Tuesday, May 19, 2009

7 Tips For Leading a Balanced Blogger Life

(Photo Credit: Criss Cross Circus)

I have been talking to a lot of bloggers recently that have been asking my advice on blogging and balance. It can be tough to come up with great content week after week and still maintain your home and family activities.

My life is very busy with two small children. We have family obligations, business obligations, church obligations, friend obligations, and volunteer obligations... as most families do. I am thankful for all of these things that shape my life!

On top of those obligations though are my work obligations. As my site grows, the obligations grow too and that is when your life and your blogging can easily become out of balance. In this last year, it is something I have been really working on improving because my family is so important to me.

I would love to share with you some of the tips and techniques I have been using this year to help me lead a balanced life. I hope that they will offer some inspiration to those of you who are feeling tapped out and tired.

(Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan)

1. Schedule Working Hours- Some people might be surprised to know that I rarely write during the week. I have regularly scheduled time on my calendar on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings where I complete 90% of the work that I need to get done for the week. There are times where time sensitive items have to be scheduled during the week, but for the most part I rarely am working on my blog during weekdays.

Anything that I can get done during working hours, I do my best to get it done. Even tiny detail items like choosing a picture and title for time-sensitive entries is done during my scheduled work hours. These tiny details can easily suck up an hour's worth of time so I know that anything I can get done during my work sessions will free up more time for me with my children during our week.

You can also schedule everything to appear at the same time each day. On here, for example, each entry is typically scheduled for 7:00 AM and publishes as scheduled in the morning. Now you all know that I am actually still laying in bed while all of these entries are posting. Did I deceive you with my supposed morning productivity? I hope so!

The information that I write is not time-sensitive so freebies/deals/coupon sites could not adapt to this schedule, but you could try to supplement deal information with how-to information that could be set up within your own working schedule.

(Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine)

2. Cut Down on Distractions & Set Limits- It is very easy to become distracted when doing your work and these distractions can slow down your pace. When you schedule your time to work, shut down social networks and other websites and tackle that to-do list with as little interruption as possible.

You know what your distractions are and what can take you away from the task at hand. Make it a goal that when you are working that you will try to tune all of the distractions out until you have completed your tasks.

Likewise, set limits for yourself on how much time you spend on social networks as they can definitely suck up a great deal of your day if you allow them to. For me, I try to not spend time on Twitter or Facebook on the weekends. I use my weekends to work and spend time with my family so I try to sign off of these networks on Friday and return back to socializing on Monday.

If you are looking for more information on staying on task in business and in life, I encourage you to read "The Power of Less," by Leo Babauta (founder of ZenHabits.net). It is a very quick read, but has helped me greatly in increasing my productivity while leading a fuller life. I found this book at the library and my husband and I both read it and got some great tips from it.

3. Slow Down Your Blogging Schedule- For me, this is one of the most difficult challenges because I love sharing new information with my readers. What I don't realize though, is how few of you have read me every single day since I began blogging.

Don't be afraid to shake the dust off of those entries in your archives and use them during the week. I do my best to reuse one article each week to give me a day off from creating new content. You could also utilize guest bloggers once a week or even dedicate a post that will share with your readers things that other people are writing.

Whatever your blogging schedule, routine has been essential in keeping my creativity flowing and knowing what to tackle throughout the week. On our blog, we typically offer recipes on Monday, crafts/things to do on Tuesday, highlighting others in our Notebook entries & tackling a project highlighted in the notebook on Wednesday, a Play it Again, Momma entry on Thursday (where I revisit an old entry), and freebies on Friday. Of those items, I am actually coming up with truly new information two or three times a week.

If at anytime I feel that something is too much or not working with our family schedule, it is my blog schedule to tinker with. I shared with you that my podcast would not work with our summer schedule and I switched our notebook entry to a day that fit better with my family life.

Remember that it is your schedule to switch, but know that whatever you set up your readers will begin to expect from you. It used to bother me when people would email me because A, B, or C had not been posted during the week. I began to realize that even if it was my schedule to switch, it is also imperative to let them know when and why I make these changes. Communication and consistency is the best way to keep your readers coming back for more!

(Photo Credit: Jennifer Rensel)

4. Figure Out What You Are Worth- My business coach offered this sound advice to me when we first began our sessions together. She encouraged me to figure out what my time was worth and then choose what was the best use of my time based on that dollar figure. Now that I am able to grasp how much my time is worth, I am better able to say no to things that do not bring in the money or the website traffic that I need for the opportunity to be lucrative.

If I am not sure if an opportunity is worth my time, I try to give it a thirty day evaluation. Within 30 days, I am able to take a look at my past month of web traffic and it can showcase whether or not an opportunity has brought in the traffic needed for it to be lucrative.

How do you figure out what your time is worth? As someone who is self-employed my worth varies from month to month, but I do have a dollar figure in mind when I am approached for an opportunity. The best way to figure out what your time is worth is to start tracking your time for one month and figure out how many hours you are working during a 30 day period. Now evaluate all that your site is bringing in during the month (even a rough average is great). Now you can use those numbers to figure out what that hourly rate is. This should give you a rough idea of what your time is worth and if an opportunity is worth that amount of time.


5. Limit the Extras- Just recently it seems that I have gotten a lot of opportunities to travel for my work. It is a wonderful opportunity to get to go into a company and see how they work or sit in a round table discussion about their products and services.

The pitfall of traveling though is that I am away from my children and my life begins to feel out of balance because I am not able to keep up with my normal routines. Going away for even two days can put my household routines behind, my work schedule can become interrupted, and I become stressed.

I am now being more selective about those extra opportunities that come along and picking things that will benefit my readers the most, relationships that I would like to form with specific companies, and paid opportunities. I have also made the decision that one trip a month is all that I feel I can handle and it has to fit our criteria for that opportunity to come into fruition.

This doesn't just apply to travel though, this also applies to all of those extras that can take me away from spending time with my family. Things like guest blogging for others, product reviews that are not a good fit for my audience, and many of the unpaid extras that I would have done before have been greatly reduced in efforts to remain balanced.

6. Develop Household Management Routines- What does household management have to do with blogging? In my opinion, it has everything to do with feeling balanced and running a successful business out of your home.

Just as I suggest scheduling working hours, developing a schedule for your home management will free up the time that you need to spend with your family. Don't go overboard with your routines, but develop a rhythm that will make those day-to-day tasks more manageable.

Make sure that your work area is a pleasant place to be by tackling those piles of papers and creating a space that will allow you to be the most productive you can be. Add this time of clearing your desk as part of your weekly routine so that you can be the best blogger you can be in a distraction-free zone!

If you are looking for home management inspiration, my weekly routine can be found here. There will always be things that can get in the way of those tasks, but I do my best to stay within this routine so that my home life can remain balanced.

(Photo Credit: Peacock Modern)

7. Allow Room for Creativity in Your Schedule- The best thing that I have started doing for myself is giving myself an hour to do whatever I want with absolutely no guilt whatsoever. I use this time to knit, read, craft, or listen to music.

Before I was doing this, I would go to bed with my stomach in a ball and my head swirling with all the things I needed to get done the next day.

Do something that is creative or calming to you that hour before you head to bed and see how much balance it can bring back into your life. I feel no guilt about it because the more creative I am the more inspiration I can offer to others.

Out of all of these tips though, the one thing I can tell you is that if you are not living a great life offline, it will be difficult to live a full life online. You have to be living, loving, and engaging with your friends and family in order to feel completely balanced.

If your well is tapped dry, sit down with a notebook and jot down ways that you can bring balance back into your life. It will be the best thing that you can do for yourself and everyone will benefit from it- your readers, your family... but most of all, YOURSELF!

Are you struggling with balance? What helps bring balance to your life? Do you have any questions on my blogging routine? Please share or ask away!

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: The Player Scores & Silence

Photo Credit: Stu Steeger

It is the last thirty seconds of the basketball game and the teams are tied. The star player moves down the court gracefully, dodging player after player, his eye on the prize. He dances around them as he dribbles, and, as the seconds slip by him, he makes a beeline towards the basket. The crowd begins to count down loudly, "Ten, nine, eight..." And just before the last second, he slams the ball into the basket. And the crowd sits silent.

Wait? What? Why would the crowd not cheer? This is the moment, the moment that he has worked towards and yet, you could hear a pin drop. How do you think that player feels?

Well, I have been that blogger a lot and it really stinks. To be honest, you have to really love the process and therapy that comes with your writing to endure the dead silence that you receive when you first start blogging.

Let's take that player that we talked about, for instance, and how he would have felt if the crowd went wild instead of went silent. As someone who has done theater for years, I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing like the adrenaline rush that you feel from the crowd cheering. Your heart starts to pump, your face flushes, you get that natural high from the praise, and then something really great happens...you want to do it again. That praise, that rush, that love that you feel from the people around you motivates you and you feed off of it. Suddenly, you picture yourself doing it over and over again, but each time you vow that it is going to be better next time.

For me, the process of writing these entries can be very labor-intensive. Sixty shots of whatever I am eating before I get to eat it, reading books and magazines to stay on top of new subjects that might strike our fancy, researching and sharing about other blogs, and just plain working my butt off. Some of my entries take very little thought and others are put out there after hours of careful thought and research. What stinks is when you put it out there and receive no comments on all of that effort.

What can bring a blogger comfort when they receive no comments and what can you do to get more comments to come your way? Let's chat about it!

Take Comfort In Your Stats- Remember how we talked about tracking your site/blog's traffic? Well, sometimes you can take comfort in those numbers even if your comments are in the single digits. What brought me a lot of comfort in the beginning was knowing that fifty people visited my blog even if only four people commented on an entry. Just knowing that someone is out there reading your stuff can provide a lot of comfort.

Ask Advice- If you are blogging about a particular subject all of the time, it can become less interactive with your readers. Sometimes throwing a post out there and asking your reader's take on a particular subject can bring in a lot of comments. It can be something as simple as, where do you find the best grocery prices, but if the readers can help it can become a great role-reversal and will give you more discussion than a post on here is where *I* think you should grocery shop.

Make Yourself Vulnerable- Oh, I know this is a tough one, but this can be a great way to show readers the real side of yourself. This one has been a tough one for me because I am striving to be a positive person and sometimes things in my life don't feel so positive. Expressing some vulnerability and showing the real sides of our family makes that connection with your readers a little deeper. Be careful when being vulnerable though and protect your family and your privacy as best you can when sharing in this format.

Be the Commenter- If you are not getting comments, then be the commenter. When I say this, I mean it in two different ways. If you receive a comment in your own entry, comment back to that person. "Thanks so much, Jane, for your comment! Using powdered milk IS a great way to save on groceries- I will try that!" This not only boosts your comments by one (and yes, in the beginning stages you can count that!) and it also builds a conversation with your readers. They see that you are reading their comments and that makes them want to continue the discussion with you. Better yet, another person might want to throw their two cents in now that they see that you are learning something and sharing in this way. Not everyone comes back to read the comment thread, but sometimes I read comment threads just because it seems busy. If you answer your comments, that boosts people's interest in wanting to see what all the fuss is about. See, you just roped your readers in!

The other way is to, of course, spend time commenting on other people's blogs. This can be a very time-consuming process in the beginning, but it is so fun to read what other people are writing and it will help you with your own content. Be sincere in your comments and the other blogger will want to see who this amazingly thoughtful person is! They will visit your blog and then who knows where that one comment will lead?

Highlight Your Old Stuff- Maybe you put out a killer entry the first time around and not a single soul commented on it, but you knew it was sheer brilliance. What to do? Bring that old entry back! I have seen bloggers do great round-ups of their old entries daily, weekly, or monthly... it just depends on how much content you have to work with. We do a "Play It Again, Momma" where I bring back a single entry that I wished someone read. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again! In fact, this week's entry is an old one, but all new eyes are seeing it!

Here is what I will say, no matter how big of a blogger you are, those comments really mean something. I read every single comment that comes through my blog and I am so proud if someone tells me they appreciated something I did or said. I gloat so much that sometimes I save them and read them to my husband when he gets home. "Look, this person said that my line drying article saved them $20 this month on their bill. Isn't that awesome?"

I try not to take the silence personally, but sometimes it is hard. Remember that a thoughtful comment can make a blogger stronger and give them that crazy rush they need to press on.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: Five Commandments for Blogging


Starting this website has been a lesson in success and failure for me. When we started doing this site, I would have never dreamed that I would become so devoted towards something like this or lovingly refer to the site as "my other child," but something about writing and sharing in this way has really clicked with my life right now.

When you enter the world of blogging, people can start their blog with several different ideas for what they hope to gain from the experience. Some use their blogs to share about something they are passionate about (photography, sewing, politics, cooking) and use their blogs to vocalize their passions. Some bloggers are parents who use their blog as a way to keep family up-to-date on everything that their children are up to. Still other bloggers enter the blogging arena as storytellers and they share their beautiful prose or funny stories with the world.

