business

Tech Thursday: Terrible or Not Terrible (Website Edition)

We turn our opinions about website behavior into a game show like extravaganza. There’s singing, laughing, knowledge-dropping, but we couldn’t get a creepy game-show host…



Hey, What’s the Blog Idea?

Told with some help from Will Ferrell.

When people ask us if they should have a blog on their website, they aren’t usually expecting to hear “Well, it depends.” Do I think blogs can be beneficial to businesses and websites? Absolutely. But, not all businesses have the resources- that is, time- to blog consistently and run the business. Like anything, if you know that you don’t have the time/energy to commit, then it’s best to leave it alone. Sticking to a consistent schedule (even if it’s only once a week) is kind of important for followers. Recently, I’ve gotten hooked on this awesome podcast (it’s actually 70% of why I watch the Housewives in the first place), and it only took me a week to decipher the schedule (not that it was particularly difficult). Every Wednesday on my commute home, I look forward to listening to the podcast that discusses Real Housewives of Orange County. And, because Ronnie and Ben have a consistent schedule, it’s become part of my weekly routine. Wednesdays are my favorite days of the week. It’s going to be tough when the season ends.



But if you can commit to something consistent and relatively frequent (once a month probably won’t cut it), then yes, a blog can do wonders for you. Here are some unique ways that a blog can do wonders for your business:

Prove you know things.

"...People know me."

“…People know me.”

I don’t mean this in a “I’m kind of a big deal…People know me” way or by spontaneously shouting things like “I party with John-John Kennedy!“, to go back to the Housewives (get it together, Sonja). Sharing industry knowledge shows that as a business, you know what’s what (even if, like Sonja, you may not always know who’s who). Employ the Internet has an excellent, easy to digest article all about this subject. If you’re in the tech industry, sharing information about new releases, recalls, or innovative ways for people to use devices demonstrates that hey, you know a thing or two about this whole technology business. Plus, you’re even willing to share that knowledge with other people.

But hey, won’t people just take my information and do their own thing? There is always that possibility. But, most of the time, people will read your blog and feel a bit daunted about going out and winging it on their own. Or, feeling confident with the wealth of information they’ve acquired, they roll up their sleeves and realize “Oh wait…this isn’t nearly as easy as I thought.” Either way, they’ll most likely remember you as the original source of their information and contact you for help.

Who knows, you might totally blow people's minds with all your knowledge.

Who knows, you might totally blow people’s minds with all your knowledge.

They aren’t just a “one and done” deal. You may think that nothing on the internet is permanent, but as this lesson in Twitter shows, old content that you may thing has disappeared isn’t necessarily gone forever. A more relevant example comes from our own blog. The posts that gain the most attention are those that were written a couple years ago (and this is without any extra sharing or extra promoting on our part). Nicole’s 2010 post on Mailchimp vs. Constant Contact is still in our top 10 most visited pages. This particular breed of posts (referred to in this Hubspot article as “compounding blog posts“) are basically golden eggs of a blog. While they may not directly be making you any money, they have a snowball effect that picks up as time goes on. That being said, blogs are not necessarily the place to go for instant gratification. Compounding blog posts start off handheld snowball size- you aren’t coming out of the gates with a boulder sized snowball.

Not all of your blog posts are going to compound. According to Hubspot, 1 in 10 blog posts will compound rather than decay. Generally, a compounding blog post has a title that mimics something people would search for (think about it: people trying to decide between Mailchimp and Constant Contact are probably going to search for something like “Mailchimp vs. Constant Contact” in a search engine) and cover topics that are “evergreen.” There should be a balance between hot topic ideas (those that are highly relevant now but will probably fizzle out within a month) and those that’ll withstand the test of time.



Mugatu-So-Hot-Right-Now

But will he be hot next season?

