How ‘Checking In’ Works

I saw one of my Facebook friends ask people to check into her business on Facebook and Twitter.

I slapped my forehead because she can’t actually can’t track that unless she’s clairvoyant. (And if you are clairvoyant, by all means close your business and make a ton of money on that skill!)

Having people ‘check in’ on social media allows for several things, including increased visibility for your business on social media and an incentive for people to physically come in to your place of business.

If you are encouraging this behavior (and offering people something to do it), it’s important to understand how it works.

I joke with people that the opposite of what I want people to do is come into the Breaking Even office so I don’t go out of my way to promote in this way. That said, I have some advice that might help those of you who want to encourage this behavior.

1) Encourage people to check in and show someone at that moment for a reward.

If you want people to check into your business (on Yelp, Foursquare, or Facebook… or all three), have them do the checkin on their smartphone and show it to a cashier. (A simple sign at your business can accomplish letting people know they can do this).

Then the cashier can give them something: a chocolate, a pen, some other novelty. Then the cashier can note about who checks in and what website/social network they used. Heck they can even use a camera to snap a picture of the person holding their phone so you can keep track:


(That’s me being the Foursquare mayor of Dog and Pony after checking in. Stop being jealous.) + Read More

Two Kickstarter Projects: Ideas On How One Succeeded and One Did Not

Whether you are a business or non-profit, asking for money can be awkward. Non-profit organizations are used to relying on donors but for a long time, this world was not open to businesses.

Since websites like Kickstarter have been in existence, businesses and individuals (in addition to non-profits) have the ability to ask for money related to a specific project. But it can still be awkward.

Here are two campaigns from Kickstarter, one that raised its goal amount (and well past it) and one that did not. Let’s see if we can spot some differences:

Successful campaign: Get Speculative Fiction Book Published
Objective: Create an anthology of stories from people typically marginalized by traditional publishing.

Things I noticed:

  • Both people on the project were in the video talking about why it was important… and had some fun with it. 
  • They had goals and ‘reach’ goals. In other words, in terms of what would happen if they raised more than expected, it was pretty clear at each step what else would happen.
  • The incentives were pretty cool and included different formats of the publication. In other words, I could be near or far and support the cause… and get cool stuff.
  • Progress was regularly posted to the Kickstarter site so everyone knew what was going on.
  • They let people give anywhere from $1 to $1000. The majority of gifts were in the $25 range.
  • They have given to 25 other Kickstarter causes. In other words, they were in the community.
  • They were willing to let contributors participate with their campaign.
Hey look, I can see who they are and why they want to do this!

Hey look, I can see who they are and why they want to do this!

Unsuccessful campaign: Move Colonial Pizza Back To Spring Street
Objective: “Our project is simple in concept: We are hoping to return our pizzeria to Spring Street in Williamstown, MA. This has been a dream of ours for the last 15 years and would be considered a homecoming.We were part of the heart and soul of the town for over 25 years until a fire displaced us to a location on the outskirts of town. ”

Things I noticed:

  • The two minute video had no talking in it. Really? Not one person in the whole place could have gone on camera and talked about why this was important? Since I have three devices just on this desk capable to taking video, whenever I see someone not appear in a video I always think it’s not a lack of technology. If you’re asking for $27,000 the least you can do is ask in person I think.
  • In the slideshow, there is a photo of an employee with a blurred out middle finger. Classy.
  • The incentives for giving are kind of crappy. For example, the $120 level ensures I get $180 worth of pizza later. That’s not an excellent return. It’s not even a cool or novel return.
  • This isn’t really a ‘cool’ thing. It’s not like they are trying an innovative project or serving a new population. They are just moving. Kind of yawn.
  • The idea is kind of presented in a negative way. Like they are on the ‘outskirts’ of town (wonder how nearby businesses feel about that characterization) and just want to go home. I feel sorry for them but feeling sorry for someone doesn’t make me want to help them raise close to $30,000.
  • Aren’t they going to move anyway? Moving seems to be a big enough decision that financially, they are probably ready to do it. It’s like they just want to get free money from Kickstarter.
  • They have backed one cause: their own. Not a part of the Kickstarter community.
  • One update during the campaign. Backers need more than that.
Hey look it's a slideshow already saying what it says in the narrative of the site.

