Last Updated May 10th, 2019

Be Careful When Taking Online Business Tips From Your Cat

Be Careful When Taking Online Business Tips From Your Cat

You can take inspiration for running your online business from all kinds of things. Just about anything in life can be a lesson if you let it. But some sources give really awful advice. That’s why I’d suggest that you be careful when taking online business tips from your cat.

cat on leg

Don’t get me wrong. I love cats. They’re cute and fuzzy, and odds are that there’s one on my legs right now. Not just when I’m writing this… when you’re reading this. Seriously, mine won’t leave me alone most days unless I insist.

It’s just that some things that work for cats really wouldn’t work so well in your business. Other things they do… brilliant! And if cats could talk… well, I’m pretty sure they’d play lots of mind games with us.

Shed Everywhere

Most breeds of cats shed a fair amount, some more so than others. It’s not their most endearing characteristic, and somehow they always manage to shed light color fur on dark fabrics, and dark color fur on light fabrics. Just a bit of feline magic, I suppose.

I think of this as being similar to spam comments on blogs. Think about the badly spun comments some people leave in the hopes of getting a backlink from your blog, or the “good post” comments the lazy leave behind. Usually, it’s some vague sort of praise that sounds nice until you realize several different people are saying about the same thing to you. “Great post,” and all that.

If you look at the links included with such comments, the sites are usually awful. Poorly written, and clearly meant to get ad clicks, not to work for the long run.

Some spammers even share the feline gift of leaving black fur on white fabric. That is, they leave entirely irrelevant comments everywhere they go. They stand out and are super annoying.

Of course, if you’re alert and have a good quality antispam plugin on your blog, these comments are much easier to get rid of than fur on your clothes.

Don’t shed your comments just anywhere. Blog commenting software may speed up the process of posting comments, but you’ll lose out as soon as your comments start getting marked spam, and even legitimate comments are harder to get published.

Hunt Your Prey

cat hunting

Cats are great hunters. Birds, mice, lizards, your feet as you get out of bed, nothing is safe from a cat on the prowl. They watch their prey carefully, choosing just the right time to strike, then play with it for a time until it either escapes or dies.

Just as there are some things you want your cat to hunt and others you wish they’d leave alone, this is not a behavior you want to mimic without some thought.

You certainly want to know what your target market wants, and for that, you have to know something about their behavior. Don’t do it to the degree that someone might call stalking, but do know what kinds of things people might want to buy from you and why. It helps to make sales.

You should also consider the cat’s focus on its prey. A cat doesn’t go for two mice at a time or a bird and a lizard at the same time. The cat keeps its focus on whatever it’s trying to catch. It may switch focus if something better comes along or if the other prey gets away, but they’ll maintain focus a good while.

Similarly, you should keep your focus on your target market. Don’t go for several all at once. You may be able to serve more than one market over time, but early on it’s a mistake that will slow you down.

Once you’ve captured your audience, don’t make them feel like prey. Offer products to them you think they’ll want. Give value. The best relationships with customers are the ones in which you both benefit.

If you just play with your audience and offer whatever products offer a commission, regardless of quality, they’ll leave you. And unlike a cat, you can’t drag them back unless they agree to stick around. A customer who unsubscribes cannot be put back on your list just because you want them back.

Squeeze Into Tight Spaces

Cats can get into amazingly small spaces. There’s a reason why some people joke that cats are both solid and liquid.

This is much like choosing a niche for your online business. Some people choose a niche so tight that others are amazed there’s room for anyone to run a business in it. Others want more room, so they can show their own style more. They want to be themselves, not confined to a small box.

Deciding how tight a niche you want your online business to fit into may not be easy. Most of us want some flexibility. We don’t want to be so tight in our niche that there’s no room to be ourselves. But only you can decide what’s right for your business.

Get In the Way

in the way

Any cat owner knows that cats have an absolute gift for getting in the way. They’ll be under your feet as you try to walk. They’ll lie down on your laptop and get in the way when you’re reading. Small as they are, they’ll even hog the bed.

Often enough, you are your own greatest obstacle. If you make too many excuses for why you can’t work, it’s very hard to own a successful online business.

There may be days that you don’t feel like being productive. If you want to succeed, work anyhow. Don’t let your mood get in the way.

