July 20th, 2017

How To Start A Blog, Part 2: Brainstorming

How To Start A Blog, Part 2: Brainstorming

If you don’t already know what you want to blog about, figuring it out can seem a little bit challenging. There are so many possibilities, and they can be hard to narrow down.

Start the process by considering the topics you might enjoy blogging about. You can blog about pretty much anything. Here are some popular subjects:

  • A business you’re already running
  • A hobby
  • Family life
  • Career
  • Cooking
  • Pets
  • Gardening
  • Personal finance
  • Fitness
  • Education (very popular for homeschoolers)
  • Faith
  • Advice
  • Just about any other subject you enjoy

You don’t need any special qualifications to blog, although you should know enough about your subject to gain people’s trust. Blogs about “watch me learn to do this thing” rarely stay interesting for long. It’s better to go for a subject you know well. That goes double, or even triple if you’re giving advice.

Once you know what you want to blog about, it’s time to do some initial brainstorming. You need to figure out categories for your posts and get several post ideas to start off with. A mind mapping app can be very helpful for this, and there are several free or paid versions available. SimpleMind is a popular choice. The basic version is free, and the paid version is quite reasonable.

You may want to compose a couple blog posts even before you have your blog set up. Just use your favorite word processor. You can copy and paste them into your blog when you’re ready to go. This will give you some practice writing before  you’re paying for hosting.

Don’t stress too much about length. There are many opinions on how long a blog post should be. My opinion is that a blog post should be long enough to give the information you intend to share, but not so long that it bores people. How long that is depends on what you need to say. There are some statistics that say search engines like longer content, but if your readers hate it, there’s no point.

Always be ready to take notes on blog post ideas. Back when I started, I kept a notebook in my purse so I could write down ideas any time. These days I use my iPhone if I’m out and about, or my laptop if I’m home and it’s more convenient. You can keep using your brainstorming app or switch over to the notes function on your phone or use another program. I like using Google Drive, so that my ideas are accessible wherever.

This is also a good point to start brainstorming domain names. Don’t be surprised if your first choice is taken – that happens to a lot of people. I’ll include how to get your domain name in the next post. You usually get it from your hosting. If you want to get that right now, you can sign up with HostGator.

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.

July 17th, 2017

How To Start A Blog, Part 1: Why Blog?

How To Start A Blog, Part 1: Why Blog?

Today is the start to my series on how to start a blog. I’ll post every few days – many steps will take more than a day, and time to think is always a good thing when starting a new venture.

Blogging is fairly easy to start – the hard part is earning a living at it. You have to work at it and give it time. But as home businesses go, I think it’s a pretty good model to try. There are many good reasons to blog.

Low Cost Of Entry

One of the simplest reasons I recommend blogging is the low cost of entry. You can do it for free, although I don’t recommend going that way. You’re better off paying for hosting through a company such as HostGator. I’ll get into the reasons for that in another post. Still, blog hosting doesn’t have to cost a lot per month. It’s very budget friendly.

Flexibility

Blogging is an extremely flexible home business. You don’t have to tell your boss when you need time off. You don’t have to keep to a schedule. You don’t even have to keep the kids quiet most of the time.

The one thing you have to do is find time to work at it. Blogging won’t work for you if you don’t. Depending on your family’s needs, you may need to get up early or stay up late. You may have to ask the kids to give you some quiet time so you can work, or have your spouse keep them busy.

That said, setting a schedule for yourself is a huge help. It’s too easy to slack off if you don’t give yourself some sort of a schedule.

To Build Your Business

If you have a home business, blogging can be a good addition to it. It’s not the end all, be all solution to your marketing problems, but it can benefit your business. A blog can be a place to show off how you use your products, share things your company has done for your community, and give customers a way to interact with you. It can also be a more personal presentation of your business, if you like.

Blogging also builds your authority as a business. Your blog content can help potential and current customers with problems that relate to what your business offers. If they trust what you say on your blog, they’re more likely to trust your business.

To Show Off Skills To Potential Employers

Blogging can help you demonstrate your skills to potential employers. Writers can build a portfolio of articles on their blog. Photographers can show off their work. Anyone can use blogging to demonstrate their knowledge in their career field. A high quality blog makes a great resume.

To Find Others Who Share Your Interests

Blogging is a great way to share your interests, and that means you’ll find people who are interested in the same things. That’s a part of what makes it fun. Blogging can be a great networking tool, both for hobbies and your career.

