travel

I Left My Business For A Month And Nothing Bad Happened (Part 1)

We have a series of great ‘and nothing bad happened’ articles. Check out ‘I Bought Facebook Fans And Nothing Bad Happened‘ and ‘I Doubled Our Social Media Posts And Nothing Bad Happened‘. 

Next month, Breaking Even will have been officially in business for ten years.

My friends joke that I know EVERYONE in our small town and I think that’s mostly true. And even if I haven’t met someone, typically when I say my name, they’ve heard of me.

I’m not saying this to sound like a conceited jerk- if you hang out in a town with 5,000 people for 10 years and have a bit of a social life, you’d probably know most everyone too. And basically what I’ve found in the last year actively trying to do more sales is that if people want to work with us, they have in the past or are now. Sure, new businesses come into town once in awhile, but the reality is at a certain point, in order to grow Breaking Even I have to look beyond my backyard and the people I’ve been happy houring with.

Combining this current local market saturation with the wanderlust I’ve always had, I thought I’d spend last month seeing if I couldn’t tap into a new market. As someone who has run local businesses for a decade, this is my experience, so finding more local businesses (who just happened to be somewhere else) seemed natural.

So I silently left for four weeks and ran my businesses from upstate New York (2 hours from Montreal, wohoo). So how did I do it?



The key to this working was buy-in from my coworkers. We had the world’s shortest staff meeting about two weeks before I left where we established who would do what location-specific tasks (checking mail, mailing out purchases from our ecommerce site, etc.) I wasn’t able to do. I already know I couldn’t ask for better coworkers but I was worried they would think my month away was an extended vacation while they worked their fingers to the bone. Or that I would be unreachable. Or that they’d feel lonely and/or resentful. Of course, this was just me needing to 1) get over my own self importance and 2) make some documentation of some of my more mundane tasks (how to check mail, what to open, where the checkbook was, etc.) We’ll debrief in our upcoming staff retreat but it seems like the place didn’t burn down while I was gone and no one called/emailed me angry, so things did indeed run without me.

Just some of my scheduled meetings in Zoom. Best $19 I spend every month for the pro version.

The other thing I needed to do before I left was get clients used to talking to someone that wasn’t me. Because of my workaholic tendencies and my predictable schedule, I have made myself constantly available over the last ten years. People often stop in to try and run into me and that can be a time suck.

The reality is Kassie can answer a ‘When does my domain name expire?’ email as well as I can and Jane can schedule someone who has rented the Anchorspace conference room without my help. So for the few months before my planned departure, both Kassie and Jane have been emailing clients about work directly. The reality is that if things escalated or just got complicated, then I could be brought in. And every time I feel guilty for not fielding an email, I think of selling something, doing consulting, or some other use of my time and I feel ok. But this took a few months to phase in (and in a lot of ways is still happening).

I also had to use technology to keep in touch with clients. So I had five clients who wanted to meet while I was gone and four opted to take me up on the Zoom meeting (one said she’d wait until I was back). Of the Zoom meetings, I lost one client who wanted someone more locally available. For those I held remote meetings for, I offered to record the meetings so they could review them and one really liked this option. Meanwhile I got my third ever largest contract in my new location. The moral is you can’t please everyone but moving things to digital platforms 1) was an easier sell being a digital agency and 2) offered convenient options like after-hours meetings, the ability to record, etc.

It’s safe to say that for never having done this sort of thing before, this part of the experiment was a success for the most part. But, this was only a fraction of the overall experiment- in addition to keeping the home fires burning, I also had to get involved with an entirely new market. Stay tuned for part two of this post, which is all about networking in new territory!



How To Rock A Ten Hour Car Trip

I’ve been driving a lot lately… and just like anything, you definitely get better at it the more you do it.

As I put another 450 miles on my car tomorrow, here are some of the things I’ll be doing to prepare for life on the open road.

Get a power block/large charger.

If you are both navigating and listening to audio from your smartphone like I am, that is going to drain your battery fast. A fully charged power block can charge my cell phone five times, which is more than adequate for my ten hour trip. Very handy. I like the idea that you can also get ones that have a solar panel. Even though I’ve never really relied on mine to charge that way, it’s nice to know it could.