How you set up your home office or other workspace can make a big difference in how productive you are when you work at home. Make sure it’s a space that lends itself to productivity, not to distractions. It may even help to keep the cats out or at least be ready to distract them so they don’t distract you.

Chase Lasers

A small laser has to be one of the best cat toys ever. Cats will chase that little dot of light, determined to catch it, but never getting it. Turn it off when they get tired, then turn it on again and the cat will be after it.

Many people are like that with their online businesses too, always chasing the latest bright and shiny offer they see, but somehow never able to catch the success it promises.

Of course, the cat will never catch that laser, no matter how hard it tries, because light cannot be caught. You may or may not ever reach the level of success you want, but if you try as hard as you can, you improve your chances.

Keep It Clean

Cats wash a lot. If they feel even a slight need, they’ll wash themselves thoroughly. This is one of the great examples cats make, although their technique leaves something to be desired.

Similarly, you should keep your business practices clean. Treat your customers right. Don’t mess around with poor SEO practices. Be honest.

And when you make a mess of things, do the best you can to clean it up. We all make mistakes sometimes. The important thing is how you deal with it after.

Take Lots of Catnaps

Cats sleep a lot. They may be very active when they’re awake, but there’s a reason why it’s called a catnap.

As an online business owner, this isn’t something you can usually get away with. Most people have to spend a lot of hours building their online business. Sure, you can walk away and leave it for a time, and a good business will keep earning for you, but you’ll usually do better if you keep working on it regularly.

This is especially true when you’re trying to build your online business. Don’t assume that the Four Hour Workweek will come true for you right from the start. It probably won’t. It’s far more likely that you’ll have to work a lot of hours for a long time before you can afford to ignore your business for a long period of time.

Push Boundaries

pushing boundaries

Pushing boundaries can be both the best and worst online business tip from your cat that you can get. Anyone who knows cats knows how they love to push boundaries. That rule that they can’t get on the counters, for example.

Yeah, that one only applies when you’re not watching. Trust me, they get onto the counters when they think they won’t get caught.

Pushing boundaries in your online business can be a great thing. You can go beyond your comfort zone and try new things. That may be what helps you succeed.

But going so far as to break the rules may come with consequences, as any cat knows. Be sure that you can afford the consequences that come with pushing the boundaries.

Be Curious

Curiosity is one attribute of cats you should certainly emulate, within reason. They say curiosity killed the cat, but learning new things is often good for your business.

Learning new things only becomes a problem when you overdo it. If you spend too much time learning and not enough taking action, your business won’t grow.

Find that balance. Keep learning things that will help you grow your business, but be ready to put that information to good use. This way your curiosity about new things you should know for your business won’t kill your business.

I hope this has made it clear why you should be careful about taking online business tips from your cat. Make sure you apply similar caution when taking business advice elsewhere.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated March 19th, 2019

10 Ways To Create Great Content For Your Website

10 Ways To Create Great Content For Your Website

Content is one of the most important parts of your website. There’s a reason why many people say “content is king.” There are other important factors, and your website won’t thrive without things like traffic, but what your everyday website visitor will notice most is your content. It has to be good. How do you make sure you’re offering great content to your visitors?

Writing great blog posts is only a part of creating great content for your website. Your blog needs more.

1. Know What Your Visitors Need From Your Content

Great content isn’t always paragraphs of information. Graphics are content. Lists are content. The information on your page in general, however it’s presented, is your content.

It will never be great unless it’s what your website visitors need. If you’re selling a physical product, for example, words on the page are rarely enough. Pictures of the product, possibly including the ability to look closely at the item and at multiple angles, may make the difference. Videos can also be useful.

Don’t, however, rely excessively on pictures or videos. Not every visitor will be in a situation where they can watch a video, and you can only learn so much from pictures. As much as possible, make sure information in your pictures and videos are available in print.

Transcripts are a good idea for most videos. They make videos more accessible to the blind and hearing impaired, as well as to those who just don’t want to watch for whatever reason. Link to a transcript on another page if it’s too much to put on the same page for any reason.

If it’s information you’re providing, make sure it answers your website visitors’ needs as best you can. You can’t predict all needs, but you should have the information your site claims to offer. If it’s an information product, include information to help your visitor decide that it’s the right purchase. Your content should reflect the needs of your audience, not your own needs.