To Help Others

Back when I started Home With The Kids, I was a medical transcriptionist. I was always being asked how to get into that, because so many people want to work at home, especially moms. I got to a point where it made sense to me to start a website on the subject of working at home, so I could simply direct people to my answer there, as there are so many more ways to work at home than just being a medical transcriptionist, and so many hazards to watch out for.

Things rather took off from there, and I’ve had a lot of people be grateful for the help I’ve been able to give them. Start your own blog, and you might help others in ways you aren’t expecting.

To Learn

Blogging is a great excuse to learn new things. You need to keep learning just to keep up with your blog. There’s always something new to learn about whatever you’re blogging about, so you can share it with your readers.

You’ll also learn about how to run a blog. The basics are pretty simple. I’ll walk you through how to install WordPress in a later post. Even doing it the hard way is pretty easy once you know what you’re doing. There’s a lot more to running a blog than just installing WordPress, of course.

The next step is to figure out what you’re blogging about. This may give you even more reasons to blog.

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.

July 12th, 2017

12 Tips To Keep Cooler Without An Air Conditioner

12 Tips To Keep Cooler Without An Air Conditioner

We’ve had some hot weather here lately. If there’s one thing I hate about summer, it’s what the hot weather does to my power bill. Using the air conditioner, even as little as I use it, gets so expensive. I set it to about 81 degrees F, so it’s not like I’m trying to keep the house cold. It still adds up too fast. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to cool yourself and your house that don’t involve using the air conditioner.

Ceiling Fans

The more rooms that have a ceiling fan in a house, the more I like it. My home office has one, and it is such a help, especially since I’m on the far side of the house from the air conditioner and only get a little of it when it does run. Moving air isn’t actually cooler, but it feels cooler, and that makes a warmer house much pleasanter.

Window Treatments

Windows are one of the big ways that heat gets into your house. Double panes help, but there’s still more you can do. First and foremost, keep your sun facing windows covered during the day to minimize the heat that comes in through them.

Look for window treatments that block sunlight. White is a good color to have on the outside, as it reflects a lot of heat. Anything that insulates the window or is considered to be light blocking is good. We have thermal shades in some rooms, and not only do they block the sun in the morning (great for sleeping in!), they keep the room cooler.

If you can’t afford to get new window treatments, you can use cardboard in the windows if you don’t mind ugly. It blocks a lot of heat. Another inexpensive alternative is to buy a Mylar emergency blanket and cut it up to fit your windows. Use painter’s tape to hold it up so the tape isn’t too hard to remove later. Mylar is wonderful at blocking heat. It doesn’t look nice, but if you put it up carefully you may be able to open your windows with the Mylar still on when the evening cools off.

If you can spend a little more, there are insulating films that attach to the window. They look much neater than cardboard or Mylar sheets taped to the window.

Solar screens are another option. They don’t block your view too much, but they keep a lot of heat out. This is something we’re considering as some of our windows need new screens anyhow.

Whole House Fan

We have a whole house fan, which is quite a help in cooling the house in the evening after the outdoor air is cool enough. Shut down the air conditioner if you have one, open a bunch of windows and turn on the the whole house fan to pull in cooler air and blow out the heat of the day from your house. It’s not as fast as an air conditioner, and some are pretty noisy (like ours), but it’s cheaper to run.

Use Ice And A Fan

For cooling a small area, place a bowl of ice in front of a fan. The fan will blow the cooled air around the room. Just make sure it’s somewhere that the melting ice won’t cause any problems.

smoothies

Enjoy Cool Treats

Start out by drinking cold water throughout the day. I keep an insulated drink bottle full of ice water at my desk. It’s the healthiest choice and it feels good to have a cold drink right there.

You can have more fun with cool treats too. Make fruit and vegetable smoothies. Have popsicles. Ice cream. Just don’t overdo the stuff that isn’t good for you.

Use A Cool Cloth

A cool cloth on your neck will help keep the rest of you cool. Dampen a washcloth and drape it across the back of your neck.

Take A Quick, Cool Shower

A quick, cool shower will help you feel much cooler. This can be a good idea right before bed. If you don’t mind damp sheets, don’t dry off completely, and they’ll feel cooler on you.

Run Through The Sprinklers

This might be more for the kids than for you, but a quick run through the sprinklers will get you active and cooler. Make sure you use sunscreen if you’re going to be out for more than a short time.

