October 18th, 2016

How to Make Homemade Halloween Costumes on a Budget

How to Make Homemade Halloween Costumes on a Budget

Halloween is fast approaching, and it’s time to get the costumes ready. My kids and I usually make their costumes at home – it’s not always cheaper than buying one, but it’s a lot more fun and a great creative outlet. The hardest part, usually, is keeping the cost down. It’s easy to spend more making a Halloween costume than it would have cost to buy one. Here are some tips to make Halloween costumes for you kids on a budget.

Know Your Skills and Limits

What are you good at when it comes to costume creation? Can you sew? Paint? Mold? Carve? Build? What about power tool use? How good are you or your kids at each of the skills you will need to make their costume?

You don’t want to get to a point where you realize you’re in over your head on making a costume. There are plenty of instructions online to help you do more than you might manage otherwise, but that’s not always enough.

Pick a Costume and Stick With It

My rule for making costumes for my kids is that as soon as we have made a purchase related to their costume, it’s final. The same would go for if we started making things from supplies we already have at home. The kids can change their minds as often as they want until the costume is started in any form.

Get Ideas Online

There are many place online to get ideas to make creating a homemade costume easier. Whatever your idea is, look it up online and see what other people have done.

This can save you time and money. Some ideas will cost more than you want to spend – lots of people are serious about their cosplay, after all. Other ideas will be perfect for your budget. At the very least, getting ideas online will give you a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into before you spend any money on it.

Look at What You Already OwnMillie from Team Umizoomi homemade costume

Many homemade costumes can be made from things you already have around the house, at least in part. When we made a Millie from Team Umizoomi costume for my youngest daughter one year, a part of the costume was her bike helmet, to give her the big head look the characters on the show have. I covered it in fabric and attached red ribbons for the hair. I had to make the dress, and she used pink pants and a long sleeve shirt to complete the costume.

Check your garage too. PVC pipe can be painted to make a walking stick, for example. Craft supplies and toys can be used to make all kinds of things. Parts from old costumes can be used to make new.

Know Your Budget

Once you reach the point where you’re buying things for costumes, know how much you’re willing to spend. If you’re trying to keep the cost down, make sure you know what a similar store bought costume would cost, and see what you can do to keep your cost below that.

If you have to buy a lot for the costume, this may not be easy. Store costumes are made from very cheap materials as a general rule, unless you go with something really fancy. The fabrics and other supplies you might buy to make a costume yourself can add up very quickly.

Consider Which Purchases Can Be Used For Other Events

steampunk costumeMy son made a steampunk costume last year. We had to buy the clothes for him, but the dress shirt and pants were suitable for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and so their cost was simply a part of buying clothes for the holidays in general, rather than an expense just for Halloween.

You may also be able to upgrade a previous year’s costume into something for this year. My son hasn’t outgrown his steampunk clothes from last year, so he may be simply adding more accessories to it this year so it doesn’t look quite the same.

Shop Used

Thrift stores have all kinds of costumes and clothes that can be perfect for your costuming needs. You may be able to find clothes or accessories on the cheap that are perfect for your needs.

Tardis dressKeep It Simple

The more complicated you make the costume, the more you’re likely to spend on it. If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, but be prepared for your costs to go up as you add details.

My oldest daughter made a Tardis dress costume using a blue dress she already owned and some paint. Effectively a free costume, as we already owned everything she used. It only took her a couple hours to paint it, but she got so many compliments on it. She hates dresses and had no intention of ever wearing it again, so this was a great use of the dress. This was probably the least effort we’ve ever put into a costume, but it worked wonderfully.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

October 6th, 2016

Amazon Bans Outside Incentivized Reviews

Amazon Bans Outside Incentivized Reviews

Amazon has allowed people to receive free or discounted products in exchange for review for a long time. As of October 3, 2016, they have banned that practice, with the exception of their own Vine program. Simply put, they had concerns about the quality of reviews these giveaways were generating.

The exception here is books. Reviewers have long been able to receive free copies of books in exchange for a review, and Amazon will continue to allow that.

Paid reviews for anything have never been allowed, and of course this has not changed. Amazon has banned reviewers for posting paid reviews. This is another step Amazon is taking to try to keep the quality of posted reviews up.

What Does This Mean For Incentivized Reviewers

I know a number of people who have been doing incentivized reviews of products, and there are a number of websites that help reviewers find products they would be willing to try at a discount or free. These businesses have to change their rules – if a seller wants to offer a product free or cheap through them, they can no longer insist upon a review on Amazon.

This may change how easy it is to get such products through these websites – we’ll just have to wait and see who still takes a chance on offering their products in the hopes that a review will happen without requiring one.