2. Include References When Appropriate

You don’t know everything, even when you’re an expert in your niche. Linking out to appropriate references makes you look better. It reinforces that you know what you’re talking about. It’s one thing to quote a statistic, for example, and quite another to show where it came from. When you’re using information from elsewhere, don’t just quote it, link to your source for it if at all possible.

For example, if you want to share with your readers how long it takes to write a blog post, you can discuss how long it takes you to do so, but it is more effective to also include post such as this one, which says that the average post takes about 3.5 hours to write.

photographer

3. Pay Attention To Popular Content In Your Niche

You should know what’s happening in your niche so that you can take advantage of it. You need to do this not only on your own website, but on the sites of major competitors. This information has become fairly easy to gather as many websites clearly display the number of Facebook likes, tweets, pins, and other social media shares a particular page has received. That’s highly useful information.

Don’t assume that your post will quickly gain a similar number of shares. The post you’re comparing your post with may have been updated a number of times through the years, allowing it to gain a large number of shares, even if the most recent update was recent.

Don’t copy popular content onto your blog, of course. Do better. Find a way to stand out from the rest.

4. Be Original

While you want to be aware of what’s popular within your niche, you don’t want to copy what others have already said. You must find a way to make your work stand out from the rest.

If you’re quoting other sites as resources, for example, find better or more current resources than what others are offering right now. Make your post as up to date and accurate as possible.

Look for details to include that others have missed or glossed over. If you can share information that hasn’t been added into similar articles, readers will like yours even if they’ve seen similar work in the past.

writing blog content

5. Solve Problems

Why are people reading your blog? A few people might answer that their blogs are read for entertainment purposes, but most readers are looking for information. They have a problem and they want it solved.

Even if one of your goals is to entertain your readers, it can be seen as solving a problem. In this case, the problem could be seen as boredom.

But even entertainment can be informative and solve problems.

Great content doesn’t make it difficult to find the solution to the problem your post claims to solve. It makes it as easy as possible.

Consider a variety of ways to present the solutions you offer. A video post should include a transcript so that readers who can’t watch it can still get the information. An infographic can provide a visual way to present the information that is more appealing to readers.

6. Write Great Titles

The title of your post is what draws people in. A blah title will make an otherwise great post perform poorly.

Writing great titles for your content takes practice. You won’t get it right every time.

Here are some factors to consider while writing blog post titles:

  • Is it accurate?
  • Does it call readers to the article?
  • What feelings does it evoke? Are these the feelings you want to evoke?
  • Is it too long?
  • Is it too short?

Experiment with your titles. Write more than one for each post, and then choose the one you think will work best.

creating graphics

7. Consider The Appearance Of Your Content

No matter how carefully you’ve crafted your content, if it isn’t appealing visually, it won’t perform well.

For blog posts, this means using subheadings, bullet points, images and so forth appropriately. No one wants to read a wall of text or watch a video that rambles on and on.

Don’t add something just to add it. Each subheading should have a purpose. So should every image or change of scene in a video.

Done right, these will make your content more appealing. Done wrong, they can drive away visitors.

8. Know What The Search Engines Want

You also need to make sure that you aren’t writing the same post over and over again. If you have something to say on a topic you’ve written about before, consider updating your old post rather than writing a new one.

There was a time when bloggers could get away with writing lots of similar posts, changing up the keywords a little each time to bring in search engine traffic. That time is not now.

Search engines focus more on semantic search and understand more of what searchers are after, and what you’re really saying in your posts. It’s not just about keywords anymore – context matters.

Don’t focus purely on what search engines want, of course. Write for your readers first, and then find ways to please the search engines.

content creation

9. Set High Standards For Your Content

Creating content isn’t as easy as some people think it is. Coming up with the right words takes time and tweaking. Not every blogger can sit down and crank out the perfect article, video or podcast in a single shot. Many find it far better to write, put it aside, and edit later from a fresh perspective.

If you hire others to write for you, set a high standard for them as well. Whatever appears on your website, reflects on your website as a whole. Allow a lot of low quality content to appear and your website won’t impress visitors as a great resource.

Of course, you should also do basic things such as check spelling and grammar. Such mistakes can put website visitors off, even if the rest of the site is well done.

