Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Poonani Cards

How fitting that this is posting as we're on our way to Sin City... Yes, I said poonani. And nothing's wrong with that, unless you're in a convent. I got approval from Craig to share this, so here we go....

I can't take full credit for this idea from the factory, but I adapted it, and in art, that means it's mine. :) The idea came from ABC's Cougartown, when Christa Miller's character Ellie gave a sex card to her husband Andy.

Andy and Ellie have a newborn, so their sex life is latent. The theory is that Ellie has Andy wrapped around her finger so tight that he has to earn these sex cards to get any nookie (or in our house, poonani) at all.

We don't have kids, but we've been together 10 years this year and married for four. I'm not ashamed to admit that just like everyone else, our sex life is great sometimes, and quite latent some of the time as well. So for Valentines Day this year, I made him some of Ellie's cards to give our sex life a little kick.

I took colored cardstock (it's more fitting if it's pink, but mine was green), and cut a piece up into six cards. I told him when those six cards were used, he could earn them back with housework or other nice husbandry tasks. You be the judge on what those are, but this became a fun game in our house becuase I loathe vacuuming. While Ellie's cards just say, sex, and I believe Andy only has about 2, I changed mine up a bit so they don't only offer ideas of the bedroom. I added a "poonani anywhere" card, a "date night" card, and a "kissy time" card because he loves the kissing more than any guy I've ever met.

While I don't expect us to be needing to use these cards in Las Vegas over the next 10 days, I would bet Craig brings one or two, just in case. It's spiced up our love life again, I must say, so today Ellie's idea makes it into the Factory.

Go get some.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Newsletters and Mailing Lists

A very long time ago, some random guy in the Denver airport was sitting by the big windows near me, and we started chatting about how I wanted to be a writer, and how my boyfriend and I were starting a company geared at helping people with disabilities travel more adventurously.

In just five short minutes I gained a lot from this stranger, who happened to be a business owner and journalist himself. His biggest advice was for us to start a newsletter. Others have told us the same thing many times since then, but this guy hit the nail on the head when he said, "You have to set yourself as the expert in your field," and added that by starting a newsletter, we'd get writing experience, as well as get the word out about our company and products.

That was late in 2004, and we had about 6 months into the research for our first guidebook Access Anything: Colorado. In March of 2005, our first newsletter appeared, on the headwind of the release of Colorado. I was still new to computer design, working on an old, slow computer at the time, and drafted the newsletter in Microsoft Word, then PDF'd it with Adobe Acrobat. For too many years this process stayed the same, and while it was frustrating at times working in Word (often if the photos were too big or there were hidden blocks I didn't delete it simply wouldn't PDF), the newsletter served its purpose.

In the first months, it got the word out about our guidebooks, products, and company, and the stranger was right. It gave us practice at writing, photography, and design; and soon it wasn't enough to just put our company's info in there, we started highlighting equipment, businesses, trips, newly adapted sports, locations for travel, expos we attended, and much, much more. The design changed slightly each year, and the page numbers increased- soon this 4-page document turned into a full 12-page publication!

But during that two year period, we struggled with a very important tool, the mailing list. Our list grew slowly, which is sometimes better. As we traveled the nation from expos to rehab centers, our list was only up to about 300 people, and we were still using Outlook and an add-on for it that helped manage the list better than Outlook could.

But even that wasn't enough after awhile- we were getting some bounce-backs, but worse, complaints they weren't receiving our newsletter. Outlook can apparently only email about 120 people at once, but never tells you otherwise, so you assume your list of 150 or more is getting emailed, but in actuality, they aren't. So after reviewing several options we narrowed our choices to two: Constant Contact and Aweber. Constant Contact is definitely more user-friendly, but is limited in many respects, and worse (to me at least) they nickel and dime you for everything. Your list is growing? $5 more a month for an extra 1000 names. You want to upload more than 5 pictures at once? Another $5. You need archival storage? Yep, $5 more.

But for just $19.95 a month, no matter how big our list, Aweber can provide the same service. Sign up and storage of your lists (or multiple ones), many templates to choose from, a helpful and reliable service staff, an affiliate/earning program, and now it even links in to Twitter. Finally, our list was hassle-free.

