May 19th, 2015

Stay at Home Parents – What’s Your Safety Net?

Stay at Home Parents - What's Your Safety Net?

There are good reasons to choose to be a stay at home parent, especially when the kids are little. Some choose to stay home with the kids until they’re all grown. It’s a good thing to do for your kids when your family’s situation allows it, but you should be aware of the risks. Life rarely goes as smoothly as we’d like, and that’s why every stay at home parent should have a safety net. Here are some options to consider.

Life Insurance

Having at least some life insurance on both parents is a generally good plan, regardless of who works or doesn’t. But if one parent has no income coming in, life insurance can be a way to ensure that in the event the working parent dies, they’ll get some money, which gives them some time to get things going again.

Don’t just buy a minimal policy if you can help it. Think about how much financial help your family would need if either parent dies while the children are still growing up. What is the financial value of each parent? How many years will you need that value to continue? What about medical bills and funeral costs?

Find a good insurance professional and talk about what kind of life insurance coverage your family should have. Be sure you understand the different kinds of life insurance. Get coverage on both parents, regardless of who earns an income. Stay at home moms and dads contribute significantly to the family in ways other than by earning an income. Money from an insurance policy can help the family deal with those issues after an at home parent dies.

Of course, life insurance only handles one of the potential problems that can arise for the family. It won’t help at all in many other situations. If divorce, disability or unemployment are causing financial issues, it won’t help at all.

Several Months’ Savings

Saving up several months’ income is another way to be ready for those problems life loves to throw at you unexpectedly. Having enough money to live on while you get things figured out for a few months is a huge help.

Saving up a lot of money may not be easy, depending on how close your expenses are to your income, but if you can manage it, do so. Living off savings is far better than using credit cards and having to pay them off later, believe me!

This should not be the same as your retirement fund if you can help it. By the way, you should have a retirement fund for yourself too, even if you have no other personal income.

Your Own Retirement Plan

Just because you’re a stay at home parent doesn’t mean you don’t need to contribute to a retirement plan for yourself. Whether you go back to work when the kids are older or not, contributing a retirement plan for yourself is very important. A lack of income means you aren’t contributing to Social Security, and that effects the benefits you would get when you’re older. There are a variety of plans you or your spouse can contribute toward for your retirement. Talk to a professional to learn more.

Up To Date Professional Skills

If you had to work outside the home, what would you do? What kind of work have you done in the past?

Make sure that you keep up on any qualifications for work you’ve done in the past, or work on qualifications for work you’d like to do. If you have to go back into the workforce because that’s the only way you can support your family, do what you can to make it the job you’d like, not just the first one to come along when you’re in a crisis.

Be very careful when choosing an online college or vocational program. Many programs are not worth what they cost. Others are excellent. You want a program whose graduates find appropriate work after graduation. If too many graduates have trouble finding employment related to their training, that’s not a good sign.

You can also read up on what’s happening in your industry. Read trade journals when you have the time. You can also consider joining a professional association. This can help you to keep in contact with people in your industry, which may become valuable if you go back to work, as well as help you be aware of changes in the industry.

Earn Income From Home

Of course, you can always do your best to earn income from home, as I and so many others do. There are many ways to do this, from working for an employer to working for yourself.

Don’t just look at how someone else is earning money from home, however. They’re doing what works for them. Look at what you can do. Other people can be an inspiration, but you’re more likely to succeed if you work things in your own way.

Do not expect earning an income from home to be easy. It rarely is. You have to figure out how you’re going to earn money and make it happen, while managing your at home life. It can involve using some kind of child care if your work requires more focus than you can manage with your children around. Alternatively, it may involve early or late hours, and less time for sleep.

Earning an income from home is my personal safety net because it doesn’t rely on how my husband is doing. If (god forbid) something happens to him, I’m still earning a living. My income has helped keep us afloat in the past.

