelaclaires.com

The LaClaires maintain their own website using Microsoft Frontpage. Front Page and Dreamweaver are two programs that do some of the coding for you while you use a WYSIWYG editor (What You See Is What You Get). That said, you still have to know some code to do some troubleshooting. You also need to make all your website edits using whatever computer this software is installed on.

By far the most annoying aspect of HTML sites for me as a web developer is how long and tedious it can be to make changes. When we wanted to add Google Analytics to their site, I had to individually add the code to each page on the site (the five page on the menu, plus internal pages). It took me an hour. Doing this in a CMS would have taken me five minutes. But the LaClaires are great people who have maintained their own website for almost ten years so they know what they’re doing… if you build a site like this, you will get to know it well too!

Template Sites

Many companies (Web.com, Intuit, Typepad, Squarespace, Weebly, Godaddy, more than we could ever write here) offer a  ‘build your own site’ tool. Sometimes this is free until a certain point (your site gets to a certain size or there is some trial period) but sometimes they charge you right off some small monthly fee.

Technically some of these are CMS websites (since some of them are database-y), but proprietary ones.

Pros:
Easy to use software- a few clicks and you have a working site
Web-based (username and password mean you can log in anywhere there is the internet and make changes)
Not so ugly templates
Whole shebang is on a database, meaning it’s easy to add things like site search, etc.

Cons:
Hey, I have the same template as 10,000 other people!
Tied into that particular company (ie, you can’t take your ball and go home)
Relatively expensive over time
Limited functionality (ex: Under Agreement A you can only have some set number of pages on your site, etc.)

Example site: www.sethgodin.typepad.com

Seth Godin is a prolific blogger. He uses Typepad as his blogging platform but you’ll notice, for example, if you click on buying one of his books, you’re sent to another website (Amazon and a few other places). If you look at other Typepad sites, you may recognize a few Typepad-y things, like the style of the sidebar (that would be the bar on the side of the screen- I love it when web terms are actually what the thing is!).

To fully be able to customize your design, you pay $30/month. But someone like Seth Godin probably makes at least $30/month from his blog so maybe he’s fine with that. If he wanted to move from Typepad though, he’d have to start from scratch, developmentwise (you can *theoretically* export the writing in your blog posts but importing them into Joomla or Wordpress is a big pain in the butt- trust me!).

CMS Sites 

CMS (content management system) websites run off a database. This is awesome in terms of development (Sure, let’s add a site search for you! Want social media icons below all your posts? I can do that!) but it also means it’s easy to update on your end. For example, I can teach most people how to use Wordpress in about two hours (at least the stuff they need to know).

Note: If you do get a CMS site developed by a website company, make sure they are using open source software. Joomla, Drupal, Wordpress are all good. If they say they have a ‘custom’ CMS they use within their company, it means only they know how to use it and, essentially you’ll be stuck with them. Since thousands of people use Joomla, Drupal, and Wordpress, that means you can have many people work on your site. You aren’t stuck with any one web development company, and that’s a win for you!

Pros:
Easy to use software
Web-based (username and password mean you can log in anywhere there is the internet and make changes)
Customizable everything (Make it look exactly how you want)
Add whatever functionality you want (ecommerce, 100 individual pages, whatever!)
Not tied to a company (if you use open source software like Wordpress, Drupal, or Joomla) You can take your files and move web host, etc.
Whole shebang is on a database, meaning it’s easy to add things like site search, etc.

Cons:
Most expensive option up front ($1000+)
Takes time to develop/customize

Example site: www.breakingeveninc.com

This website (and most every other site in my client list) was developed with an open source CMS (Drupal, Joomla, or Wordpress). The cost up front is higher than the other two options but the good news is your site is your site once it’s done. You can make edits to it without knowing code or paying a web developer to code them, you can move your files to whatever web host you want, and you can make whatever customization to the site that you want: ecommerce, booking calendar, real estate database integration, etc.

You can do this functionality on an HTML site but it’s essentially like paying someone to take your CD and convert it to an 8-track tape. If you are going to develop something, you might as well go with what’s new and working well versus something older that people are moving away from.

No doubt this is a simplification (and clearly as a web developer, I have my bias) but there really are a lot of options out there for having a website. No more excuses, go get one!

 

This Month In Business: Spending So Much Money Edition

Before I became a business owner, I always marveled at the sheer number of microbusinesses in Maine, specifically those with one employee (the owner).

“They could grow if they could hire help” I thought, kind of naively.