What you shouldn't enter into this equation with is the hopes of earning wild and crazy money. I will be honest with you and say for the first year or so, I had little more than $20 a month to show for my efforts. If I was doing it for the money, I think I would have abandoned this gig a long time ago. No, money shouldn't be a powerful motivator for blogging because few actually bring home enough to even cover a trip to McDonald's...and yet, we continue to blog. We blog for burgers, we blog for pennies, and some of us blog for not a single dime. I respect all of those scenarios.

This year has been a bit of a new experience for me because new opportunities have come my way and I have been trying to keep the careful and beautiful balance that I am desperately trying to create here. Regardless of what has been thrown our way, I have tried to not compromise my content or to lose focus on why I started blogging in the first place.

Some things that I have discovered about myself....

Thou shalt not exploit thy children for money.

I love my kids so much and I would never ever want to exploit them in any way. Our family is the most precious thing in the world to me and I will never use them negatively in my writing. I try to be a positive parent even when stuff gets tough and I don't want them looking back on things I have written and be mortified that their mom shared the stuff that I did. Gosh, if my mom wrote about some of the stuff I did when I was a kid, I would have been so hurt by that. I have even tried doing funny mommy stories and it just didn't work for me because I am a private person and it didn't feel comfortable for me. Blogging about parenting solutions or ways that we save our family money felt like a more comfortable platform for me and that is why I leaned towards it. It felt true to me and true to what I try to share with people. My mommy stories are better shared around a cup of coffee with my girlfriends than through the internet.

I recently was approached by a bigwig site to write a guest post and complain or rant about my kids and I know it would have boosted my traffic considerably. I turned that opportunity down and have had no regrets. I hope people see that writing in a positive way can be just as wonderful as writing negatively. In fact, I would much rather read someone who gave me solutions rather than to focus more negative attention on the problems I have. My life is not all rainbows and sunshine, but I hope to create a little piece of that for our readers. It makes me feel better about myself if I can be a positive person and surround myself with this positive community. I have had slow growth because of some of these decisions, but I would rather have ten really amazing people read my work than fifty who come to hear me rant and complain daily.

This is not to discredit all of the people out there who do that, but I knew I had to be true to myself and true to my kids to create the type of environment that I wanted in my life.

Thou shalt not worship the loot or the people who give it to you.

When I first started getting products, it felt like Christmas. I would fall over myself thanking people for the things they sent and making sure that they really loved my review. "Does this sound okay to you, PR person? I hope you love the review I wrote! XOXO, Amy" This was wrong of me and wrong to do to my readers. I would take anything that anyone wanted to give me, and I would write a glowing review. Hindsight is always 20/20 and now I look back and know that it didn't feel right and wasn't cohesive with the parenting site I was trying to build.

I am now very hesitant to take any loot because 1) I don't want the PR people writing me over and over again to see if I wrote what I was supposed to as soon as I received it. 2) I don't want so much stuff in my house.

I have learned to request only the things that our readers will really and truly love and I took it a step further...I give you guys as much loot as I can. If a company sends me a product now, I ask how we can benefit our readers. To me, this feels like a win-win solution and it makes me a lot happier to hear how much you are enjoying the stuff than to write about how much I am enjoying my stuff that you can't have. If the reviews all seem glowing now, it is because I only pick things that I know I will like. For every ten things that come our way, we pick two of the best ones and feature those. Since we are more choosy, it results in fewer opportunities and sometimes fewer reviews to read, but I would rather preserve the quality of the things I can share on and give them away to others. If the company doesn't do a giveaway with us, most of the products do end up getting donated to charity. I will admit that I have kept products too that our family would use, but we try to review items in all age ranges and if my kids are too old for a product or we are out of those stages (or not in those stages) we share them with others in the community. It feels good to do that and I hope to be able to do more of that.

Thou shalt not allow the blog to rule thy life.

It is hard to not let the blog rule your life...or reading other people's blogs, or reading blogs about blogging, or listening to podcasts about blogs, or reading books on blogs. Basically, blogging can be a giant hole that can suck up your time and it can be easy to forget why you blogged in the first place. Let's use my blog, for example, because I am narcissistic like that and love to talk about myself. I started blogging because I wanted to share ways that we save our family money and to show inexpensive solutions for homemakers. I also knew that I wanted to be a better mother and to be a "fun mommy" and share our ideas for things I do with my children. Now if I am on the computer all day and blogging all day, I end up doing none of those things. I am not being a fun mom, I am not saving money for our family, and I bet I can't get dinner on the table because I was too busy on the computer all day.

I have learned to take advantage of nap time and after the kids go to bed to do my work. The majority of the rest of the day has to be focused on my family life. I try to jot down ideas or even start drafts of things that I want to write about, but those posts might be weeks or months down the road before I get the time to do them. I do the best I can and I am realizing that our readers will still be there if I write three times a day or three times a week.

Thou shalt not hog the spotlight or forget to network.

I have discovered that a big part of whether or not a blog is successful is really based upon the network and the community that they build. Even though I think really good writing and a good design are the most important things, the networking comes in a close third. You can have a fabulous blog, but if you have no one reading it, then it is just a private show for you. Where do you start? Start commenting on other people's blogs and networking within a community of people who will find your stuff interesting. If you blog is about photography, for example, start commenting and linking to the people that you admire most. Do a round-up of great stuff about photography. Highlight blogs that illustrate points you are making in your own entries and email the people that have enjoyed reading to tell them what a big fan you are. Don't spam them, but tell them what their work means to you. Offer feedback, share questions you have (which they could use for future material and even link back to you) and just be a groupie to the people you really love. In turn, they may link to you or might highlight you in an entry.

Thou shalt be open-minded towards things other than blogging.

Once you have built your community and have a great blog, other opportunities might start coming your way. Some of these might be paid gigs (speaking engagements, spokesperson opportunities) and others might not be paid gigs (television and print interviews, providing quotes for articles, reviewing products). Realize that whatever you do, you will be representing your blog/site and you will want the things that you say and the things that you do to reflect what you are doing in these other opportunities. For example, if I am a blogger who shares about cleaning & caring for your home, I wouldn't want to go on the news and discuss the pros and cons of fast food. It just wouldn't work together! When these opportunities come your way, make sure they are a good fit for you and what you hope to convey to others. Be open to those great paid opportunities, but understand that many opportunities don't pay out. I look at the unpaid jobs as opportunities to prepare myself and practice for the paid opportunities. If you do something for your local news, save it and when a paid opportunity comes along you can say, "You can view my segment here and see how I do on camera." That opportunity might not have paid anything, but it gives those paid gigs a better chance of happening because they can see exactly how great you are. Once that happens, you might start realizing that you get paid... just in a more roundabout kind of way. (image source: nbklx17)

What is one of your commandments for blogging?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: Gaining a Readership the Frugal Way


Q: How do you establish a reader base?

A: I am hopeful that I can help offer some advice to those of you out there who are trying to start a blog or website for profit. As always, I promise to be as honest as I possibly can and share any details about my work-at-home experience to help others.

Let's say that you start a website/blog and then you are left wondering, "How in the world am I going to get people to come to my corner of the internet?" You could obviously pay to advertise on websites that target the same audience profile, but usually when you are beginning your funds are often tight and it can be difficult to fork over money. After all, you are trying to make money for your family and you want to be as smart as you can with your dollars.

I will be very honest and say that I have never paid to advertise anywhere. In the beginning, we tossed around advertising on other sites to build our audience, but we just did not have the money to pursue the sites that we felt would fit our audience best. We are just now beginning to shell out real money to get our site known in the web-design community and to boost our traffic so I think it is very possible to have a profitable website without spending a huge amount of your profits to gain a readership.

But let's be frank, without a great and interactive audience your site just won't have that sparkle that keeps people coming back. You need an audience that can provide feedback for you not only as motivation to keep doing what you are doing, but also to also create a community of people who want to keep going back to your site over and over again.

Here are a few of the ways we have gained our readership:

1. Join like-minded communities- When we first started the site, I joined every Yahoo group that had something to do with personal finance or frugality. You will have to look into the guidelines for these groups, but usually you can have a signature line at the end of your posts. This is a great way to get your name out there, participate in a group of like-minded folks who will respect your ideas/opinions, and gives you an opportunity to peek into what other people are interested in on your topics.

With a signature line, I think it is important to keep it short, sweet, and to the point. None of us have time to read a paragraph of a signature line, but a link to your site/blog and maybe a quick quip underneath can get people interested in wanting to learn more about you and what you are doing.

My signature line could be:

Amy
MomAdvice.com
"Helpful financial advice for every mother!"

This is short, sweet, and to the point. You don't want to be booted out of communities for spamming them so make sure that when you are sharing on these sites that you don't continually drop in things that could qualify as advertising or make others feel uncomfortable. Understand the rules and play by them. People will respect you more for it and it is great fun to find a post that someone else has written about what a great resource your site/blog is without you spamming everyone to death.

If you are unclear about the rules, email the moderator and make sure. It is better to be safe than sorry!

2. Name Drop- And name drop often! This is something that I learned as I got further along in my career. I was so scared that I would lose my readers that I would never share about other websites or blogs. I thought I was keeping my readers secure in my grasp if I never gave them something to take them away from my spot. But then I realized that what I was doing was actually keeping my readership low and I was losing out on a lot of readers that might come my way.

I started doing the "Amy's Notebook" entry on Thursdays to highlight other blogs. I would share great things that I ran across on other sites and include them in a weekly round-up for my site. What ended up happening was that those blogs found out about me and would add me to their favorite links, would share my site with others, or would become a reader on my blog. All of a sudden, your name gets dropped in ten new locations and those ten locations have a whole slew of readers who never knew about you.

Better yet, when you name drop in a blog post, sometimes you don't even have to come up with content for the day. This can be great when you are suffering from a case of writer's block or you are too busy to write.

3. Share Your Content- One of the greatest ways that you can get readers is by sharing your content with other sites or print publications. If you are a blogger, many blog entries are the perfect length for ezines and newsletters.

Share content with sites that are going to bring in your perfect target audience. One easy way to figure this out is to look up a site that you really like (or your own site if you are already established) on Alexa and see what other sites they recommend. You will see "Related Links" on the left-hand side and you can click on that to see what other sites other people visit that are similar to your own. For example, here is the listing for our site. That can give me a good starting point for great sites that I could contact and see if they would use my content for their own site.

Sharing your content with competing and more established sites will give you the readership boost when and where you need it most. Not only can that be good for gaining readers, but it can also help establish relationships with other website owners that can be great for networking purposes.

You can also share your content through sites that keep a directory of articles for ezine and newsletter purposes. I would list mine on Ezine Articles and also send my articles to the website owners directly to make sure my content was making its rounds. Do be aware though that when you release your content out into the world that you relinquish the rights to choose where the content might be shared and you have much less control over how it appears and might have more difficulty tracking if your site is linked to that article. Some people don't mind doing this, but others are more protective of their work and like to have more control over where it is seen.

4. Update often- I love to read blogs that I know are updated often and always have something new for me to read. Updating can be difficult and working through a writer's block can be challenging, but this is one way to be sure that people know that you are always offering something fresh. This doesn't mean that you have to add a new entry daily, but even two-three times a week is good and keeps people coming back for more.

I am a big believer in quality over quantity though so don't update just to update. Likewise, don't crank out more of whatever you are selling, but decrease the quality of your workmanship. In a world that seems to consider quantity over quality, a quality looking site with quality content/goods is a rare gem.

5. Take theming to new levels-
When I first started out, one of the best ways for me to get readers was by participating in those group theme events. There are so many theme days that it is hard to know where to start, but chances are that you can find a theme that will relate to what you are up to on the internet. Sometimes it is even fun to participate in these events even if it doesn't exactly fit with your theme. A creative mind can always work a theme into what they are doing. Here are a few events to get you started:

Menu Planning Mondays
Tackle it Tuesday
Works-For-Me Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday
Thursday Thirteen
Frugal Fridays

Maybe you are someone who sells handmade aprons. You could participate in an event like Tackle It Tuesday and share tips for caring for an apron. Maybe you sell soy candles and you could come up with ideas for extending the life of your candles, making you a perfect candidate to participate in Frugal Fridays. Maybe you are an eBay Queen and are trying to make money by selling items online. You could share your tips for posting an auction on Works-For-Me Wednesday.

6. Comment & Share- One of the best ways to get people to come to your blog/site is by visiting other people's sites. I have made some of my best buddies and created some of our best networking opportunities by commenting on other people's blogs.

Make sure that you have created an account or made yourself reachable when you do leave an account. Leaving anonymous comments won't bring in an audience to visit you so make sure you set up an account. Our blog is through Blogger so you would need to create a free Blogger account and make an account that you can sign into and that will direct people to your masterpiece.

