New Website Launch: National Park Sea Kayak

When Robert approached us about a website redesign, we could see that while the information on his site was current, he needed a visual refresher.

The old National Park Sea Kayak homepage was text heavy and needed an update.

The old National Park Sea Kayak homepage was text heavy and needed an update.

Robert wanted to use a logo that Z Studio had made several years ago. He also wanted it really obvious how to make a reservation request on the site:

The new design uses more of the width of the page, showcases photos, and has a very obvious 'make reservations' button and the phone number on top.

The new design uses more of the width of the page, showcases photos, and has a very obvious ‘make reservations’ button and the phone number on top.

We wanted all the visitors’ most common questions answers on their homepage:

  • What will we see?
  • What should we bring?
  • Why are tours four hours?
  • Where will we go?
  • How do we make a reservation?

We also wanted to put some ‘trust’ symbols on the homepage. Trust symbols let people know they are dealing with a legitimate business. Since they have excellent Tripadvisor reviews and all kayak guides are certified Maine guides, we made those prominent so the visitor would have confidence in booking a four hour tour with people they may have never met in real life.

A lot of what we did we editing the content. By making the website less wordy, we hoped that users would get the information they needed quickly and easily. We also used the extra space to showcase large scale photos by local photographer and friend of Acadia Kayak StealthVader Photography.

Congratulations to Robert and his team, who are planning on blogging this summer on their brand new site! Catch them on the water if you are in Bar Harbor this summer!

Youtube’s and My Dad’s Birthday

Business Insider let me know this morning that it was Youtube’s 8th birthday. It also happens to be my dad’s birthday. No one had to tell me that, in part because it’s three days before mine and only a few days after my sister’s. (Yes, my mom made three separate birthday cakes and had three separate parties. She’s a trooper!)

My dad passed away five years ago in November. So he didn’t get to see Youtube in all it’s glory.. but he did get to see some of it.

My dad hated computers. He was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century by my mom and brother-in-law and implemented a computer inventory system finally at the hardware store my family owns. My mom did all his email for him at their shared email address. I can almost hear him say ‘Tell Nicole…’ as I read through some of my mom’s old emails.

What he did enjoy about computers was a specific part of the internet (I heard from my brother-in-law so if I’m wrong, Justin, let me know!) was his my MSNBC homepage.

Now these pages no longer exist but the idea was you logged in and in a dashboard format, it showed you articles you might like, videos, links to partner websites etc.

Lots of websites do this now. Really these were the precursor to the personalized news we have come to expect on social networks.

My dad liked checking it before and after lunch… because it changed during the day.

I smile when I think of this. I have 600 new unread articles in my RSS feed reader just from since 9 am this morning. My Facebook and Twitter feeds update every second.

My dad knew the internet at a simpler time. I did too when Breaking Even was first getting started.

So today, I appreciate that all this access to information is still novel, videos can still be funny, and wonder at how it all can refresh if I just wait a bit.

Beyond The Printer: Why You Probably Need An Online Form

I think a lot of us (myself included) think of ways to do things that are easier for ourselves versus easier for our customers.

Here’s a great (not me) example. Derrick blows glass and he was invited to enter one of his pieces in a contest. He was sent to a website link for this contest so he clicked from his email. On the webpage was information about the contest and then a link to click on to sign up. So Derrick clicked again.

Two clicks in, Derrick thinks he is going to get to an online form… but it’s a pdf. He’s on his phone, which is how 50% of Americans now access the internet. All he can do is look at the tiny writing and think ‘I guess I need to get on a computer to do this.’

Yeah this is a form I can't fill out, let alone read, on my phone. *sigh

Yeah this is a form I can’t fill out, let alone read, on my phone. *sigh

In addition to being on his non-pdf friendly phone, Derrick, like many of my non-business owning friends, however, doesn’t even own a printer anymore… and feels guilty printing personal stuff at work.

‘Why didn’t they just make it an online form?’ he asked me.

No doubt he will turn this in and someone will have to type his application into some kind of spreadsheet or database that will track all the artists entering the contest.

This what I think happened. The person in charge of the contest made the pdf of the application and sent it to the web department, saying “Can you put this online?” Because most website people feel like they should do exactly what someone asks or seem like they are being difficult (and because they are usually busy people), they took this statement to mean link the pdf on the website, not take 20 extra minutes and build a custom form that gets emailed to the right person or people.

Derrick's simple glass order form. You can fill it in on your phone and he'll make you glass. Bam.

