business

What Toggl Has Taught Me About Life

They say what you can measure, you can manage… and as someone who has at least has a passing interest in productivity, I know this means I need to measure how I’m spending my time.

I know to some of my self employed friends, tracking time can feel an awful lot like working for ‘the man’. Honestly, I felt that way for a long time. I’d try to keep, then eventually get overwhelmed by spreadsheets. I then tried tracking only billable hours, not a complete picture but better than nothing.

For the past 6ish months, when it came time to bill clients I would go through my spreadsheet, Kassie’s spreadsheet, John’s spreadsheet, and Leslie’s spreadsheet to tally totals then invoice the client… or make a note to do more next month. It was kind of making me insane. So I asked everyone to switch to Toggl, a time management system that works with Google (or you can also create a free standing account) built on a ‘freemium’ model- meaning x amount is free but after, you pay.

Like any good leader, I tried to do what I was asking those who worked with me to do. And tracking my time for these last two months has taught me some things.



1. Clients that I thought were taking a lot of time were just taking up mental energy. 

I think we all have these things in our life that we perceive as taking a lot of time but then when you actually look back, it was like 15 minutes. Toggl-ing helped me keep track of not who I thought was taking up a lot of time but who actually was.

2. Checking email takes a lot of my time… and I wonder if it could take less.

checkingemailtoggle

Above, according to Toggl, is how much time I’ve spent on email/project management.. this week.

Despite checking my email twice a day (except Wednesdays which is my email cleanout day), I realize I spend a lot of time checking email and putting things from email (or phone call) into our project management system.



3. I spend less on our own marketing stuff than I’ve projected.

What’s nice about all of us sharing a project though is I see just because I’m not spending time on it, doesn’t mean other people aren’t.

4. It’s for now… and later.

This system over time will help me be more fair with clients, and us, about how long things we do really take. So not only is it going to save ME time with billing now but it’ll help us estimate projects, distribute resources, etc. in the future.

mylasttwodaysintoggl

5. I get to see when my Breaking Even coworkers are active. 

Like any group of people, we all have patterns. I can see for example John likes to log in Saturday mornings, which means if I am on chat at that time, I can probably catch him.

Am I stalking people with Toggl? No, but it does help me to know what work patterns people prefer. I can also note when I have been particularly productive… and attempt to copy the variables that day that made it so useful.

6. We need an internal system we all agree on.

Yeah, we’re still figuring it out. Some of us aren’t putting things into projects, some of us have accidentally duplicated projects. Any new software has a learning curve, I just appreciate that everyone is willing to use it.

So I will say, if you decide to track your time, the results will surprise you. And possibly delight you. I know my time with Toggl so far has done both.



Online Ads 101: Affiliates

The last few weeks, we’ve talked about a few different ways to make money online with your website: PPC (pay per click) ads, display ads, and ad networks. The idea, of course, is not to overwhelm but show you how some of your favorite people online make money when you visit their website. This post is the last in our series.

Affiliate ads, or basically selling a product or service for a commission, is not a new idea. Many people do this in real life (think of any sort of party at which you could also buy things: cookware, jewelry, adult toys, etc.)

Online affiliates are even easier as you don’t have to clean your house or have suitcases of product to do them. Sometimes an affiliate will pay when someone clicks on a link to their site from your website, sometimes only when a purchase is made. Fees paid out can be a commission (percentage of total) or a flat fee per customer, depending on the service. There are literally thousands of affiliate programs (and if you have a unique product or service, you can set one up. More info on setting up an affiliate program here: http://lkrsocialmedia.com/2011/09/how-to-create-an-affiliate-program-that-doesnt-suck/)



The most popular online affiliate program is Amazon. When you sign up, they give you a way to make special links to products on Amazon.com. Like the new desk chair you bought? Make an affiliate link. Like the sweet and spicy tea you keep in your office? Make an affiliate link. Then you post these links places: social media, blog, website, email newsletter, etc. If someone follows your link and buys your product, you get 2-3% commission (up to 10% if you sell more).

For fun once, I made an Amazon Affiliate account and shared a couple links on Facebook (to my personal profile) over the course of a few weeks. You know, I never did get that $1 and change from Amazon…

I made $1 as an Amazon Affiliate. Stop being jealous.

I made $1 as an Amazon Affiliate. Stop being jealous.

