business

Marketing Monday: A/B Testing

The idea of A/B testing has long been used with designers but definitely has applications with online marketing as well. It was my friend Lynn Cyr, a user interface designer, who introduced me to the concept via a blog.

A/B testing is simply testing two versions of the same email newsletter, landing page, contact form, etc. and see which one performs better.

Here is a simple example from CampaignMonitor.com (click here to get the full post from the site):



There's not much difference in this email campaign except the words used in the link. Guess which one did better?

There’s not much difference in this email campaign except the words used in the link. Guess which one did better?

So I am going to kill the suspense here: Campaign A had a higher response rate. Here’s the graph for those of you who like a visual:

You can lie to yourself about how effective something is but your numbers won't lie for you.

You can lie to yourself about how effective something is but your numbers won’t lie for you.

And you may think, great, nerds the world over can figure out how more people can fill out a contact form. What does this have to do with me?

What if I told you you could test a new website configuration to sell more products?

ABTests.com has visual case studies you can learn from and be inspired to try yourself.

ABTests.com has visual case studies you can learn from and be inspired to try yourself.

In the example above, adding a ‘Popular Products’ feature increased sales with those products while people were looking at related products (AKA cross-selling). This example makes sense but not all of the case studies seem logical. Here’s one with interesting results from ABTests.com:

You'd think the cell phone would speak better to active technology saavy folks on the go (at least I would!) but it didn't. That's why we test, right?

You’d think the cell phone would speak better to active technology saavy folks on the go (at least I would!) but it didn’t. That’s why we test, right?

Here’s the thing: As business owners, we can not assume we know what our customer thinks. Scientists run experiments and psychologists conduct studies precisely because, while we can come up with a prediction, we always have to test it. But besides the quest for knowledge, why A/B test your Facebook page, website, email newsletter, blog, or anything?

1) More sales with less work.
Let’s say you spend an hour setting up Version A and Version B of something. Wait a month while data collects. Look at the numbers, do what works. Even if you only increased sales by 5%, that’s more money for the same amount of effort, that means more money for the same amount of website traffic you are already getting.

2) It’s not expensive.
If you want to DIY, companies like Visual Site Optimizer offer a 30 day free trial (and less than $30/month after for small businesses) which allow you to set up your own tests and track the results. Or you can have your favorite nerd set up something for you. Even if you pay a nerd like me $75/hour for 1-2 hours work, you’ll more than make that money back with your improved results.

3) It means better results over time.
So you find out your customers like one website layout over another. Guess what you’ll consider when you redesign your email newsletter? Exactly. A/B testing means you get better at reaching your target customer over time, further improving what you are trying to do both on and off your website.

Your website visitors can tell you so much without saying a word. And while we’d all prefer to think our websites are perfect, we can always do it a bit better. A/B Testing just helps you get to that better level quicker.

For more information about A/B testing including setup, check out this article from Smashing Magazine.

Or contact me if you’d like me to set up an A/B test for your contact page, newsletter, Facebook ad, or whatever!

Breaking Even: 2010 In Review

It’s been awhile since I’ve written my ‘this week in business’ series. A few large things that have happened in 2010 just to recap (some new stuff, some not so new stuff):

That’s certainly not close to everything but some of the more time intensive and interesting things for sure.

I also had a lot happen in my personal life:

  • I met a man who has put up with a year of 80 hour weeks with patience and kindness. Moreover he loves how much I care about my work.
  • I became an aunt. (Note to self: Get permission from my sister to put her baby’s photo on my website- she’s super cute!)
  • Sadie (my beagle mix) died and I adopted Gidget from Georgia.
  • I took my first vacation in two years and spent a total of three hours online that week.
  • I went with my family to Georgia (a working but fun vacation).
  • I found out my grandfather has cancer, which continues to worsen and has made me value the time I have with him.

As I’ve said already on social media today, I want to thank my family and friends for all their support this year, on the business front and other fronts as well.

2011 promises to be another exciting year and, while part of me is dreading turning 30 and what my Pepere will go through, part of me knows the alternative to moving forward is stagnating and no one wants that.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

These Three Weeks In Business: Crashing Edition

These past three weeks, my Mac, my PC, and me have all crashed. Let me explain.

Many people think if you happen to be good at internet stuff you are also good at computers. Not so.

I am truly terrible at physical computer issues. And in the past three weeks, both of my computers have bit it.

My Mac was the first to go. I was giving a group presentation when it decided to do software updates. So I could continue with the presentation, I did a force quit. Two friends, one week, and a lot of Mac Forums reading later, I had to reinstall my operating system. I get it, if the Mac is updating its programs, let it finish. Lesson learned.

While dealing with my sad Mac, my PC (which is a desktop computer I do a lot of my work on) began acting wonky. It quit programs mid-use, stopped backing up my files with Mozy, and other nonsense. I tried the usual stuff: defragmenting, running virus scans, etc. but nothing worked. Hundreds of registry errors and a few days with a computer savvy colleague, it’s back.