Derrick’s simple glass order form. You can fill it in on your phone and he’ll make you glass. Bam.

Why I love forms:

  • They work on mobile devices and regular computers.
  • The answer goes to the right person in electronic format- less typing for you if you get a form submitted.
  • The person filling out the form feels the immediate sense of accomplishment of having ‘done’ it.
  • Forms can apply to all kinds of businesses and non-profits, service-based and product-based sectors.

Will Derrick eventually have an online cart? Of course. But for now he can take requests… and was able to process a $100 order from a woman two weeks ago he had never met via this form.

Can you create an interactive pdf form? Of course. But in terms of mobile friendliness/readability (not to mention impressive technology), consider converting that pdf on your website you want people to fill out into an online form!


How To Market Your Restaurant Online

I love food. For awhile, I was a ranked Klout influencer on the subject of avocados. True story.

Matt Erasmus, "Menu" May 18, 2008 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

Matt Erasmus, “Menu” May 18, 2008 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

What makes me really sad is when I go into a restaurant and it’s awesome but there is no way anyone would know about it. Here are a few easy wins you can do with your restaurant right now:

Put your menu online. Somewhere.
Some of the time, Alice is a bar tender. She says if she has to read the sandwich list over the phone one more time to someone wanting to place a takeout order, she may go insane. She estimates she does this at least five times during her typical shift. (Note that while she is doing this, she is not able to do her primary job, which is taking care of the actual customers sitting at the bar.)

Get a website. Even a basic one. Put your menu and your hours on it and you too will have less annoying phone calls. Or at the very least, stick your menu on your business Facebook page or use a website like Open Menu. Both are free and, except for needing data entry, relatively painless.

When people call and see your menu is online, the person answering can now take orders from someone ready to buy, not spend time repeating information over and over.

If you have a website, make sure the menu and hours are up-to-date.
Are your pictures on your website old? Your customers won’t notice unless someone is clearly in, say,  an outfit from the 1970s. What I do need to know are what you serve and what your hours are.

I once checked the hours on a local restaurant’s website and made a lunch meeting there only to get there and find it ‘closed for the season’. The prospective client shrugged at me and I actually ended up not getting their business. I haven’t been back to that restaurant since because they kind of left me hanging.

Make sure people know when you are open. If your website, Facebook page, and front door have the same information, people can’t get upset that you didn’t tell them. (Well that one dude that is upset about everything will be but everyone online knows about his ridiculousness.) Just don’t leave me hanging with hours that aren’t true.

Get your customers’ email addresses as they leave.
The China Dine-ah is the master at this. They give everyone a card about the size of a business card with their check. You put in your name and email on it and get entered to win a $25 gift certificate which is drawn every week and announced over the weekly email blast. They have a list of thousands.

Most people don’t mind giving an email address (even if it’s a secondary one they check less often) so take it. Email is the only ‘free’ way you can follow up with a customer after the fact. It doesn’t hurt to ask; the worse someone can do is not give it to you and, guess what, you are at the same place you are right now.

Offer a juicy, social media only deal.
The people who like you on Facebook or check in on Foursquare are people who not only care about your business but are likely to point their friends your way. Offer this ‘inner circle’ only special and give them some exclusive information they can share. If you are going to put this in the newspaper, etc. this inside scoop will have much less meaning. Think about discovering a treasure you’ve found versus having the treasure pointed at by a big flashing Las Vegas style arrow. Guess which one is more cool and fun?

Make the deal juicy too. 10% off my order of fries with an entree order won’t do it for me and is kind of insulting. 50% off apps on Monday (or typical slow night) will get a new crowd in your doors and get them talking to their friends online about it. Both Facebook and Foursquare have easy ways to make deals. Deal websites are fine but do it yourself and keep the cash that Yelp, DealChicken, and Groupon will take from your bottom line.

Let your staff know what is going on.
When I flash the special I’ve unlocked on my phone via Foursquare and the waitress looks at me like I’m crazy and has to call the manager over (once again, this actually happened), I am thankful I am not a shy person. Most people I know would *hate* this kind of attention.

If you are offering a deal, or a new special, or a whatever, tell your staff about it. If they know it, they can sell it. Your staff is now linked to you in all kinds of fun ways through social media. They can list you as an employer on their Facebook or LinkedIn profile. They can check in on Foursquare. They are part of the social media equation so set the record straight with them so they can help other people understand what’s going on. Because if you make a customer even accidentally feel like a cheap jerkface, they are not going to want to come back in.