Build a Support Network

If all else fails, or even if all else is working pretty well, make sure to have a good personal and professional support network. Your support network can help you get through tough times and may even help you find what you need to improve things, whether that’s a new job, the right doctor or something else. They might be there as a shoulder to cry on or bring a meal over to help you out.

Maintain or build your professional network on LinkedIn. Connect with former employers and coworkers. Look for relevant professional groups to join. Participate.

Keep in contact with friends and family in person as well as online. Getting some time with your parents, siblings, friends and so forth is important. You need time to be yourself, not just a mom or dad 24/7. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so forth have their place and you should take advantage of your preferred social networks, but for most people there’s still nothing like getting together in person and having fun.

Also network with your fellow at home moms and dads. Many of them will have had professional careers too. You may be able to help each other keep up with your former careers, even if they were entirely different. You can always compare how you each keep up with things.

Talk About What If Something Happens To You

Don’t just consider what happens if something happens to your spouse or significant other. What if something happens to you? I promise, it will be a significant impact to your family, and something you should plan for.

Go beyond the life insurance mentioned before. Stay at home parents can become disabled too… how would you handle that as a family? Is your health insurance good enough to cope with that, and what about long term disability? It may not hurt to look at the costs of long term care insurance for the stay at home mom or dad. If you aren’t earning an income, you may not be able to get disability insurance, which is meant to replace the income you earned by working. Long term care insurance will ensure that you receive care if you need it for a long time, so your family doesn’t have that strain.

If disability insurance is what you want, you have to have an income. If you’re working now, look into an independent disability insurance policy. Pay attention to the terms, especially how long you need to have worked before quitting for the insurance to be effective. Make sure your policy will continue as long as you pay the premiums – the coverage is based on your paycheck when you were working, even if you later quit. This will probably be more expensive than disability coverage provided by an employer, but coverage from an employer only helps while you have that job.

You don’t need to limit yourself to just one of these, of course. The more things you do to protect yourself, the better off you are if things go wrong.

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

April 20th, 2015

How Well Does Your Website Cope With Mobile Devices?

How Well Does Your Website Cope With Mobile Devices?

If you pay much attention to your website stats at all these days, you know that mobile is huge. For this website, just under half my traffic comes from desktop computers – the rest is all tablets and cell phones. It’s not something you should ignore, especially with Google now penalizing websites on mobile search if they aren’t mobile friendly.

You can start checking this out with a simple tool from Google to see whether or not they consider your website mobile friendly.  This won’t show you how your website looks to visitors, but knowing whether or not Google considers your website to be mobile friendly is a good place to start.

But Don’t Most Smartphones Display Websites Just Fine Anyhow?

It’s true that most smartphones do a pretty good job of displaying websites. Screen sizes have increased through the years, and quality in general has gone up. But not everything works right on every mobile device if you haven’t planned for it.

Your font sizes may be too small, for example, for a smaller screen. You might have links set too close together to be easily used on a smaller screen. Your layout may come out really weird or just be too wide for the phone’s screen. When in doubt, it’s best to check things out so you know how your website works on different screens.

There are tools, such as Browserstack, Sauce Labs, and ScreenFly.  Some are free and others require you to pay. It’s absolutely worth it to know what your website looks like, and even how it works on a wide variety of browsers, devices and screen sizes, even beyond the simple question of “is my website mobile friendly?”

It may sound like a lot of work to get your website ready. Messing around with the way your website works can be time consuming or expensive, depending on whether you do it yourself or hire somebody. Fortunately, there are a variety of options.

WordPress Plugins

If you run your website using WordPress, getting mobile ready may be as simple as using a plugin. The plugin detects whether a visitor is on a mobile device or a computer, and shows the correct version of the site. Here are a few options:

WPtouch

This is what I used first when going for a more mobile friendly website. It’s very easy to use. The options are pretty basic – you can customize colors and other aspects of your website’s mobile appearance. There’s also an option for visitors to switch over to the regular version of your website, which can be useful. You can get more features if you buy the pro version.

