information

Online Systems: That’s a Lot of Info

As we move about our day, we might see a blog post we want to revisit, or a video that looks interesting but can’t watch right this second. Maybe we have a cool idea for something but need to table it for later when you can give it more thought. It’s really annoying to forget these ideas or lose track of something you wanted to follow up on, only to remember it at another inopportune moment (like, I dunno, the dentist’s chair, when you can’t really do anything about it and will probably forget again).

Fortunately, we live in a day and age where it’s relatively easy to have a systematic approach to organizing this type of ‘stuff,’ so you can access it whenever and in whatever way that works best for you.

Everyone’s brain works differently, so an efficient way for me to store information may be totally ineffectual for someone like my brother. My brain is best at retrieving information when it’s separated by “type”- (Work related, Fitness, Just for Fun, Decor/DIY/Baking, etc) but that doesn’t mean everyone thinks that way. No matter how your brain works, there are systems you can implement to save and store incoming information online.


Information that Comes from Internet Browsing

This information is typically in link form. Here are a couple ways to save links for later reading:

Pocket

Pocket is a pretty incredible service when it comes to saving online information for later. You can have it on all your devices, so nothing gets lost between phone to desktop browsing and vice versa. And, part of what makes my brain happy is that you can organize the articles you save into different categories, which makes it easier to find again later. As a bonus, you don’t need internet connection to read articles you’ve saved for later. Pocket will also offer recommended reading if you are looking for new material.

pcket

Pinterest

I like using Pinterest for information in the realm of DIY/Baking/Cooking/Anything vaguely creative. You can create different Boards, which are the categories where you’ll save different articles. Like Pocket, the way you choose to organize this information is totally up to you. My Pinterest Boards have names that make sense to me, but maybe not everyone else.

Some websites have pinnable articles/images. If you’re browsing outside of Pinterest, sometimes a little “Save” button will appear (example below), which allows you to pull that into one of your Pinterest boards. As you “pin” things, you can write a little caption that can either explain what the pin is or why you’ve saved it (like “Recipe for Dad’s Birthday cake).

pinterestsave



Information that Comes from Email/Messaging

Sometimes, information comes at you in a way that isn’t browsing the internet/social media. Most people get a lot of incoming information from email- the kind you don’t necessarily need to act on but need to organize anyway.

My “system,” if I can’t deal with the email right away, is to star it or put it in a folder for later. Then it’s a matter of extracting important information and putting it in the right place– if it’s an event, it goes to the calendar, if it’s something I’ll need to follow up on, it goes in Asana (our project management system), and so on. Extracting and organizing information as you read it can really boost your productivity.

Another idea for gathering incoming information is to use a note taking service, like Evernote, have it synced on your phone and desktop, and pull any information from text/email that you need into a note form, where you can add your own annotations. More on that here. 



Other Tips For Creating Your Own Online Information Systems

  • Be consistent. If your system is only applied every two or three times you collect information, it’s not really much of a system. Find something that is a bit of extra work but doesn’t feel like pulling teeth.
  • Do an information clean-up every month or so. Any notes or articles that you no longer need can be removed from wherever you’re storing your information. This keeps your bank of information easy to navigate. After all, your retrieval method should take less time than it did to find the information in the first place, right?
  • The best piece of advice I’ve seen about organizing information? Put it where you look for it. This may sound a bit obvious, but trust me, when you’re hunting for that article you wanted to read and can’t find it in your usual spot(s), it may be time for something different (just think of all the time you save by not digging around for missing links).

Do you have a system for organizing the “I should probably file this for later” type information that wasn’t mentioned above? Tell us about it!



How Accessibility Has Changed Marketing

I was recently chatting with a friend about required reading for English Majors, namely Dickens. “I don’t think Dickens was that great,” he said. “Well…he’s not fun to read” I conceded (this from the girl who read A Tale of Two Cities for fun in 8th grade). “What if his stuff only became so popular because like 10% of the population was literate back then?” And I had to admit, I’d never really considered it before.

