Self Taught Vs. Taking A Class

This blog posts, as many do, started with an interaction on Facebook. Below (orange) is a woman who needs help and in blue is one of my friends responding to her:


So I am teaching a website class in my hometown (Fort Kent Maine) in January.

Later on in the thread (I jump in and tell her to come to the class because it’s not expensive and very good):


Now I am proof you can take ‘self taught’ to another level. I have three bachelors degrees (that’s another story) but none of them are in communications, marketing, or web design. But even I take classes, seminars, and workshops from others in my field for the following three reasons:

I don’t know what I don’t know.

The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know about a topic. That’s why most people feel dumber their senior year of college than they did their freshman year. They definitely know more… but they are now aware of what they don’t know.

Our orange friend above is aware there are gaps in her knowledge. But she is unsure of what they are since her learning didn’t have a syllabus, she’s learned things as she’s needed to know them, not necessarily how they relate to each other. A good class or book gives you a great general outline and show you what you ought to know.

Getting a vocabulary.

Based on the item above, a good course teaches you a new vocabulary required for your field.

Have you ever tried to do a Google search with a general topic:


Versus a specific topic:


Note the second screenshot had ads that I covered up. The first one did not. In other words, people who did the second query tend to be better customers (and are reached out to more by businesses) than people who ask the very general question.

A class can give you the words you need to do better web searches, can give you book titles the instructor has read (versus reviews from know-it-alls on Amazon), can tell you what products they use daily (not because they are paid to by a website but because they genuinely like them)… and all this can better help yourself in the future.

Seeing someone else’s reasoning/point of view.

Recently, I went to a very basic social media seminar put on by another marketer (Nancy Marshall of Nancy Marshall Communications). And guess what? I learned some things. Because not only is Nancy a great speaker but she’s been doing PR for almost as long as I’ve been alive.

Seeing another point of view, different examples, etc. gives me some much needed other perspective on what I’m doing.

Taking a class, even on a topic you think you know a lot about, will give you new ideas and ways of looking at information. And you’ll likely meet people in the class you can either help out ($) or you can get other people’s opinions (both the instructor and people in the class) about what you are working on.

Even the self taught need to be taught by someone else once in awhile… so if you haven’t taken a class in awhile, I encourage you to do one. It makes you remember what it’s like to learn new topics and helps you do whatever you are trying to do better.

Those who can, teach. And those who can are also taught.

Wordcamp Boston 2013

wordcamp2013It’s not often I get to see my friend Matt in real life. We work together virtually on almost a daily basis and I consider him one of my best friends…  he just happens to live over six hours away.

So when he told me about Wordcamp and that it was 1) in Boston and pretty close for all of us and 2) that he was going, Alice and I went down to check it out.

There were around 400 people at the conference from all over the place so I didn’t expect to know anyone. Of course I am in line for sandwiches behind a guy I haven’t seen since college who now is working on a cool Wordpress plugin and I run into Tracy who I’ve only seen online yet lives in Maine.

In other words, I actually knew people! I mean, we were in Boston (very closeby) not Istanbul but still, small world.

The biggest takeaway for me? The need for fast websites. My favorite talk of the conference was by Chris Ferdinandi called ‘Wicked Fast Wordpress’ on this very topic.

As we try to make websites more interactive, interesting, and responsive to design, us website designers/developers have invariably slowed down how fast they load. If 70% of people will not wait more than 3 seconds for a website to load before moving on, that’s something we need to pay attention to. (I’ll do a whole blog post on this sometime soon I am sure.)

Year after year, website security is always a concern. No matter what the software, there is no such thing as a 100% safe website. But Sam Hotchkiss’ presentation about security was complete and a favorite of Matt and Alice (I was in another room watching a different presentation… the good news is that link goes to a video where you can watch his talk!)

And finally, there was more talk about responsive design: how to do it well, deal with issues unique to that process. If you want to know a bit more about it, click on this post we have about dealing with mobile users on your website. 

All and all, it was a great weekend where we not only got to learn new things from some very smart people but have lots of bonding time, mainly over food. We’ll be back next year I’m sure but hopefully be getting to see Matt before then.

One Day Website Workshop: The When, The Why, and The How

Last Friday, we gave our twice a year ‘One Day Website’ workshop. Our reasoning is that there are people who have the time/interest in learning website software but not the funds to pay us to do it for them.

The reason we do it only twice a year? Honestly, it’s a ton of work ahead of time (helping people buy domain names, getting the software installed, preparing the slides since the software likes to change periodically). We barely break even on it looking at this from a purely business point of view… but the whole point of this business was to at least ‘Break Even’ so I guess we’re good there. (I know, haha!)

But earning beaucoup bucks is not why we do this. For me, I consider this a bit of community service… and if we happen to get business from it someday, great. But at least we’re doing our part, teaching small pockets of people how to do something they want to learn. It’s a bit like being a teacher again.

