business

Four Noteworthy Apps (…for Taking Notes)

Last week, we shared tips about getting ideas out of your head and organized. In that post, we stressed the importance of being consistent with where you keep these notes. Some people prefer to have them physically written down, others prefer to have them stored on electronic devices.

For those of you who fall in the electronic note taking category, this is your post! (Or even if you’re in the first category- this post just might change your mind). There are tons of apps out there for notes, with as many or as little extra features as you would like. I’m only going to talk about 4 of the apps I’ve found that offer their own unique twists on the note-taking process that are also totally free.

Evernote: Arguably the most popular note taking app. You can download it on all your devices, that way the notes you take on your PC will be with you on your phone if you’re on the go. Free for 60 MB of uploads per month. If you want to upload more, save emails, have offline access, it does cost a bit of money. There is also a business plan (also paid) which aims to improve collaboration within a business. For a smaller company it might not make a lot of sense, but there are a lot of different people attached to a project, it seems like a useful and convenient way to stay organized.

Things that are cool: You can search through text and images, and easily share notes with others. The website has a pretty incredible blog/testimonial section, and this story about Nisha Harish using Evernote to help write a book about her experience in the Marathon des Sables caught my interest.

This was just the sample page after sign-in, and I already felt overwhelmed

This was just the sample page after sign-in, and I already felt overwhelmed

OneNote (Microsoft): Another app that’s available for free, and on desktop and mobile devices. It also comes with similar cloud-access so you can get your information wherever you are. The interface reminds me of Excel, with different tabs for different sections. From the perspective of a girl who breaks a sweat at the mere mention of spreadsheets, this isn’t how I want to keep track of my notes. Then I actually logged in and tested it out (clearly nothing serious) and it was actually pretty awesome.

Things that are cool: It’s very straightforward and easy to use. You have all the basic options, like drawing notes, writing, sharing, adding pictures-without it being overly complex. Easy to navigate, both in terms of writing a note and accessing it later on.

I had a little fun testing this one out...

I had a little fun testing this one out…



Google Keep: A free Google app that is a more organized version of the Stickies program that Macs have (which I totally loved in my tween-hood). Like Evernote and OneNote, you can share your notes with other people. You can also sync your notes with your other Google apps, add location based reminders (with the help of Google maps). As someone who already uses Google apps AND enjoys the visual organization, this is the app that gets my vote. (Unfortunately, I’m a physical note person).

Things that are cool: As mentioned earlier, I really like the interface on Google Keep. It’s more friendly for visually inclined individuals. You can enable dictation (which the other apps don’t have) and can easily move it to a Google doc for further editing/sharing.

googlekeep

Simplenote: A slight step up above the Note app on your phone- it’s text only and doesn’t let you add any attachments or images, or share with others. However, it does have a cool restore history feature, so if you accidentally delete something you can easily get it back. (Note does not have this, trust me.) You can also tag notes, share the note URL, and invite others to edit. In other words, it has a lot of the same features as the other apps but with a simpler interface.

Things that are cool: It’s pretty minimalist, so if you’re the type of person who JUST wants to jot things down without dealing with annoying extra features, this is your app. The ability to retrieve older notes is a nice safety feature, too.

simplenote

These are just four of the MANY apps you can download for note taking, but they’re a) popular and b) free, so if you’re in the market for organizing notes in a digital way, you’ll probably be able to find something that will get the job done.

June is note month! Stay tuned for more posts about note taking and keeping, and remember to check out other posts as well:

Take Note: Tips on Having (and Keeping) Your Ideas



Marketing an Event with a Flyer: Some Thoughts

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a flyer tends to grab more attention (online and offline) than a block of text. That’s why visuals are now an almost vital step when marketing an online event. Whether you create a flyer yourself or have another person/business create something, the next step is sharing it online and offline.

“Eye-tracking studies show internet readers pay close attention to information-carrying images. In fact, when the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page.” – Jesse Mawhinney for Hubspot

Some things to consider during flyer creation:

Shape, Size, Format: Different social media platforms will respond better to different shapes (i.e. square vs. rectangle). Although Instagram has been updated to handle rectangular shapes, it’s default is still square. The best advice I’ve heard (and applied) when creating a flyer for social media is saving it in a few different shapes for different platforms. The dimensions and sizes for featured images for all social media platforms change from year to year, and it’s worth double checking if you aren’t sure. No one wants to have their event flyer cut off in a weird place on the Facebook Event photo, right? (For 2016 social media image guidelines, check out this breakdown from Hubspot).