No matter what kind of restaurant you run, you can get more bodies in the door if you do more online!

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

Why A Website Costs At Least $3000

When I first meet someone, I will ask them anything…except what they do for a living. I do this for a couple reasons. First, I once had a job that made me dread this question. Second, the most interesting thing about someone usually isn’t their job.

That said, I sometimes get asked this question. I say ‘online marketing and website design’, then change the subject.

This seems to intrigue people because, no matter what, the topic always comes back around. They are bound to ask me what I charge and I am bound to horrify them.

“Well, basic websites we do start at $3000.” I can see the color drain from their faces and while no one has actually screamed in agony yet, I can tell what they are thinking. “Why do you charge so much money?!?” Here’s a blog post to save on the boring explanation in case you ever meet any of us at a party.

You charge what?!? (The Scream by Van Gogh seemed appropriate both from a sentiment and non copyrighted standpoint)

You charge what?!? (The Scream by Van Gogh seemed appropriate both from a sentiment and non copyrighted standpoint)

Billing by the project, not the hour.

Do you love sitting at a desk with your stopwatch, timing every task you do during your workday? Yeah, us either. Working like that would drive anyone nuts. ‘How many hours will that take?’ is a common question but it is one we are trying to change.

It’s understandable why people ask: they want an idea of how much a project will cost. If it were me, I’d need to know too! On the web developer though end, I am wanting to solve their problem/give them something fantastic. So working with those two points of view, quoting on a project basis makes the most sense, for everyone.

At the beginning, we want to take time to:

  • Do a ton of research, both about you and your industry.
  • Find the best integrations with the website software.
  • Figure out ways to save you time and money with your website.

We plan out the project based on content, design, and functional website requirements and quote based on that. If the client sees the quote and says ‘Eh, we really don’t need to accept credit cards.’ we take that part out and resend the adjusted quote.

We think this complete, project-based quoting attracts the right kind of people, ones who want us to solve problems and grow their business, not stopwatch enthusiasts.

‘Affordable’ Is Relative

“I can’t afford that.” said Anonymous Prospective Client. Almost in the same breath, he told me about his new computer. I added up the components in my head and realized he had a computer worth twice as much as mine. I had to smile; ‘affording’ is relative.

The point is we all have different priorities. We want to work with people who have put a priority on their online presence. Thinking of it another way, we want to build websites that will make people way more than what they paid for it.

‘Simple’ Is Also Relative

Much like the word ‘affordable’, the word ‘simple’ is also relative. Just because something is online doesn’t mean it is simple, which is why the project quoting we outlined above also works well in another way: people know what part(s) are complicated.

If someone wants something truly simple, like a one page website they are going to slap online and never touch again, there are plenty of people who can build them. We just won’t.

We expect that even for the simple sites we build that people will take pride in them and want them to be beautiful, informational and functional. Plus since our reputation is our most important commodity, we need to not hide our faces when someone says, ‘Breaking Even did this.’

We won’t compete based on price. We will based on service though.

Our quest to be the best means taking the time to learn new technologies and work with clients directly. We can’t take this time if we are frantically cranking out 20 websites a month, answering thousands of emails, and maintaining so many social media accounts our heads begin to spin.

There is always going to be someone, probably in India, who can make a cheaper website than we can. And that’s ok. If someone is just looking at the number at the bottom of the quote to make a decision, why would they hire us anyway?

Taking the time to do it right. Training your staff on updating your site. Answering your questions when you call as straight forwardly as we can. That’s what you are paying for. We need to build in that time for you because we want to, and those who want an awesome website want that too.

We are competitive in our industry. 

According to Website Magazine, the average website design costs between $2000-$10000. So $3000 for our lowest priced websites are actually fairly competitive in terms of market value. And if you talk to our clients (many of whom we’ve charged more than $3000 for their website) they’ll tell you that working with us saved them time, money, and hassle.

For people who can’t afford $3,000, we have an alternative: training. That’s right, we will sit with you and show you how to use the open source software we use. I don’t know of any other web development company that does this, at least openly.

But in the training situations it is the client who is driving the design process, not us, which in our experience means things get done slower and maybe not as completely as we would have done the project. (Just as fair warning.) But we do it because we want to help people with more time than money.

We are in it to win it. 

Breaking Even isn’t some ‘until something better comes along’ project. I quit a job to do this full time and I’ve turned down several ‘real’ jobs to keep doing this work. Trust me, if I wanted to do other things, I’d be doing them.