(I guess I just felt slimy doing this, which is why it ended up being a three day experiment without much thought put into it and yielded such unimpressive results.)

But I do know plenty of bloggers who post, say, links where you can buy books they are reading or write ‘affiliate’ blog posts linking to products. It’s possible, especially if the thing you want to sell isn’t made by you (ex: You want to recommend people buy a Seth Godin book but aren’t a bookstore or Seth Godin.)



Amazon doesn’t have high profit margins so they can’t give you, say, 50% commission. But that’s where working directly with a smaller distributor makes sense. The more directly you work with the company selling the product, the higher your commission.

Let’s take another affiliate example. I am a pretty big Rupaul fan but I also know that Rupaul mentions sponsors, etc. on his/her/not-sure-the-proper-pronoun podcast. So I went to the Shop portion of the Rupaul website:

rupaulaffiliate

I know the writing is tiny on my screenshot but you’ll see the ‘Glamazon’ shirt can be purchased on Rupaul.com but The other items (ex: action figure) can be purchased from other websites. Tell tale sign of an affiliate, you get redirected to another website (note the URL and website design change when I click on the action figure):

Love Rupaul but not sure my love is $199 of love.

Love Rupaul but not sure my love is $199 of love.

Point is, affiliates let you recommend stuff and get paid, without having to process the payment, ship it, or really do any kind of customer service. You are middle manning it. That said, if you have an audience and that audience trusts you to recommend products, your middle manning is worth something.

If you want to see if a product you like has an affiliate program, simply type in “company name affiliate” into Google. Typing “Constant Contact affiliate” into Google got me to the CC affiliate page:

constantcontactaffilate

Affiliate marketing, when done by those who genuinely enjoy a product and want others to experience its benefits (and, let’s face it, make a buck or two in the process), is a useful marketing tool. That said, there can also be a dark side. For example, if I am a financial advisor and I sell you the IRA plan where I make commission on but there is another IRA in the world that I know is actually better for you, that’s conflict of interest territory to me. I couldn’t sleep at night doing that. But as long as you’re straight-forward about what you make money on, I think affiliates can be perfectly ethical and potentially profitable.



Online Ads: Display Ads

onlineadsdisplayadsSo last week, we discussed PPC (or Pay Per Click) ads. Many networks have these now but the idea is you pay when people click.

But what if you don’t have an online store where people can make a purchase? What if general awareness is what you are after? What if you want the ads you serve up on your site to display depending on what people have been looking at. (Don’t act like you’ve never been freaked out where, after browsing for shoes, you’re on some complete other website and you see an ad for the very shoes you were looking at!)

Display ads started out as banner ads and they were typically wide (you know, like actual banners are). I remember when I too added my first banner ad on top of my Geocities website (if I could remember the URL of my site, I’d so go to the Wayback Machine and get the screenshot but alas, this one will have to do):

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/top-10-reasons-why-the-closing-of-geocities-is-long-overdue--net-7393

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/top-10-reasons-why-the-closing-of-geocities-is-long-overdue–net-7393

Got to love the Yahoo Geocities display ad!

Now, display ads are much more comprehensive. They can be videos, animations, pictures, etc. and they can be everywhere on a website, from pop ups to sidebar items.

For display ads, you pay a certain amount of money per 1,000 impressions. (I’m over generalizing clearly.) Up until relatively recently, like the newspapers of today, you put your display ad on a website and hoped people saw it/remembered it, as you paid whether they clicked on it or not. So these ads were being served up to a wide variety of people.



Google, however, has changed all this again with a concept called ‘remarketing’. The idea is displaying these ads to people who have already been to your website. (You setup a way to collect cookies from people who have visited your site, creating what Google calls a ‘remarketing list’.) It’s definitely sneaky but you can see where it would be more effective to display an ad to someone who has been to your site than someone who has never heard of you.

Just for fun, I went to Mashable.com and took a screenshot (I am a 33 year old woman):

My Mashable experience includes a 'website in 3 minutes' post (I've been doing research on a blog post about these 'automatic' website builders) and one for Old Navy (I've been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

My Mashable experience includes a ‘website in 3 minutes’ post (I’ve been doing research on a blog post about these ‘automatic’ website builders) and one for Old Navy (I’ve been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

I asked Kassie for fun to screenshot what she sees when she goes to Mashable.com:
kassiesmashableexperience

The takeaway, besides the fact that Kassie is way more intellectual than I seem to be, is that display ads can now be different for different website visitors. And that’s pretty cool.