Open The House Up At Night

Now obviously, this depends on the safety of the area you live in and how cool it gets at night. If possible, open up your windows at night and leave them open to let the cool night air in and the heat out of your house. We’ve had warm nights where this still doesn’t help, but most nights it’s a good idea.

Use Your Barbecue

Cooking in your home will make it warmer. If it’s not so hot that you just can’t bear the thought of going outside, fire up the barbecue to cook meals. I love using a propane grill for this, since it doesn’t take long to heat up properly.

Plant Trees

This is a long term solution, and probably won’t help you this year or even next. Plant shade trees in your yard, with a focus on blocking the worst of the afternoon sunlight on your house. You don’t want the tree planted too close to your home, or the roots may damage your foundation, but you do want it close enough to give shade.

Put Up An Awning

An awning over the windows that get the most sunlight in your house can keep things cooler. It’s a bit of an expense, but it can be worthwhile.

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

July 10th, 2017

Does It Matter Where You Live When You Work At Home?

One of the great appeals of working at home is the idea that you can work from anywhere. That’s the hope for many people. Yet many work at home job listings include a location. Does that location really matter?

For some work at home jobs, yes, it does. Why is that?

Training

Some work at home jobs have training done in office. These jobs will expect you to live close enough to come into the office for training. They won’t pay for your travel to training, and they won’t let you take on the expense of staying close enough for training. Considering that training can be a few weeks or even a few months, that cost would be prohibitive for many positions.

Staff Meetings

Not all employers are satisfied with the many ways to keep in contact virtually. They want face to face time with employees at regular staff meetings, and they don’t want to pay you to travel to them. It doesn’t matter if the meetings are once a week or once a year – they want you to live close enough to drive there and back on the same day.

Clients

If your job involves dealing with clients in person, it makes a lot of sense for you to live close enough that this is a simple matter. If your job involves working with clients, sometimes face to face interactions are preferred or even necessary.

Travel

Sometimes the job will require enough travel that your employer will want you to live in a particular region. You might have an area to cover for client support or sales, for example. They might also want you to live near an airport hub to make it easier to travel to other areas for work.

Taxes

Taxes are one of the big reasons employers want their employees to live in an area. Sales taxes may be affected by where employees live. It can also be more difficult for employers to handle income taxes for multiple regions.

Licensing

Some jobs require that you be licensed in a particular state for the job. Teachers, for example, generally need a teaching license for their state. Nurses and other health care providers also need licenses.

Phone Numbers

While VOIP makes it easy to have your phone number match whatever area code your employer needs, that’s not how all employers conduct business. Many prefer a hard wired, dedicated phone line. VOIP can have sound quality issues as well as security issues, and employers may find it easier to avoid those issues by insisting upon traditional, hard wired phone lines. They will probably also insist upon a wired telephone headset. Anything wireless has potential security issues.

Time Zones

Having their employees all in the same time zone makes things easier for employers. While they can tell you that work hours are in a particular time zone, having everyone in the same time zone ensures that no one gets confused about what the right time is.

Equipment

Some work at home employers provide equipment to their employees and handle technical support and repairs as well. If they don’t want to deal with the down time of having broken equipment shipped out and new sent to the employee, they need you to live close enough that they can send someone out to repair equipment when you have a problem.

Job Duties

Various job duties will be better handled by being in the right location. A teacher may need to see students face to face periodically. A client may need some work done on site. You may need to meet with an employee that you supervise.

Familiarity

Some work at home jobs want you to know the area, and that’s simplest if you already live there. Some writing jobs, for example, want you to cover local events. A service in a particular area may want someone who knows the local region.

Does This Mean You Can’t Move And Keep Your Job?

If your employer specifies a particular location for a job and you later need to move to another area, you will need to check with that employer to see what can be done. For many location specific work at home jobs, moving out of that area means finding a new job just as you would have to seek work if you worked in a brick and mortar location.

If you’re lucky, you’ll move into another area they can allow you to work at, in which case you could continue with your job in a new location. It never hurts to check to see if there’s any way to keep your job before moving.

Why Are Locations Listed For Jobs That Don’t Care Where You Live?

Some employers will list a location on their work at home jobs, but won’t actually care where you live. Often, it’s where their office is. Even when a job listing shows a location at the top, read the entire listing carefully to see if it matters. If it’s unclear, you can always ask.