If you go with Breaking Even, we aren’t going to go *poof* in the night. We are Chamber of Commerce and Rotary members. We have an office in Bar Harbor you can actually visit. We give seminars on a regular schedule. We work with an online team of highly skillful people. This business is in it for the long haul and we have priced ourselves to survive and thrive in this economy, and to help the businesses we work with do the same.

Is it worth it to spend thousands of dollars on  a website? That’s up to you to decide but from what we see, the internet is only getting more popular and easy to access so ignoring it is really no longer an option. But if you need to outfit your work truck or buy a photocopier instead, we aren’t here to stop you. You do what you need to do, and we will do the same.

A website tailored to your needs using open sourced software created by talented competent professionals who take time for you? Now I think that’s a bargain.

Where Are My Customers Online: Three Places To Start

Whether your target customer is a kid using their parents’ iPad or a senior citizen using their smartphone, there are significant numbers of the exact kind of person you want to find online. So how do you find them?

If you are here, where are your customers?

If you are here, where are your customers?

To make this easier to think about, let’s think of your customer going through a sales process.

Stage One: Investigation
Your potential customer is interested in what you have to offer. They are at the stage of visiting websites and getting information.

Stage Two: Interrogation
This is where you start seeing posts on Facebook like “We’re considering blah-blah-blah, who’s good?” or you get someone who fills out the contact form of your website. They’ve looked and are interested, and they have some questions.

Stage Three: Enthusiasm
Whether they end up buying from you or not, these people like you. They follow you online, comment on your stuff, share with their friends and, directly or indirectly, you’ll probably get a customer.

Clearly we’ve got people at different levels looking at our businesses all the time. So let’s look at some questions here:

Where is your target audience spending time online? (Investigation)
Source: (You’ll need to install the toolbar to get some of the data you want but trust me, it’s worth it)

It’s important to know where your customer is hanging out online. To paraphrase from Gary V’s book ‘Crush It’, money follows eyeballs.

Here’s an example. About three years ago, I looked at an office space above one very steep flight of stairs but I didn’t take it was that I thought my growing business would involve older people that couldn’t want to walk up stairs.

It turns out my best customers are business owners in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. In other words, looking at the data, the people spending money with Breaking Even are skewing younger than I was expecting. So I went ahead and got an even better deal on an office… and didn’t even hesitate when I saw it was up two flights of stairs.

Age demographics for social networks on Alexa. Among seeing whether a website skews to one age group or another, you can check out whether visitors will typically have kids, aveage household income, and more.

Age demographics for social networks on Among seeing whether a website skews to one age group or another, you can check out whether visitors will typically have kids, average household income, and more.

At first, you will guess who your customers are but after you have some data, you’ll actually know who they are. Where your ideal customer is, be there online. So if we look at the comparison above and see that Facebook and Twitter are skewing younger, Pinterest is in my target and LinkedIn is in my target and skewing older. If we look at other kinds of data (and more websites) where to be becomes more and more clear.

Take this idea beyond social media websites. Look at blogs, news websites, anything. Knowing where your customer spends time is knowing where you should spend time, and potentially buy ad space if it comes down to that.

Who is talking about my business online and what are they saying? (Investigation)

SocialMention, like Google Alerts but on steroids, allows you to see what keywords are being associated with a phrase, who the content creators are, and what blogs, Twitter status updates and more.

Hint: You might need to tweak results using the ‘Advanced Search’ function (see green circle upper right). Otherwise you may get a lot of extraneous results. I also recommend making a Google Alert for your business name and possibly your name, just to keep tabs on what’s going on.

Knowing who is talking about you means you can talk to them back… and potentially get even more ideas of what your customers are doing online.

Who is actively engaged in your brand/business?
Source: Facebook Insights (linked on your business’ Facebook page) or other metrics like Twitter retweeters, etc.

This statistic is a bit less straight forward. You can often collect names and sometimes contact information but this process is manual and involves individual followup if you are serious. But if someone is taking the time to repin twenty items of mine on Pinterest or retweet half my blog posts, the least I can do is make a personal connection by messaging them.

As social media stats get more robust, this will not be so manual as it is now but at the very least, it’s worth taking some time to pay attention. You may be surprised just who your enthusiastic advocates are!

So if you find your potential customers at the investigation, interrogation, and enthusiasm stages and keep in touch with your current customers, soon you should have a good idea of where places you can maximize your online time. Then do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

What about you: Where are your customers online?  And more importantly, how do you know?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22