7. Start Locally- Local folks are going to be even more interested in you than the other people because you are part of their community! Don't be afraid to contact your local media and see if they might be interested in doing a story on what you are doing. Small-town communities are more receptive to this because there might be less to cover in your area. Check your local media's websites and see if they have a free local directory for businesses or if they have a community forum where you can chat with other local business owners.

Join a small business group in town, look on Meetup to see if you can find other people who are working from home, and join community organizations that will help serve as a networking opportunity. My mom's group, for example, has been an excellent way for me to get the word out about what I do. Not only do these women clue me in on things that will help my website be better, but they also let me guest speak on occasion and share my site with their friends and family. They have become my best fans and have helped me be better at what I am doing!

8. Participate in the Festivals & Carnivals- Participating in online festivals and carnivals can really help boost your traffic. These days they have an event for just about everything in the book and these can be a great way to draw more readers to your site/blog. Create an account on Blog Carnival and start browsing through the categories that fit with what you offer. Submit your articles through their entry form and schedule these events weekly on your calendar. I just submit all of my entries each Friday since most of my events have a deadline for Saturday or Sunday. Making this a priority can help you a lot especially when you are looking for new readers. Better yet, read the other entries for fresh ideas for content to your site or do a round-up of your favorite entries so readers don't have to read the entire festival/carnival to find the really great stuff.

These are just a few of my ideas for getting started with a reader base. As always, keep the questions and comments coming. I will keep answering them as long as I have questions coming to me! (image credit: Jen R.)

If you have an established site/blog, what were some of the best ways that you were able to get readers to come to your site, particularly in those beginning days?

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Inspiring Moms: Alli from Mrs. Fussypants Guide to Life

Thank you all for entering our contest! I had to do the random number generator to choose our winner this time because all of the entries were so worthy. I would like to congratulate our winner, Andrea from Mommy Snacks, and we hope that this little gift will make her family's holiday a little brighter. Andrea said this:

"I would give this to my mom. My father passed 3 years ago and there is a beautiful pic of the two of them that she keeps around - you can immediately sense his personality when you see that picture. Mom hasn't taken off her wedding ring, not sure she will, not sure that's easy to do. But, with this necklace, this pic will be close to her heart everyday and she'll know - ring or not - he is with her :-)"

Thank you again to everyone who entered and check back each week for new giveaways!



I am such a fan of you, Alli, why did you decide to start blogging over at Mrs. Fussypants Guide to Life?


Thank you, Amy. And I, of you. I discovered blogs about a year and a half ago when I researching homeschool resources. I fell in love with blogs instantly. I wanted a site that would reflect me and be a collection of little bits of my personality. What I didn't know is how blogging would change my life through all the amazing women I have met and grown to love through their words.

I try to keep in mind that my site is my time capsule. My sons, my grandchildren, and 25 generations to come will know of me through what I write. Hopefully someone will say, "Ol' Great Granny Alli, she sure was a funny lady back then." I love that thought.


I am the editor for your Family Bliss Channel for Blissfully Domestic so you know I am already a super fan. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what Blissfully Domestic is and what you hope to provide with your site?


Blissfully Domestic is an wonderful group of talented women who have joined together as the 'Domestic Divas'. There are 14 channels and over 250 women who contribute.

My vision for Blissfully Domestic was to provide a platform for women to show off their wisdom. As a mother of little kids, I used to get lost in that role. It wasn't until I discovered blogging and began sharing my thoughts with the world, that I realized I had more and more wisdom to share. I believe every woman has knowledge to share with the world!

Blissfully Domestic is different than most online magazines because we are 100% real women. I founded the site with $27 and a few friends sharing their wisdom in weekly articles. The success has been humbling and I am very honored to be at the helm of a magazine that is packed with meaningful, useful articles. I hope we are a blessing to all who write for the site and who read.

You threw your first blogger bash, Blissdom '08 recently and are planning another event in February. What are you hoping to offer with this event and what makes it unique?

BlissDom was a celebration of the power and wonderful voice of female bloggers. We shared our secrets, our tips and our motivation. It was an amazing experience.

In February, I hope to bring more aspects of Blissfully Domestic in to BlissDom. My vision is a retreat weekend for women. I hope to incorporate Blissful Style, Blissful Home, Inspired Bliss, Family Bliss and more.

You know, I hear Family Bliss is a huge hit. {winks}

As a mother of a zillion children (just kidding), how do you balance motherhood with running your site?

I do have a whole bunch of boys! I have 5 sons, the youngest is 5 months and the oldest is 10. Balancing motherhood and my sites is a constant challenge. This year, after homeschooling my sons for years, I enrolled them in a small church school. I knew it was time to focus on my sites as a business and make sure the boys were getting what they needed. Now I work with a two year old playing cars around me and nursing the baby. Thank goodness for my wireless laptop.


Can you share one tip for a blogger who is just getting started?

Join Twitter and meet new friends. Keep your writing pithy, your pictures pretty and never use auto music.

Blogging, just like life is not a zero-sum game. Supporting the successes of others is very important. It is important to treat others in a respectful way and never be underhanded or cruel online. Online reputations are of utmost importance. Our circles are small and every single thing we do is public.

When building a blog, a brand or a large network- you will get back what you give. When you work with a passion and make it your goal to support others as well as yourself, others will be drawn for the right reasons.

In her free time, Alli works very hard at Fussypants Designs creating beautiful photo heirloom jewelry. Browse around her site and look at all of the beautiful choices and find out how to order them here for the holidays. Remember, it is always good to support our fabulous work-at-home mommas!


Alli has generously offered our readers the chance to win one of her amazing pieces of work. We will be giving one winner one of these beautiful necklaces. To enter, please leave a comment here by Wednesday (11/26) at 8PM (EST) and tell me who you would give this necklace to and why. The best answer to this question will win so please be creative with your responses. Be sure to sign in to your Blogger account so your name is clickable or leave your email address in the comments if you are signing in anonymously. I will need to be able to contact you if you win! Good luck, everyone!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Join the MomAdvice.com Fan Club

I have finally joined Facebook as another way to connect to my readers. I hope that you will join me and you can even become a member of our very official MomAdvice.com Fan Club. In this club, you can set up your own topics and conversations, catch up on the latest articles for MomAdvice, and follow our events & happenings. This will be updated regularly and will give us another place where we can hang out! I realize not everyone is into Twitter so I hope that I can connect with some of you that are using Facebook instead!

If you do use Twitter though, you can find me as @momadvice on there as well! I will happily be your friend and will look forward to chatting with each of you!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Inspiring Moms: Jeannie from MeArt.com

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting our next inspiring mom at the American Baby Faire and just knew she would be an inspiration to moms who are trying to start a business. Jeannie & I chatted like old friends about the ins and outs of starting a business and I found what she was doing to be not only unique, but such a creative way to use her background. I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I do and that it will inspire you to make your own work-at-home dreams happen!


Can you tell me a little bit about your business and how you got started?


Lets face it. We’re all artists at heart. Meart.com, lets you be an artist. We turn personal photos of you, a loved one, a friend or even a pet into one-of-a-kind, custom works of art. You choose the design, style and color scheme. You can even add a name or sentiment. Each piece of Me Art is printed on fine art paper or canvas, which is stretched and ready to hang.

It all started when I was looking for the perfect piece of artwork to decorate my first son’s nursery. Everything I found was so generic. I wanted something truly unique and that would have personal meaning as well. So, I took a photo of him and turned it into Me Art.

My friends started asking me to make them one and before I knew it Me Art was born. It became my passion project.


Was it a hard decision leaving the workforce to begin working from home?

I had no intention of leaving my job. I was a V.P Creative Director at Leo Burnett in Chicago and I absolutely loved it. Me Art was just a side project that wasn’t getting the attention it needed.

After I had my third son, Drew wrapped his precious little finger around me and said, “mom, please don’t leave.” So, I didn’t. He’s 10 months now and it seemed like something I was supposed to do. The boys were growing up fast and I didn’t want to miss out on anymore special moments. It seemed like an opportunity to develop my passion project into a business while spending more time with the boys.

Since you are a work-at-home mom, can you share one time-saving tip that has helped you get your work accomplished and also manage the daily activities in your house?

- Make lists. They help you stay organized amidst the chaos and accomplished at the end of the day.

- Don’t be a work-a-holic. Schedule your work and playtime with the kids. When it blends together you start to feel like you’re not doing either well.


Do you have any tips/recommendations for someone who wants to pursue working from home?

- Create everyday. Whether it is an idea, a simple drawing with your kids, a new recipe, an imaginary friend or game. Letting your creative spirit out opens your mind. It frees you and puts smiles on everyone’s face. Which we all need when juggling work and kids.

- Treasure nap time. When naps phase out turn it into “quiet time”. Get your most important work done during this time.


What is the most meaningful piece of art in your own home?

Our home is filled with artwork. Art makes me smile, it brings back memories of where it was discovered and the exact emotion felt when enjoying the piece. It’s difficult to choose one. There is a piece I turn to, for inspiration that my mother gave me. The artist is Brian Andreas and it reminds me that our imagination is one of our greatest gifts. Believe in it and who knows where it could take you.

Thank you, Jeannie, for answering all of my questions. Be sure to swing by MeArt.com to see Jeannie's amazing handiwork!

Wanna put in a nomination for an inspiring mom? Leave me a comment and nominate someone to be featured here!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Inspiring Moms: Heather at Freebies 4 Mom

Isn't it great to read how blogging moms got their start and how they make their new jobs work for them? I thought it would be fun to get the inside look on some of my favorite inspirational women who make reading blogs so much fun for me.

Our first interview is with Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom. Heather has a website dedicated towards providing the latest and greatest freebies, as well as information on sweepstakes offers, contests, and coupons.

As a longtime reader, I know that you quit your job to start devoting more time to Freebies 4 Mom and to your family. How is this transition working out for you?

I quit my part-time contract work out of my home as soon as I saw that the potential to make money from dedicating advertising space on my blog was there. I was determined to turn blogging into my part-time job and replace that part-time income from my contract work. That enabled me to start dedicating more time to it. There really wasn't much of a transition since I was previously working from my home, it just changed what I was spending time on. I love blogging about the freebies, and love that I can now call it my job and be my own boss.

As a work-at-home mom, what is your biggest challenge now that your workplace is in your home?

Setting time limits on my work on Freebies 4 Mom has got to be my biggest challenge. I love what I do so much that I could easily do it full-time, 40+ hours a week. But the reality is that Freebies 4 Mom is and will always be a part-time job for me with part-time hours. I have two boys (3 and 1) at home to take care of as well as the typical household responsibilities. Since the computer seems to be always calling for me, I'm having to turn it off more and close the door to the office. Setting time limits is always hard when you are self-employed doing something you are passionate about. The temptation will always be there to invest more and more time in yourself, but you've got to evaluate what other responsibilities in your life will suffer. I'm practicing saying "No" to myself and learning how to work smarter during the time I do have.


Is it difficult to keep up with all of the freebies that come out and how do you stay on top of what companies are offering?

I do not even attempt to keep up with everything. I simply highlight the best freebies that I find, those that I am interested in myself and think a majority of my readers would be interested in too. Offers expire daily, and I rely on my readers to tell me about expired offers so I can quickly update those posts. As my readership grows I'm learning how to rely on my readers as a resource for keeping me up to date with what's hot and what's not.


You were recently interviewed by Inside Edition, what did you do to prepare yourself for a television interview?

My opportunity to appear in a segment for Inside Edition happened so quickly that I had very little time to prepare. I first did a phone interview on the morning I received an email from them. That evening I followed-up for the interview with my "How to Get Free Stuff" tips which they turned into a printable resource posted on their website. The next day I found out that they would film my interview the day after. So I really only knew one day before that a camera crew would be inside my house to talk to me about free samples. I was truly scrambling to get the house in-order and gather up all of my free samples to use as props. I did manage to stop by the grocery store and splurge on fresh sunflowers. Beyond that I simply thought about potential questions and answers. It was a learning experience for me and it will help me if any future opportunities present themselves for interviews on or off camera.


Since you are the freebie queen, what is the best freebie you scored?

My favorite freebies are the edible ones because they are the most practical (and most delicious). My favorite is always changing, but one that sticks out in my mind is the gift basket I won from Philadephia Cream Cheese that contained lots of coupons for free bagels and cream cheese, cream cheese spreaders, and travel coffee mugs. This was a sweepstakes I entered that had lots of winners (6,000) and winning it inspired me to start blogging about sweepstakes with at least 1,000 winners. I love the big sweepstakes because they are really just like free samples with a chance to win instead of the first X number of people get the sample. It takes a little more dedication to win, but I feel it is a fairer way to distribute some great freebies.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happiness Is...Meeting Someone I Admire

Finally, a picture has surfaced of myself & Miss Paula Deen! As you can see from my face, I am getting ready to start bursting into tears because I admire her so much. The story of her investment of $200 into a business to pull her family out of debt is so inspiring to me. If she can do it, couldn't I do something just as amazing for my family?