The basic problem is that there was a feeling that incentivized reviews were biased – more likely to be positive than a regular review. Everyone knows that the businesses offering the discounted products want a positive review, and it’s easy for reviewers to feel that there’s some level of obligation to provide one. This was making product reviews on Amazon less trustworthy, a huge problem considering how many people use product reviews there to decide whether or not to buy an unfamiliar product.

Of course, if you can get chosen for the Vine program, you can still do reviews, but it’s not as easy to get into as those websites which all pretty much anyone to review products. Amazon has to pick you as a trusted reviewer.

It will be interesting to see if Amazon monitors reviews to watch for reviews posted by people who did receive the product at a discount, but no longer disclose because it’s against the rules. If the discounted purchase is done through Amazon, this would be very easy to track. It would be harder to determine if items were sent to reviewers through some other website. Of course, Amazon often labels verified purchases on reviews, so they can also tell if someone tends to review things they did not buy there.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

October 5th, 2016

16 Vital Tips to Get Your Social Media Marketing on Track

16 Vital Tips to Get Your Social Media Marketing on Track

A solid social media presence is a big help to an online home business. It helps you connect with your audience and drives traffic to your website. While mastering social media takes a lot of work, there are some basics that will help you get started.

1. Get Started

This is the big one if you haven’t done so already. Pick at least one social media site you think will go well with your target audience, and make an account for your business. Start sharing. Follow others. If you don’t start, you’ll never figure out how it works.

2. Keep Trying

Most people quickly become frustrated with social media because it takes so long to get results. Viral doesn’t come easy. Neither do followers. You’ll see others who make it look easy and wonder why it isn’t so simple for you. Don’t focus on them, other than to see if you can get ideas to build off of.

3. Interact

The key word in social media is “social.” If you want things to go well, be social. Ask questions. Reply to people. Be helpful.

4. Follow Others

With many forms of social media, one of the best ways to build your following is to follow others. Find the big names in your industry and follow them. Find interesting people and follow them. Find people who might be interested in your business and follow them. Many will follow you in return – if not, you may still have a chance to interact with them by replying to things they’ve posted.

5. Self Promote

Promote your business in your social media accounts. That’s why you’re there, isn’t it? So long as you don’t overdo it, people won’t be offended.

I use Revive Old Post to keep a stream of my old posts going on Facebook and Twitter. You can also choose to share old posts on LinkedIn, Xing or Tumblr. The pro version gives a lot more control for scheduling purposes and other features. You can exclude categories, tags and even individual posts, which is handy when some things you post are only relevant to when you posted them, and not later.

6. Promote Useful Information From Others

Do not only post about your stuff. Share things that might interest your followers from other sources. This will make your account far more interesting to people than if you just post about your business.

7. Pick Your Social Media Channels

You do not have to use Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Vine, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, Tumblr,… you get the idea. Use the ones that make sense for your business. Trying to use everything will only make it harder to do well at any of them.

8. Be Personal

Another part of being social is being a real person. You don’t have to post every bad moment you have, pictures of meals or anything like that. Be you. An appropriately professional you, but still you. You can joke around if that’s a part of who you are in your professional online presence; just keep in mind who you want people to see as the person behind your business.

9. Be Open to Dialogue

You may have to deal with criticism or questions at times on social media. Hopefully most of it will be easily dealt with, but sometimes you may have to deal with problems you wish could have been kept off social media. Whatever it is you have to discuss on social media, do your best to keep it professional and respectful.

10. Give It Time

It takes time for most people to build a social media following. The people who get a huge following quickly most often have fans from somewhere else or have something go viral. The rest of us have to build a following over time by posting quality information on our social media accounts and hoping for shares.

11. Don’t Stress About Going Viral

Having a post go viral is a goal for many businesses. It can drive a lot of traffic. It’s a nice goal.

It’s not something you should stress over, however. It is very hard to predict what will go viral. Create interesting content for your audience and keep your real goals in mind. It’s not traffic. Sales, subscribers and anything to do with income are much better goals than mere traffic. Viral posts aren’t necessarily good at that part.

12. Don’t Get Addicted

Social media can be a lot of fun. That means many people use it too heavily, to the detriment of their business. Social media should be a tool for your business, not a focus. If it’s taking up too much of your work day, you need to reassess how you’re using social media.

13. Pick Your Controversies

It can be good to get involved in controversies. People love a good argument. But when you’re representing your business, pick which controversies you get involved in. There’s no point in offending potential customers unnecessarily.

14. Use Scheduling Tools

There are a lot of tools available to make scheduling your social media posts easier. I use Hootsuite. You could also consider Buffer, Everypost, SocialOomph, Sprout Social or other tools. New ones come out regularly.