10. Keep Trying

You may not learn the tricks to providing great content to your niche right away, no matter how well you know it. It takes time to develop your writing style and to get accustomed to what works online. The less you work at it, however, the longer it will take to master.

Writing every day is a good place to start. You may not feel that all of it is worth publishing to your website, but no one says you have to. Put the stuff that just isn’t quite working aside – somewhere down the line you might find a use for it, even if it takes a complete rewrite to make it happen. Take the good stuff and polish it until it’s good enough for your website.

Writing every day is not the same as publishing every day. Many bloggers post only a few times a month. Don’t publish a post just because you wrote it. Publish because you think readers will love it.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated January 28th, 2019

Are MLM Opportunities Worth The Risk?

Are MLM Opportunities Worth The Risk?

One of the most popular ways to earn money from home is to join a multi-level marketing (MLM) company. It sounds great. You sell products you believe in to friends, family, and anyone else who cares to buy from you. It’s flexible, perfect for busy moms and dads who want to earn an income while raising their family.

But are MLM opportunities worth the risk?

Make no mistake, there are risks when you join an MLM. Some involve more risk than others. And the risks aren’t only financial.

Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of MLMs. The selling style has never appealed to me, nor has the level of risk.

MLM Risk: The Cost Of Joining

The cost to join an MLM varies significantly by company. Many are quite affordable to join, under $100. Other, such as Lularoe, can be several thousand dollars.

People trying to recruit you into an opportunity can make the cost sound entirely reasonable and recoverable. They have an incentive to do so, of course – it helps them to make money. It shouldn’t be their primary means of earning money, as that’s a sign of a pyramid scheme, but recruiting always has some kind of benefit in MLM.

The cost of entry isn’t the only one you will face. With most companies, you’ll face a push to attend special conferences and events at an additional cost. These events can be quite educational and motivating, but they’re also expensive.

The pressure to attend these events can be huge. I have a friend who has tried several different MLM opportunities who tried starting a GoFundMe to attend a conference, stating that while she didn’t have the money on her own, she wanted to know that her friends and family had that much faith in her ability to succeed in her new business.

Then there are the costs of finding customers and building a downline. Sure, you start with your friends and family, but for many people, that won’t be enough. So you sign up for online training, that being cheaper than attending a conference, and keep trying to build. You might even try paid advertising.

All these costs add up. If you don’t succeed in making sales and recruiting a downline pretty quickly, your new business isn’t going to work out for you.

MLM money suitcase

MLM Risk: Few People Succeed In MLM

While most MLM companies love to brag about their success stories, these truly are the outliers, not the average.

In 2006, the Direct Selling Association (DSA) testified to the FTC that the median annual gross income from direct selling is about $2,400 per year and that 59% of direct sellers earn under $10,000 per year.

TruthInAdvertising.org reviewed the income disclosures of 32 direct sales companies and found that more than 80% of distributors in those companies earned less than $1,200 annually (less than $100 per month!).

All in all, not a terribly promising proposition, is it?

Yes, some people make serious bucks and an amazing living in MLM. You can hope that you’ll be one of them. Just be aware of the odds against it and be ready to work hard toward that goal if that’s what you decide to do.

If you want even more information, check out this list of MLM Income Disclosures. It’s only for certain companies, but what you’ll quickly see is how little money is earned by the people at the bottom of the list, and how much the very, very few at the top get.

Pay attention to how they disclose income. Some companies look pretty good until you realize that the income table only includes top earners, while lower earners averages are hidden in the paragraphs of text above or below. They have to share that information, but that doesn’t mean some won’t try to hide it a little.

MLM Risk: The Company Goes Out Of Business

When you join an MLM, the life of your business is connected to the life of theirs. If they go out of business, you’re out of luck.

While this happens only rarely with older MLMs, it’s not all that uncommon with younger companies. Some just never manage to get sales going well enough. Others are shut down as pyramid schemes.

essential oils

MLM Risk: Too Much Competition In Your Area

A popular MLM opportunity can sound hugely appealing. It has some name recognition, which could make it easier to find customers.

It can also mean there’s too much competition in your area.

If you have several friends doing the same MLM opportunity, for example, where are you going to find a customer base of your own? Odds are that they’ve already contacted many of the people you would target.