People feel like they know you already. Curious people visit websites to do some research prior to making a purchase. In fact, according to this article from Forbes, 33% of millennials consult blogs before purchasing decisions (unclear whether this is a blog written within a business itself or by third parties offering reviews). According to this article from Hubspot, blogs are in the top 5 for trusted online sources. As time goes on, people view advertisements as quick stories or clips, while blogs are seen as more authentic, like a peek behind the mask. When in perusal mode, a blog is often something potential customers use to put out feelers for a business. Speaking from personal experience, I’m usually on the lookout for things like tone (Is it friendly or didactic? Does it match what one would expect for their particular industry? Do they seem like they’d be approachable in real life?), topics (Do they write about the same thing all the time? Are they providing helpful material?), frequency (When was their most recent post?), and of course, the writing itself (words, syntax, the whole nine yards).

bestfriends

I like to imagine that this is how people feel when they read our blog.

We’ve gotten emails from people saying “Hey, we’d really love to work with you on X. I read your blog, and you seem like you’re fun to work with!” Oh…and we know what we’re doing. My point is, many of these people have never met us in real life, so they went to our blog for recon.

No matter what your industry, blogs can bring in business. You just have to think a little outside the box…and be patient.



The Revolution Will Be On Video

I’m on video not because I’m vain but because that’s where things area headed. We can learn a lot from video’s less intimidating predecessor: photos.

When I began my website, a fellow blogger (after seeing a picture of me on Facebook) told me I should add my photo to the sidebar of my blog. She reasoned that I was attractive and it could only help for people to see me. (For context, in case you don’t know me, I am no great beauty. I’m not the kind of person who would cause a traffic accident or inspire Train would write a whiny song. My brand of attractiveness is soccer mom/Tylenol commercial, which honestly is just fine with me.)

It’s probably hilarious for you to hear a story about someone suggesting someone else upload a photo of themselves (and me not just doing it immediately), but this was kind of novel. Back in 2007, not many people had their pictures on their websites. And even parts of the internet you would actually associate with having pictures (ex: real estate listings) had a limited amount. For example, in 2009, the Maine MLS data feed fetched tenish photos at a time. I remember because the real estate agent wanted 25 photos but since they weren’t in the feed, we had to custom program the page to display the ten photos from the feed plus additional ones.

In 2015, can you think of even a low end real estate listing with only ten pictures? I feel like I see 25 photos of some peoples’ breakfasts sometimes.

I looked for a graph supporting my observations and thought this was a pretty good one (originally on The Atlantic- click over to see other fun graphs!)

photosonplatforms

Anyway, photos were a new frontier and having them made you cutting edge. In 2007-2008.

In an age of Instagram, Facebook albums, and phone cameras, we now get to be clever with photos. They are not novel but expected. Now taking better photos is important, which is why we have a workshop about taking photos with your smartphone happening this week at our business.

Video is now the novelty.

As I try to coax clients to be in videos (because we always want to be ahead of the curve), there is more resistance then there was when I was begging them for headshots. It does feel more personal for someone to see your facial expressions, hear your voice, and see your unfiltered face (though some video software, like Google Hangout, lets you do some flattering edits if you take time to figure it out). Video also feels like a bigger deal to do. You want a tripod, lighting, a non crappy background, perhaps a microphone or a non-echoy room. There is just more to consider.

Because of this additional consideration, there never seems a time you feel ‘ready’ to make a video. Every time I think of making a video for Anchorspace, for example, I am usually not wearing makeup or otherwise feel not suited for the camera. So two weeks ago, I decided to do a voiceover with photos and stick it on Facebook as an initial video. I spent about two hours on it after I finished cleaning the Anchorspace bathrooms and kitchen. (I really want to set this up as glamourous as it was.) The resulting video was kind of low budget but under 1 minute and got through my main marketing messages.

For comparison, I’ve been posting still photos of the inside of Anchorspace as well. Let’s look at the stats for this somewhat crappy photo:

facebookanchorspace-imagestatsNow here are the stats for my similarly crappy video:

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 12.30.59 PM

Yes there are more views but honestly, the impressive thing is how many more times it was clicked on. And that some people watched the whole thing (5% but still).