Pick the tool based on the social networks you use and the features the tool has. With most you’ll need a paid account, but the time you save will be worth the money. The convenience is well worth the money, and most give you a free trial, so you can test it out before spending anything.

Don’t overdo the scheduling thing. You still need to be personal, and sometimes you will need to post in real time. Sometimes you will want to rethink things you had previously scheduled due to events in the real world.

15. Link to Your Social Media Accounts on Your Website

You want people to find your social media accounts and follow them. Make it easy by prominently linking to them on your website.

People who visit your website and then follow you on social media are more likely to come back. Your presence and your posts on social media will remind them about your website and what you offer.

On this site, I have links to my social media accounts on the right sidebar. They’re highly visible, yet not in the way.

16. Make It Easy for People to Share Your Content

Have links near your content that simplify social sharing of your content. Visitors may do some of you marketing work for you by sharing content they found interesting. There are plenty of WordPress plugins, such as Shareaholic, which will do this for you automatically. I have mine at the bottom of my posts, but others prefer the top or side of their content.

Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

September 28th, 2016

Work at Home for Double Dot Media

work at home job leadsDouble Dot Media is a company based in Christchurch, New Zealand that offers online tools and training for people who want to run online businesses. They also allow most employees to work from home, although locals can work in the Christchurch office.

Their products include Affilorama, SearchHoo and Traffic Travis. They send employees to work related conferences to improve their skills, so you can keep being the best employee possible.

Current job openings include an affiliate manager position and a position for a conversion rate specialist. I have listed these jobs on my job board in the marketing section, but you can find all their job openings on their website.

Expectations are high – most positions want more than just a CV/resume. They want a cover letter video explaining why you’re the best choice. If you want the job, you have to inspire them.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

September 21st, 2016

How to Make a Decision About School Volunteering You Feel Good About

How to Make a Decision About School Volunteering You Feel Good About

At this time of year, there’s a lot of pressure for parents to volunteer at their children’s school, especially for moms. It’s easy to feel as though you aren’t doing enough for your child’s school, but at the same time volunteering can take too large chunks out of your time. You need to take a good look at whether volunteering at your child’s school makes sense for you. Then you can make a decision you feel good about.

What Do You Want to Do?

This breaks down into two parts. First, do you even want to volunteer at your child’s school? Second, what would you like to do there if you do volunteer?

Volunteering is so much more fun if you want to be there and you get to do at least some of what you would like to do to help out. You won’t always be able to choose exactly what you do, but you can decide whether you’re volunteering in the classroom, getting active in the PTA, helping out with special events, chaperoning field trips and so forth.

Once you’ve decided to volunteer for a particular thing, you may have to let go of control over what exactly you do. Field trip chaperones, for example, are often assigned to a group of kids and told what they are expected to do for the day.

I have two favorites that I have done through the years with my kids. The first was managing my daughter’s Destination Imagination team. It was stressful at times, but very rewarding. Destination Imagination is a wonderful activity to encourage kids to be more creative and solve problems, and I highly recommend it.

The second is reading with the younger kids. One year I was able to take my then two year old into a room they had set aside for parent who had to volunteer with young siblings along, and then read with first graders who were sent over from their class. It was a big help for the teacher, and really good for my highly social two year old. I usually brought her with a carrot for a snack, which took her a long time to eat. She was known as “the kid with the carrot” for years after.

Does It Fit Into Your Schedule?

Volunteering shouldn’t mess up your routine more than you’re willing to allow it to. If it’s making your life too much more difficult, you may not have found the right fit for you. It may be time to reconsider what you’ve gotten yourself into.

Now, you may not always be able to change your volunteer schedule right away. They need you at the times you have committed to. What you can do is keep in mind which things overwhelmed you or didn’t work with your schedule, and take that into consideration next time.

If a schedule change is all you need, schools are usually quite accommodating to their volunteers, provided you aren’t leaving them in the lurch for an event. They know you’re taking time out of your day, and that it’s not easy to do so.

What Does the School Expect?

Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice as to whether or not you volunteer at your child’s school. My kids’ school, for example, is a charter school and requires a certain amount of volunteering per child enrolled. They have a lot of ways parents can do it, so that even if both parents work outside the home or the child has a single parent, it should not be too hard to get the volunteer hours done.

Many schools have work parents can do at home to complete their volunteer hours – it’s not all done at the school. There may also be hours available after school hours or on weekends. It’s not all in the classroom or working with the kids.

Always remember that unless your children’s school requires it, you do not have to volunteer. It’s a wonderful thing to do for the school, but if it doesn’t work for you, don’t feel too guilty about not volunteering. Keep reading with your kids, helping them with homework as necessary and generally doing what you can to support their academic success the best you can.

Disclosure: I often review or mention products for which I may receive compensation in the form of affiliate commissions. All opinions are my own.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.