Share-ability: One litmus test that I’ve used in creating event material for Breaking Even and clients is simply “Would share this?” Although you’re using the image as your business, it helps to create something that others will in turn share on their own personal accounts and help promote things for you. It’s also just a generally decent way to gauge work, I’ve noticed.



Things to Consider As You Share:

Does your event have a hashtag? Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram all use hashtags, and it’s pretty common to create a hashtag to promote an event. As you share information and your flyer, make sure you share the hashtag, too. If your event isn’t big enough to have its own hashtag, think of using one popular in your geographic area or industry. Read our blog post about finding hashtags for help if you need it.

Can you tag the location? If you are hosting an event at a different venue (or even if it’s your own venue, really), tagging the venue in your post accomplishes a few things. First, it can increase exposure to a wider audience (i.e. on Facebook, people who like the venue will see the event). Second, it makes it easier for people to find the event, because they can directly explore from your event description. Sometimes people even look for events in their area… and if your event has a location, that’s one more way to come up in a search.

taglocationexample

For example, Breaking Even and Smart Datamap Services hosted this event at Anchorspace (which was separately tagged)

Where are you sharing? There are plenty of places online and offline to share an event flyer, the obvious being social media accounts. You will definitely want to make a page on your website and link to it in the flyer caption. This is also a great way to keep track of the number of people who view your event vs. sign up vs. show up, and use that information to shape future marketing efforts, and you have control over things like layout and registration. Community calendars are also a great (and usually free) place to share your event online. If you’re a member of a Chamber of Commerce or other organization, they may also be willing to share your event (with a flyer) on their websites. By looking over time and how people got to your event, you can decide if posting to X website and Y calendar are worth your time and proceed with future events accordingly.

As you create visuals to promote an event, keep your audience and intended social media platforms in mind. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create a decent looking event flyer! Our May theme for the blog will help you along the way with some tips on flyer distribution and creation. Stay tuned for more next week!

 

BEC Story #4: Dealing With Trash Talk

There are all these sayings out there that boil down to “When you seem like a threat, people aren’t going to like you.”

Don’t believe me? Type ‘haters gonna hate’ into Pinterest and watch how many different ways this has been reworked:

hatersgonnahate

What I’ve always found kind of interesting is that people who talk about haters seem to have a lot more of them than the rest of us. I have a feeling talking about them adds fuel to that fire.

And that’s why I don’t talk about it…Until today.

Problem: Based on a misreading of an email I sent, a local person decided I was incompetent… and began telling everyone in town.

I found out because three people told me. (Thank you everyone who didn’t tell me at the time; my skin was a lot thinner eight years ago than it is today.) The people who told me laughed it off as they know what kind of person I am… but they also wanted to bring it to my attention.

I was very worried this was going to effect my reputation since Chatterbox (which I’ll use as a stand-in name for this story) was much more established than I was. I emailed Chatterbox back to explain what I meant in my email but it was clear an opinion had been formed. What was I going to do now that someone had already made a firm judgment?



Solution: I ignored it. It’s hard to control what someone else thinks of you so all you can do is try to clarify (if they are willing to listen), put your head down, and keep doing a good job.  Guess what? It blew over.

Years later, I was having lunch with a friend whose judgement I admire who had a business relationship with Chatterbox. I asked her about Chatterbox and basically, she told me when she got her information, she always considered the source. The fact that Chatterbox did this to me was not surprising to her.  Years later, Chatterbox and I continue to exist, ignoring one another. It appears the issue has officially blown over.

Values demonstrated: integrity, whatever the opposite of petty is, the ability to ignore and keep going, friendship

How this story could be better:

You know what doesn’t make a good story? De-escalating someone trying to start drama. I actually have a fair bit of non-stories like this I am proud of.

Invoking how this is a small town thing.  Living in a small community, we are all forced to interact with each other in multiple ways. So you could have a heated discussion with someone at town council then run into them at the grocery store in the same 24 hours. The ‘ignoring’ thing is something we all have to do living in a small town. Maybe inserting more small town markers into this story would have made it more relateable, since many of us reading this live in small communities.