The other problem is that you create your own competition as you recruit a downline. Sure, you make money from their sales, but not as much as if you made those sales yourself.

Worse, they were probably one of your customers to begin with. Will your sales to them be the same after? It’s hard to say.

A significant downline is vital to success in MLM, as it’s hard to find all those customers yourself, but when that downline reaches people you would have liked to have customers sooner than you

MLM Risk: Your Friendships

Have you ever had an old friend (or even a current one) contact you out of the blue, wanting to reconnect? It’s a pretty special feeling, right up until you realize all they want to do is recruit you into their downline.

The Washington Post shared an article recently on how MLMs hurt female friendships. A part of the problem is that recruiting efforts have gone beyond inviting people to join a downline at an event they know is about MLM to bringing it up under the guise of renewing a friendship or starting a new one. When the recruiting effort fails, the interest in friendship disappears.

It doesn’t make the person recruiting look good. It makes them look deceptive and damages the relationship. How can you be friends if they only care about you if you sign up under them?

friends talking mlm

MLM Risk: What If It’s A Pyramid Scheme?

MLMs are in the form of a pyramid, that’s their nature. Each person recruits people below them, who recruit people below them, and so on. It can’t be helped.

But that doesn’t mean most are pyramid schemes.

One of the key signs of a MLM being a pyramid scheme is that you have to buy a large inventory of products. Having to buy some products is reasonable – being forced to carry a large inventory is not.

Another sign is that recruiting new people is more beneficial to you than selling to the public. A legitimate business opportunity should make most of its money from sales to other people, not to recruits.

Is LuLaRoe A Pyramid Scheme?

LuLaRoe was an extremely popular MLM company a few years ago. You probably saw several people online selling it if you were on Facebook. There were groups everywhere, and people bragging about the money they made from it.

Things don’t look so great with them now.

The Washington Attorney General has filed suit against LuLaRoe, accusing it of being a pyramid scheme. They accuse the company of making misleading income claims and pushing consultants to focus more on recruitment than on sales.

The company often promised high profits and that a full time income could be made through part time work. The included disclaimers may not have been adequate.

Over time, they also had problems with product quality and returns. Consultants found that the company was steadily less willing to allow them to return products as promised.

Is LuLaRoe a pyramid scheme? That’s for the courts to decide, but it’s a great example of a company that was hugely popular that may have been one.

But the Washington lawsuit isn’t the only one LuLaRoe is facing. They’ve been sued by many consultants over their business practices.

What you should learn from the LuLaRoe example is that popularity does not mean a company is not a pyramid scheme, or that it’s safe to join. Take your time to ensure that you really understand what you’re getting into with any home business opportunity. Not just MLMs, but all opportunities.

How Can You Investigate The Risks?

No matter how much you trust the person recruiting you into a MLM opportunity, you should take the time to do your own investigation of it. The FTC has some great tips to help you get started on checking out an MLM opportunity. These are some of the tips:

  • Consider the products
    • Is the pricing reasonable?
    • Are they safe?
    • How good is the quality?
    • Can claims be backed up?
  • Investigate the company
    • How long has the company been around?
    • Does the company have a good reputation?
    • Has the company been sued for deceptive business practices?
  • Consider your potential earnings
    • How do you earn money?
    • How much does the average distributor earn?
    • What expenses should you expect?
makeup brush

How Else Can I Earn Money At Home?

If you’ve read much at all here, you know there are lots of ways to earn money from home. Some are flexible, some aren’t.

Work at home jobs have the advantage if you want to know how much you’ll earn for the work you do. The pay may be hourly, salary or based on production, but you know what to expect from your paycheck. Depending on whether you’re a regular employee or an independent contractor you may have to provide your own equipment. Some also require training that you would get on your own before applying or require that you pay for a background check during the application process, but otherwise, have few costs.

Home businesses have all kinds of opportunities and risks. What I love most about starting a home business is that you can decide exactly what you want to do, and figure out how to make it happen. You can blog, freelance, sell crafts, cook, design apps or whatever suits your skills and interests.

Home businesses, no matter how affordable, are not without risk, but that’s okay. The fact that there is a risk is a part of what makes the reward so worthwhile. Even when the learning curve is difficult, you know you’re building something that is yours. About 50% of small businesses fail in the first 5 years, which is much better odds than you get with an MLM.