Hey look it’s a slideshow already saying what it says in the narrative of the site.

So from this admittedly very random and small sample, what can we say about how to make your project successful?

  • Transparency– Show who you are and why you want what you want.
  • Timely– Keep stakeholders up to date.
  • Cool– Offer to do something cool. Like the pizza people could have launched a community program (and used the extra generated money to move location)… or they could have just given away cooler prizes to backers.
  • Involved– Like any community, being involved with Kickstarter beyond your own interest helps. It also helps letting donors get involved.

So if you are planning a Kickstarter campaign, hopefully this is helpful!

Connecting With Other Bloggers

What’s one of the best ways to get more traffic to your blog and get better at blogging faster? Being friends with other bloggers.

Blogger friends you know in real life can be a great resource. But let’s say you don’t know any bloggers or, more specifically, you want to talk to other food bloggers to get more specific ideas for your blog called All Mac and Cheese All The Time. (Are there ‘mac and cheese’ blogs? Actually yes there are several!)

Like any relationship, you don’t want to meet bloggers and begin immediately leeching on them. You have to build up a rapport first before you ever ask for a link to your blog, advice, or any other blog-related favor.

Stage 1: Hey I’m Here

The first thing you want to do is let a blogger know you are reading. Yes, part of connecting with other bloggers involves reading their blogs. (If you thought you could get out of this without showing any interest in other people, sorry.)

In this stage, you are simply reacting to another blogger in a way that they notice.

One way to do this is to leave a comment on their blog. Here’s a blog called ‘From Away’ that I commented on:

Key to blog commenting 1) Read the post, 2) Be sincere, and 3) If you want your face to appear, go to and register your email for a free account.

Key to blog commenting 1) Read the post, 2) Be sincere, and 3) If you want your face to appear, go to and register your email for a free account.

As you see, I left a pertinent comment (not just ‘Nice post’) and I linked to my blog in a non-obnoxious way. So if you follow a few blogs and leave comments over the course of a few months, the blog author (in this case Jillian) will get to know you by name and sight, even though you two have never met.

Don’t comment on *every post a blogger does though, makes you seem desperate. Play it cool, dude, you are courting these bloggers.

In the social media world, you can do this by replying, commenting, or liking their blog post. They’ll start seeing your name or Twitter handle and say, “I wonder who this person with fabulous taste is.”

Stage 2: Hey I’m Sharing Your Stuff You’re So Cool

Once you’ve been making yourself visible to the blogger, it’s time to take your relationship to the next level. Now you have to share their stuff to your network.

Here’s my cousin Celina sharing a blog post:


My cousin Celina liked my blog post and shared it with her Facebook friends. Awww. That 'Awww' is how bloggers feel when you share their stuff.

My cousin Celina liked my blog post and shared it with her Facebook friends. Awww. That ‘Awww’ is how bloggers feel when you share their stuff.

So yeah, if you’re a blogger, you can share a link to another blogger’s post on your Facebook page, on your Twitter account, or on your own blog. They’ll notice the traffic spike… and if you do it in a way that associates your name with said traffic spike, they are going to like you. (P.S. The iStockphoto use was completely intentional. If you read the blog you’ll see what I mean.)

Stage 3: Hey Can We Talk Sometime?

So you are becoming something of a blog groupie. You’ve been reading comments, you’ve been sharing their stuff. You have asked nothing of them. This is the way true friendship works people so good job!

Over this time in your blog reading, you are probably going to powerfully connect with a few bloggers because you like their stuff and end up liking them as people. When I think of this, I think of my relationship with J at Budgets are Sexy and Kelly at Almost Frugal. Love them!

Now that you are contacting your bloggers directly, there are any number of things you might want to do with them. You may want to interview them for your blog, or ask them some blog advice… you could want any number of things from them actually.

As a blogger, I get pitched at least once a week (As a former daily blogger, I was pitched way more back then). Here’s a fairly typical email I got last week (Think of this as ‘how not to do this’):

When you contact your new blogger friends, don't do this. Remember it's about relationships people!

When you contact your new blogger friends, don’t do this. Remember it’s about relationships people!

Here’s the thing, even if you do ask for a favor in that first email, at least the people you are talking to will know who you are because you have gone through the first two stages0. What I’m showing above is an email version of a cold sales call. Don’t do this unless you want to face more rejection then acceptance.