This is the one I have and if you buy one, I get 3%.

Check out cell reception ahead of time.

Most cell phone carriers have coverage maps. Looking at your expected coverage before beginning your drive can give you an idea of how long, if at all, you’ll be out of touch.

Personally, unless I’m having a super long ‘how’s your life’ conversation with a friend, I hate talking while I’m driving. If it’s a business meeting, I want to take notes and if it’s anything serious, it needs my full attention. This is why I don’t schedule meetings while I drive. This also makes it a zen experience for me, which I appreciate.

Make a list of useful things, like coffee shops or coworking spaces with WiFi, etc. in case you need them.

I’ve got a pretty good list of places where they have 24-7 bathrooms, coffee shops I don’t mind stopping at in an emergency, and other helpful things. Your line of work may need to involve something more specific, like maybe occasionally needing a large format printer or UPS locations. If you make a regular circuit, make note of these useful resources in hard copy form including addresses, phone numbers, hours of operation, etc. Then when you need them, rather than having to do multiple Google searches, you can have it all on one or two sheets of paper.



Forward your calls if applicable.

Google Voice allows you to forward your calls to it and will transcribe and text/email voicemails. I find this handy when I travel as I can return important calls in a timely way.

Bring water and high powered snacks.

I bring about 10 water bottles (large ones) with me for both the dog and I. I’m never sad to have hydration with me. In terms of snacks, I love RX Bars because they are high protein (12 g and 250ish calories) and don’t have any chemicals in them. Being less reliant on road snacks is not only more economical but definitely a healthier way for your body to transition from one place to another.

Download productive audio books and podcasts.

The Pocket Casts app (not free) is my favorite podcast app. The app that comes on your iPhone either downloads EVERY episode or NO episodes of your favorite podcast. This app allows you to download episodes individually and arrange them in a kind of play list if you like. Once you listen to it, the podcast automatically deletes. And between that and downloading only the episodes I want, I have saved a ton of space on my phone. I also try to have at least one new audiobook downloaded in advance so I can look forward to it on the road.

Hide $20 in your car. 

I am the kind of person that carries cash (hint: if you ever have to split a dinner tab, those of us with cash always end up better off). But if you are the kind of person that doesn’t usually carry cash, hide $20 in your glove compartment. $20 can get you out of an unexpected toll or other situation and it’s not a lot of money to miss. The few times I dove into my stash, I’ve always been thankful for it.

The reality is that we all have these blocks of travel time and making the best of it is all we can do. And who knows, you might even enjoy it if you decide to.



Busying About: My London Impressions

Tower Bridge was really close to where we stayed, and kind of what I was expecting London Bridge to look like.

Tower Bridge was really close to where we stayed, and kind of what I was expecting London Bridge to look like.

Zero degrees longitude, Greenwich Mean time. Now we just need to get to the Equator!

Zero degrees longitude, Greenwich Mean time. Now we just need to get to the Equator!

Just getting back from three weeks of traveling and, if it’s possible, I’m both exhausted and renewed at the same time.

The London trip came about entirely because of this blog. Phil has been reading my blog for years (way back when, it was about Maine and saving money, check out the archives if you want to see some old posts, which like old diary entries both mortify and delight me whenever I read them) and comes to Maine often for vacation. I met him on a trip to Maine in 2009 (You can read an account of how I almost killed us on Mount Katahdin, which is funny now that there is some mental distance from it). This past summer, he brought his girlfriend Geraldine (who we call G) and we, along with my friend Alice (who now works at Breaking Even Inc, I know, convoluted little story my life is but in a good way), got along swimmingly as a foursome.

Phil and G invited us to come visit verbally and then via a preloaded Oyster card (for riding the tube) in our Christmas cards. That’s right, buy us a coupon worth $40 and we’ll get on a plane for you.

Seeing another culture helps you see your own in a new way, and gives you some ideas. Some design inspiration from Burrow Market jams.

Seeing another culture helps you see your own in a new way, and gives you some ideas. Some design inspiration from Burrow Market jams.