So display ads are just another way to do online ads. Many of the sites that have them (like Mashable) are quite large (they have pretty detailed specs for ads for example but since they don’t have pricing, I’m guessing you have to have pretty deep pockets to play with them).

Next week, we’ll talk about a solution to this problem of not having, say, multiple ad agencies and your own sales people to sell ads on your website: ad networks.

More on display advertising on Wikipedia (of course) and Google has documentation on remarketing. If you want someone to set this up for you, our friend Colin at Root Deeper Marketing is a Google certified specialist and could totally do it for you.



Sales Goblet Versus Funnel: Why Hitting Different Price Points Is Key

I think many of us, in business or otherwise, are aware of the sales funnel. The idea is you have most of your customers on a lower pricing level and as people get increasingly invested, they move down the funnel. So there are less people at the ‘point’ than at the ‘base’ and that’s ok. It’s a process. Some people take longer to go through the funnel than others, and some people stay at a particular level. (You can totally tell I spent my college years studying geology and French and not business, right?) Still it’s a getable idea.

So while we were working on our marketing plan in October for the upcoming year, we realized we didn’t have a funnel at all. As Kassie coined “It’s a wine goblet!”

Mainly, we were asking people to make a big financial leap to support them on an ongoing basis, from about $50 to attend a workshop to $3000. Very few people made that leap, again, not a shocking or hard to understand idea. Here is my beautiful diagram to show our problem:

breakingevensalesfunnelold

You probably have noticed in your consumer life that there is more than one way to get more out of the sales funnel.

For example, you could cram more people into it. Every free ebook you’ve ever downloaded, every email newsletter you’ve ever signed up for, was getting you to this base level.

Another example, you could offer more at a certain tier. Ex: For those people happily buying your $10 scarves, you get more and different $10 scarves for them to buy.



Our problem, however, was identified. We needed an offer something between $100 and $3000. An intermediate level, maybe something around $500-$1000.

As a trial of this concept, we offered to make non-profit donation forms a for $599 introductory rate. These forms allowed non-profits to take donations on their domain, issue receipts automatically and other fun things to make the person’s life easier. So for the risk of spending $600ish, there was a definite outcome.

It went way better than I expected… and for this reason, Breaking Even will be releasing a product every quarter in 2015. One for bloggers, one for businesses, one for non-profits, and one for all three.

breakingevennewfunnel

I urge you to look at your funnel and decide:

1) Do you need more people in it?

2) Do you need more movement on one level?

3) Do you need to add something between levels (like we did)?

4) Are you missing a level entirely?

If you go through this exercise and it ends up being helpful, let us know! I’d love to see other applications of it… and I hope this idea rocks your world as much as it did mine.



Tech Thursday: All About Goal Setting

As promised, this week is part 2 of the “Getting Ready to Take On 2015” series. Last week, you made a to-do list and an available resources list. Now, we’re going to use those lists to set some goals for the year!

First, you’re going to rank the to-do list in order of importance (and make sure that it’s chronological, too). Then, divide the list into quarters for the year. This way, you’re not overwhelmed trying to finish everything in January! Finally, take a look at your resources list. What items on that list can be used to cross of items on your to-do list and help you reach your goals?

We’ve come up with three scenarios as examples, and hopefully you’ll get some ideas along the way!

Also, this is our final Tech Thursday- in this format. Stay tuned for Tech Thursday: 2015 Edition!



Five Ways You Can Be More Productive… in 2015 or whenever

5waysprodred
As we hit the time of year when all of us are feeling like changing (at least a little). But I think whether we want to lose 20 pounds or send birthday cards by mail to all our friends and family, we can all agree that being more productive means we are more likely to get what we want done.

I’m a bit of a process junkie: I love learning information that makes it easier to do things. I like creating efficiency. But sometimes I get a little too caught up in the theory versus the practice.

Below are all things I am actually practicing to make me more productive.