WordPress Jetpack

Jetpack is a plugin that comes from the developers of WordPress, and it does a lot more than offer a mobile theme. It also gives you access on your self hosted WordPress blog to features offered on WordPress.com, such as stats, site management, subscriptions, comment forms, image carousels and more.

WordPress Mobile App

WordPress Mobile App makes your website look and feel more like an app when someone views it on a mobile device. You can customize the appearance, and all content is synced to your blog. There is also a premium version with more features.

WP Mobile Edition

Yet another plugin to quickly make your WordPress site mobile. Visitors can choose the mobile or regular version of your site and the theme is designed to be lightweight and fast.

Go Responsive

A plugin isn’t your only option for managing your content for mobile users. You can make your website responsive; that is, it can change based on the size of the screen it is being viewed on. This is the solution I chose, as not all of this website is based on WordPress, and I wanted a consistent look and feel across the entire site, no matter the device.

Some people really don’t like responsive websites. I like them, especially for a site like this one, where the focus is on information rather than interactivity. If you need more interactivity on your website, it’s entirely possible that a specialized mobile version of your site, beyond what even the above mentioned WordPress plugins can do, would be a good idea. If you’re more about information, perhaps not so much.

What I’ve done on this site isn’t as complex as some responsive sites have, and I’m not 100% satisfied with some of my results. I’m mostly pleased with it, however. I did a lot of research on how to make a responsive website, and how to manage all the likely screen resolutions. It’s the navigation menus that mostly give me fits – it’s really difficult to make that display nicely across screen sizes.

But I learned how to tell my pages what content to display and what to hide on different screen sizes, how to change the layout based on screen size, and so forth. It took a lot of time, but I enjoyed figuring it out for myself. If you aren’t inclined toward doing your own HTML and CSS, don’t try this on your own – have a professional help. If you’re already managing your own designs, you can probably do this.

If you use WordPress, there are also quite a few themes out there that are responsive right out of the box. I like this idea better than the plugins I mentioned at the start because, once again, I like having more consistency across devices.

There are a ton of free responsive WordPress themes out there. Check out the sites linked or just do a search for them – they’re out there. WordPress even comes with Twenty Fourteen and Twenty Fifteen, both responsive layouts for your blog.

Free may not be your best choice, however. Many free themes are very limited in how you can customize them and in their support. Companies such as Themeisle offer a range of very impressive responsive themes for reasonable prices.

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

March 2nd, 2015

Can You Get Paid to Use Twitter and Facebook?

Can You Get Paid to Use Twitter and Facebook?

Using Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites can take big chunks out of your work at home day. They’re something most of us have to learn how to manage our time, so it only takes up as much time as we can allow. But if you really love using social media, wouldn’t it be nice to get paid to do so?

It’s not impossible. Many companies need someone to take care of their social media. Obviously, this kind of work is different from managing your own accounts and socializing with your friends, but it’s a job that requires you to use social media, and can often be done from home. Some companies expect you to work in their office, of course.

What Does a Social Media Manager Do?

The basic job of a social media manager is to manage the business’ social media effectively. While some feel it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of social media campaigns – it’s very difficult to draw a direct connection between social media results and sales in many cases. Nonetheless, a healthy social media presence is a benefit to businesses – it’s one more way to for customers to connect with you.

To help with this, a social media manager must do several things:

1. Understand what your audience needs from the business.

Social media has a large impact on how people view the brand. It’s up to you to know how your employer’s brand should look on social media. What do people buy from the business, and what do they want to know from it? Your social media efforts should help your audience in those areas.

This also involves knowing where your audience is. Your efforts won’t be effective if you focus on Facebook when your target audience prefers Instagram or Twitter.

2. Engage with your audience.

Social media is where many people go when they just can’t get results from a business any other way. How often have you heard stories from people who said they had a problem with a company, and it was only resolved when they complained about it on social media?