Then I crashed. I was sick for a week and last Saturday, I slept until 11 am. And I’m a normally early riser. Must be all these late nights working, which I am finally going to do something about. But more on that in a minute.

Besides all the crashing, here’s what has been going on:

I got a smartphone.
I finally bit the bullet and got an Android phone. Verizon has much better coverage in my area than ATT and since I do a lot of things with Google anyway, it was a good choice for me. On a recent trip, I found I had much less anxiety when I was able to check my email once in awhile and not walk into hundreds of emails after the weekend was over. Also when I was in computer limbo, it was nice to be able to check email and keep up with what was coming in.

I turned down work.
I got an email from Elance saying someone wanted me to bid on a project. I was flattered… until I went to look at the specifics. The bid was $25/hour below my minimum hourly rate and it was a very short term project. It felt good to turn something because I didn’t need to do it but at the same time, it made me wonder how many legitimately cool projects I was missing working on, which made me realize.

I realized I needed help… and no, not that kind of help.
It’s time to hire someone. And before announcing this in a formal way, I thought a lot about the kind of person I wanted to hire and why.

What I really need help with is administrator type stuff: invoicing, answering emails, and some basic copywriting to start. That’s not to say there couldn’t be more but to be able to work on big project, I need some help taking care of the small details.

I’d love to pay someone $25-$50/hour but this is such a gamble that I have to start off much lower in terms of pay. If I take on someone else in terms of being responsible for their pay, I need to know I can make payroll. If I can’t, I’ll never sleep. Plus it’s much easier to say “Wohoo, we’re kicking butt, I can pay you more now!” than “Wow, I’m paying you too much, I need to cut your salary.” That would not go over well.

The second thing to consider is if I am going to train someone, I need someone who is going to stick around, preferably in my geographic area which is where I am and where a majority of my clients are. Downeast Maine is an expensive place to live that alternates between a busy summer season and a dead winter season. That said, I need the help year round and I can’t have someone who disappears in the summer.

And thirdly, I  need someone who is going to listen to me. Now I’m not a big ‘power’ person but I do need there to be a bit of professional distance for my first employee.

I’ve put out the call to the guidance counselors at my local high school and to a contact at the local liberal arts college. We can debate the pros and cons of high school versus college students but in terms of the trainable tech savvy person who can be happy with a part time job and stick around for a couple years, students seem to be a logical choice. But we’ll see.

When things happen like this in a business, it’s really easy to get bogged down trying to fix it all yourself. But at a certain point, it’s smart, and even just sane, to say, “Hey, I need help” and throw some money at the problem.

Have you crashed anything recently? If so, how did you uncrash it?

This Week In Business: Remote Services Edition

The beauty with a website business is that, at least theoretically, you should be able to have a customer anywhere. Note the ‘should’.

In my first year of being full time, all but one of my clients was in Downeast Maine. (And the non-local one I met at a local party through a local friend). I like being in Maine so this was fine with me. But the whole point of an online business is to reach out further than you would in terms of geography. Ideally, I think my lack of remote work made me a bit worried that my skills wouldn’t translate beyond my geographic area.

In addition to making a video on the main page of my site (which a few new clients have told me made them a lot less nervous about contacting me) and otherwise proactively seeking out work, I now have multiple remote accounts, and my first ever client I’ve never met.

I finally set up an Elance profile to be even more proactive about seeking out work.

My friend Dorrie had written me out a bunch of links she had heard on a business radio show a few months ago. The paper has been on my desk since; I had enough work at the time but thought if I was going to reach beyond coastal Maine, this might be the way to do it.

I finally set up an Elance profile a couple weeks ago, if only to have the chance to bid on projects that sounded interesting. I’ve bid on a small one and, since I haven’t heard back yet, I’m guessing I didn’t get it. Oh well, you win some, you lose some!

I’ve been awarded the bid for my hometown Chamber’s new website.

I put in a bid for the Chamber of Commerce’s website in my hometown of Fort Kent Maine. Months went by (and I checked in a few times) but when I hadn’t heard a few months later, I decided to start taking steps to ensure I’d have enough work through the winter. I set up the Elance profile, beefed up my LinkedIn account, contacted anyone who might have leads for me, and bid on parts of larger projects with friends/colleagues.

I just got the call yesterday afternoon that I got the bid for the Chamber. Getting to help my hometown market itself and getting my business funded through the winter? Win win. Also it just goes to show you that when you just let go, sometimes the thing you were holding on to just shows back up.

I got a call from a professional organizer in Texas, and got my first ever client I’ve never met.

I’ve done some work with Kim, a web/graphic designer (a friend of a friend, someone I’ve only talked to once on the phone and exchanged a few emails with). Then one of her clients contacted me about possible work this past week. Now, I have a client in Texas, and hopefully will have a few more more if I do well.

I began helping manage a friend’s website… in the UK.