If your message is personal and you’ve actually done the thing you are asking the other person to do (like your Facebook page, leave a blog comment, etc.) then you are much more likely to at least get an email back.

Stage 4:  Hey Let’s Do Something Together!

Here’s what’s weird, you are actually going to make friends from blogging. Yeah, like Phil from London who is now one of my best friends… I met him from my blog. Cool right?

If you’ve been corresponding with a blogger, reading their stuff, etc. it might be really cool to do something together. Maybe you do a podcast or guest blog on each other’s sites for a week… It’s up to you really. And now that you are friends with this blogger, you can combine your powers and get more done. More could mean more traffic to your blog but it could also mean more interesting topics/kinds of content, more opportunities to sell your product(s), or other versions of more… In our case, Alice and I got an awesome place to stay in London for three weeks last spring.

If you blog long enough, you will get to this point of having blogger friends. But remember the internet is like real life. You wouldn’t go on a first date and immediately ask the person to be your boyfriend. You wouldn’t go to a job interview without looking around a little at the company’s website. Do your homework and build relationships in the blogosphere and you too will have a great blog that many people you don’t yet know will get to see.

What A Website Designer Can (And Can’t) Do For You

What can your website designer do for you? They can do a lot. But there are some things that are unrealistic to expect. Here’s the breakdown:

Making Decisions

Ugg Boy, Shoes, August 17, 2010, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

In a world of choices, consult an expert to bring you back the best choices for you. Trust me, this photo was a more interesting illustration of choices than the website version would have been. Photo from Ugg Boy, Shoes, August 17, 2010, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

A website designer can create a website that minimizes your headaches/decisions.
This morning, I trained a woman who is going to make her own Wordpress website for her business. ‘Wow, there are a lot of choices!’ she said. I know she’ll get through it but she seemed so overwhelmed. And that’s when it hit me.

A big part of hiring a designer, a contractor, a wedding planner, a caterer? We take all the choices possible and give you a couple really good ones just for you. We do other stuff too but not overwhelming clients is a big part of it. Think about getting the best choices brought to you versus having to research all options yourself in any task and you’ll see why this is valuable.

A web designer can not make business decisions for you.
Want me to figure out if offering free shipping is financially viable for you? How to draft a contract for an affiliate you want to work with? These are much bigger questions that aren’t for your designer to decide, especially if they involve something legal or financial. (Fun aside: I can tell you that most successful Fortune 500 companies spend 10% of their gross budget on marketing. In other words, you gotta spend money to make money as the adage goes!)

We can give you the website end of information but as the person that runs your business, you know much more about its focus, goals, price points, etc. than I do. If you need help, try a business counselor/consultant. Women Work and Community, CEI, and SCORE all have counseling services, in the state of Maine (where this blog is written) and beyond.


The right teacher can and should make it look easy. Photo from Kheel Center, Maria Vargas, October 4, 2010, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

The right teacher can and should make it easy. Well, except for that annoyed looking lady in black. Photo from Kheel Center, Maria Vargas, October 4, 2010, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

A website designer can train you on making website updates.
One of the major improvements in website technology the last few years? The ability to create a system where someone can update a website.

In my famous example: I trained a definitely-over-65 year old lady on how to use Wordpress. We did two, 1.5 hour sessions. The first one I did a basic overview, the second she brought her questions and we did more advanced stuff. I haven’t heard from her in over two years and her website is still online. Success, and an illustration of how we all should keep learning everyday.

A website designer can not train you on how to do their entire job.
I find it kind of funny when someone thinks they can figure out my entire job in two weeks. Or even a year. Honestly people, I’ve been doing this for years and I still see things daily that make me say “What the…?”

In other words, I could train you… to a point. And to be fair, I don’t think I could learn your job in a few short sessions either. So trust me when I say something is ‘a bit complicated’. I’m not trying to make a quick buck; I am trying to save your sanity.


Sometimes that tiny bike needs five guys to repair it.  The same with even the tiniest seeming website. Photo from Ian Munroe, Bike 5, August 27, 2009, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Sometimes that tiny bike needs five guys to repair it. The same with even the tiniest seeming website. Photo from Ian Munroe, Bike 5, August 27, 2009, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Web designers can build ‘insurance’ into your website.
From my point of view, handing over a website to its owner is like handing over a beloved car you’ve been driving awhile. Its new owner could be a reckless driver or someone who cares of the car like a member of their family; you have no idea.You just hand over the keys and hope it gets a good home.