A social media manager makes sure these complaints get taken care of if at all possible. You have to know how to handle a wide range of problems, or who to talk to if you don’t know what to do. Problems that are left unresolved or ignored may only get worse on social media. Word can spread quickly. When possible, it’s better to make it word of how well the problem was handled, rather than how awful your response or lack thereof was.

Other times, you may be answering simple questions about the company. People are usually happy to have their question answered directly from the company, even if they didn’t direct it right at you.

You will also need to be aware of any threats to the business. Hopefully this is a rare thing, but if there is a threat, you will want to have it handled appropriately, even if that means calling the authorities. Online threats can be difficult to handle, as not all police departments know what to do about it themselves, but you need to pay attention.

3. Share content.

While much of your employer’s content creation may be handled by bloggers, you have to make it work with social media – phrasing things effectively for the limits of each platform, choosing the right images, right timing and so forth.

Make sure your content works with other promotions going on. Other kinds of advertising may refer people to the business’s social accounts – be sure the messages work well together.

4. Advertise your social presence and build a following.

Many social networks allow you to pay to promote your content, so you can get in front of more people and build your following. These may appear different from your regular social media content. Know whether you’re trying to make sales directly with paid social advertising or if you’re more focused on building a following. A solid following on social media can have long term benefits for a business, so even though it doesn’t show immediate results financially, it can be a very worthwhile goal.

5. Build conversions.

A solid following does very little good if it doesn’t convert into paying customers. You may be able to use your social media efforts to capture leads for other types of marketing or bring in sales. 100,000 fans or followers have very little value if none of them buy anything from you.

6. Show a good ROI.

Proving that your social media work is giving a good return on investment can be difficult, but it’s part of the job to prove that what you’re doing is worthwhile. Analyze the results you’ve gotten each week, not only so you can show what gave a good return, but so that you learn what kinds of things do better and worse.

How Do You Get the Job?

As with any other job, employers hope to find social media managers with the experience to help them reach their goals. You have to find a way to show that first employer that you have what it takes to do the job.

Marketing experience is a big help. A degree in Marketing isn’t a must, but if you don’t have that, some sort of experience you can show is.

You can expect potential employers to want to look at your own social media profiles. If you can’t show that you post interesting things regularly, or if you haven’t built your own following very well, why would an employer want you to manage their social media marketing? Your profiles are highly relevant, so make sure they look appropriate. Ideally, you should be able to show examples on multiple platforms, and show that you know how to work with each one.

You can spot openings on various job boards, as well as on the social media pages of various companies. Sites such as Jobs In Social Media specialize in this kind of job opening. Regular job boards such as Monster and Indeed also have listings you may find of interest. Remember that not all will be flexible or home based.

Freelancing is another option. Rather than work for one company, take on a variety of clients who need help with their social media. Freelancing can be both more flexible and more demanding, depending on the relationship between you and your clients. Check sites such as Elance, Guru and oDesk for openings.

Beware These Social Media Mistakes

Many people make serious mistakes with their social media profiles or when talking to potential clients or employers. If you want to become a social media professional, don’t make these mistakes:

1. Badmouth current or previous clients, anywhere.

Whether on your own social media, on someone’s social media account you’re managing, or in conversation with a potential client or employer, don’t say negative things about your other clients, past or present. It only makes you look bad, and makes potential employers wonder what you’ll say about them.

2. Link dropping.

Do not drop links to your social media pages or regular websites when they aren’t relevant, especially if the only thing you post is the link. You aren’t making that page look any better, and you aren’t getting people interested in visiting it.

3. Post about your services when they aren’t relevant to the conversation.

Similar to link dropping is posting about your services or the company you’re trying to promote when they aren’t relevant to the conversation at hand. You’ll look much better if you participate in the conversation and keep it relevant.

