The Pros And Cons Of Google Apps

I’ve been accused of being a bit of a Google enthusiast. The first stock I ever bought was Google. I use Google Calendar to manage my personal schedule and Gmail to filter my email.

Within the business, we use Google Docs to manage projects, Google Chat to talk to virtual collaborators, and Google Analytics to analyze the website data for our clients.

Google is, however, not infalable. Google can go offline on occasion like it did earlier this summer making tools unavailable. Your Google account could get hacked,wiping out your data. This is why it’s important to back information up (yes even cloud stored stuff needs backup!) and use very strong passwords on your accounts. (Here’s how to backup your Google stuff with a combination of Google Takeout and Thunderbird:

All Google products, whether it’s a Google Form or a Google Map, allow two ways to share the information:
1) A link to it you can share with other people
2) An embed code where you can stick it on a website.

If you click the link or share button when you are somewhere on Google, it'll let you have a link to share the item on Google or the embed code where you can put the item on a website. Whatever you do, make sure your item is set to 'Public' if you want people to be able to see it!

If you click the link or share button when you are somewhere on Google, it’ll let you have a link to share the item on Google or the embed code where you can put the item on a website. Whatever you do, make sure your item is set to ‘Public’ if you want people to be able to see it!

Linking to the information makes it easy to share but the formatting is out of your control since you are linking to where it lives in the Google cloud.

If you take the embed code and put it on your site, you can sort of customize what it looks like.

You can embed a form, calendar, spreadsheet, Youtube video and more from Google into your website. The material still 'lives' on Google and is just displaying on your site.

You can embed a form, calendar, spreadsheet, Youtube video and more from Google into your website. The material still ‘lives’ on Google and is just displaying on your site.

Pros of Google Apps:

  • If you have not so tech savy people updating your site (but can find their way around Google) this is a nice alternative. Basically anyone with a Google account that you give permission to can update your Google item.
  • Some custom formatting possible (column colors, font sizes) make it possible to match the form more closely to your site than you’d expect
  • Indexed by Google (we can also say this happens on your website too but come on, if you were Google, wouldn’t you give stuff on your own server higher ranking?)
  • Shareable to other Google users. If I want to save your Google Calendar and put it with mine, I just have to click that I want to.

Cons of Google Apps:

  • You need to have a Google account and now, Google will press you a bit for more personal details (Google+) so it can collect demographic info and your online behavior information.
  • Not entirely customizable; still will look like a Google Doc for example.
  • Since the info lives on Google’s server and not on your site, any information in an iFrame is not able to be indexed in site search.

So when would I recommend you use a Google Apps versus a program that works with your site (like a Wordpress Calendar plugin):

1) When multiple people are updating a certain piece of info and you don’t want to give them access to your site. If you have volunteers/staff who have lots of other jobs besides maintaining x part of the website, sometimes not making them learn software can take some of the pressure off.
Ex: Booster Club member updates sports scores and only needs access to that spreadsheet.
You want to create a simple form questionnaire for your organization that your board needs to collaborate on.

2) When the organization is using Google already. It’s easier to use tools if you are already familiar with them.
Ex: Google Apps for Education already installed on the server of the school and used by teachers in the school for curriculum sharing.
Google Apps for Business is installed on the domain and the business is already using online calendars to merge schedules.

3) When you don’t care that it doesn’t exactly ‘match’ your site design or that people can’t search for fields of information with the site search. If you are aware of the limitations and don’t care, that’s ok.
Ex: You are going to put a description of the results as a paragraph on the website anyway in addition to the spreadsheet so people can find it via site search.
You don’t care that the chart menu doesn’t have the exact shade of blue in your logo. Close enough!

In other words, sometimes Google Apps are the right tool to use for the job and sometimes they are not. This is why in developing a site, you (or your developer) will want to know as much information about it as possible, including what kinds of information you want to display and who will be updating what parts of the website.

Google Apps, like many tools online, are a great option for collaborating and sharing information. If the features work for you, you can extend the functionality to your website and if they don’t you have other options!

This Week In Business: Gas Station Coffee Edition

I always know I’m going on a big trip when I am drinking terrible gas station coffee. I kind of look forward to it actually!