1. Asana
Purpose: Task management to get all the details out of our brains and email and into a searchable, prioritized system.
Estimated time saved: 4 hours/week

Hands down Asana has changed the way we do business. Whenever there is a project, we can break it into tasks and due dates. And best of all, it’s searchable, meaning Kassie can note some weirdo website we’ve inherited won’t let us edit it in Google Chrome and when she gets to that task can avoid the headache of trying to do something that literally won’t work.

Also by assigning dates, I can see what tasks are a priority daily and slowly chip away at larger projects that would not get done otherwise.

And the best part? It’s not stuck in my email but searchable by anyone at Breaking Even. They can see what’s been done, what hasn’t, etc. easily and add notes/comments. Ah, things getting done without me needing to be involved! You can learn more in our blog post about it we wrote awhile back about our love for Asana. 



2. Systemization
Purpose: Make routine tasks happen quickly and smoothly to save on time/energy.
Estimated time saved: 2 hours/week

I was listening to Tim Ferris’ podcast a few weeks ago when he suggested everyone for at least a week plan out the first two hours of their day. Have a time frame and system for everything from when and where I walk the dog to how I put together a smoothie. And you know what? Not only did it free up my decision making energy for more important stuff later in the day but my morning did run more smoothly.

I’m not saying we all live like robots but I am saying we spend our energy thinking about stuff that could be automated that is taking up energy and brainspace, both in our personal lives and business lives.

At Breaking Even, we’re working on creating and finalizing one document per month for one of our processes. Then ideally, if we are swamped and needed to hire, we could give our new person the documents and they could get the party started.

In life, I’m trying to automate my morning smoothie (so many possible ingredients and recipes) as a start. And if I save myself 10 minutes a day, that’s over an hour a week… and over time, that’s something!

(You can get a free ‘systems’ book by going to this website and clicking on ‘Free PDF’ in the middle of the screen: http://www.workthesystem.com/. Can’t promise how long it’ll work but if your brain doesn’t operate like a Swiss watch (mine doesn’t) then having a blueprint to help you think this way can help.)

 3. Toggl
Purpose: Tracking time between multiple people across multiple projects. 
Estimated time saved: 1 hour/week

I’ll admit it, up until a week ago, I would spend a least three hours a month in spreadsheets, which is how we were keeping our timecards here. So to see how much work we did for Client A in a month, I’d go to my spreadsheet, then Kassie’s, then John’s, then Leslie’s. It was a lot of exhausting first grade math with sometimes a sprint at the end of the month to make up for time we hadn’t put in (but I thought we had). Dumb dumb dumb.

I came across Togglr as a time keeper and I love that it’s not only searchable but tracks time spent on tasks and that multiple people can use it. I haven’t upgraded to the paid version yet but honestly, paying a few bucks a month to free up hours of my time is a no brainer if it comes to that. Plus it integrates with Asana tasks via a Google Chrome extension. Could it be any more in line with our purposes?

Check out Toggl here.



4. Psychology
Purpose: To uncloud the clouded mind.
Estimated time saved: 1 hour/week

OK so it’s one thing to make systems and do all this other stuff but mental fog is a whole other thing to deal with. What if you’re distracted?

I saw this exercise and thought it was GENIUS:  http://www.ampyourresults.com/2014/12/28/the-other-half-of-the-focus-equation-no-one-talks-about-2/

Do it and you too could get at the root of your procrastination, apathy, etc. Because let’s face it, all the tools in the world aren’t going to help you if your ‘inner conflict’ is at work, all the fun timers, task managers, etc. aren’t going to help you.

And speaking of that human element…

5. Accountability partner
Purpose: To be accountable to another human being weekly about what has and hasn’t happened yet in terms of achieving goals.
Estimated time saved: 30 minutes/week 

And if you really want to get something done, there is nothing like having to tell your friend/a slightly detached individual that you haven’t done it yet… and have them push you as to why.

Meeting with Ashley weekly most of the year made me do things I wouldn’t have done… but I think next year we’ll work together even better now that we’ve figured each other out a bit.

If you want to read more about this, check out this previous blog post I wrote about my accountability partner. 

So if I am actually saving myself about 8 hours a week (and these are all fairly conservative estimates), that’s a significant amount indeed. I can’t explain in any other way how I have been able to do so much ‘extra’ this year without having to work more than a handful of weekends.

I don’t see myself picking up more ‘tricks’ than this but I do think implementing these better will allow me to do more and better in 2015. And here’s hoping you’ve seen something that helps you do the same.



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