I’m always impressed by the variety of people who come to this workshop: different ages (everyone from college students to retirees), different businesses (artists to non-profit directors), different levels of seriousness (from ‘I want to get this done today’ to ‘I just came to check it out’). As someone who runs one very specific kind of business, it’s nice to get a window into what other people are working on, and what they care about in terms of a website.

Since Matt Baya and I started doing this workshop in 2009, we’ve helped take about 200 people through this process in the twice yearly ‘One Day Website’. And that’s kind of cool.

Many people don’t end up finishing their websites, which makes me a little sad. But then I think about the success rate of the adult ed French class I used to teach… or how long it’s taken me to lose 15 of the 30 pounds I want to lose… and I see it’s similar. It’s hard to make yourself do something that is a little (or a lot) against your nature.

I’m always sad when I haven’t taken photos of these things, especially since we had such a nice group on Friday. But it was fun and we do look forward to doing it again!

Had no idea we did this kind of event? For the official internet record, we do it twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall (summer is crazy and winter weather can make travel difficult where we are). The best way to find out about when it’s happening is to subscribe to our monthly email newsletter. We announce the workshop there first, wait 3-4 days then post it on Facebook, the website, etc.

Sometimes, we can do this workshop for a private group, like we did for the Maine Indian Basketweavers and the Maine Crafts Guild. If you can fill a room for us, we’ll show up and do our thing. If everyone chips in, it’s a pretty affordable (and almost painless) professional development opportunity. If you’re a Chamber of Commerce, business group, networking group, adult education facility, university group… it’s a pretty good offer since just about everyone these days needs/wants a website.

So thanks to everyone who came last week, and especially those who came to those first few workshops when we were still learning the ropes. There will be many more of these (and hopefully some other regular workshops) coming to Downeast Maine and beyond.

Those who can do teach. Those who can’t, we can just teach you in a class. 🙂


What I Learned At The Joomla World Conference

Last week, I got back from San Jose, California where I attended the Joomla World Conference. To those people who are not nerdy about websites, Joomla is one of the largest open source softwares used to create websites today (the other two ‘big’ ones are Drupal and Wordpress). The conference was held at eBay headquarters, which is one of the largest companies in the world that uses Joomla to run its site.

The conference was three packed days of keynote speakers, seminars, and networking from early in the morning until after dinner. The day after the conference and before my plane took off, some of us had time to do a nerdy area tour: lunch at In-n-Out Burger (my first time); tour of Mozilla headquarters; drive-bys of Google and Facebook; and finally a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and some Vietnamese food nearby.

Around 300 people attended the conference. I'm near one of the umbrellas if you can pick me out!

Around 300 people attended the conference. I’m near one of the umbrellas if you can pick me out!

So what were some of the biggest takeaways from the conference? What are some very smart people talking about in terms to what’s next in website development?

Responsive design is big but most of our clients aren’t asking for it yet.
Have you ever visited someplace where you ate a new food or saw a cool fashion trend that you tried to bring back home… only to have everyone look at you weird? Currently responsive design is kind of like that for me. Developers all talk about it at conferences and on blogs because it is changing how we think about making a website but most regular people just shrug when I bring it up.

As people who want to keep up with what’s new/cool and also want to serve our clients with services they are actually asking for, when/how do we bring up a new technology like this? Do we wait a couple years until clients start hearing about it and asking questions or do we start educating people about this option now?

After hearing four talks on responsive design at this conference, clients in larger markets are already asking for this technology. Also, there are ways that as the person creating the site, you can communicate with a client about the process without being overwhelming or ridiculous. While the  conference answered some technical questions about responsive design, it was mainly a ‘How do we present this to clients?’ question that I was looking for an answer for… and got here.

Want to know more about responsive design? Here’s what you need to know about it from a business owner’s point of view and if you really want to geek out, check out this video about The Boston Globe’s responsive design development. I embedded a basic video below for a short, basic definition about responsive design if you are less nerdy but curious enough to watch a 60 second video:

Open source software is the way to go since people participate in it and constantly improve it.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was the stressing of open source software and open communication within the community.

What does ‘open source’ mean? It means not only having your product available for free but also being very open about your processes. This includes having your source code out in the open and making other things in the company public, including how you do business. This spirit of openness was not always common in the tech community but is becoming increasingly so.

Joomla is open source software. Actually its tagline is ‘Open source matters’. People create websites by taking this free software, installing it on their web server, and modifying it for their uses. From this, people have developed programs that work with Joomla (called ‘extensions’) or build entire Joomla design or support businesses. The Joomla community was very open and collaborative, which is refreshing to see since I myself prefer collaboration to competition.

One of my favorite talks was a keynote by Pascal Finette, the CEO of Mozilla, another open source software. You can visit their offices, they have Monday company meetings that are broadcasted so anyone can attend, and their products are all available for free to download.  In the open source community, instead of being technology consumers, we become participants, which improves the software more quickly and makes it more meaningful to everyone who uses it.