After my presentation at Social Media FTW with Lenny Tracy of the Maine Real Estate Network, who sat through it. See how relieved I look? -Photo Courtesy of Maine Today

After my presentation at Social Media FTW with Lenny Tracy of the Maine Real Estate Network, who sat through it. See how relieved I look? -Photo Courtesy of Maine Today

This week, I headed to Social Media FTW in Portland to present about business blogging. Nothing like standing up in front of 150ish people with a mic on knowing you’re being videotaped. I had a good time but I was also really nervous… I think it went well anyway!

If/when the presentations go online, I’ll link them on this blog. But for the moment, here is a link to the slides of my presentation. You know, in case you want to feel like you were there.

Here’s what else happened this week:

Matt and I got a little more organized with the Downeast Learning workshops.

There seems to be two groups of people we contact about our workshops. 1) Publications who need to know about something way ahead of time to be able to publish it. and 2) People who only need it about a week ahead (as in they need a time constraint to actually register). Matt organized our press email list (and we have a separate email list we maintain off the Downeast Learning website of other people).  Now we can make sure the notification goes out twice: once a month ahead for the publications (and people) and once one week ahead to remind folks to sign up.

Matt and I are also going to try to live stream this next workshop to see if we can have people remotely register to attend workshops. We’ll keep you posted about if it worked.

To make sure we got in the print version of the Ellsworth Chamber newsletter, we also decided on our workshop topic for next month. You’ve Been Yelped! is all about the use of online review websites and how they can help businesses and non-profits can get and use online reviews to their advantage. There, now you know a month ahead! Though honestly, if anyone would sign up this early, you’d officially shock me.

My blog continued its move to Wordpress.

At the talk I gave, I told people how I’ve moved my blog three times to different software/domains. I swear this move to Wordpress was the last (from MyBlog, a Joomla component, in case you were curious).

Last week was the big move: making the software live and making sure everything worked overall. This past week has been tweaking things. I’ve been adding plugins, tagging blog posts, and otherwise polishing the content that’s on this site.

Do you believe it’s been four years since I’ve started the Breaking Even blog? Crazy!

I decided to tell people I would have to hold off on their work for a few days… and the world didn’t end.

I think those of us who work alone can think the world will don’t end if we don’t do everything right away. I had applied to be part of the Social Media FTW conference a few months ago and the last few weeks, work has gotten really busy. Ah, timing.

I had two choices: 1) Not sleep for the next month. or 2) Tell people there was going to be a bit of a delay. Since I need sleep so I don’t become Crazy Sleep-Deprived Nicole, I opted for option 2. Guess what? The world did not end. My clients were ok waiting a couple days. I love that people are reasonable…

I had breakfast with someone absolutely inspiring.

Samantha Warren is one of those rare people that has managed to be friends with a lot of my friends on Facebook without me having met her. And it’s not one of those cases where she knows people from one part of my life. I decided we should meet for breakfast, as cool people and fellow small business owners.

We had such a nice time: great conversation about life, work, and all the people we have in common. One idea she had that I thought was great was making a ‘procedures’ document, in case someone ever has to take over work for her (and also as a checklist to make sure all things she does get done on schedule). Anyway, if I ever need a wedding photographer, I think I’ve got one.

So while this week was a lot of driving, it was a great week in terms of meeting people and networking.

If you met me this week, I do hope you’ll comment below so I can follow you online as well. Have a good rest of the week!

These Two Weeks In Business: The Package Edition

It’s been said that hairdressers have the worst hair and the cobbler’s kids are the last to get their shoes. Growing up in a hardware family, we were often the last to get handy people at our house. Good thing my mom is pretty good with powertools!

Well, with web people, this idea translates to sometimes your web professional having a poorly maintained site (while still doing a pretty good job on yours).

While I do keep things up-to-date on my site, the list of little things to improve it end up stacking up until it reaches a breaking point.

Last week, mostly while I was avoiding creating a presentation, I did a lot of work on my own site. It’s not something you’d necessarily notice but mind if I give a little tour?

I created packages and then a chart to help understand them.