This conversation, combined with a recent post from Seth Godin discussing the recent increase in people/businesses using video in their marketing, has made me think a lot about changes made possible by resource accessibility.

We have more formats.

Once education and literacy were available to a larger population, there was a wider variety of published material. Just look at what we have today: tabloids, magazines, novellas, newspapers. Then the internet happened, which was a great equalizer in terms of marketing. People were eventually able to publish their work online once blogging platforms like Wordpress came around. And as social media sites became popular, people didn’t have to necessarily write anything of length anymore to be heard. A sentence now can literally be seen by millions, or at least has that potential.

We have more equality.

The act of marketing and selling goods online has become easier for small businesses. For instance, Google offers tools like Google+, maps, and analytics to anyone with a website. These are great resources for smaller businesses who don’t have a team of people dedicated to market research and analyzing web metrics. We’ve written more about Google+ for small businesses and Google analytics for anyone who wants to delve deeper into those areas. (And if you want someone like us to ‘just do it’, we do that too.)



We need less skills.

You no longer have to be technologically savvy to put your “stuff” out there. As Seth’s article points out, you also don’t have to be a skilled photographer anymore to get Instagram accolades. You don’t need to be able to code to have a website, or get a television contract to have people watch your videos. With the help of a smartphones in particular, all of these activities are accessible to the greater public.

When copy exploded across the web, the professional copywriter felt threatened. Anyone could write, and anyone did. When photography was added to the mix, the professional photographer felt threatened. Everyone had a camera, after all. –Seth Godin

First accessibility happened to text, then it was links and photos, now it’s video.

More recently, video has become the newly accessible medium for all. According to this article written last year, people don’t expect high production value on videos shared via social media. These videos can get away with having a home-video level of production quality. Some ideas for live video (the kind that can be streamed as you record and get published as-is) include product demonstrations, “Ask Me Anything” sessions, and more.  If you do want to add a bit of production, there are some relatively cheap options out there like iMovie or WeVideo. You may have to pay a little, but it’s significantly cheaper than outsourcing to a different company entirely to do your editing.

Distributing video is also easier, since you don’t have to haggle over advertising space or air time on t.v. YouTube, Periscope, Facebook, and all of the other social media sites make it easy to upload videos (for free!). Again, people aren’t necessarily expecting anything cutting edge in terms of production in these places. People are consuming as quickly as you’re producing.

As the world of online marketing becomes more accessible, the better it is for small businesses. Although many of these things (video, analytics, general website maintenance) require some time and training to be done well, it’s worth the investment. Accessibility means we’re all learning together and that’s pretty cool.



Infomagical: My Journey

infomagical“You mean you haven’t heard of that?”

Sometimes a friend will say this to me when I haven’t seen the latest viral video everyone’s been commenting about on Facebook or read the 10,000 word New York Times article about a social justice issue.

At first, I took this statement, whenever I heard it, as a challenge. I felt like people were a) implying I didn’t know something I should or b) triumphing supposedly knowing more than I did about one of my fields of expertise.

(Yes, I do hear this statement a lot.)



Between the stuff I have to know (work stuff), stuff I want to and should know (news about friends and family) and stuff I just wanted to know (how to cook with matcha green tea) it was already too much. If I could set up ten of my brains in some kind of parallel circuit to process information 24-7, I would still not know everything.

After this realization, when someone asked me about something online I hadn’t heard about, I felt defeated. In a podcast I can’t remember, someone talked about dealing with email being like being in an avalanche, you are moving handfuls of snow but more is coming at you faster than you can imagine. I feel that about email, instant message, social media, RSS feeds, and audio/video in general.

I sat with this hopeless feeling for awhile. I need to know some things but not all things. So what do I do?

Since I’ve changed nothing, nothing has changed. And then something came into my life I needed but would not have known to seek out.



I’ve talked before about Note To Self, a podcast I regularly listen to. I took place in their ‘Bored and Brilliant’ challenge awhile back which basically challenged people to spend less time on their phone through a series of daily challenges. If you missed it and want to do it, here are all the challenges.