The point is, it’s your site when we’re done. Yours to tackle the Indy 500… or crash in a explosive wreck. What we can do is have automatic backups and other insurance in place to cut down on spam, block repeatedly failed logins, etc. It doesn’t completely prevent bad things but it helps.

Website designers can not make you a site that will never break or need maintenance. 
Do you expect to drive your car without oil changes, periodic maintenance, or gas for 250,000 miles? Of course not. Yet some people expect that you can have people visiting and using a website everyday and not update it. Or that they’ll never get hacked.

First off, there is no rhyme or reason to hacking most of the time. There could be just some bored 15-year-old looking for something to do on a Friday night. It’s (usually) nothing personal. But it can happen. Especially if you don’t update your software. So you see, the two are related.

Truth is much of the maintenance you can do yourself, some of it you’ll need help doing though. You’ve invested in a website, treat it with periodic care… sometimes care that is needed by your trusty website mechanic.


Website built with automatic traffic pouring in? If that were possible, I'd be lying on a beach somewhere, and so would you! Photo from Chris Brown, Traffic, March 19, 2007, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Website built with automatic traffic pouring in? If that were possible, I’d be lying on a beach somewhere, and so would you! Photo from Chris Brown, Traffic, March 19, 2007, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

A website designer can build search and user friendly features into your site.
It’s interesting when I get a list of requirements for a website and on it, the business/organization has listed ‘SEO’ or ‘search engine friendly’ features. To me, it’s like saying ‘I want a house with windows and doors’. We automatically set things up to be search friendly… though I can see why people include this to ensure it happens.

Things like search engine friendly URLS ( versus, unique page titles, and images with alt tags are standard in how websites are done. Or at least should be.

A website designer can not make traffic go to your site.
So there’s two parts of search engine optimization. One part is called ‘on page SEO’ which is stuff you do on your own website to make it friendly (like examples above). The other part is called ‘off page SEO’. These are things you do not on your website, like using social media or having links from other websites/blogs. These are equally important to what you do on your own website and some would argue even more important.

Besides thinking about off-page issues, you also have to keep your website up-to-date with useful information. If a website has old information, no one will visit it, no matter how amazing the features.

So as you think about hiring a web designer (or using your web designer), keep these in mind. Like most service professionals, we will always try our best to give you as much as we can.

[schema type=”person” name=”Nicole Ouellette” email=”” ]

Early to rise makes you technically wise

7:30 am, Wednesday April 25. You were probably still in your PJs enjoying your morning coffee while 30 MDI business owners were filling their bellies with eggs and their heads with knowledge at the mini-tech boot camp sponsored by the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. David Charron of Comp-u-sult and Nicole Ouellette of Breaking Even Communications were on hand to give a lively and informative discussion on what you need to know to keep your business current with computer applications and online marketing presence.
David started with key points on how to manage your data and your computer. Wondering what the Cloud is? David explained that the Cloud is just the internet – and it is actually safer and more economical to have your data backed up online with a third party company such as Mozy or Carbonite. The sites are encrypted for protection, and your data is safely stored offsite.

Also discussed was the importance of strong passwords. “Everyone knows about using 3s instead of Es, you need to be more stealthy now.” David recommend using pneumonic that only you will know. “my dog barnaby jones like ice cream cones”  would translate to MDBJLICC.

David talked briefly about how all those pesky software update reminders you get, are actually software companies trying to protect you from malware. Software manufacturers and hackers are constantly leap frogging each other with updates, and if you have the latest software, you computer is the most secure. As well as updating your software, David talked about the importance of maintaining a clean computer – defragging, emptying the garbage, and scanning for viruses will make your computer happier and faster.

Both Nicole and David then discussed ways to manage your files and information in a way that you and your co-workers have easy access to information. Google Apps is an easy, free, software bundle – available on any web browser, that you can share and co-author documents, spreadsheets, calendars, and more. Google Drive is now combining the features of Google Apps and File Share servers like dropbox: for more details, this is an excellent article:

After this discussion of computer and data sources, Nicole stepped up to talk about how to reach customers who are savvy to the internet, and interest them in your business. Traditionally business spend big dollars advertising on television and print media, but with the internet you can reach more of your target audience, and for less money.