Dropping some inspiration would have been a little more… inspiring. I bought myself a copy of the Tao Te Ching a few years ago. It really helped me see my ‘let the water flow in and out’ type attitude is something worth cultivating. One way to beef up a story is to bring another way of looking at an issue from some inspirational person in the way of a quote or story. That could definitely help here. Maybe I could have grabbed one of the ones from Pinterest for this story!

Finding out who your friends are is a valuable universal (even business) theme. My friend didn’t believe this person. And I like to think that most of our clients are my friends as well. Getting that reaffirmed is a good theme. Let’s all tell more stories about  how awesome our friends are. I should have gotten my friend’s permission and named her in that story.

BEC Story #3
BEC Story #2
BEC Story #1
Why I’m Writing All These Stories

BEC Story #3: Space To Grow

One thing I love/hate about running a business is when problems you thought you solved reappear (or sometimes more accurately, decisions you thought you had already made and were done with). For example, once upon a time had an office… until we needed another office.

Problem: After four years in business, Breaking Even got an office. And when we were two people and our income was at the level it was, that office was very functional. When we (the business) needed to increase to three and four people, I hired a part time, two hour away friend (telecommuting) and worked with a subcontractor (also who would work remotely). Then one day, I thought how helpful it would be to get us all in the same room for a day. So I started calling around.

I wanted someplace private (a lot of the local banks have conference spaces but they don’t feel like you can really close the door and be undisturbed… unless you were having a meeting with a bank employee of course). I wanted someplace nice. I wanted someplace with good internet. I didn’t need to pay hundreds for a banquet hall for a weekend wedding; I wanted six hours of peace and quiet in a nice room with a table, some chairs, and the internet.

As I tried to make a list of amenities writing this, I realize more of what I wanted was for my coworkers to feel a certain way. I wanted them to feel taken care of. Relaxed. Inspired. Happy. Productive. Engaged. Warm.

I ended up renting a hotel ballroom. When I walked in, I smiled. In this relatively large room with a crystal chandellier was a small table (big enough for four people) with four water glasses in the geographic center of the room. And nothing else. I chuckled because it looked cute and a little absurd. And I wondered how many other people needed what I needed at least sometimes. If we were going to work well together, we needed a room we could all fit in.

I had done a pretty exhaustive search of office spaces in the area.  I’ve seen about 20 total offices in my community and much of what I looked at years ago is still on the market now.

Why? Remember the feelings I wanted my coworkers to have at the retreat?  These spaces exuded none of that. And if we were going to make a change, I like changes to be ‘onward and upward’, not ‘lateral and with the same issues.’ Plus, a new office space was not going to be able to fulfill our meeting needs anyway, even if we could get past weird smells, a lack of natural light, or lack of parking options for our clients.

Solution:

Honestly, a bigger office would have been a lot less work than opening up a whole new business. But in these stories, you may know hard work is one of the qualities I value and try to cultivate.

The idea of a coworking space has been rolling around in my head for almost four years. Since I heard of the concept, I loved the idea. It makes a lot of sense for an entrepreneurial community like the one I live in to have something like this, not just for Breaking Even Communications but small businesses operating out of homes, coffee shops, and libraries as well as bigger firms who did work in the area but didn’t have office space nearby (contractors, engineers, etc.)

Opening Anchorspace was part selfish-we needed more space. But I truly believed that the solution to our problem could simultaneously be beneficial to the community, so why not help others while we were at it?

So I wrote a business plan, did cost projects, worked with a career counselor, worked with an intern on market research, secured a space, painted the space, furnished it, had security cameras installed and a few other upgrades, and opened Anchorspace in less than a year. My coworkers in the meantime picked up my slack at Breaking Even so I had not only the time but the brain space to deal with this very big idea.

Values demonstrated: Open to ideas of others, community minded, hard work, teamwork, resourcefulness, going with my gut (intuition maybe?)



How could this story be improved?

If you’re emotionally attached to something, have someone else write it. Problem is, when you are very emotionally into something, it’s hard to step back and make it interesting. Like in this story, I didn’t tell you we opened and had no customers for three months. Or any of the other small and big struggles that would have made it more interesting and relatable. I’ll admit this, I’m a writer and I paid my friend to write my bio on this website. What comes across is something much more balanced and less weird than it would be if I wrote it. This is why most magazines have journalists interview authors. Authors could write their own story… but it’s just not as good somehow, especially for that emotional stuff.