In the fall of 2008 I finally switched everything to Adobe; already proficient in Photoshop, I taught myself, quite painfully at times, how to switch to InDesign. There's a ton of help for Adobe on the web, so any issues or struggles I had, I searched there. The quality of the newsletter improved dramatically, and we had immediate positive feedback from our mailing list, which had grown from our initial 300 to now over 1000 readers. We changed its name to "The Traveler" and started spreading it even further with the addition of social media.

In 2009 we took the next step and added an advertising package to our website, which extended to the newsletter. Now not only did we have a great readership, our newsletter was finally making some money for us, and it only took four years.

One last point to make is frequency. We started out with a monthly newsletter, which was easy to keep up with when we had only 4-6 pages of content and not much writing else wise. Now we write for many magazines (whose editors initially used our newsletter as a writing sample!), two online databases, and our own 4 blogs, and have published two guidebooks. In addition to all the other work with camps and travel consulting that Access Anything does, we don't have as much time to put out a quality newsletter every month. We first backed it down to 6 issues a year, but now the newsletter is seasonal (4/yr), and perhaps that's a little too infrequent, but it's all we have time for.

What's the difference between a newsletter and a blog? Although I value the blog obviously, it can never take the place of a formal newsletter. It can be home to your events calendar, have regular sections, include a multitude of photos and links, and is a regular output of your company that your clients and network can have a piece of. They can print it- many rehab hospitals have told us they print ours for their reading rooms. They can forward it. And they don't have to read it every week. While blogs are great, they are often times overloaded with dribble and repetition, and are often too much to read every one.

Make sure your newsletter is of high quality both in writing and design to bring your clients back to it each month or season, and use it to get clients, credit, and a reputation in your industry!

Good luck!

Monday, April 5, 2010

High Altitude Baking

I'm a baker, it's in my blood. Vivid memories from my childhood of making pasta and cookies and breads and elaborate oven concoctions swirl my brain when I enter the kitchen, and I know all my mother's gifts lie at the ready in my hands, and I feel the presence of my grandmothers double checking my measurements. I like the science of it all, and I love the aromas and results even more. And after living in the high desert of Colorado at 7,000 feet for 12 years, I've learned some great techniques for high altitude baking and cooking. Thanks to my friend Amy for reminding me to share these. Practice makes perfect, and many of these techniques I've learned from trial and error even after all I've read on the subject.

One thing that confused me for years was while water may boil faster at a lower temperature, baked goods will actually take longer. Why? Mainly, atmospheric pressure is less at high altitudes than at sea level, this lower pressure affects the baking of cakes and breads in several ways:
  • Heat rises from the bottom of an oven, but since there isn't sufficient air pressure from above to balance this upward pressure, so rising goods tend to expand too rapidly.
  • Air cells in the center can break and escape because of this too-rapid expansion, resulting in a cake or cookies that will dip or fall.
  • Batter may overflow the pan due to the too-rapid expansion of the cake or bread.
  • Goods can remain underdone if temperature is not raised to adjust for the lower boiling point at high altitudes.
  • Due to rapid evaporation of liquids at high altitudes, goods must be carefully timed and ingredients altered to avoid excess dryness.
Solutions for baked goods (cakes, breads, cookies):
  • Use about 5% more flour to disperse the leavening action and slow down the rapid rise
  • Use 20% more water to counterbalance the rapid evaporation of liquids at high altitudes and the extra flour added to the cake batter, and add a Tablespoon of water into the dry mix before combining it with the wet ingredients to reduce static
  • Decrease sugars by 2-3 Tablespoons
  • Metal pans and trays: bake about 25 degrees higher to help "set" the cake's crust
  • Glass pans: bake about 25 degrees lower to help offset thickness of glass
  • Reduce baking time by about 20% to prevent overbaking at the higher temperature
  • Fill pans 1/3 to no more than 1/2 full to avoid batter overflow caused by rapid cake expansion.
  • Use ice-cold water and large, cold eggs to give extra strength
  • Generously grease and flour cake pans to prevent cake from sticking, and grease the pans for cookies whose recipes don't call for it, the dryness makes all things adhere to the pans
  • Remove top oven rack to prevent cake from sticking to it, since high-altitude cakes rise higher, and always bake cakes in the center of the oven.
  • Have oven calibrated periodically, since some thermostats are affected by altitude
  • Only cookies with lots of chocolate, nuts, or dates: Reduce baking powder/soda by 1/2.