Nicole talked about the importance of having a mobile section of your website. People over 50 are the highest growing market for smartphones, and 50% of American adults have already have one. In an area like Mount Desert Island – which largely depends on tourist dollars – making your website accessible to potential customers who are traveling and depending on their smartphones, is certainly going to help your business.

Facebook as a marketing tool was discussed at length. As Nicole pointed out – your website is a static location that depends on people taking the initiative to visit it. A Facebook page allows your business to interact with people on a daily or weekly basis, depending on how often you post updates. Nicole recommends no more than 3 posts a week for business since more information could overwhelm fans.

She also explained the difference between a personal Facebook profile and a business page. Facebook business pages offer a great opportunity for you to access data about your customers  such as age, location, and common interests. A Facebook page also offers your business another opportunity to show up in a google search. Win win win.

Nicole then talked about the new Facebook Timeline, and gave a quick tour of what it has to offer including designing the cover image (the large scale photo on the top); customizing the display of applications installed on the Facebook page; creating milestones that illustrate the history of your company, and being able to ‘pin’ important news to the top of your page and have it remain for up to a week.

She then spoke about some new social media kids on the block, Fiverr, Pinterest, Kickstarter, and Google+. She pointed out that right now Google and Facebook are the A game, but things change very quickly and it’s important to keep up with the ever-changing world of online networking.

To close the meeting, a brand new Kindle Fire was raffled off, and awarded to Sheila Ward from the Inn at Bay Ledge.

By 9 am everyone was happily sipping coffee and congratulating themselves on how smart they were for learning how to use technology more effectively in their business and personal lives.

Want to learn about more upcoming presentations and workshops? Sign up for our email newsletter and hear about it before just about everyone else on earth.

How Do I Control What Comes Up In A Google Search?

I got an excellent question via email from a friend of mine. She went through a divorce and has recently started dating again. One of her dates found her divorce details via a Google search. While she is not trying to hide anything, she also understandably doesn’t want this to be the first thing that comes up about her online.

Now I used to work in the internet department of a newspaper and people would call and ask us to take out items from police reports, divorce listings, property transfers, etc. for many reasons. In all cases, the answer was ‘no’ since they were part of the public record. Even if you couldn’t find it on our particular website you could find it on the state of Maine website and other places like it. You can pretend to put out a fire by fighting it in one room of a house but really you’d have to eliminate it at the source (like the local courthouse) to truly make it go away.

If the information isn’t true, you can try contacting the website administrator, print some kind of retraction, or find out more about your rights and acceptable actions against online slander. I’m not going to pretend to be a lawyer here but know that there are steps you can take if someone is saying something online that can be defined as slander.

If the information is true, this will be a bit trickier. Sure you can still contact the website administrator but they legally don’t have to do anything about it.

What you can do is push that item to the second or third page of Google but adding some new information for Google to find about you. Think of it as adding positive things you can control to the online space. Here are some ideas:

Make LinkedIn and/or Facebook profile.
If someone Googles your name, what better thing to come up then your resume? You can create other social media profiles as well but these two are particularly effective since one page of results will show all ‘Nicole Ouellette’s on a SERP page and one page will show you. See Exhibit A:

When you looked up my name a few years ago, it was some HR person in Massachusetts. Guess who it is now?

When you looked up my name a few years ago, it was some HR person in Massachusetts. Guess who it is now?

Play nice with Google.
Google owns Google+, Blogger, Youtube, and lots of other websites. Most of these websites allow you to create free profiles. Play nice on Google-owned websites by creating profiles  since those are likely getting preferential treatment by that search engine. (sure there’s nothing offical that says this but come on, if it was you, wouldn’t you do it too?)

Guest post on some blogs.
When I look up my name, I see websites where I’ve either been interviewed or wrote an article for. If you are, say, in the medical field, offer to guest post on a related blog. Contact the blog owner and let them know you have an idea for a post. This site has a list of blogs open for guest posting:

So just a few easy ideas to make some good news appear higher on web searches. Remember, time heals all wounds, in life and online. Eventually bad news does fade away, even if you wouldn’t do anything and the latest of what’s going on with you will appear prominently. So get to doing the things in the life that you’re proud to have online. :^)

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