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 12.25.13 PM

For the final version of this experiment, I should do a real video (me on camera talking at least part of the time) but this just to show you even a crappy video will get you more attention than a photo, probably because novelty. So don’t be afraid of making something and putting it out there.

Now if you think this was my cop out, I assure you you can see more of us on video on our Google+/Youtube channel: https://plus.google.com/+BreakingEvenInc/posts  And yes, every time I see a video of myself, I always think ‘Is my face that round?’ and ‘Why do I move my hands so much?’ But despite my lack of perfection, I am more than willing to be ahead of the curve and in 2015 that means with a camera rolling in a video sense.

I urge you all to consider video… because I bet you can expect where a graph of video uploads between 2013 and 2018 is going to be trending when it exists. Be ahead of the curve and get out from behind the lens. You may be surprised who watches.

Can Businesses Make Money on Instagram?

You know how people will ask you a really good question that you have to stop and think about? That happened to me last week, when one of our clients asked “How do businesses make money on Instagram?” In that moment, I realized I didn’t have a good answer-maybe because I’ve been using Instagram for over a year now and reached the point where I assumed that everyone understands why a business would want to be on Instagram (just like any other social media site).

The short answer that I have: you don’t make any money- at least, not directly.* The purpose of having Instagram for any business is to engage customers or potential customers, to get attention, to remind people that your business exists (or ensure that they don’t forget in the first place).

*Okay, some people I know have sold things straight from posting pictures on Instagram (usually artists). There are always exceptions 🙂

Use hashtags. We’ve talked about hashtags quite a bit in the past, mainly pertaining to Twitter, but the same ideas can be applied to Instagram. Using the right kinds of hashtags when you post a picture can increase your visibility with an audience that would actually be beneficial (instead of the “I will get you 1,000 followers” spammy accounts). Stumped on where to start with hashtags? Don’t worry- you’re definitely not alone. Start with the obvious: the picture itself. From there you can branch out- I’d recommend checking out industry related hashtags, or what similar businesses are using in their posts. Don’t be a straight-up copy-cat, but definitely use the inspiration to get your clever hashtag gears turning.

Links to website. In your little Instagram bio, you can add a link to your website (which, as a business, is usually recommended). The ultimate goal with Instagram marketing is to direct people to your website, so you might as well make it easy to get to. Some places will even link directly to their desired call to action page (i.e. subscribe to our newsletter, online store, blog, etc), so you’re not limited to your homepage. This link can be changed in the future, and many companies will change it during a sale or online contest to make it easy for followers to find.

Inspire people. Some businesses have a product or service that, on it’s own, doesn’t make for compelling imagery. For instance, Bob’s Red Mill  (a business that makes whole grain and gluten free flours, grains and baking mixes) could, to a point, take pictures of their different flours and leave it at that. However, they frequently post pictures of meals and recipes that use their products. Seeing some gooey chocolate muffins sets off that little reward ticker in my brain, and I’m much more likely to go out and buy some coconut flour (plus I have a “begin with the end in mind” approach to all things food).bobsredmill

You can also do quick video clips of your product or service in action. I’ve seen a few fitness brands share workout clips, snippets from a class in action, or promoting gear or other brands that they enjoy.

Be funny. A little sense of humor goes a long way. For instance, awhile ago I saw a company that used #MCM along with a goofy picture of an employee (I’m assuming it was with his permission). A lot of people I follow use industry or business-related memes. No, these aren’t going to make you direct money and aren’t self-promoting, but they help “show your human side” according to Social Media Examiner. I definitely enjoy seeing businesses that enjoy being a bit silly on social media-it makes them seem more approachable, and

Interact. Last but not least, interact with other users on the ‘Gram. This includes following people back, responding to comments if you choose, and encouraging users to tag you in posts related to your business. For example, Bob’s Red Mill invites users to use the hashtag #bobsredmill when sharing their product. It’s kind of genius when you think about it- getting people to share your product via hashtag is basically getting promoted for free. No, you don’t directly make any money, but you’re showing that you’re friendly by engaging with customers, and your business is gaining some attention.