If a potential employer is clear that they’re only hiring people in certain areas, and you are not in that area or about to move there, don’t push them about it. They usually have good reasons to hire in the areas they specify. They aren’t likely to change their mind just for you, no matter how great your skills. They can probably find someone just as good who meets their location requirements.

Many employers won’t say in a job listing why they’re only hiring in a particular area unless it’s for training or travel purposes. Even if you can’t tell why they only hire in one area, respect that when you’re applying for work. If you move later and might not be in an area they usually have employees, that’s a good time to find out if the rule has any flexibility.

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

July 5th, 2017

10 Mistakes Most People Make When Starting A Home Business

10 Mistakes Most People Make When Starting A Home Business

One of the things we all do when starting out with a new home business is make mistakes. It can’t be helped. You’re doing something new, and even if you know a lot about the work you’re doing, running a home business is something different. Getting things wrong is all a part of learning to do something new.

Still, there are many mistakes you should do your best to avoid. Many come from trying to take the easy route to success, which rarely exists.

Mistake #1: Expecting to be an overnight success.

You can’t help but notice the people who seem to have success right away. They started a business, and it just takes off. In the meantime, you’re struggling to get any results at all. It’s frustrating. Why aren’t things happening for you?

Your typical “overnight success” has worked for years to get to where they are. Their success may be overnight-ish on their current venture, but what about the venture before that and before that? Few hit it big on their first try right away.

Business success usually builds up over time. You may know how to do the thing, and do it well, but you still need to learn how to deal with the business side of things. Finding customers. Managing your social media. Charging enough. Running your website. Time management.

All these things factor into the success of your home business, and they may not come easily to you. That can be a good thing, because an overnight success may become overwhelmed and have more work than they can cope with if they are new to the industry. Ramping up over time means you have time to learn the skills you need and to find help when you need it.

Mistake #2: Fake it until you make it to excess.

Many people love the idea of faking it until you make it. It sounds good. You say you’re an expert when you’re actually pretty new to it all. You’re actually figuring it out as you go along, and hoping that you can keep up.

The problem is that it’s easy to fail when you overdo it. Someone catches you asking for advice on how to do something you’ve claimed you can do elsewhere. Suddenly your reputation tanks. People know you can’t do what you claim, and they won’t trust you anymore.

You can find examples of this with photographers who steal images from other photography sites and claim them as their own. There are people who claim to have made big bucks as affiliates, as they ask very basic questions about affiliate marketing on forums. People who get in way, way over their heads because they can’t admit to their current limitations.

If you must fake it, don’t overdo it. Have confidence in what you know, but don’t offer what you can’t handle. Take the time to learn about things before you offer them as a part of your home business.

Mistake #3: Trying to do too much at once.

Many people try to do too much with their home business. They’ll make a website that they want to appeal to everyone, rather than to a particular niche, large or small. They’ll offer too broad a range of services to clients.

Picking a niche or specialty is a big help, especially when you are getting started. You’re more likely to attract customers or a following if they know they can expect great things from you in your niche. If you’re doing great things, but they’re geared toward different audiences, it’s much harder to attract the audience you want. A blog about your life, finances, cool new electronics, how cute your pets are, funny pictures, politics, career advice, new movies you’ve seen, great places to go on vacation and more will have a lot of trouble gaining an audience unless you’re an incredibly talented writer.

Specialize enough that people know what to expect from you. If you try to please everyone, you’re more likely to be seen as the “Jack of all trades, master of none” than as an expert.

Mistake #4: Expect results regardless of efforts

Some people think that starting an online business is an easy path to success. They hear about passive income, overnight successes, four hour workweeks and more, and think that it’s that simple to earn a full time living online.

What they don’t see is the time it took to get to where these things happen. Passive income comes about as the result of hard work for a long time. Websites that produce an income with only a few hours of effort a week are the result of dedicated effort to get there.

You don’t start out with spectacular results just because you put up a blog post. You work at it for years, often with mediocre to poor results as you learn how to make things happen for you. Easy income doesn’t happen for everyone.

Buying too much stuff for your online business

Mistake #5: Buying too much stuff for your online business

This is such an easy mistake to make. You hear about a hot new product that will help you build your online business. You buy it. Maybe you even use it a little. Then you hear about the next hot new product. And buy it. Then the next product, and the next.

It’s easy to waste a lot of money.

I don’t like to buy products that have a lot of hype around them. Most of them are merely distractions from my business. Few are worth my time and money. If I buy a product, I’ve thought carefully about it.