My friend Phil (who I actually met through this blog) decided a few months ago to buy a website or two as an investment. I semi-helped him look at stuff on Flippa.com, which in case you didn’t know is the Ebay of websites. He ended up buying two costume selling websites (or as they say in the UK, fancy dress) that we’re in the process of doing some SEO on, adding products to, etc. As the site manager, I’m getting some good experience in managing an ecommerce store (and not just marketing it). For my efforts, I get a cut of the profits, which motivates me to do more on the sites and also helps my friend out.

Once we figure out international shipping, etc. I’ll link it on here but for now, it’s fun to tweak/improve a website that’s already profitable. Starting from zero can be exhausting so this is a nice, different experience for me.

In other words, while I am still doing lots in Maine, I know that my business can only grow if I can look not only at my area but beyond it in terms of possibilities. This allows me to try different kinds of work, make new contacts, and maybe eventually the opportunity to travel.

Here’s to proving to myself (and others who may want to hire me) that I can not only do work remotely but do it well, and beginning to reap the benefits of having a web-based business.

So out of curiosity: Who is your furthest away and/or most random work contact or client, and how did you meet them?

This Week In Business: Better Light Edition

I’ve gotten a few emails. “I miss your blogs!” I miss them too!

Last weekend, I was in a wedding in Massachusetts and, combined with being busy at work in general, updating my own blog often seems like something I want to do and don’t have time. Maybe when I get a smart phone in a couple months, it’ll be easier to do these things in transit.

Here’s what’s going on at Breaking Even Communications:

I moved my office into my living room.
I was most excited about my move from 220 square feet late last year precisely because I could have aseparateoffice and living area. There was really only one logical choice for my ‘office’.

Fast forward to months later. Why is my energy so low? My office had one small window behind me and it was not motivating to work in a cave.

So I moved my desk to my living room(other office-y things like printer, stationary, etc. stayed in the old office). Yesterday morning, I watched a gold finch hover near a flower. I also got a ton of work done. For the whole separation of work and life, I might eventually get a screen to close off the area in the after hours but for the moment, this arrangement is working, and well.

Let there be light, even if it does mean my work space is in my living space.

Let there be light, even if it does mean my work space is in my living space.

I got selected to present at Social Media FTW about blogging.

I’ll be presenting as part of the Social Media FTW Fall Conference in Portland in September. I’ll be presenting on business blogging (as the intro to Rich Brook’s advanced blogging). There are still tickets available and, based on who else is on the roster, it should be a pretty good conference. Click this link to learn more.

Preregistration for workshops are now required.

This past week, Downeast Learning (my coventure with my friend Matt) had a workshop about email marketing. We were about to cancel it because no one had signed up when I had three people email me about it over the weekend, which is just enough to cover the room rental. “Do we have to preregister? Can we pay you then?” “Sure!” I said in an attempt to be flexible.

One person showed up. I emailed the other two people. One had forgotten and one couldn’t come at the last minute. I bet paying ahead would have been more motivating. Lesson learned: preregistration only! No more Too-Nice Nicole!

I made a deal on a beach.

I had to mention this because it was so random.

So my dog got lost while we were on a walk (long story but let’s just say my dog thinks she can catch deer) and about an hour into the search, I went down to the beach to see if she had turned up there. I waited to see if she’d come off the island we were walking on when the guy next to me started talking to me about my dog. It came up in conversation that I lived in Bar Harbor and he asked me what I did. When I told him internet marketing, he took down my contact info into his iPhone. He runs a video production company in Maryland and needs some website and social media revamping. It just goes to show you that you never know when you’re going to meet people. I’ll let you know if he calls!

This Week In Business: Why I Charge For Workshops And Seminars

I often get asked, “Why don’t you give free seminars?” I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and here’s my response:

First of all, it isn’t true that I don’t ever give free seminars. Once a month, I do a free seminar for a business-related non-profit: chambers of commerce, Rotary, and other groups of that nature. If I get two requests the same month, I ask the person who contacted me second if they’d mind holding off. This is because I need to reserve time to do paid work so I can keep going as a business. Also, these free presentations are very general, usually introducing basic concepts as that’s what time allows (and usually what the group wants).

Everyone else gets charged, whether it’s a customized training session ($75/hour or $500, whichever is more applicable) or as a fee for a Downeast Learning workshop(between $25-$50/person). Am I just a money grubbing jerkface? Well, I might be… but even if I am, I have some good reasons for doing this:

1) It takes time to create workshops.
I spend on average of 10 hours preparing slides for a typical workshop. I usually create an outline, get feedback on it from colleagues, make slides, and then get feedback on the slides. If you’ve ever been to one of my presentations, I hope you can see the thought that goes into them!

In addition to the time making the presentation, I also write a press release, post the workshop on several online event calendars, post it over Facebook and Twitter, update my blog, put up posters, contact all the local chambers, and do other things to get the word out, probably to the tune of a couple hours per workshop.

2) It costs money to present workshops.
You’ll notice if you go to my workshops, they are held in a space that isn’t my home office. Since my house is tiny (not to mention ill equipped to handle 20ish people and their computers comfortably), I have to rent space.

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