Take credit. I think as a woman in particular, I tend to not take as much credit for my accomplishments as I should. I remember in college doing well in something and hearing myself say, out loud, that what I did was nothing, not important, anyone could have done it, blah, blah, blah. Actually, I had worked hard. I had earned that grade. I told myself that from now on, when someone gave me a compliment, I would simply say, “Thank you.” I would take the credit for the work. In saying, yes, I made Anchorspace happen, I am not taking away anything from people who helped. I am just taking ownership of what I did. I saw a problem we had, zoomed out and saw we could help others, and took a harder road than a lot of people would have taken to get there. So yes, I’m going to take some credit for that.

Epilogue: I’m really struggling to write these stories. In other words, if you’ve taken our story challenge and our struggling, please know I am too!

Previous Stories:
BEC Story #2
BEC Story #1
Original post about why we’re doing these stories.

BEC Story #2: The Password Problem

Legal pad with pen on wood background

Legal pad with pen on wood background

What, Breaking Even Communications has problems?!?

Of course we do. My goal is our problems over time 1) change or become different and 2) become smaller. This story is about a semi-recent problem we faced.

Problem: Our client passwords were precariously stored. They were mostly stored in Google Docs. And while this made my life easy (look up client name, find document, copy/paste/share as needed), I knew it wasn’t the best idea ever. “Hey, our Google accounts had two factor authentication, that’s pretty good,” I thought. Plus moving to anything else would require research and mind numbing data entry that would not make us more money. There is never a good time for doing this kind of thing but the worst time to do it is when something terrible happens, so I knew we had to do it before then.

Solution: While it was in the back of my mind, the whole “Um, client passwords need more secure storage” thing was brought up in our next company retreat.

Now when a staff member points something out to you, as a boss, your first gut reaction is to feel stupid and defensive. But that is also the reaction you feel when someone is right. And so the research began.

There is something called ‘analysis paralysis’ and it’s something I like to avoid. It’s when you research something to death and then end up having more questions than answers.

Newsflash: There is no perfect password management system. I spent a whole workday looking for one. But what I decided to do is look into the 2-3 that kept coming up in articles.



KeePass fit our criteria. It was multi-platformed, meaning it could work on Macs, PCS, and smartphones (all of which we have in our company). It was searchable. It seemed pretty secure.

So I spent two weekends moving passwords into this system. And as a company, we all learned how to use this thing together.

Most people don’t want to spend time learning new software. I get it. I barely wanted to do this move but we all gritted our teeth and moved forward, knowing how beneficial it would be for the company in the long run.

Fast forward 6 months. I have somehow accidentally made three different files that seem to each have most of the passwords but not all of them. So I paid someone to merge the databases, which in most cases gave us three copies of the same password… but hey, at least it was all in one file! I emailed John and Kassie, told them I was an idiot, and that I would work on deleting duplicates over time.

Realizing this and other tasks like it were falling to the wayside, Alilia came into our lives. I gave her the crappy, non-glamorous first task of meticulously go through all the folders  in the now singular password database and ensure not only we didn’t have duplicates but to get them arranged in some order (Did I mention this software does not automatically put password groups in alphabetical order? Yup, not perfect!).

Now we have one file that we can all access, and it’s now much more secure than what we had. It’s not perfect but it’s better. I would estimate it saves me about 5 minutes a day to be able to use the ‘search’ function to find the password information in KeePass, versus having to go find the client’s Google Doc, find the actual password in the document and copy and paste it in. All those minuted definitely add up, even if it felt like a real ‘journey’ to get here with the passwords.

Epilogue: The one part of our company retreat I’ve often thought of dropping is the part where everyone picks a topic and presents to the group about it for 10ish minutes. This time around, I assigned some topics (because there was some things we all needed refreshers in). I gave Alilia KeePass as a topic even though we made this move over a year ago… and she proceeded to blow our minds by showing us things about it we didn’t even know that’ll save us even more time using it.

Values demonstrated: Open to ideas of others, willing to learn, doing the right thing, hard work, flexibility, self improvement, delegation, goal setting.

How could this story be improved?

So this story is already better than my first story. Imperfect people are easier for us all to relate to (and let’s face it, the part in the fairy tales where everything starts going wrong is the more interesting parts of them.)

We all want things to work out in the end (or at least for things to be neatly wrapped up) and this story does that. So what could make it better?