Thank you to Classy Mommy for sending me this picture. I have a feeling that this memory is going to provide some motivation for me to do something great someday!

Do you have a goal in mind for your home business or for your finances? What provides motivation for you? How do you maintain your focus towards your goals?

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How Do I Become a Product Review Blogger?

One of the questions that I get asked the most is how people can receive free products for review. I have been reviewing products for a few years now, but only more recently did we expand our review section into The MotherLoot where it could receive separate attention from the work that I do here.

Really, anyone that has a blog can move into the product review niche. I just wanted to share some things that I wish someone had shared with me when I began receiving products for review and some ins and outs of the product review niche. Of course, folks that focus solely on product reviews may have some stellar advice that I can't offer you here, but I will certainly try my best.

Start reviewing what you have. If you have not done any product reviews before, one great way to begin venturing into the world of reviews is just reviewing the items you already have in your possession. Look around at the things in your home and review the items that you would hope to receive for your blog. Want to review the latest drugstore products? Start a blog by reviewing what you use in the morning to get ready. Want to own the latest technology gadgets? Start with the laptop you are working on. Of course, you want your niche to fit well with your site so try picking products that would interest your readers. As a family blogger, our readers are interested in the latest toys and tools to make their days easier & more productive. I started by sharing tools that I used to clean my home, not intending to ever receive products from companies. Many companies saw my comments about their own particular products and my experiences with them, and I would begin receiving requests to send me products. That is truly how all of this started for me, just writing about my experience with items in my home.

Put together a set of terms for review.
When companies contact you to review one of their items, be sure to have a standard procedure for reviews. Here are some examples of procedures you could use:
  • It is a requirement by our company that we be able to keep the product that we are reviewing.
  • It is requested that we be able to offer one of your products to our readers in a giveaway.
  • We require a fee from your company in order to do a review.
  • We request that you provide a discount code for orders that can be placed online.
  • We request items that fit with our readers. We are a _____ site that caters to _____. Please make sure your product matches the efforts on our site.
Make sure that your terms are very clear and that the company understands what is required of them. These terms can be made visible on your website or you can just have a document ready to go and email the companies that you are interested in working with.

Streamline your product review process as much as you can. Now that you are receiving requests for products, what are some ways that you can streamline the process? My suggestions truly come from trial and error through my past experiences with companies.

  • Set up a seperate email address for your product reviews so you can keep track of what is coming to you. If it is set up in a different email address, set up an automated response that lets the company know that their request has been received. At this time, it is also appropriate to say, "We receive many requests for products and will try to respond to you in a timely manner. If you would like your product to be immediately seen I would like to provide our advertising rates." This will give the company an option to pay you for prompt attention and lets them know that you have received their request without them hounding you repeatedly through emails.
  • Word your mailing address so you know if you requested the product or not. I won't give away my secret, but I have a very separate wording for products that I request. There have been weeks where we receive product after product and I can't remember what I requested and what I did not request. Establishing a specific mailing address that lets you know it is an item you genuinely wanted to try will help you when multiple mailings start coming in.
  • If you are doing a giveaway with a company, request that they mail the product directly to the winner. Trust me, it is so much hassle to have the product shipped to you and then reshipping it to the winner. It is expensive, not timely at all, and one extra step that you don't want to be dealing with.
  • Keep track of that paperwork. Keeping the winner(s) information in a file along with the PR contact who handled the giveaway will be of great help to you if there should be a snafu with getting shipment to the winner. Hang on to this information for awhile because I have had errors occur months down the road. At this point, it can be time-consuming trying to hunt down that person who forgot to mail shipment to my winners.
Decide how you will handle products that you don't like. Of the twenty requests or so we receive each week, we only pick one or two items for the review site because I try to pick things that we would actually enjoy reviewing. Because of this very reason, you won't see a lot of negative reviews on our site because it is products we really know we will love. There have been the occasional bad products though and we try to review those honestly. There are times though where I have chosen to not do a review and emailed the company privately instead. One company in particular sent me a giant box of their cleaning products that caused me to go into a fit of asthma when I tried them. Rather than bash them publicly, I sent them an email and said, "I am sorry, but these products did not work for me. The scent in them was too strong and caused me to have an asthmatic reaction. I am happy to review them, but wanted your company to be aware." Instead of posting a review, they took my feedback privately and forwarded it to the team who developed the products with the recommendations that they come out with an unscented line."

Don't forget to stay true to yourself & your site. It can be easy to get caught up in all of the loot, but you need to remain true to your readers and the intentions of your site. Our website is family-focused and shopping for family needs fit with our site. Shopping did not fit with a frugal blog though so that is why we chose to move the reviews to its own separate section of the site. If you are conflicted on if it is a good move or not, try to be more heavy with the giveaways rather than the reviews themselves. Nothing makes a reader happier than that email from you letting them know that they won something on your site. It keeps people returning to your review blog if you are sharing the products with others.

Another way that you can stay true to your mission is by donating the items to charity or participating in charitable drives in your community with the items you have received. I am working on a big donation to our local shelter and am so thrilled to be able to pass on some of these wonderful products to others. The items that reflect our mission and goals will be reviewed, but the majority will be donated or given back to our readers. I feel lucky to be able to give in ways that I could not necessarily do on my own and I hope that others can benefit from our relationships with these companies as much as we have.


Do you have any tips or questions on product review blogging? Leave them here and we can start discussing!

**************************
Speaking of product reviews & giveaways, I just wanted to let you all know that we are offering a brand new giveaway to our readers! Two lucky winners will receive a copy of Build-A-Bear Workshop for the Nintendo Wii. This is a family-friendly game perfect for young children. The game is for children three and older. Put your entry in over at The Mother Loot today! The contest ends October 28th at 8PM EST!!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ten Useful Tools for Twitter Users

My What in the World is Twitter? post has been making its rounds on tons of blogs and seemed to encourage many people to explore using Twitter as a networking tool for their business so I thought it would be fun to do a follow-up article on using Twitter.

There are many applications and tools that you can use to help bump up your Twitter experience. Here is a gathering of great tools to make your tweet time a little more effective.

Reminder & Organizational Tools:

Twitter Timer: Add this guy to your list of friends and send him a direct message (DM) when you need to remember to go to the dentist or a friendly reminder that next week is your best friend's birthday.

Remember the Milk: We highlighted Remember the Milk in our family planning tools, but Remember the Milk can also be used through Twitter as well. Add Remember the Milk to your list of friends and send DM's to remind yourself to pick up milk...or your kids. You know, those important things in life!

Commuter Feed: Wouldn't your morning commute be smoother if you knew where traffic was backed up or where accidents have occurred? Commuter Feed is a free service that lets you see reports on traffic incidents in your local area using Twitter. It works for any city that has an IATA airport code worldwide. Even if you don't input the information yourself, you can look up your city and see what was recently posted to keep up-to-date on what is happening in your neck of the woods.

Fuel Frog: This great site works with Twitter and help you easily track the gas mileage on your vehicle. This can be a great way to track the fluctuating gas prices, see how you are doing on your gas mileage, and keep track of mileage for your job.

Twitter Efficiency Tools:

Twitter Snooze: Is someone being a tad too chatty and you are feeling overwhelmed with their tweets? Is someone live-blogging at an event and you just want to tune their tweets out for a bit? You can visit Twitter Snooze and put their posts to sleep until the event is over, without blocking your friend or ruining that great relationship.

Twitter Search: This is great if you are off of Twitter for a long time and want to double-check to make sure you didn't miss any posts about yourself. Just search for your username (in my case, momadvice) and it will pop up all of the conversations you have had or any tweets that were intended for you. You can also use the search to keep up with something/someone you are interested in. You can read what everyone is talking about in the current events, politics, fashion and find out what people are sharing on your favorite topics.

Twitter Feed: This service works with your blog's feed and automatically sends out a message to let everyone know when your feed (blog) has been updated. This is a great way to automate the process to let your readers know when you have new and amazing stuff on your blog.

TweetDeck: This is great for people who like to micro-manage their micro-blogging tools. TweetDeck enables users to split their main feed (All Tweets) into topic or group specific columns allowing a broader overview of tweets. You can group people into groups (locals, PF Bloggers, Must Read Mommas) so you never miss an important tweet again. Once created these additional columns will automatically update allowing the user to keep track of a twitter threads far easier. Basically, it makes it so you can see exactly what you want to see and you are able to view up to 48 hours worth of the tweets that you have deemed the most important, without having to hunt.

Lifestyle Improvement Tools:

Tweet What You Eat: If you are working on improving your eating habits, then this tool should help you in tracking your caloric intact for the day. Tweetwhatyoueat (TWYE for short) is a Twitter-based food diary. Use Twitter to track what you eat, and now your weight, by ‘tweeting’ food items to your personal food diary on Tweetwhatyoueat.com from your mobile phone, IM or through Twitter.

Qwitter: This tool can help you if you trying to quit smoking. As with most of these tools, you can add Qwitter as your friend and then let them know when you have had a cigarette and journal how you are feeling as you taper off the cigarettes. This tool was brought to you by the state of Florida and I just love anything that can help people make a positive lifestyle change!

This list only encompasses ten great tools, but if you are looking for even more great ways to use Twitter, check out this list of 140 great Twitter Tools from Mashable!

Sound Off:
Do you use an tools for twittering? Let us know what tools you find most helpful!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What In The World is Twitter?

I will be honest and admit that I am completely behind the times on networking through the internet. I find a lot of these social networks to be more maintenance and more bothersome than they are worth.

When my husband suggested that I join Twitter (eons ago), I went into a speech about how I was out living my life while people sat around and twittered about it. I rolled my eyes at people who were glued to their computer screens reading one simple answer to one simple question, "What are you doing?" What am I doing? What am I doing? Um, let's see... yeah doing stuff.

Finally, I decided to really devote some time into discovering what Twitter was and if it would truly be beneficial to me. Reading people's updates about drinking coffee, heading to the movies, drinking wine, blah, blah, blah- that did not sound like fun reading material. What I wanted to see was one thing and one thing alone. Will this improve my site?

Now that you know the attitude that I went into it with, you might be shocked to find out that I am absolutely loving Twitter. No, not for the ho-hum everyday details of people's lives, but I am loving it from a networking standpoint and what it is doing for my business.

First, if you do not understand how Twitter works, I would HIGHLY recommend this video that I am posting here. It breaks down exactly how it works in a way that is very easy and basic to understand. Simply sign up for an account, find your friends (or find a really good friend who is well-networked and then look at all of his/her friends) and then click, "Follow." Now you can post updates to the people who begin to follow you and you can post a quick update (140 characters or less) on what you are doing throughout the day.

Here are some of the positive things that have happened for me since joining Twitter:

Networked With Other Bloggers- Twitter is an amazing networking tool. Do big-time bloggers not know about you? Do you want to connect more with bloggers in your own category? This is the place to do it. Following people requires one click and then you can begin building relationships with others. You might think, how could that possibly help me? Well, within the first week I was able to see how great it really was.

Is a blogger going away on vacation and in need of some bloggers to do guest posts? That blogger will post this on Twitter and you can scoop up a guest post on other blogs in your genre. Is a blogger looking for an article on a particular subject that you just so happened to have written on? That blogger will post that article request on Twitter and you can send them a message to let them know that you have the perfect article ready to go for them.

Not only does it help you network with other bloggers from those superficial standpoints, but it also helps you connect on a deeper level and build friendships with people in your blogging community. You know if a blogger is having a really bad day and can send them a quick message to cheer them up. You also know if someone is having a great day and can be their cheerleader. These deeper connections with other bloggers are what you need to grow your blog.

Pointed People to My Posts- Want people to read what you have written? Point them to your posts! Because of the limited character space, you will want to make a smaller url to point them to, but you can link right up to your blog when you have an update. Let people know about your contests, drive traffic to posts, and get people to read what you are talking about. Many of the people that I follow were not bloggers that I was familiar with, but when I saw that they had posted about something I was interested in reading, I headed over and left them a comment. Guess what? They headed over to my site and then left me a comment in return. You have to love that!

I could see from my web statistics that traffic did increase from direct hits through my Twitter links, but it was not a substantial amount. What did increase though was the awareness of other bloggers who found me and then added me as a link on their page or included me in a post. In an indirect way, my traffic then increased more through that and then the added benefit from the direct links in. Roughly, we had an increase this past month of about 100 hits, which I think is pretty good for just telling people what I am up to. Those 100 hits might lead to many more, when accessed by the right blogger or media outlet.

Got Questions Answered Quickly- The fact that Twitter is in "real time" really helps to get answers quick when you are struggling as a blogger. You will often see questions like, "Can you see this page in IE?" or "Can someone please tell me if my comments are working?" When you have a question, it is hard to wait for a delayed response especially if you are trying to check if things are loading properly and if people can access the information they need. Hopping on Twitter gives you hundreds of people who are not only willing to help... they also can give you valuable feedback right away on what is or is not working for your blog. It is probably one of the best things about Twitter.