When you buy a product, choose it because you need it right then. Not later. Now. If you don’t need it yet, bookmark it and come back to it when you’re ready to use it.

If you stop in the middle of the learning process, you’ll feel as though nothing works for you. That will be true enough, but it won’t be due to any faults in the products. It will be because you stop trying before it has had time to work or before you’ve learned what you’re doing. Finish what you start.

Mistake #6: Buying too little stuff for your online business

On the other hand, it’s very easy to spend too little on your online business. It feels like saving money, but it can cost you income.

When you see a tool you can use to build your online business, and you know you will put it to use right away, buy it. Put it into use right away. Learn to make the most of it.

This goes for tools and education in running your business. When you’re ready to make use of them or you’re ready to learn something new, spend the money and take advantage of the opportunity. Do it right and it will be well worth the expense.

Mistake #7: Spam of any kind

You’re excited about your home business and you want to get the word out. I get that. But there are rules about how you promote your business that you must follow.

Some kinds of spam can get you into legal trouble. That would be emailing people without their permission. Take the time to build your list and you will build a list of interested buyers without worrying about possible fines for emailing spam. Double opt in is safest – that means they sign up on your site, and also respond to a confirmation email.

If you pay to have your ad sent out to someone else’s list, make sure theirs is legitimate too.

Don’t drop your ads on forums, Facebook groups, blog comment sections or anywhere else unless you know they’re welcome. You’ll get deleted, blocked, or banned. You’ll also annoy the people you’re trying to reach on those sites.

Many groups have a right and wrong way to promote your business. Some forums, for example, allow signature lines with a link to a business. Others don’t. Some Facebook groups have days when you can post about your business. Don’t post about it at any other time.

Your goal in using forums, Facebook groups and such is to become an authority that people trust on your topic. If they find out you have a business, they may seek you out because you’ve built trust. Spamming ads doesn’t build trust.

Mistake #8: Not worrying about credibility

Not worrying about your credibility goes beyond faking it until you make it. It’s making claims you don’t know to be true. It’s promoting products from other marketers when you don’t know if the quality of the product.

This can be easy to see. You subscribe to someone’s list, and they promote product after product after product. It’s clear that they aren’t concerned with whether it’s any good, just if they have a chance to make some money from subscribers. If you want to build a good reputation, you’ll consider your credibility both in your own products and in what you market for an affiliate commission.

Mistake #9: Taking on too much

You can overwhelm yourself with work when you run a home business. There’s a lot to do. You might even still be working a day job and raising a family as you try to build your business as a side income.

Running yourself into the ground trying to do it all for your business is probably not the right idea. You’ll need to work hard, but if you work so hard you make yourself sick, you’re doing too much.

Outsource when you can. It’s not easy to decide to spend that money, but it can be a huge stress reliever once you get things going well. It can give you more time to do the things that earn you money.

This can be anything from hiring a maid to clean your house once a week to hiring someone to help with your social media or design your website. Hiring someone to watch your kids while you work can even be seen as outsourcing, although many work at home parents prefer to avoid this.

Pay someone else to do the routine things and the things that you aren’t so good at yourself. You’ll be more free to do the things that need your special touch and you’ll give your business a better chance to grow.

mistakes are not failures

Mistake #10: Giving up too easily

There may come a time when giving up on your home business dreams looks like the right thing to do. Sometimes it is.

But often you’re going through a rough spot, and it’s not really time to give up. Maybe you thought success would come more quickly than it has. Maybe you’ve had a setback.

These don’t mean it’s time to give up. You may need to take a better look at what’s happening with your business and make some changes, but you don’t have to give up.

It took me years to get to where I am now. I worked on my websites and worked as a medical transcriptionist for years before my website income was good enough that I could quit the transcription job. I got there and I’m so glad I did.

If you catch yourself going from business opportunity to business opportunity and never having success, you probably aren’t giving each one enough time. Stop chasing the shiny new opportunity. Put solid work into one home business and really try to make it succeed. Don’t drop ads here and there for a couple months and get mad that they aren’t working. Build your business over time and know that it usually takes longer than a few months.

Don’t keep going on something that is bringing your family into financial disaster. That’s my big stopping point. If it costs too much and you can’t afford the loss, there’s a problem. Sometimes you will hit the point where going back to a regular job is the smart move. Sometimes that will let you keep trying with a business that isn’t doing enough to keep going but shows promise if you can keep going. Other times, it’s the best thing you can do because that business just isn’t going to happen for you.

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.