Alice and I set off on March 12 and spent threeish glorious weeks in London (I had a sidetrip to Bosnia in there too) getting a locals tour, doing touristy stuff, and generally relaxing.



Some of what we did:

  • Double decker bus tour (rode on top because that’s how we roll)
  • Saw the Royal Ballet perform Alice in Wonderland
  • Had Sunday Roast with yorkshire pudding and everything
  • Visited Burrow Market on a Saturday morning
  • Checked out the Greenwich Observatory (ie 0 degrees longitude) on daylight savings weekend
  • Visited Liberty and other posh British department stores
  • Read books (Alice read four, I read two)
  • Sampled just about every available cider in the UK
  • Ate Indian food and raclette (a French dish specially prepared for us by G)
  • Saw a British improv group
  • Coined the phrase ‘busying about’ which means to run around doing errands and otherwise getting stuff done (Doesn’t that sound British?!?)
Alice and I both appreciated the British sensibility of politeness and allowing people to take personal responsibility. This sign was quite capturing of this sentiment.

Alice and I both appreciated the British sensibility of politeness and allowing people to take personal responsibility. This sign was quite capturing of this sentiment.

There was more than that of course but that gives you an idea. It was a very fun trip and great to see our friends on their home turf. It was also helpful to get a bit of design and marketing inspiration. We saw Twitter references, QR codes, and all kinds of things we deal with every day in new contexts.

Thanks to Phil and G for being such gracious hosts and here’s hoping to hop over the pond again soon!



Marketing Monday: Oregon Wine Country

Usually if I haven’t been writing blog entries it’s because I’ve been doing other interesting things. I spent last week working really hard so I could take a vacation in the form of a slightly extended long weekend. Two of my college friends Bailey and Jeremy (now married to each other) bought a house in Portland Oregon about a year ago and the rest of us on the east coast descended to check it out. It’s was a lot of catching up, food, bad television watching, and general hanging out.

Sunday, we changed it up and rented a minivan, packed up the Voodoo Donuts, and Jeremy drove the rest of us around to sample some of the fine wines in the Willamette Valley region.

We rented a van so we could all be together which led to a lot of joking about being a whiney kids with our soccer parents Bailey and Jeremy drove us around.

We rented a van so we could all be together which led to a lot of joking about being a whiney kids with our soccer parents Bailey and Jeremy driving us around.

Now I’ve been wine tasting once but never in an area where so many wineries are so close together. I was struck by the fact that each place really had a distinct feel to it.



The open almost office-y feeling of Oak Knoll was a good start to the trip. Six tastings for $5, can't beat it!

The open almost office-y feeling of Oak Knoll was a good start to the trip. Six tastings for $5, can't beat it!

Our first stop was Oak Knoll Winery. Jeremy and Bailey had a case of their wine we had been enjoying throughout the weekend and since it was only about 20 minutes from their house, it was a logical place to start out. Pop music blared on the radio and the area was pretty office-y in terms of environment. If I could have shipped a case of their sale wine for $40 home to Maine, I so would have. Darn state laws!

Driving a group of girls around is so much easier when you have a Voodoo Donut and some good music going. Thanks Jeremy!

Driving a group of girls around is so much easier when you have a Voodoo Donut and some good music going. Thanks Jeremy!

Our second stop was Raptor Ridge, which we were hoping was a dinosaur reference. The woman at Oak Knoll pointed us in Raptor Ridge’s direction, mentioning they had built a whole new tasting room with a gorgeous view. So piling into the white minivan, off we went.

Raptor Ridge tasting room had quite a view even on a foggy day.

Raptor Ridge tasting room had quite a view even on a foggy day.

Raptor Ridge had a much more contemporary setup with a great view. It worked out well because they had a ‘smelling wall’ and several area magazines for perusing while we waited for the group before us to finish up. (One thing learned: Raptor apparently refers to a bird, not a dinosaur by the way.)

We waited in style by smelling bottles and trying to figure them out.

We waited in style by smelling bottles and trying to figure out the scents inside.