I Can Network with PR Folks- If you are reviewing products for your blog, Twitter helps PR people track what you are up to and also find bloggers who are doing reviews. You can add another dimension to your relationships with PR people. By joining the Twitter community, I have gotten some really great products to review for our site and have been able to offer giveaways that would have not come to me otherwise. Twitter updates also immediately notifies the PR folks that a review has been posted and they can pass that info on to their client. I still email them directly, but I also post the link through Twitter as an added bonus. If you don't do product reviews, this might not appeal to you, but this is great for bloggers who do the reviews.

I Don't Need to Twitter All Day & It Still Works For Me- Part of my issue was the fact that I didn't want to have to maintain one more thing on the web. I am already overwhelmed and spending more time than I would like on the computer so why would I join another program that I had to keep up with? The beauty of Twitter though is that you can check in as frequently or as infrequently as you need to. Some days are too busy to log on, other days are slow and I feel like chatting and bouncing ideas around with people. It is that kind of freedom that really appeals to me and that there are no expectations. Low expectations make it easier for me to check in when I need to, and stay off it when I don't. Yes, it can be addictive to read, but I try to keep it low-key.

Best Part, You Already Have Your First (Or Millionth Friend)- Need to follow your first person? I can be her! Just sign up for an account and follow me!

I hope that this helps explain Twitter a little better and please watch the video for a fun visual explanation for how it works.

Need some more blogging help? Here are a few more posts to help you on your way!

The Player Scores & Silence
Five Commandments for Blogging
How Do I Track My Traffic?
Gaining a Readership (The Frugal Way)
How Do I Work From Home?

Sound Off: What social networks have helped you to network and build your traffic? Do you use Twitter and what has been your experience with it?

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Player Scores...& Silence

It is the last thirty seconds of the basketball game and the teams are tied. The star player moves down the court gracefully, dodging player after player, his eye on the prize. He dances around them as he dribbles, and, as the seconds slip by him, he makes a beeline towards the basket. The crowd begins to count down loudly, "Ten, nine, eight..." And just before the last second, he slams the ball into the basket. And the crowd sits silent.

Wait? What? Why would the crowd not cheer? This is the moment, the moment that he has worked towards and yet, you could hear a pin drop. How do you think that player feels?

Well, I have been that blogger a lot and it really stinks. To be honest, you have to really love the process and therapy that comes with your writing to endure the dead silence that you receive when you first start blogging.

Let's take that player that we talked about, for instance, and how he would have felt if the crowd went wild instead of went silent. As someone who has done theater for years, I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing like the adrenaline rush that you feel from the crowd cheering. Your heart starts to pump, your face flushes, you get that natural high from the praise, and then something really great happens...you want to do it again. That praise, that rush, that love that you feel from the people around you motivates you and you feed off of it. Suddenly, you picture yourself doing it over and over again, but each time you vow that it is going to be better next time.

For me, the process of writing these entries can be very labor-intensive. Sixty shots of whatever I am eating before I get to eat it, reading books and magazines to stay on top of new subjects that might strike our fancy, researching and sharing about other blogs, and just plain working my butt off. Some of my entries take very little thought and others are put out there after hours of careful thought and research. What stinks is when you put it out there and receive no comments on all of that effort.

What can bring a blogger comfort when they receive no comments and what can you do to get more comments to come your way? Let's chat about it!

Take Comfort In Your Stats- Remember how we talked about tracking your site/blog's traffic? Well, sometimes you can take comfort in those numbers even if your comments are in the single digits. What brought me a lot of comfort in the beginning was knowing that fifty people visited my blog even if only four people commented on an entry. Just knowing that someone is out there reading your stuff can provide a lot of comfort.

Ask Advice- If you are blogging about a particular subject all of the time, it can become less interactive with your readers. Sometimes throwing a post out there and asking your reader's take on a particular subject can bring in a lot of comments. It can be something as simple as, where do you find the best grocery prices, but if the readers can help it can become a great role-reversal and will give you more discussion than a post on here is where *I* think you should grocery shop.

Make Yourself Vulnerable- Oh, I know this is a tough one, but this can be a great way to show readers the real side of yourself. This one has been a tough one for me because I am striving to be a positive person and sometimes things in my life don't feel so positive. Expressing some vulnerability and showing the real sides of our family makes that connection with your readers a little deeper. Be careful when being vulnerable though and protect your family and your privacy as best you can when sharing in this format.

Be the Commenter- If you are not getting comments, then be the commenter. When I say this, I mean it in two different ways. If you receive a comment in your own entry, comment back to that person. "Thanks so much, Jane, for your comment! Using powdered milk IS a great way to save on groceries- I will try that!" This not only boosts your comments by one (and yes, in the beginning stages you can count that!) and it also builds a conversation with your readers. They see that you are reading their comments and that makes them want to continue the discussion with you. Better yet, another person might want to throw their two cents in now that they see that you are learning something and sharing in this way. Not everyone comes back to read the comment thread, but sometimes I read comment threads just because it seems busy. If you answer your comments, that boosts people's interest in wanting to see what all the fuss is about. See, you just roped your readers in!

The other way is to, of course, spend time commenting on other people's blogs. This can be a very time-consuming process in the beginning, but it is so fun to read what other people are writing and it will help you with your own content. Be sincere in your comments and the other blogger will want to see who this amazingly thoughtful person is! They will visit your blog and then who knows where that one comment will lead?

Highlight Your Old Stuff- Maybe you put out a killer entry the first time around and not a single soul commented on it, but you knew it was sheer brilliance. What to do? Bring that old entry back! I have seen bloggers do great round-ups of their old entries daily, weekly, or monthly... it just depends on how much content you have to work with. We do a weekly recap on Fridays, but in the beginning I did a, "Play It Again, Momma" where I would just bring back a single entry that I wished someone read. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!

Here is what I will say, no matter how big of a blogger you are, those comments really mean something. I read every single comment that comes through my blog and I am so proud if someone tells me they appreciated something I did or said. I gloat so much that sometimes I save them and read them to my husband when he gets home. "Look, this person said that my line drying article saved them $20 this month on their bill. Isn't that awesome?"

I try not to take the silence personally, but sometimes it is hard. Remember that a thoughtful comment can make a blogger stronger and give them that crazy rush they need to press on.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Five Commandments for Blogging

Starting this website has been a lesson in success and failure for me. When we started doing this site, I would have never dreamed that I would become so devoted towards something like this or lovingly refer to the site as "my other child," but something about writing and sharing in this way has really clicked with my life right now.

When you enter the world of blogging, people can start their blog with several different ideas for what they hope to gain from the experience. Some use their blogs to share about something they are passionate about (photography, sewing, politics, cooking) and use their blogs to vocalize their passions. Some bloggers are parents who use their blog as a way to keep family up-to-date on everything that their children are up to. Still other bloggers enter the blogging arena as storytellers and they share their beautiful prose or funny stories with the world.

What you shouldn't enter into this equation with is the hopes of earning wild and crazy money. I will be honest with you and say for the first year or so, I had little more than $20 a month to show for my efforts. If I was doing it for the money, I think I would have abandoned this gig a long time ago. No, money shouldn't be a powerful motivator for blogging because few actually bring home enough to even cover a trip to McDonald's...and yet, we continue to blog. We blog for burgers, we blog for pennies, and some of us blog for not a single dime. I respect all of those scenarios.

This year has been a bit of a new experience for me because new opportunities have come my way and I have been trying to keep the careful and beautiful balance that I am desperately trying to create here. Regardless of what has been thrown our way, I have tried to not compromise my content or to lose focus on why I started blogging in the first place.

Some things that I have discovered about myself....

Thou shalt not exploit thy children for money. I love my kids so much and I would never ever want to exploit them in any way. Our family is the most precious thing in the world to me and I will never use them negatively in my writing. I try to be a positive parent even when stuff gets tough and I don't want them looking back on things I have written and be mortified that their mom shared the stuff that I did. Gosh, if my mom wrote about some of the stuff I did when I was a kid, I would have been so hurt by that. I have even tried doing funny mommy stories and it just didn't work for me because I am a private person and it didn't feel comfortable for me. Blogging about parenting solutions or ways that we save our family money felt like a more comfortable platform for me and that is why I leaned towards it. It felt true to me and true to what I try to share with people. My mommy stories are better shared around a cup of coffee with my girlfriends than through the internet.

I recently was approached by a bigwig site to write a guest post and complain or rant about my kids and I know it would have boosted my traffic considerably. I turned that opportunity down and have had no regrets. I hope people see that writing in a positive way can be just as wonderful as writing negatively. In fact, I would much rather read someone who gave me solutions rather than to focus more negative attention on the problems I have. My life is not all rainbows and sunshine, but I hope to create a little piece of that for our readers. It makes me feel better about myself if I can be a positive person and surround myself with this positive community. I have had slow growth because of some of these decisions, but I would rather have ten really amazing people read my work than fifty who come to hear me rant and complain daily.

This is not to discredit all of the people out there who do that, but I knew I had to be true to myself and true to my kids to create the type of environment that I wanted in my life.

Thou shalt not worship the loot or the people who give it to you. When I first started getting products, it felt like Christmas. I would fall over myself thanking people for the things they sent and making sure that they really loved my review. "Does this sound okay to you, PR person? I hope you love the review I wrote! XOXO, Amy" This was wrong of me and wrong to do to my readers. I would take anything that anyone wanted to give me, and I would write a glowing review. Hindsight is always 20/20 and now I look back and know that it didn't feel right and wasn't cohesive with the parenting site I was trying to build.

I am now very hesitant to take any loot because 1) I don't want the PR people writing me over and over again to see if I wrote what I was supposed to as soon as I received it. 2) I don't want so much stuff in my house.

I have learned to request only the things that our readers will really and truly love and I took it a step further...I give you guys as much loot as I can. If a company sends me a product now, I ask how we can benefit our readers. To me, this feels like a win-win solution and it makes me a lot happier to hear how much you are enjoying the stuff than to write about how much I am enjoying my stuff that you can't have. If the reviews all seem glowing now, it is because I only pick things that I know I will like. For every ten things that come our way, we pick two of the best ones and feature those. Since we are more choosy, it results in fewer opportunities and sometimes fewer reviews to read, but I would rather preserve the quality of the things I can share on and give them away to others. If the company doesn't do a giveaway with us, most of the products do end up getting donated to charity. I will admit that I have kept products too that our family would use, but we try to review items in all age ranges and if my kids are too old for a product or we are out of those stages (or not in those stages) we share them with others in the community. It feels good to do that and I hope to be able to do more of that.

Thou shalt not allow the blog to rule thy life. It is hard to not let the blog rule your life...or reading other people's blogs, or reading blogs about blogging, or listening to podcasts about blogs, or reading books on blogs. Basically, blogging can be a giant hole that can suck up your time and it can be easy to forget why you blogged in the first place. Let's use my blog, for example, because I am narcissistic like that and love to talk about myself. I started blogging because I wanted to share ways that we save our family money and to show inexpensive solutions for homemakers. I also knew that I wanted to be a better mother and to be a "fun mommy" and share our ideas for things I do with my children. Now if I am on the computer all day and blogging all day, I end up doing none of those things. I am not being a fun mom, I am not saving money for our family, and I bet I can't get dinner on the table because I was too busy on the computer all day.

I have learned to take advantage of nap time and after the kids go to bed to do my work. The majority of the rest of the day has to be focused on my family life. I try to jot down ideas or even start drafts of things that I want to write about, but those posts might be weeks or months down the road before I get the time to do them. I do the best I can and I am realizing that our readers will still be there if I write three times a day or three times a week.

Thou shalt not hog the spotlight or forget to network. I have discovered that a big part of whether or not a blog is successful is really based upon the network and the community that they build. Even though I think really good writing and a good design are the most important things, the networking comes in a close third. You can have a fabulous blog, but if you have no one reading it, then it is just a private show for you. Where do you start? Start commenting on other people's blogs and networking within a community of people who will find your stuff interesting. If you blog is about photography, for example, start commenting and linking to the people that you admire most. Do a round-up of great stuff about photography. Highlight blogs that illustrate points you are making in your own entries and email the people that have enjoyed reading to tell them what a big fan you are. Don't spam them, but tell them what their work means to you. Offer feedback, share questions you have (which they could use for future material and even link back to you) and just be a groupie to the people you really love. In turn, they may link to you or might highlight you in an entry.