Even though I’ve met someone who had significant success in MLM, I just can’t say that MLM opportunities are worth the risk. Too few people succeed in them. I know quite a few more who have failed in MLM, some multiple times. If you decide to join an MLM opportunity regardless, do so with your eyes open to the risks so that you don’t get caught off guard.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated January 22nd, 2019

What Is The Real Cost Of “Free” To Your Home Business?

What Is The Real Cost Of "Free" To Your Home Business?

How much can you afford to spend on your home business? Many people can’t afford to spend a lot, which is why freebies are so popular.

But there’s a potential cost of “free.” It’s not always the best choice for growing your home business. “Free” tools can cost you a lot of money that you can’t see directly. And that’s the price you pay for it.

I’m not always a fan of “free” when it comes to running my business. Getting things for free feels nice, but it’s not necessarily effective.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many free tools you can use for your home business which are very much worth it. Many open source tools are wonderful. I use WordPress software for my blog, which doesn’t cost anything, but I pay for my hosting.

But if you rely on free things in the wrong areas, you’re asking for trouble. There are a lot of great reasons to pay for higher quality tools.

Free Goes Poof!

One cost of using any free tool for your home business is that it can go away at any time. If you’re relying on it, that’s a huge potential problem.

That’s the big problem with free blogs such as WordPress.com, Tumblr and Blogger. Do something wrong and your blog is gone. Don’t do something wrong, and sometimes it still vanishes, and you don’t always get a warning or a chance to move your data elsewhere.

Free tools vanish often, even when they’re supported by big companies like Google. You may not remember Google Wave, Knol, or Picnik, which shut down years ago, but you probably know about Google+. The consumer version of that will shut down in April 2019.

Tools supported by smaller companies can also vanish or cease development. Lots of free WordPress plugins are developed for a time and then abandoned, even if they developed a pretty good following.

This isn’t to say that paid tools don’t disappear. It’s just that developers have a greater incentive to keep working on them when they’re making money.

home biz planning

Free Tools Are Developed More Slowly

When a tool is free, it is often developed and updated more slowly. Once again, there’s less incentive for the developer to keep the tool updated.

I’ve used Gimp for years, for example. It’s an excellent tool and it can do many of the things Photoshop can do. But it is very slow to change. This means it takes just about forever (or so it feels) for new tools and features to be added.

Paid tools are more likely to have people dedicated to keeping it up to date.

What Are You Giving Up For Free?

Free means only that you aren’t spending money for the product. There’s often a different cost for you.

Information is a significant hidden cost, and it’s why you need to read the privacy policy and terms of use for any free products you use. You want to know what will happen to any information that passes through that tool. Most are respectful of privacy these days, but it pays to check.

One cost may be that you are exposed to advertising. I personally don’t find it to be too big a deal, so long as the ads don’t get in the way of the utility of the tool. We all have to make a living somehow, and providing something free with no way to earn any money at all doesn’t help.

For free blogs, the cost can be whether or not you can earn money with your site. Some don’t allow you to commercialize your blog at all. If you can’t make money, it’s not a business, it’s a hobby.

home biz tech

May Not Work as Well as a Paid Tool

Sometimes the free tool is indeed the right tool for the job, but other times you really need to use the paid tool. You need to consider the flexibility you need.

Free blogs are a great example of this. It’s quick and easy to put up a basic Blogger blog. The problem is that it takes more effort to make it look professional, especially if you don’t even spend money on your own domain name.

Putting up a WordPress blog on paid hosting (rather than a free WordPress.com blog) takes a little more time and has monthly costs, but you get a tremendously more flexible blog with more themes and plugins available, so that your blog can have the look and options you prefer.

Paid tools generally offer more features. This is why many have a free version and a paid version. The free gives you a taste of what you can get, and gives you the confidence that the paid tool is what you need. That’s a good thing.

Consider Tailwind, for example. They give limited free access to Tailwind Tribes as well as to their pin scheduling tool. Using the Tailwind free trial was enough to get me to pay for the whole thing. The paid version of Tailwind also has a wonderful analytics section that can help you figure out what is and is not working in your Pinterest marketing.