This latest challenge called Infomagical was what I needed. Infomagical’s week of challenges offered us ways to change how we process all the information that is coming in. (If you missed it, you can still do it, just click here.)

The podcast episode launching the project mentioned that ten years ago, we were interrupted an average of once every three minutes. And now we’re interrupted once every 45 seconds. Having run this business for nine years this May, I was wondering why over the last couple years in particular I have felt so overwhelmed by information.

Day 1 was the worst day: forcing me to unitask. I don’t just multitask at work, I do at home too. Often I am washing dishes, cooking dinner, and answering emails at the same time. It is like I am in a race with myself 7 am to 7 pm to see how much I can get done before I let myself relax. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve been in battle (and I’m sure I look like it too.) Sitting and waiting for files to upload without tabbing over to the next screen felt painful. But much like call center people can look forward to the small break between when they are hung up on and when the machine autodials the next number (ie when there is literally nothing they can do but wait), towards the end of the day, I started looking forward to these times in my day when there would be breaks (attaching images to an email, uploading the podcast, etc.) It made me feel the task at hand getting done.

I won’t ruin the Infomagical challenge for you but I will say it was a good one if you feel like I do: overwhelmed by information.

I have started to push back a little when people say to me things like ‘You mean you haven’t seen insert-thing-here?’

“Nope, but why don’t you tell me about it?” I say. Because somehow, if I think I have to know something beyond what I consciously consume, I bet that information will find its way to me if I am meant to know it. And while my life may be less rich than it would have if I had watched that cat video, I bet the cat I see when I walk my dog will be an ok substitute.



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!



Why You Give (Some) Information For Free

“It seems like a lot of social media people give information for free.” one of my friends mentioned today. The implied question being, why is that?

Giving some free stuff away doesn't mean your company won't make money. Mozilla in the tech world is an excellent example of sharing information to build value.

Giving some free stuff away doesn’t mean your company won’t make money. Mozilla in the tech world is an excellent example of sharing information to build value.

As people in the information business, we know it’s important to give some of our product for free in the way of blog entries, white papers, etc. Here’s why people give away something for free that they didn’t necessarily get for free:

Information builds credibility.

Does this person know what they are talking about? Do they seem like the kind of person I want to do business with? This is information people will want to figure out before contacting you.

Having free information out there for them to peruse allows them to see for themselves 1) This person is legit and 2) I may even like them as a person. These are both infinitely important in the service industry since the people you hire to provide services tend to be the people you spend time with. Information let’s people get to know you… and giving it away some for free means you are not some money hungry jerkface who’s only in it for the paycheck.

Information builds value.

You know who the best customers are in some of my experience? People who have tried to do it themselves. In trying to build a website or run a social media campaign, people will contact us saying that doing the job well is harder than they expected. They realize there is a lot to know and do, and that they need our help.

It may feel weird to think about giving away something you figured out but guess what happens when someone tries to do it? Some either succeed and love what they get out of it, becoming loyal potential customers. Others attempt and fail… but guess who the first person they think of to call is when they do?

It may seem counter intuitive but put information out there about your services or products. Having an understanding of what goes into either will show your potential customers what’s so valuable… and why they can get that value from you.

Information gives part of the story… and leaves people wanting more. 

Let’s say you read my article about Twitter hashtags (the most popular blog post I’ve ever written for no apparent reason). While it is helpful, it’s really like I’m reading you page 59 out of a book of things I know. Sure there is a topic but does reading it make you understand how to use Twitter entirely? Of course not. What someone with a deep knowledge on a topic can give you are tips and tricks but knowing that information in a context is infinitely more valuable.

What you know about what you do is more than you could write in 855 blog posts (you’re reading post 856 of this blog right now, and there are plenty more topics to cover, trust me!). And the more people know, the more they’ll want to know… if they are interested of course. But guess who buys stuff? Interested people.

Social media people are not silly people with gobs of free time on their hands. They know if they put out information, free information even, it’ll be good for their business. At least I think they are. 🙂

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: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/download-gmail-google-data/)



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!