This month, I hired my first employee. This was a needed and welcome change but I realize now what a huge step and financial risk it is to go from one to two people. Suddenly, I needed office space and equipment, workers comp and liability insurance, payroll services… I spent money much quicker than I made it this last month. And I’m really hoping my huge financial gamble pays off.

In addition to the financial stresses, I’ve also had to get organized and create systems: an employee handbook, email accounts, a shared calendar, file sharing, etc. The stuff that worked great (or at least ok) living in my brain and on my computer now suddenly has to be out there for someone else to share, add to, etc.

I ran into a fellow business owner a few weeks ago who was very skeptical about my hire. “You can’t expect to do twice as much work now.” he said, trying to be helpful.

I certainly don’t expect my employee to put in 60 hour weeks, lie awake a night worrying about money, etc. That’s my job. If someone would do that besides me, I’d worry about them!

I do hope this will allow my company to move into that next level. Because if it’s a question of turning down work or being able to do more, I bet you know what I’d rather do.

Has anyone else went from a one man or woman show to a multi-person business? What advice do you have for this transition?

This Month In Business: Needing Help Edition

So the good news is, while I used to write this business update every week, I now seem to be writing it every month. I’ve been doing this because I’ve actually had a lot of work to do. (I know, *gasp!)

But it really does help to have some kind of check in with myself, since I don’t have a weekly meeting with my boss, a quarterly report, or other sort of evaluation. You, as my blog readers, help hold me to some accountability. For that, I am very grateful. Because I totally need some!

Here’s what I’ve been up to besides actual paid work:

1. I enrolled in an online business course.

You may have heard of Earn1K which is a business course aimed at freelancers. I’ve been on the email list for awhile and finally decide to take the plunge after a couple of months of realizing I’ve been not as focused as I should be on the overall direction of this business. In terms of business course experience, I took an eight week seminar from Women, Work, and Community two years ago, read a couple business books, wrote a business plan, and called it good. Plus it’s been about 6 years since I’ve taken a full on course and I figured it was time for some much needed personal development.

So far it’s been going really well and already the time and effort I’m putting in to develop my ideas is paying off.

2. I got a cash infusion from Mom.

I realize there are a few things I’ve considered doing for money that are unrelated to my business but was considering because I needed some cash. A combination of a few projects running longer than expected and a couple bills paid at the beginning of the year meant I had less cash on hand than I was expecting at this point.

My debt to income ratio is around 1 (breaking even!) but a bank will pretty much only talk to you if you’ve got a ratio of about 1.5.

Over Christmas, my mom had told me to ask for help if I needed it so I decided to take her up on her offer and borrow some money. She was kind enough to present a zero percent interest rate and put the check in an ‘I’m proud of you’ card. Thanks Mom! I’m already sleeping better and plan to pay her back in full by the end of the year if not sooner.

3. I’ll be having two upcoming seminars which one of my more connected friends is helping me organize.
Anyone who has ever eaten dinner with me knows how much I like food. My friend Paul is a food distributor who sells to many local restaurants. When he came to me and suggested we do a couple workshops geared at the hospitality industry, I jumped at the chance.

So if you are in Downeast Maine and run a food-related business check out the two workshops: www.socialmediafood101.eventbrite.com and www.socialmediafood201.eventbrite.com

4. I finished a really big project, with much needed help.
A couple months ago, a friend of a friend wanted some help developing a real estate website. I looked at the online landscape at other real estate companies and saw that what she wanted was possible, even if the websites themselves weren’t the prettiest or most functional websites I’d ever seen. So I gave her a quote for her real estate website and she accepted.

What followed were many unexpected complications: database access issues, formatting issues, code for site design interfering with search function. You name it and it happened. It became clear very early on that I could not handle this on my own so I pulled in a friend to help. Then another. Then another. Through coding, coffee, and sheer determination, we finished the site, exhausted from late nights and early mornings.

I learned three things from this experience:

1) Don’t be cocky in your abilities to do something you’ve never done before. Take the time you think it’ll take and double it. Worse case scenario you give money back.
2) If you are pulling people in, outline the project tasks and responsibilites clearly. Chances are the work will be difficult enough and there’s no need to add communication issues to the mix.
3) You don’t have to know everything but you have to know people who can help so you can collectively know everything you need to.

So the website is launched and I thank Nicholas Peterson, Matthew Baya, and Jeremy Mason for their help with it. And that said, if you know someone who needs a real estate website, I’m now your gal.

Anything you needed help with (and got help with) this month?

(Come on, make me feel there are a couple of you out there who needed the help of other people this month!)

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