Does it “make sense” for every business to have an Instagram account? Not necessarily. It may be a fun opportunity to try it out, even if you have to get a bit creative thinking of things to post!

Welcoming The Tire Kickers

herestothetirekickers(I can now publish this blog post because we’ve had more paying customers in 3 weeks than the entire 3 month period before it… but I’ll be honest, the last three months were a dark place that had me questioning my whole freaking life. More below.)

April 1, I opened our new coworking space (which will also be where Breaking Even works from). I bulk bought coffee, rush ordered the rack cards, and cleaned the whole place top to bottom. We had built up the excitement, we began targeting our customers months earlier. We were ready.

And no one came.

Well, that’s not true. A few friends stopped in to drop off goodies and well wishes. But no paying customers came through that day.

We had one paying customer in April.

One.



In classic Nicole fashion, I internally (and slightly outwardly) began panicking. It seemed like everyone had wanted to come by while I was covered in paint or when there was no heat on… and over 125 people came through our open house (nothing like free booze on an otherwise boring April evening!) But where is everyone now that the place actually is looking and functioning like a coworking space? Where were the paying customers?

I had a glass of wine and called my mom. You know, what any adult would do.

Give it time, my Mom said. Others have said.

Despite the fact that 300ish people have come through the space, we have had about 30 total customers. Most people are not customers but they’ve come by to see. I see their eyes go up to the security cameras, down to the fancy desks, around the conference room. They ask me questions, they smile, they leave.

Part of me wants to be the needy girl with the crush. Do you like me? Why not? How can I make you like me more? Don’t you get how cool I am?



I have decided that, starting now, and looking back at the last three months, I need to take a deep breath and appreciate the tire kickers* who have come through Anchorspace. (Please read the very bottom of this post before you decide to be offended.) The people who have stopped in and, while they seem very interested, have not bought a damn thing. And here’s why:

Tire kickers aren’t customers… yet. 

Most people can take a bit of time to be your customers (see our post about sales funnels for further justification). People change jobs, neighborhoods, service providers all the time. So that person who has NEVER bought from you? Let them look at your menu. Let them talk to your staff. Let them get familiar because they may become your customer later. If you are in it for the long game, this tire kicking process won’t frustrate you. I was looking at Anchorspace in a very shortsighted way most of this spring. Not good. “Not yet” is different than “no”, in the way it behaves and the way it feels.

Tire kickers need time. 

A variation on the above point, some industries don’t have much of a lag time between research and purchase. It’s not like you are going to walk around and price 16 ounce beers at all the local establishments before ordering one, for example. But if you’re asking someone to make any decision that is a bit more involved, people are going to need to think on it. They’re going to need to talk to their wife/husband. They’re going to need to run some numbers. Let them. If you have done your research and know your product and market, you can be confident while you wait.

Tire kickers have friends… and talk to other people.

If you run a steak house and the tire kicker is vegetarian, you may not ever get this person as a customer. And that’s ok. That person has carnivore friends who want a big steak on Friday night… and guess where the tire kicker will send them if they had a good interaction with you? Paying customers don’t have to be your only brand ambassadors. I’ll take a paying customer whether they are from the $1000 monthly retainer client or a guy I went to high school with telling his brother to call me.



Ticker kickers are online too. 

I have a friend who designed her website tenish years ago. “I don’t want to get leads through my site.” she always tells me when we see each other. That’s fine but what I want to tell her (and everyone who thinks this way) even if you don’t want a gazillion dollar website with all the bells and whistles, your customer feels a lot more comfortable silently kicking tires online than doing it right in front of you. That’s why we take care to put a lot of helpful information on this website. So you can kick our tires until your heart is content without us creepily watching you. The virtual tire kickers can be easier to ignore, since we aren’t shaking their hand but instead seeing them recorded as a visit in Google Analytics. The good with the bad.