4. Be overly personal.

You should be a little personal on social media, but keep it within reason. Some things you should share only with friends, not with the rest of the world. Keep the really personal stuff to the profiles that only your personal friends can see; don’t share it with the world.

5. Be boring.

At the same time, don’t be so impersonal that you’re boring. Allow your posts to sound like a real person without posting the things you don’t need random people to know about you. Be funny when funny is appropriate, serious when serious is appropriate, and so forth. You’re human – show it.

6. Stress about posting the right amount daily.

There are all kinds of theories about how often and what time you should post on social media. While you should be aware of these observations, don’t let them entirely rule you. If you don’t have something worthwhile to post, don’t. Quality is much more important than quantity.

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

February 18th, 2015

No More Affiliate Links, Redirects or Trackers on Pinterest

No More Affiliate Links, Redirects or Trackers on Pinterest

Affiliate links are no longer allowed on Pinterest. For many companies with affiliate programs, this is nothing new – Pinterest hasn’t allowed Amazon affiliate links for some time, for example. But now they no longer allow even those few companies they had allowed. The pins won’t be deleted, but all tracking information will be removed.

Pinterest says it’s to improve the user experience, although many suspect that it has more to do with upcoming monetization. Pinterest says that’s not the case, however. Affiliate links and redirects can make it harder for rich pins to work accurately.

Of course, all is not lost if you’ve been careful to keep your affiliate links more on your own site, under your own control. This has always been the most sensible way to handle affiliate links, as it builds your own property and your own reputation. When you build on your own property, your links are valid as long as you’re a part of that affiliate program.

It may be harder to promote through Pinterest this way, as you have to come up with the content, but in the long run it can be a more effective strategy. Pinterest can be a part of your marketing strategy, but your focus should always be on your own properties, with social media marketing as a tool to direct traffic to your properties.

It takes more effort, certainly, to build your own properties and content, but the results can be well worth it. You don’t have to worry that you’ll lose your account on a particular social media site, that policies will change there or that it will lose its popularity. While these things can still happen, it’s less important when that site is only a part of how your promote your own, rather than something you rely upon for your income.

This kind of thing can happen on any platform you use that you don’t control. On your own website, you decide when affiliate links are appropriate. All you have to obey are the rules of the hosting company, and those aren’t at all likely to change in ways that harm your online business – it’s too easy to switch someplace new. But the platforms you use to market your business may change at any time. It’s better to direct traffic from them to your website, then to your recommendations, than to put your recommendations where they can vanish at any time.

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

February 2nd, 2015

Beware the IRS Impersonators Phone Scam

Beware the IRS Impersonators Phone Scam

Have you ever received a phone call from the IRS? There’s a big scam that has been going around with people claiming to be from the IRS and demanding immediate payment of taxes owed. Sometimes they even have the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number, making them sound more official. But they aren’t. Even if you happen to owe back taxes, this isn’t how the IRS goes about collecting them.

The scammers make it all sound scary. My brother-in-law got this call some time back, and it worried him, because he hadn’t heard of the scam before. Fortunately, he didn’t fall for it, but it did make him nervous. Most people aren’t comfortable with being told that the police are on their way to your door if you don’t pay up, and that’s one of the threats these people use to make victims pay up. They may even call back to really push you.

If you get a call claiming to be from the IRS, and they’re demanding immediate payment by credit, debit or money transfer, it’s a scam. If you’re in doubt, the press release from the IRS on this issue says you can call 800-829-1040 if you think you really do owe back taxes and have a question on payments, or visit http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml if you don’t, but still want to report the scam.

As with many other scams, avoiding this one comes down to knowing who’s really contacting you. You can always visit the IRS website or contact them yourselves when you’re in doubt, just as you would contact your bank if you received an email saying there was a problem with your account, but you weren’t certain it was from them. You should always try to look things up when it’s not clear if something is legitimate. Don’t share any personal or financial information when you aren’t certain that something is legitimate.

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.