Adding quotes/other voices. Putting in quotes from Kassie, John, and Alilia would make this better. It would also take longer to write of course but it anything that has multiple points of view makes stories better.

Be ready for ‘feedback’. Several IT friends had very strong opinions about my software selection. (One was literally horrified.) Please note though I asked all three of them what they would recommend and not one of them agreed on something else. Sometimes in putting a story out there, you have to expect feedback, but not necessarily base your life or business on it. In telling your stories, you may rub some people the wrong way and, so long as you aren’t mean to them, it’s ok.

Reframing it more positively. A problem I personally have is self deprecation. I always mean it as funny and, if you could read my mind, you’d know I have a pretty positive view of myself. But sometimes in writing, I come off as not confident. To me, a good ‘boss’ is one that shares praise and shoulders blame. “We did a great job.” and “I really should have done X better.” are things you will hear me regularly say. To me, that’s what a leader does and believes. But I need to balance that with making clients, potential clients, and the world at large understand that I am a very capable person. Kassie and I have started reading each other’s blog posts before publication, in part to catch this tendency.

Next time, I’ll write a story about Breaking Even ‘big picture’ problem.

Previous Stories:
BEC Story #1
Original post about why we’re doing these stories.

BEC Story #1: The Haunted Page From 2013

This month, we’ve decided to go through and tell a series of stories related to Breaking Even Communications. The theme this month is ‘brand story’ and nothing helps you make a cohesive interesting story like telling several smaller ones and looking for a pattern.

Running a business is not just providing customers with a product or service. It’s how we work with each other (the employees) and how we see the bigger vision for the company. So it’s important to look at problems/solutions/values from not just our customers’ perspective but from an internal perspective.

We tell a lot of these stories in our ‘case studies’ section of our website and also in the occasional blog entry.

There are a couple reasons I don’t obsessively talk about our customers:

  1. I never want people to feel like we’ll only like them and learn from them if they are our customers.
  2. A lot of our work demands we be somewhat invisible. It’s about the business succeeding, not us doing the work.

Today’s story is a client story.

Legal pad with pen on wood background

Problem: Client needed help improving his website. It was his first six figure year and he came back to us for more suggestions for improvement.

Solution: We looked at his website from the user point of view. We saw a few things (some non-obvious purchase links that could be made into buttons, some text that could be moved onto a different page, etc.) We even crawled all the links on the website (which took almost 24 hours with our internet connection and all the links the website had!) to find any dead links leading nowhere. Nothing seemed like a big deal.

I think most companies would have stopped there, thinking finding a few things was as good as finding one big thing… but I had a feeling something else was up.

I found it, buried in the ‘User Flow’ in Google Analytics. 30% of traffic to the website was going to a defunct page that hadn’t been touched in three years that had old, no longer true information on it. How many of those thousands of people could be redirected to buy something, or even to more useful information?

Values demonstrated: Going on our gut, hard work, thorough work, multifaceted approach.

How could this story be improved? I will be the first to say, this story is not interesting. But often, you start with the skeleton of something that isn’t interesting.



Add details. What kind of business is this? Who owns it and what sort of awesome, self improvement-centric person hires a company to look at his site every year to see what he could do better? I should probably get his permission and really dig in. In reading this story, you should be able to say to yourself, “I know this person and this business and I really relate to Mr. X’s amazing drive to self improvement and hitting that big six figure goal he had for his business” (which he does part time by the way while doing a full time other job – how many can relate to that?) The more details, the more relatable.

Following up. Wouldn’t it be awesome if, say, at the end of this story, he was even more successful than he was before? If we found out people clicked on those sweet fat buttons that were now so much easier to see and make purchases from? If 25% of the people who hit that three year old page were redirected and made a purchase? Here’s the thing, this only happened a couple months ago. This will be a much better story when we know Part 2.

Adding something memorable. Gut and Google may be a good title for this. It may not only make people click (if that was a link of course) but it may help people remember that it’s one thing to use a tool like Google Analytics and it’s another to work with someone who has (and goes on) their gut feelings. A title is not the only thing that can be memorable in a story but thinking of a couple of details to make a story memorable is never a wasted effort.

Next round: an internal problem. A lot of businesses opt for silence when it comes to sharing internal problems (which we can’t say we argue with necessarily), but it’s a part of the story, too. Stay tuned for next week’s story!

 

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