If you got to, you’ll notice a bunch of packages for businesses and non-profits starting at $200/month. I’ve asked a few business owners (and maybe they were just too nice to tell me) but they said the prices seemed fair and the packages were easy to understand.That said, if anything with my packages seems off/weird, please comment! If you’ve ever met me (and heck, even if you haven’t), I hope you know I appreciate it when people are honest with me. :^)

Basically, I calculated prices based on my hourly wage, since I know about how long it takes me to do something. Also by pricing monthly, I was hoping to make people understand a lot of this stuff is on-going and is something I am able to maintain/create on a regular basis that’ll add value to the business.

I am all about making things simple to regular people… so I made this handy dandy flow chart.

I was on vacation with my mom, who owns a business, when I showed her my service packages. (Admittedly, this is probably a pretty biased audience to start out with but I thought it was better than nothing!)

“These all look good,” she said, “but how do I know what I need?”

In the hotel room, I immediately began sketching a flow chart. When I got back home to Photoshop, I made the chart below and emailed it to her.

“Oh this is great!” she said.

When my friend Matt told me making an image map is ‘easy’ (i.e. making it so when you click on parts of the chart, it goes to different links), I gave it a shot. And you know what? It was. Now when you click on the package you need, poof!, you are taken to a web page with the package description and, in the future, example clients, testimonials, screenshots, etc.

So you can click on the chart to see it up close… Let me know if you find it easy to follow or if you see any improvements I could make!

My mom wanted to know how she would know what services she needed, because they all sounded good. How about a flow chart? I said. And guess what, it's clickable!

I sent out my monthly newsletter, and got tons more subscribes from it than ever before.

I got an email from my sister about a month ago about blogging software and, since I had practically written up a whole thing for her, I thought I would also send the information in my monthly email newsletter. To see my summary of some ‘free’ blogging technology out there, here’s the archive link to it. ‘You should put this on your website’ my friend Chris said. And I did, along with a way to subscribe to the newsletter. So if you want, you can subscribe on the main page of my site or on the Breaking Even Facebook page.
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Marketing Monday: Working With Creative People

Every Monday, I profile a business, person, or website doing neat things online. I thought I’d take a little break from the usual format and talk about something I see a lot: business owners working with the creative people they hire: webdesigners, writers, graphic artists, internet marketers, etc.

Admittedly, I’m somewhere in between. I do creative services for people but I feel like I also do a lot of organization of creative people to keep things moving forward too. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last couple years:

1. You might not know exactly what you need but be as specific as you can with what you do know. There is a reason you’re hiring someone to create a logo, a website, a painting, or anything really: You don’t know much about it or you don’t have the time/interest to do it yourself if you do. Creative people understand this.

That said, to get the best quote possible, be up front with what you do know: budgets, other players on the project, and deadlines are all helpful. It’ll keep the person from doing something embarrassing like bring up the name of a rival company or time wasting, like generating a quote for a project four times your actual budget.

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This Week In Business: Distracted By The New Dog Edition

This week’s biggest news has nothing to do with my business bottom line but will effect things from here on out. Last night at about 11 pm, I got a dog.

Gidget is a 30 pound Corgi mix that’ll keep me company while I work, force me to take exercise breaks, and otherwise up my overall quality of life.

Besides getting a dog and probably paying way too much attention to her, here’s what’s been going on this week:

Gidget, the little dog with big ideas.

I talked someone out of spending a lot of with me.

I usually get a few website inquiries a week and I’m lucky if 10% of them turn into actual sales.

When a woman I volunteered with a few years ago contacted me about a website this past week, I would have really loved to have done the work, especially when she said she definitely wanted to hire me (Awww).

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This Week In Business: The Roll With The Punches Edition

There are some weeks where it seems that you get a lot done but it all seems like small and unrelated things keep coming up for you to deal with? That was this week at Breaking Even Communications. Good news is it was all pretty manageable.

Here are a few things that happened this week:

Forgetting to do something finally made me try Basecamp project management software.

Project management is one of those things you always mean to do, like cleaning your bathtub. All it takes is one metaphorical slip to finally make you get on your hands and knees. Yup, I finally forgot to do something so it was finally time to manage the details of these different projects at BEC.

I’ve tried a few different free or cheap project management software options only to find something missing. I finally decided to try out Basecamp, which is one of if not the most popular project management software online that will end up costing me around $50 a month if I decide I like it.

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