If you want to see what a Pascal Finette keynote is like, check out this video about the participant culture of being online:

In building a website, we can’t just think of ourselves.

Part of when we build a website is thinking about how we’d use it, but that can’t be all. Two presenters drove this point home for me.

One was Tito Alvarez whose talk ‘Lighter Joomla for The Third World’ talked about what challenges the third world has related to website technology and how we can develop websites that meet those challenges. For example he pays about $100/month to have 1/4 of the download speed that I take for granted every day. Helping sites load faster is not just something cool in the first world, it’s something essential for website visitors in the third world.

Cade working on his website. He's awesome and this photo is courtesy of JoomlaShack.

Cade working on his website. He’s awesome and this photo is courtesy of JoomlaShack.

The other speaker was Cade Reynolds, who was the youngest person at the conference (15) and also happened to be a presenter. Cade is a 4H participant from Missouri who, along with other people his age, took a Joomla training over the summer with Dr. Amy Patillo. Both Amy and Cade came to the conference to talk about website building with Joomla.

With both Tito and Cade, it was nice to see that Joomla users weren’t just technology nerds in Silicon Valley. They are a bit more like the rest of us, though probably a little smarter.

On a personal note, Cade gave me hope for our future. If 15 year old boys are half this great, our world is going to be ok when they run it!

Overall, I was impressed not only with what I learned but the kind of people I met. I hope to get to Joomla Day Boston if not another event soon. Thanks to Jeremy Wilken and the rest of the team who organized this great event.

I’d like to thank my client CNP Integrations who funded part of this trip. It was great to meet other people on your team in real life! Thanks!

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.

This Month In Business: Needing Help Edition

So the good news is, while I used to write this business update every week, I now seem to be writing it every month. I’ve been doing this because I’ve actually had a lot of work to do. (I know, *gasp!)

But it really does help to have some kind of check in with myself, since I don’t have a weekly meeting with my boss, a quarterly report, or other sort of evaluation. You, as my blog readers, help hold me to some accountability. For that, I am very grateful. Because I totally need some!

Here’s what I’ve been up to besides actual paid work:

1. I enrolled in an online business course.

You may have heard of Earn1K which is a business course aimed at freelancers. I’ve been on the email list for awhile and finally decide to take the plunge after a couple of months of realizing I’ve been not as focused as I should be on the overall direction of this business. In terms of business course experience, I took an eight week seminar from Women, Work, and Community two years ago, read a couple business books, wrote a business plan, and called it good. Plus it’s been about 6 years since I’ve taken a full on course and I figured it was time for some much needed personal development.

So far it’s been going really well and already the time and effort I’m putting in to develop my ideas is paying off.

2. I got a cash infusion from Mom.

I realize there are a few things I’ve considered doing for money that are unrelated to my business but was considering because I needed some cash. A combination of a few projects running longer than expected and a couple bills paid at the beginning of the year meant I had less cash on hand than I was expecting at this point.

My debt to income ratio is around 1 (breaking even!) but a bank will pretty much only talk to you if you’ve got a ratio of about 1.5.

Over Christmas, my mom had told me to ask for help if I needed it so I decided to take her up on her offer and borrow some money. She was kind enough to present a zero percent interest rate and put the check in an ‘I’m proud of you’ card. Thanks Mom! I’m already sleeping better and plan to pay her back in full by the end of the year if not sooner.

3. I’ll be having two upcoming seminars which one of my more connected friends is helping me organize.
Anyone who has ever eaten dinner with me knows how much I like food. My friend Paul is a food distributor who sells to many local restaurants. When he came to me and suggested we do a couple workshops geared at the hospitality industry, I jumped at the chance.

So if you are in Downeast Maine and run a food-related business check out the two workshops: and

4. I finished a really big project, with much needed help.
A couple months ago, a friend of a friend wanted some help developing a real estate website. I looked at the online landscape at other real estate companies and saw that what she wanted was possible, even if the websites themselves weren’t the prettiest or most functional websites I’d ever seen. So I gave her a quote for her real estate website and she accepted.

What followed were many unexpected complications: database access issues, formatting issues, code for site design interfering with search function. You name it and it happened. It became clear very early on that I could not handle this on my own so I pulled in a friend to help. Then another. Then another. Through coding, coffee, and sheer determination, we finished the site, exhausted from late nights and early mornings.

I learned three things from this experience:

1) Don’t be cocky in your abilities to do something you’ve never done before. Take the time you think it’ll take and double it. Worse case scenario you give money back.
2) If you are pulling people in, outline the project tasks and responsibilites clearly. Chances are the work will be difficult enough and there’s no need to add communication issues to the mix.
3) You don’t have to know everything but you have to know people who can help so you can collectively know everything you need to.

So the website is launched and I thank Nicholas Peterson, Matthew Baya, and Jeremy Mason for their help with it. And that said, if you know someone who needs a real estate website, I’m now your gal.

Anything you needed help with (and got help with) this month?

(Come on, make me feel there are a couple of you out there who needed the help of other people this month!)

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