Running an online business has shielded me from the tire kickers (since they just lurk on my site). A physical business has made me know them by name.

Anchorspace has given me more anxiety about tire kickers but also it has been more rewarding. I have had things pointed out to me by the slightly skeptical I would have NEVER noticed, and I am thankful for it. I do hope people keep pointing things out and asking questions, even if they aren’t buying because tire kicker feedback is going to make me better.

Here’s to the tire kickers. The mullers. The ‘I’ll be in touch’ smiles. The lookie-loos. Here’s to the individuals I hadn’t gotten to meet in real life until owning a business with a physical location. After some thought, revenue, Mom wisdom, and a glass of wine, I’m here to say I’m sorry I panicked over you. I’m grateful you’re here. Keep kicking, my tires and I are ready.

*I sometimes get in trouble for using words that other people seem to think have a negative connotation. Urban Dictionary tells me ‘tire kicker’ is much more negative a word than I mean for example. For tire kicker, I mean someone who needs to really understand something before the purchase, who needs to ask questions, test things out, waits before buying and may never buy, etc. Here’s hoping this covers my bases from hate mail but if you have a better term for what I am trying to say, please comment below!



Free Reading: Why We Give It Away Online

Three years ago, I wrote a book for National Novel Writing Month. It’s been sitting in Google Drive, and I’ve been wondering what I do with it.

I’ve kind of edited about half of it but I think I’d have the motivation to finish if I knew what next. (I sometimes am paralyzed by choice. Not my best quality.)

The beginning of my terrible novel, sitting in Google Drive, wondering its fate.

The beginning of my terrible novel, sitting in Google Drive, wondering its fate.

Option 1: Do I send it to 50-100 publishers, hoping one will like it enough to rip it apart and await my rewrites?

Option 2: Do I self publish it, making my friends pay $1-$10 for the ‘pleasure’ of reading it, probably making all of a few hundred bucks?

Option 3: Or do I just format it as an ebook and give it away?

I’ve been leaning toward Option 3. Sure, it seems like the least amount of hoops to jump through but it is also the world I know best: the internet is all about giving stuff away. I’ve been writing this blog ‘for free’ since 2007 for example.

I was reading a great article about Why Give Away Your Work For Free. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow, he says people who download the free book wouldn’t have bought the book anyway. Really by giving things away for free he’s increasing his audience. To quote: “My problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity, and free ebooks generate more sales than they displace.”



It actually got me to thinking of something completely different I read from Elizabeth Gilbert (read the photo caption- it’s long like a blog entry). But to paraphrase, basically you can’t make creativity show up and earn you money. You need to give it room to breathe. To quote: “I adore Creativity. I love her. I have devoted my life to her, because she brings me joy. But I do not suggest relying upon her to pay the oil bill. She is not very reliable. Creativity has no idea what the words “oil bill” even mean.”

My whole life the last seven years has been building two businesses, in other words the laser focused pursuit of money. Creativity showed up and I have this kind of terrible, moderately personal 124 page story sitting in my files without a purpose. Do I demand it make me money… or put it out there for free?

(Aside, I get that I should stop calling my novel terrible. But I’m one of those ‘plan for rain, be happy when it doesn’t’ kind of people so I am just managing my own expectations- and yours- by doing that.)

So do I enter into a world of a million rejections? Do I ask my creativity to make me some money now with this novel (which you see doesn’t even have a title but ‘Novel.doc)? Or do I give this novel away in hopes that my ideas will get out there and in turn generate others?

Now I’d be a liar if I said this ‘give it away and get more later’ idea was a writing only idea. Musicians give away albums, companies swag… every industry has a ‘something for free’ component so this idea is far from original.

But somehow reading those two articles in a row made me realize why I wanted to give it away… and the gut instinct wasn’t one of general laziness! If you are similarly on the fence with something you’ve made, let me know if reading those two relatively short posts helps clarify what you should do like it did for me.

(By the way, if you want to read my yet to be titled novel, just leave a comment on here and I’ll make sure you get the information for it.)



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