The tasting fee here was a steeper ($10/person for five wines) but for the view and the experience of some complex pinots, it was fantastic (versus Oak Hill which seemed to specialize in fruity blends).

The Raptor Ridge Pinots were a bit more complex than Oak Knoll. Sarah D. bought Bailey and Jeremy a thank-you-for-hosting-us bottle of wine.

The Raptor Ridge Pinots were a bit more complex than Oak Knoll. Sarah D. bought Bailey and Jeremy a thank-you-for-hosting-us bottle of wine.

We then stopped for a lunch break before moving on to Duck Pond Winery, another winery that was suggested to us at Oak Knoll. Clearly a much more commercial operation, the whole thing centered around a gift shop and was in a huge building. The complimentary tastings were alright (free is always a good price) but feeling a bit ignored, we left without even taking any pictures.

The surroundings of the Red Barn tasting room were more gorgeous than I could capture.

The surroundings of the Red Barn tasting room were more gorgeous than I could capture.

Our last stop was probably our collective favorite: Maresh Red Barn which had a very pretty drive going out to it. Bailey and Jeremy are wine club members there which meant we had free tastings. The best part was talking with the retired owner who told us about how he started the vineyard and kept the winery open back when bankers wouldn’t give him any funding. They told him ‘grapes won’t grow here’. Over 40 acres of productive grapes later, that is clearly not the case.

The interior of the place was an old barn with a woodstove. It was so homey and the owner was chatty that we all just stood there for half an hour, listening to him and enjoying being with each other.

The Maresh Red Barn Vineyard is the wine club our friends just joined. Better deals, invitations to events, and more are the advantages to being a member.

The Maresh Red Barn Vineyard is the wine club our friends just joined. Better deals, invitations to events, and more are the advantages to being a wine club member.

Overall, it’s really great how each vineyard is able to keep its unique identity yet they collectively are able to market the Willamette Valley region.

That said, a lot of these places needed help on their websites and only two of the four places we went to even implied they did social media and only one counter urged us to sign up for the email list. Come on Willamette Valley, let’s see you online a little more so I can visit you virtually a bit more often. Websites and wine get better with time!

Thanks to my friends for such a great visit: Bailey and Jeremy for hosting, Lydia for her cooking and entertainment, and Sarah D., Sarah C., Hannah, and Meg for being my travel companions from the east coast. No matter what we did, I know we would have had a great time… but the wine was really fun!

This Week In Business: The Galavanting Edition

This week was an unusual one for me. I had a friend visiting from London the past five days and yesterday, I flew to Baltimore for my friend’s wedding Saturday. Being on the road a lot allowed me to work on making my business a bit more mobile. Here’s a little of what I did this week besides have fun playing tourist:
I got and set up my new laptop.
After hearing so much about Macs (and the fact that about half my clients are using them), I decided the only way to get proficient with them was to get one and learn with it. My MacBook Pro is quite slick and is allowing me to begin this first draft in the lobby of my hotel while I wait for my ride to show up.

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What I Learned On Katahdin

This is part way down Knife's Edge, and still six hours to go in our hike. Phil coined the phrase 'blue blaze of sanity' since the fact that there are trail markings is what makes doing this not completely insane.

In the entire history of my blog, I have never thought about and rewritten a post so many times. I didn’t want to sound nonchalant about doing some stupid, dangerous things and at the same time, I didn’t want to sound overly dramatic. Here is my attempt at balance, and my cautionary tale.

This past weekend, I hiked Mount Katahdin with my British friend Phil. He had always wanted to go but thought it was too dangerous to attempt alone. I said when he visited Maine again, we’d do it.

He arrived on Thursday from London and Friday morning, we headed into the North Maine woods (Millinocket more specifically) and made camp. The next morning (3:30 am more specifically) we took down camp and headed into Baxter State Park.

The plan was to park at Roaring Brook Campground, hike the Helon Taylor trail, take Knife’s Edge to the summit of Katahdin, hike down Cathedral then Chimney Pond trail back to Roaring Brook. It is a long and difficult hike under normal circumstances. Attempting this in October is not something I plan to do again, mostly because I was really stupid about it.

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