Thou shalt be open-minded towards things other than blogging. Once you have built your community and have a great blog, other opportunities might start coming your way. Some of these might be paid gigs (speaking engagements, spokesperson opportunities) and others might not be paid gigs (television and print interviews, providing quotes for articles, reviewing products). Realize that whatever you do, you will be representing your blog/site and you will want the things that you say and the things that you do to reflect what you are doing in these other opportunities. For example, if I am a blogger who shares about cleaning & caring for your home, I wouldn't want to go on the news and discuss the pros and cons of fast food. It just wouldn't work together! When these opportunities come your way, make sure they are a good fit for you and what you hope to convey to others. Be open to those great paid opportunities, but understand that many opportunities don't pay out. I look at the unpaid jobs as opportunities to prepare myself and practice for the paid opportunities. If you do something for your local news, save it and when a paid opportunity comes along you can say, "You can view my segment here and see how I do on camera." That opportunity might not have paid anything, but it gives those paid gigs a better chance of happening because they can see exactly how great you are. Once that happens, you might start realizing that you get paid... just in a more roundabout kind of way.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

What Would You Buy?: An Ultimate Work Wardrobe

Amy,

I recently discovered your website and have really enjoyed it! I am also an Aldi fan and am trying hard to live within my means. I have a problem I was hoping you could help me with. I am returning to work very soon and after years as a stay-at-home Mom, suddenly find myself without any decent clothes to wear to a job. Faded blue jeans and old t-shirts have worked okay at home but they aren't work-appropriate!

Whenever you post a picture on your site you always look so pulled-together. Can you help? I am going to be working in a business casual environment - even a well-fitting pair of boot-cut dark wash blue jeans would probably work on Fridays. Other than that - where do I start? I have about $250-$300 to put towards new clothes. Any suggestions??? Maybe even some websites that could help?

Congratulations on paying off your debt and cutting up those cards!!! Your party must have been so much fun!

Thanks,
L.

Well, it has been about four years since I have been out in the trenches of the working world, but I will do my best to answer this question. If you are a working woman of the world and have had good success shopping anywhere, please let our sweet reader know so she can do some hunting.

Since this is an office-casual environment, I think it will be a lot easier to tackle than the more formal office wear. Here are some of my suggestions for a great work wardrobe.

Bottoms-

Apostrophe Essential Pant- I have actually worn these and they are an amazing fit! They are a lightweight material that doesn't attract pet hair or look wrinkly after being worn all day. They also look seamless, with no distracting pockets or details that seem to draw your eye towards the problem areas. The material is lightweight and these could be worn through all of the seasons. They have these in black & gray- both are great choices for work. I just really love these pants and they are a steal at only $24.98 each!

Tops-

apt. 9 Herringbone Blazer- This blazer is great for summer and you could transition it into the fall with the addition of a long sleeve t-shirt. This would look great with a pair of black slacks and a cute camisole or even could be paired with a pair of jeans and ballet flats to dress it down. I wear this style of blazer a lot and I just love how versatile it is! They have a similar style available in black as well (which could pair nicely with a gray pair of trousers or jeans) Currently on sale for $29.99.

Xhiliration Dolman Sleeve Top- This would be a great addition to a work wardrobe too. I love the style of this top because the sleeves make it dressy enough for work or you could wear this on the weekend with a pair of cute sneakers. I love the Kelly Green & the Black for basic pieces.

These are just a few examples of great items that would work. For a starter work wardrobe, I would recommend:

1. Two or three basic pairs of flat-front trousers (black, gray, khaki)
2. Two or three camisoles for layering (white, off-white, and black- Target offers these at affordable prices in the lingerie section of the store)
3. A short sleeve blazer (could be a basic color or a fun print that would work with neutrals)
4. Two or three long-sleeve or short-sleeve basic shirts for layering (I love the Old Navy or Mossimo brand for these) that could be layered under blouses and jackets. Pick your sleeve length based on the season.
5. One or two blouses (You could keep these basic in black, white, or pink and use hair and jewelry accessories to switch these up or you could go with fun prints and and use a basic black blazer to tone down for a different look. Look for the cap-sleeved shirts, as they are popular right now and make a blouse look a little more girly)
6. One pair of dark-wash jean,for the office casual environment. I love jeans from The Limited, Old Navy, or Gap.
7. A pair of basic black ballet flats, black heels (to dress up your jeans), and one pair of fun shoes (fun print or an unexpected color)
8. A nice neutral handbag

When I was trying to help my husband with his work wardrobe, I would actually look in his closet and piece together things that he didn't put together. This can be fun to do with your spouse, if they have an eye for what looks good, or a good friend. Invite someone into your closet and have them look at what you have and your new pieces and have them come up with ideas for things that could work together too. Sometimes it takes a new pair of eyes to see all of the possibilities

Finally, if you are really short on cash, ask if you can raid your friend's closets to help you until you get those first couple of paychecks. My best friend and I exchange clothes often for special events and occasions and it has saved me more money than I can begin to tell you. My wardrobe has great pieces and her wardrobe has great pieces. Together, we create an ultimate wardrobe that makes life events like these a little easier.

Sound Off: What are some places that you would recommend shopping for a work wardrobe? Are there any basic pieces that you would add to my list?

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

It Was Bound to Happen

At the doctor's office:

Dr: Well, it looks like a sinus infection. I am going to go ahead and prescribe some medicine for them.

Me: That sounds great!

Dr: I would pick this up at Meijer. The kids will get their antibiotics free there, which is a great deal.... and I know how much you love a deal (with a wink)! How's that next article coming?

*****************************
On the massage table:

Me: When did you start working here?

Massage Therapist: Oh, about a year ago. I love it.

Me: That is great!

Massage Therapist: You stay home right? And do your website?

Me: (face muffled in massage table) Um, yeah... I do. How did you know that?

Massage Therapist: Oh, I read your articles in Michiana Family Magazine. That is so great that you figured out a way to stay home with your kids and work.

*****************************

Me: I brought in my vitamins to show you, like you had suggested, just to see if I was taking what you were recommending.

Doctor: Let me see. Wow! I am so impressed!

Me: Oh, really? Did I pick the right stuff?

Doctor: I am just impressed at the quality of the vitamins you bought. Honestly, I am really impressed.

Me: Well, they were a bit of a splurge, but I gave up my prescription drugs so...

Doctor: No, I am just really impressed.
*****************************
In line at Goodwill...


Cashier: That will be $15. Oh, you brought your own bag....wait, I know you. You're that frugal mom. I watch you every week. (Calling over to the other cashier) Shirley, Shirley....remember that girl I was telling you about? That one that tells you about deals and coupons. That one on the news. This is her. You need to watch her.

Shirley: How can I watch her? I am always working here!

Guy Behind Me: You do that segment on WSBT?

Me: Yes

Guy Behind Me: I watch that every Tuesday

Cashier: That tip about Sam's Club...I loved that tip

Lady Behind Me: What tip?

Cashier: She said you can order your stuff online and they will put it together for you.

Lady Behind Me: (interrupting) Yes, yes...I already knew that. I thought everyone knew that (smugly)

Me: Thank you, have a great day!

*****************************

In line at the grocery store...

Guy in Front of Me: Is that a good deal on bread? You bought a lot of it?

Me: Well, it is about $2 cheaper per loaf so I thought it would be a good time to....

Guy In Front of Me: Can you watch my cart for a minute?

Me: Um... yeah

Guy In Front of Me (now behind me): My wife is going to be so happy!

*****************************

It was bound to happen. What do you do when your anonymous life doesn't feel anonymous anymore? I am talking to all of you great bloggers out there- do your families read your blogs? Do people know you because of your blog? Do you censor yourself because you know people are reading your blog?

Here is another question, is it good to be known because you are CHEAP?

I really want to talk about this with someone and I am asking people to come out of lurking and tell me how you guys deal with this stuff. Please share!

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Spring Cleaning Your PC

I am very excited to share that I have a guest author that will be sharing on our site monthly to help all of our working mommas and to also help those of us that are..um, challenged technically! Nicole, from the Geek Squad team, will be tackling all of our questions each month about our computers and she wants to know what you are interested in. Have a story idea for Nicole? You can send it her way to techmom@momadvice.com.

To coincide with our new relationship with the company, the Geek Squad has generously offered to participate in a giveaway with us. This giveaway has a retail value of $169 and has just been listed on our product review site, The Motherloot. Hurry over there and get your entries in!

Many thanks to Nicole and her team for making this opportunity possible!

Spring Cleaning Your Computer by Nicole Conway

So it’s that glorious time of year again! Time to clear the clutter and cobwebs from their hiding places and tidy the home for the coming Spring. But what about your computer? Often overlooked, your computer also needs Spring cleaning, and some basic maintenance measures to keep it humming along. So what are some basic things that you can do?

Well first, print this page so that you can refer to it during the first part of the Spring Cleaning!!

Keeping the inside of your computer’s case clear of dust is important for the long life of your computer. It also saves electricity, because your computer does not have to work so hard to keep itself cool. The inside of your computer attracts a lot of fine dust. The build up of dust can clog the vents and fans, and eventually cause your computer to get too hot. This can cause some parts to stop working correctly. In order to clean it, you will probably want to bring it outside on a clear day. First, turn off your computer, and unplug the different wires and cables. Don’t worry! If you take a good close look at the back of your computer, you will find that everything only fits where it belongs. Putting it together again should only take a few minutes. Most computers have a side that opens easily, after a large screw is loosened on the back. Remove the side, being careful not to touch any of the parts or cards inside. You can buy a can of compressed air at nearly any major electronics store, do to the job.

Keeping an arm’s length away, spray the high pressured air from one side of the computer, pushing the dust to the other side and then out. Watch out! It may create quite a cloud of swirling dust devils and bunnies!!! Repeat the sweep a few times, until the inside of the case, and the vent holes of the sides, are relatively clear. You will notice that the can gets very cold. It is probably a good idea to keep this, like any other high pressured can, out of the reach of the little ones.

Slide the side of the case back on, and bring your clean computer back inside. This is a good time to dust out the space where the computer is normally kept, and to get those cables and wires wiped down, as well.

Now it’s time to plug everything back in. Look carefully at the plugs and wires. You will notice that they are mostly color coded, and some have different shapes. Almost everything in the back of a computer will only go where it is supposed to. The only exception is those flat USB plugs. These can be plugged into any USB ports.

Turn your computer back on, and now we will get down to some basic software maintenance.

So what makes up “software clutter?” Temp files, cookies, browsing history and the like. To start your clean up, we will start with the Control Panel. The Control Panel is the best place to start for safe computer maintenance. Click on the Start menu, and then choose Control Panel. Once this comes up, you will see a number of different options. First, we will choose Internet Options. When you click it, another window pops up, called “Internet Properties” , and you will see that there are some options there to choose from. First click on “Delete Cookies”, then on “Delete Files”, lastly on “Clear History”. This will remove some unnecessary temporary files that your computer saves. Once this is finished, you can close out of this by clicking “OK”.

Close out of the Control Panel, and let’s do some more clean up. If you click on “My Computer” it will open up, and you will see some of the things that makeup your computer. The main drive of your PC has the letter C assigned to it, and you can right click it to see a menu of options. At the very bottom is the Properties choice, which we will select here. A picture will come up, which tells you how much space is on your computer, and how much has been used already. Click on “Disk Cleanup” and let that little program do its thing. When it is finished scanning for potential free space, it will give you a tidy list of files you can clean out. To be on the safe side, make sure you only choose the Temporary types of files, and then click “OK” followed by “Yes” when it asks you if you are sure. Let this run, and then you can close out of it when it completes.

Lastly, now that we have cleaned out what isn’t needed, it is time to organize! So how do we organize the files in the computer? With a good “defrag” once a month. Defragging sounds like a complicated thing, but it is really a pretty simple thing. When your computer saves something, it breaks the file up into little pieces. Sometimes, the pieces are in different places, and all defrag does is move them all together so your computer can find them quicker!

If you right click on “My Computer” you can choose “Manage” from the menu. A new window will come up, with some pretty confusing things, but we will only need one. Click on Disk Defragmenter, and the main display window will change, to show you a picture of your computer’s storage space. When you click “Defragment” a bunch of red and blue lines will show up, and one or two blocks of green. The green will not move, but as you watch, the blue and red will move around until the red lines are almost completely gone, and the blue lines are more or less all together, in a blue block. If this is the first time that your computer is going through this, it may take a couple of hours! Don’t be alarmed. Afterwards, your computer will be able to find files quicker, and will run much better.

Although Spring Cleaning is a good time to start taking care of your computer, it is a good idea to do these basic preventative tasks once a month. This will keep your computer humming away, and give you longer life, better performance, and save you over the long term.

About Nicole Conway, Geek Squad Deputy Field Marshal
Conquering the tech terrain means knowing it's ok to run a sticky keyboard through the dishwasher (yes, just take it out before the hot drying cycle starts) or befriend your daughter on myspace so that you can monitor her activity (and every high school boy that goes near her).

When I'm not coaching on the soccer field, gardening, helping my three daughters (Emily 14, Erica 12, Erin 9) complete homework, or caring for my Beagle, 3 cats, 4 parakeets, and 2 hermit crabs (*catch breath), I'm hard at work as a Geek Squad Deputy Field Marshal. With a license to tech for three years now, I specialize in hardware repair, Networking, Virus and Spyware removal.


In other words, I'm that person you want to call when you're about to throw your computer out the window.

After 17 years of "another career" (too painful to talk about), I pursued my true passion for computers. I relish the challenge behind life's biggest annoyances -- the jammed printer, the keyboard soaked with juicy juice, the wireless router that doesn't route, the pile of wires your child devilishly jumbled up (need I say more?).

Go ahead, tell me if you have any issues (ones I can actually address). I should note I am a European History buff and cloth diaper sewer, so questions about Henry VIII and mending seams are not off limits!

Have a burning question about your computer? Send an email to techmom@momadvice.com and get answers!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

WSBT-TV: Saving Money On Your Printing

Each Tuesday on WSBT, I share tips to help save families money. This week I shared tips for saving on printing costs. This segment goes along with a past entry that I had written on ways that we save on printing and on ink.

If you have an idea that you would like to see covered on WSBT, please leave me a comment and let me know. I am always looking for new ideas.

Sound Off: How do you save on printing and ink expenses? Do you return your ink cartridges anywhere or do you refill them yourself? Please share!

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Weekend Project: New Workspace

I am so excited because Ryan & I were finally able to complete another project on our to-do list... creating a workspace for two.

We have had a lot of challenges with the two of us both working from home and both working on the computer. We both needed computer time and we were constantly battling for the computer. One of my first investments was getting a laptop. Thanks to having a computer guy for a hubby, he was able to get me an excellent deal on a laptop and I was partially in business.

I say partially because we were still battling over workspace. I have back problems and would want to sit at a desk. He would need the desk for his computer so we would once again be duking it out for the workspace. One of us would be sitting at our children's tiny table trying to talk about work ideas and the other one of us would be sitting all comfy at the desk. We also had other scenarios where I would try to be productive working in my room and then fall asleep or I would attempt to work from the couch, but someone would want to watch television. In short, it wasn't working.

Finding a desk though that could fit our "team Clark" philosophy was tough and expensive! We decided to use some of the money that I earned this year to put towards getting a desk that would be perfect for us to work together.

We found what we wanted in the Pottery Barn catalog, but we aren't a Pottery Barn kind of family (budget wise, I mean). Ryan was able to find it for a fraction of the price on Target's website though and you can't even tell a difference between the two designs. He also found a deal where we got 15% off and free shipping. Timing it with that really helped save us some additional money. While it was definitely a splurge, it provided the perfect space for the two of us to work together.

Welcome to my new workspace- isn't it great? You can expand these pictures to view it in more detail. We purchased three cabinets and bought two desk tops to make our new work area. The two desk tops rest on the center cabinet and make one seamless unit. This set-up works great for us because we work together on many of our projects.

Not only is this great for working together, but it has created a lot more space in our office because it is all against one wall versus our corner desk that we had before.

This set-up was not without challenges because we had originally intended for it to go along our back wall and found that the unit was a lot larger than we had anticipated. We had to remove our closet doors and allow the unit to go basically into the closet space, which meant that this closet is now open and viewable to the world. I am not liking that too much, but it was a way to encourage us to weed through the items in the desk and in the closet to free up space and make it look more organized. I am thinking about making a curtain that would just partially hide this from view since a full set of curtains probably won't work.

I did tackle an enormous project though...those craft supplies are finally in order! That was no small undertaking and I am so happy to see everything neatly arranged. I even have space for my sewing machine so I can use my workspace to craft as well.

I organized the closet without making any investments. While I think pretty baskets would look so much better, the practical side of me won this battle and I am just using things we already have. If I add a curtain, I can close this off a bit and no one will even notice.

On the opposite wall we have my children's table and chairs. They can be in the office with us while we work and they can work on their own little projects. You can see past pictures of how we made our workspace kid-friendly.

This is an investment that I hope really pays off because we can both work together and each have our own space. Being productive, without a space to call your own, can be difficult. We love working together so this the ideal space for us!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do I Track My Traffic?

Continuing with our series on blogging, for fun or for profit, today I wanted to talk a little bit about tracking your readers. If you haven't had the opportunity to read the past posts, in my first entry, I discussed some basic starting points for working from home and then shared in another post ways to begin building your readership.

Today we are going to talk about tracking your readership and how statistical information can actually help you build a better blog. Be forewarned, stat tracking can become highly addictive! There is nothing more fun than seeing where your readers are coming from, the growth of your site/blog, and how people happened upon your website.

First, if you have a website, it is likely that your web host offers some type of statistical information. Since you are already paying for the hosting, you might as well take advantage of any of the stat services they offer. Your host might offer a more in-depth analysis of your stats so start here if that is what is available to you.

If you just have a blog through a service like Blogger, Typepad, or Wordpress- you will need to find your statistical information through an alternative means. There are tons of places that you can use for traffic-monitoring, but a few of the more popular are Google Analytics, SiteMeter.com, or StatCounter.com.

Each of these programs offer very simple guidelines for adding a tracking code into your page. It literally will be a matter of signing up for an account, highlighting the code that is provided, and copying the code into your site. Once you have added the code, you can sign into your account and begin viewing your site traffic.

Once you have access to your statistics, you will have a snapshot into the volume of readers you are tracking, what the readers were looking for, and how they were able to discover you.

The first thing you will see when you look at your statistics is your "Unique Visitors." This is the most important statistic and something that you will need to share if you are planning to make revenue from your site. Most advertising networks will need this information to determine whether or not you qualify to be part of an advertising network. A unique visitor is the total number of people who have come to your website and it can be viewed by week, month, or year.

The next statistic you can look at is your "Number of Visits." This is the total amount of visits that you have had over the week, month or year. This number will be higher than your unique visitors because, chances are if you have excellent content, your readers will be coming back multiple times to your website.

The final statistic I like to view, and that will often come up if you are joining an ad network, is "Page Views." This statistic tells you how many times pages have been viewed on your site or blog and can tell you the average of pages a reader views per week, month, or year on your site.

Now that you know how to get your web traffic details and can understand your reports, you can begin discovering how people have found you and what it is they are looking for. One of the most fun things to look at is your keywords or keyword phrases. Lets take a peek at some of my top keyword searches for the month.

1. Mom Advice
2. McDonald's Birthday Parties
3. Aldi
4. Redbox Codes
5. Cheapest Shipping
6. Birthday Freebies
7. Recipes for Picky Eaters
8. Dinner Ideas
9. Monthly Budget Sheets
10. Powdered Milk

Using this list, I can get an idea of what people were looking for when they came to my site. I can see immediately what is popular and what I can expand upon. With a notebook in hand, I can begin drafting up some ideas for future articles that can help even more people find me. In my case, for example, maybe I could put together an article on getting cheap shipping on your packages or I could put together more dinner ideas for picky eaters. Use your statistics to your advantage so you can build a site that will attract more visitors and give your audience exactly what they are looking for.

Last, but certainly not least, is the opportunity to see what sites like to yours (also known as the referrers). Let's take a look at my some of my top referrers for this month:

1. Money Saving Mom
2. Freebies 4 Mom
3. Frugal Hacks
4. Baby Cheapskate
5. The Dollar Stretcher
6. 9 Rules
7. Festival of Frugality (hosted at Cash Money Life)
8. Simply Thrifty
9. Frugal Upstate
10. The Homespun Heart

So let's take a look at our referrers and how this information can help me. Well, first of all, if they just were talking about something I did over here or are sharing me on their blogroll, I want to head over there and give them a big thank-you or leave them some comments on the great stuff they are doing. This give-and-take is what is all about in the blogging community, so be sure to send them lots of thanks (hopefully highlighting them above will be a great way to thank them!) or head over to their neck of the woods and let the comments flow.

Looking at some of the other things on the list, I can see what has been really successful for me and what has been a dud when it comes to time and energy. Writing for Frugal Hacks, for example, has been very lucrative for me and brought lots of great (like-minded) people my way. I guest write weekly for them and I can see that being part of that community of writers has boosted my traffic and is worth my efforts.

Likewise, guest writing for other sites and sharing my articles with them is worth my time too. The Dollar Stretcher, for example, ran one of my articles and I saw a big boost in traffic. It would be worth the time to continue sending articles their way.

Partnering with Freebies 4 Mom to offer my weekly freebies has been worth my effort too. I can see that she is sending lots of traffic our way and I am returning the traffic back to her. Seeing that my traffic has grown from collaborating our talents shows me that this is a good relationship to continue.

Participating in the Festival of Frugality is worth my time and the effort that goes into being a part of this event. It only takes me five minutes to submit my entry, and it keeps traffic coming my way throughout the month. This is something I should continue.

Being part of the 9 Rules community has helped boost our traffic, but I am able to get technical advice and support through their network. It is an honor to be part of it, but the traffic has been secondary to the relationships and guidance we are able to get through our community.

Sometimes I do things just to give myself an opportunity for me to grow and become more familiar with other forms of media. Doing the news segment, for example, is a great way to learn to be comfortable in front of the cameras and learn to communicate with my readers in a different way. Writing monthly for a local magazine helps me share in my own community and build a community-driven readership. I can position myself within our community as a local expert that knows a little bit about household management which may lead to other mediums of conveying my messages. These gigs might not show up in a statistical sense, but I know that they are adding to my portfolio of work. I can use these when companies call to see if I can handle certain jobs. "Are you comfortable in front of a camera?" they might ask. "Actually I appear weekly on our local news and I can point you to some news clips so that you can see how I am on camera." Another question might be, "Do you feel comfortable writing for other publications?" My answer would be, "Here, let me show you some of my work in this magazine that I write for. This will give you an example of what my writing looks like."

In short, look at your statistics as a way to show where you should concentrate your efforts, but don't use it as a means to the end of what you should do. Remember to look at each opportunity as an opportunity to not only grow your site, but to grow yourself.

Reading Corner:

To go along with our series, I would like to highlight great reading material for building your web business. I encourage you to check this books out from your local library to help build your mad web skillz. Today's book is "The IT Girl's Guide to Blogging With Moxie," by Joelle Reeder & Katherine Scoleri.

This book is excellent for someone who is interested in just beginning to blog. They share how to start a blog, how to build your readers, and they share more technical information on blogging in a fun and easy to understand way. This is the type of book that I wish I had read when I first began blogging and I hope that it will be a wealth of information to you too.

If you are looking for even more great information, I would highly recommend visiting Blogging Basics 101. These ladies are a wealth of information and their site is a great starting point for learning all about blogging!

Please continue to keep the questions coming our way and I will continue to answer them. Send your questions to amy@momadvice.com and I will add it to my weekly frugal momma chat on here.

Sound Off: How do you track your website/blog traffic and statistics? What have you learned from this statistical information? Anything funny popping up in your keyword searches?

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: Gaining a Readership (The Frugal Way)

Q: How do you establish a reader base?

A: I may have opened a can of worms by answering the work-at-home questions, but I am hopeful that I can help offer some advice to those of you out there who are trying to start a blog or website for profit. As always, I promise to be as honest as I possibly can and share any details about my work-at-home experience to help others.

Let's say that you start a website/blog and then you are left wondering, "How in the world am I going to get people to come to my corner of the internet?" You could obviously pay to advertise on websites that target the same audience profile, but usually when you are beginning your funds are often tight and it can be difficult to fork over money. After all, you are trying to make money for your family and you want to be as smart as you can with your dollars.

I will be very honest and say that I have never paid to advertise anywhere. In the beginning, we tossed around advertising on other sites to build our audience, but we just did not have the money to pursue the sites that we felt would fit our audience best. We are just now beginning to shell out real money to get our site known in the web-design community and to boost our traffic so I think it is very possible to have a profitable website without spending a huge amount of your profits to gain a readership.

But let's be frank, without a great and interactive audience your site just won't have that sparkle that keeps people coming back. You need an audience that can provide feedback for you not only as motivation to keep doing what you are doing, but also to also create a community of people who want to keep going back to your site over and over again.

Here are a few of the ways we have gained our readership:

1. Join like-minded communities- When we first started the site, I joined every Yahoo group that had something to do with personal finance or frugality. You will have to look into the guidelines for these groups, but usually you can have a signature line at the end of your posts. This is a great way to get your name out there, participate in a group of like-minded folks who will respect your ideas/opinions, and gives you an opportunity to peek into what other people are interested in on your topics.

With a signature line, I think it is important to keep it short, sweet, and to the point. None of us have time to read a paragraph of a signature line, but a link to your site/blog and maybe a quick quip underneath can get people interested in wanting to learn more about you and what you are doing.

My signature line could be:

Amy
MomAdvice.com
"Helpful financial advice for every mother!"

This is short, sweet, and to the point. You don't want to be booted out of communities for spamming them so make sure that when you are sharing on these sites that you don't continually drop in things that could qualify as advertising or make others feel uncomfortable. Understand the rules and play by them. People will respect you more for it and it is great fun to find a post that someone else has written about what a great resource your site/blog is without you spamming everyone to death.

If you are unclear about the rules, email the moderator and make sure. It is better to be safe than sorry!

2. Name Drop- And name drop often! This is something that I learned as I got further along in my career. I was so scared that I would lose my readers that I would never share about other websites or blogs. I thought I was keeping my readers secure in my grasp if I never gave them something to take them away from my spot. But then I realized that what I was doing was actually keeping my readership low and I was losing out on a lot of readers that might come my way.

I started doing the "Amy's Notebook" entry on Thursdays to highlight other blogs. I would share great things that I ran across on other sites and include them in a weekly round-up for my site. What ended up happening was that those blogs found out about me and would add me to their favorite links, would share my site with others, or would become a reader on my blog. All of a sudden, your name gets dropped in ten new locations and those ten locations have a whole slew of readers who never knew about you.

Better yet, when you name drop in a blog post, sometimes you don't even have to come up with content for the day. This can be great when you are suffering from a case of writer's block or you are too busy to write.

3. Share Your Content- One of the greatest ways that you can get readers is by sharing your content with other sites or print publications. If you are a blogger, many blog entries are the perfect length for ezines and newsletters.

Share content with sites that are going to bring in your perfect target audience. One easy way to figure this out is to look up a site that you really like (or your own site if you are already established) on Alexa and see what other sites they recommend. You will see "Related Links" on the left-hand side and you can click on that to see what other sites other people visit that are similar to your own. For example, here is the listing for our site. That can give me a good starting point for great sites that I could contact and see if they would use my content for their own site.

Sharing your content with competing and more established sites will give you the readership boost when and where you need it most. Not only can that be good for gaining readers, but it can also help establish relationships with other website owners that can be great for networking purposes.

You can also share your content through sites that keep a directory of articles for ezine and newsletter purposes. I would list mine on Ezine Articles and also send my articles to the website owners directly to make sure my content was making its rounds. Do be aware though that when you release your content out into the world that you relinquish the rights to choose where the content might be shared and you have much less control over how it appears and might have more difficulty tracking if your site is linked to that article. Some people don't mind doing this, but others are more protective of their work and like to have more control over where it is seen.

4. Update often- I love to read blogs that I know are updated often and always have something new for me to read. Updating can be difficult and working through a writer's block can be challenging, but this is one way to be sure that people know that you are always offering something fresh. This doesn't mean that you have to add a new entry daily, but even two-three times a week is good and keeps people coming back for more.

I am a big believer in quality over quantity though so don't update just to update. Likewise, don't crank out more of whatever you are selling, but decrease the quality of your workmanship. In a world that seems to consider quantity over quality, a quality looking site with quality content/goods is a rare gem.

5. Take theming to new levels-
When I first started out, one of the best ways for me to get readers was by participating in those group theme events. There are so many theme days that it is hard to know where to start, but chances are that you can find a theme that will relate to what you are up to on the internet. Sometimes it is even fun to participate in these events even if it doesn't exactly fit with your theme. A creative mind can always work a theme into what they are doing. Here are a few events to get you started:

Menu Planning Mondays
Tackle it Tuesday
Works-For-Me Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday
Thursday Thirteen
Frugal Fridays

Maybe you are someone who sells handmade aprons. You could participate in an event like Tackle It Tuesday and share tips for caring for an apron. Maybe you sell soy candles and you could come up with ideas for extending the life of your candles, making you a perfect candidate to participate in Frugal Fridays. Maybe you are an eBay Queen and are trying to make money by selling items online. You could share your tips for posting an auction on Works-For-Me Wednesday.

6. Comment & Share- One of the best ways to get people to come to your blog/site is by visiting other people's sites. I have made some of my best buddies and created some of our best networking opportunities by commenting on other people's blogs.

Make sure that you have created an account or made yourself reachable when you do leave an account. Leaving anonymous comments won't bring in an audience to visit you so make sure you set up an account. Our blog is through Blogger so you would need to create a free Blogger account and make an account that you can sign into and that will direct people to your masterpiece.

7. Start Locally- Local folks are going to be even more interested in you than the other people because you are part of their community! Don't be afraid to contact your local media and see if they might be interested in doing a story on what you are doing. Small-town communities are more receptive to this because there might be less to cover in your area. Check your local media's websites and see if they have a free local directory for businesses or if they have a community forum where you can chat with other local business owners.

Join a small business group in town, look on Meetup to see if you can find other people who are working from home, and join community organizations that will help serve as a networking opportunity. My mom's group, for example, has been an excellent way for me to get the word out about what I do. Not only do these women clue me in on things that will help my website be better, but they also let me guest speak on occasion and share my site with their friends and family. They have become my best fans and have helped me be better at what I am doing!

8. Participate in the Festivals & Carnivals- Participating in online festivals and carnivals can really help boost your traffic. These days they have an event for just about everything in the book and these can be a great way to draw more readers to your site/blog. Create an account on Blog Carnival and start browsing through the categories that fit with what you offer. Submit your articles through their entry form and schedule these events weekly on your calendar. I just submit all of my entries each Friday since most of my events have a deadline for Saturday or Sunday. Making this a priority can help you a lot especially when you are looking for new readers. Better yet, read the other entries for fresh ideas for content to your site or do a round-up of your favorite entries so readers don't have to read the entire festival/carnival to find the really great stuff.

These are just a few of my ideas for getting started with a reader base. As always, keep the questions and comments coming. I will keep answering them as long as I have questions coming to me!

Sound Off: If you have an established site/blog, what were some of the best ways that you were able to get readers to come to your site, particularly in those beginning days?

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do I Work From Home?

Well, thankfully our phone & internet has been restored. I discovered I have quite a dependency on it and spending an entire evening over at a supermarket in the yucky weather was not ideal.

Since the CBS Early Show aired our segment, I have been really bogged down with emails and, ironically, many of them are scammers trying to scam me out of some more of my money. Right now we are not interested in any work-at-home opportunities for ourselves personally, but thank you so much for thinking of us.

For those who are legitimately trying to find work at home opportunities, please know that my sympathies are with each of you. It is really hard to find work-at-home employment and it is particularly difficult to carve your own niche into the work-at-home world.

Direct sales jobs abound and can be very fruitful for people who are really dedicated and who work hard. Sitting on a couch watching the money roll in will probably not be happening in your near future, but hard work can help you achieve your work-at-home goals.

Things that can be helpful when starting out-

1. Look at the cost investment- Always make sure that you understand how much it is going to cost to get started. Some companies, like Avon, only have a very small amount that you need to pay to start your business upfront. Other companies can require you to spend $500 or more to get started. Be sure you understand how hard you are going to have to work to recoup your investment and be very careful! If you want to dabble in working at home or are unsure if you are disciplined enough to do something like this, please don't throw in a huge investment to make that discovery. It breaks my heart when people tell me they are having a difficult time financially and then they decide to work at home with a $2K start-up fee and then weeks later say they made the wrong choice.

2. Know your strengths- If you are very shy and have a hard time talking to people, direct sales jobs can be difficult to do. I tried direct sales and discovered that I just wasn't good at it. I don't want to "bother" people so it was hard for me to do a job where I had to call and ask if people wanted to place orders, emailing them about parties, asking them if they wanted to buy stuff, handing out catalogs, etc... It wasn't for me! BUT, you might have a way with words and have just the right personality for this kind of job.

If you aren't sure what your strengths are, ask your friends and family. "You know me best. Do you think I would be good at a _____." They should be able to help you in making your decision too!

3. Go to the library- The library is a wealth of FREE information for someone who is looking into working from home. It is an easy way to explore different career paths without making an investment. Check out books on how to start a simple website, how to sell items on Ebay, or find information on great work-at-home careers.

4. Network- Network with anyone and everyone that you can. Join community groups or take advantage of the great communities that you are already part of to begin the networking process. Bater your services with other work-at-home moms, share resources for great deals, and just vent to one another about your work-at-home difficulties.

5. Get a Cheap Website- I asked my husband about this one and he said, "You are trying to put me out of business!" As a freelance web designer, he is going out on a limb to share this information so leave us some comment love!

He suggested Microsoft Office which is FREE! They also have package deals with more features for $19.95 and up. If you are just experimenting and trying to get started, this would be a nice option to explore.

6. Make Money- The bottom line is that there are legitimate opportunities out there, but they are usually names of companies that you know and recognize. The only other option is to go out on your own and start your own little adventure. If you don't have the resources or knowledge to do something new like this, check into community courses on starting a small business or starting a website. Even some libraries offer basic courses in computer skills to get you started.

I personally started this website and made below the poverty level for almost two years. Some months we were extremely excited when we brought in even $80 after I worked for 20-25 hours a week on the website. I do not have a company of people to help me and it has made the money growth a lot slower for me...BUT....I am staying home with my children and I am my own boss. It isn't a ton of money, but it is a modest income that helps when you are just trying to make ends meet. I guess what I am trying to convey is that it is important to be realistic. Growth takes time and devotion. If you aren't devoted to your business/craft/adventure then you probably will end up giving up on it before you can see the numbers begin to turn in your favor.

7. Get Advertisers- I also wanted to address the question about advertisements. There are tons of places you can go through for making money through advertisements. You can do sites like:

Google AdWords
Pay Per Post
BlogHer Ads

I am sure there are many other programs, but these are some of the basic ones that are easy for new sites/blogs to use. You can also become affiliated with companies and make money from referral programs. For example, you can sign up with a company like Commission Junction and make money if you refer people to sites/services.

As you develop more of an audience, you will find that new avenues of revenue opportunities are available. Sites that develop a strong audience can begin going out on their own and creating their own advertising. I did this in the beginning and I was able to pocket all of the money from the advertising, but I had a hard time keeping up with the accounts. I used PayPal for making payments to me, but I had to send out the reminder letters, pull the accounts when they were expired, send invoices, and we might have had to even design the advertisements. It was a lot of work! You have to be more disciplined to keep up with something like this on your own, but you also can keep all of the money you earn!

Other avenues that could open up are advertising networks that are only available to the bigger sites. One network we joined required a monthly minimum of 250K page views each month. That was the minimum. You can imagine how long it took us to get to that point, but we got a bigger piece of the pie.

When you start looking into this territory you need to start exploring how your money is generated and what income you can expect. Do you get money just if people view the advertisements or is your money made only through people clicking on the advertisements? How big are the advertisements? How many will you have to place on the site? Do you get to help pick what appears on your site? Will the advertisements fit with your audience? Will ADULT CONTENT be shown? (This is particularly important if you are trying to run a family-friendly site)

I hope that my answers do not scare anyone off, but I did want to share as much as I could on this topic since I got some really heartbreaking emails. I am so sorry to the families who have lost money because they have been scammed. There is nothing worse than being scammed especially when you are in a vulnerable financial state.

Please let me know if you have more questions by leaving me a comment! The comments keep me motivated and also help me understand what more I can share with you all.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Spending Money Like We Got It!

This weekend, my husband and I had a date night. We went to a very nice restaurant in town. We ordered fancy drinks, an appetizer, two delicious dinners, a dessert, and then we shared more drinks after the meal was over. We didn't really glance at the prices and we spent about seventy dollars on dinner.

You must be wondering how someone who preaches frugality to the masses could be dining out like she has money to spend? If I saw people eating the way we did, clutching our bellies because we were so darn full, I would wonder how they could afford all those "extras" during their meal.

Lucky for me, I was able to mystery shop this restaurant and was reimbursed for my dinner out. In return for paying for my meal, I had to complete a short survey on the service that I received there. It took me about a half hour to fill out so for a sixty dollar reimbursement, that was a pretty good time investment.

Mystery shopping is a legitimate work-at-home opportunity. I personally never relied on it for income purposes, but I did rely on it for meals out or small cash rewards for taking the time to fill out surveys. In fact, before the site started to take up a lot of my time, we only went out to eat or had date nights when I had a mystery shopping opportunity.

Don't think this is for you? Well, you can still spend money like you got it by using gift certificates from Restaurant.com. This has been the latest way that we have been able to afford dinner out. Our favorite restaurant recently dropped out of the program, but there are still a few restaurants in our area to chose from.

They are currently running an awesome promotion, that won't last long, where you can get $25 gift certificates for only $3 using the coupon code PRESENT when checking out. This is a 70% savings and you can stock up on these as holiday gifts or for your family. The gift certificates are good for an entire year! The coupon code is good from July 24-31.

If you do decide to get these, I would love if you used this link provided because I do make a small bit of money from the affiliation. I promise I would only promote something that I absolutely loved and these gift certificates have funded many of our fun nights out.

Related Readings:

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping
A Real Review of Restaurant.com
Don't Throw Out Those Take-Out Menus
Holiday Bling Without a Bling Budget


Sound Off: How do you save money when dining out?

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