Free can be amazing, of course. Google Analytics gives you a tremendous amount of information about traffic to your website, yet it’s free for most users. Some do have concerns about how much information Google gets by providing such free tools to so many websites, but most find the advantages sufficient to use them anyhow.

mac icons

Support May Be Lacking

A lack of support when you have problems is a serious problem with many free home business tools. When you have a problem, you want help fast, and sometimes that’s just not available with free tools.

This isn’t to say you get perfect support with all paid tools, of course. It can take a long time to get help with some of them as well. But your odds are better.

Free Marketing May Be Slow Marketing

One of the great things about social media marketing is how much of it you can do for free. You don’t have to pay to pin on Pinterest, post on Facebook or Instagram, and so forth.

The price you pay is in how long it takes to get that marketing going. You don’t start out with a following on any of the social media websites. You have to build it.

If you want your marketing to go faster, you probably have to pay for it. Once you know what you’re doing, doing paid promotions of your social media posts can greatly improve your results. There’s a learning curve, and it can get expensive. But once you know what you’re doing, you should be able to make it worth the expense.

One thing you should not do is pay sites for followers. Many of these sites don’t give you high quality, targeted followers. Some are even against the TOS of the various social media sites.

Sure, having a large number of followers looks good, and if you’re trying to get paid to post for other people you need a lot of followers. But if your followers aren’t engaged with your content, they’re worthless. Don’t pay for something that doesn’t help your business.

Use Free Right

The big thing you need to remember is to use free right. If you want to have a home business and take it seriously, spend a little on it.

Get a domain name and pay for your hosting. Domain names are cheap, and it’s easy to find hosting for less than $10 a month. That’s not much money at all to risk, even knowing that you may not earn anything for a while. Going with the free option may slow you down and make it harder to start your business right.

Save free for the areas where it won’t hurt you in the long run. I do a lot of my rough drafts for blog posts in Google Drive, which doesn’t cost me anything, but means I can work on them anywhere, and on a range of devices. If it were to disappear, I wouldn’t suffer from any significant problems.

Free trials are almost always worth it if you’re considering a tool or training. They’re often the best way to find out if what you’re considering will be worth the money.

There are any number of free tools that are worth using, so long as you understand the risk. If you’re relying on something free as the base of your entire business, make sure you know what you’re going to do in the event that it goes away.

pointing at computer

When Is Free A Good Idea?

Free is a good idea when there’s too little to be gained by paying for a tool. If you can get all the functionality you need for free, and it won’t endanger your business should the product vanish,

There are lots of products, tools and training that qualify. Here are some that I like.

Productivity And Scheduling

Business And Financial

Office Alternatives

Graphic Design

Many of these tools have paid upgrades, but the free versions work well enough for most needs. When you need more features, power, or speed, upgrade or find a better solution!

Tools Worth Paying For

There are other things you absolutely should pay for. These are the things that will help you grow your business more quickly and effectively. Going with free alternatives can make it more difficult to have a successful business.

Yes, some people do very well building a business entirely for free. But for most of us, paying for the right tools is far smarter.

Website hosting, for example. I’m on A2 Hosting right now, and I like it quite well. I’ve always paid for hosting because I prefer the flexibility it gives me.

I also pay for both Hootsuite and Tailwind. They make my social media marketing much easier. Not everything I do on social media is scheduled – you should never forget the social side of social media – but a significant amount of it is.

Advanced training is something else you should pay for. You may be able to get the basics for free, but if you want to learn the bigger secrets, you’re probably better off paying for them.

If you want to be a virtual assistant, for example, you should consider signing up for the Horkey Handbook. It will help you learn the things you need to know to become a virtual assistant. Sure, you could figure much of it out on your own, but it’s faster to learn it from someone else.

What are your favorite free tools? Which tools are worth paying for?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

Last Updated December 17th, 2018

Are You Planning For The New Year Yet?

Are You Planning For The New Year Yet?

It’s not that long until all the holiday craziness will be behind us. As you finish up your holiday shopping, it’s time to turn your attention to planning for the new year, and greater success for your online business..

You don’t have to make grand resolutions for the new year just because it’s a tradition. This is, however, a great time of year to consider where you’re headed and where you would like to be.

What Are Your Goals For Next Year?

Just where are you headed with your online business anyhow? Are you moving in the right direction?

No matter your answer to that question, set goals to keep things moving. Setting goals is a huge part of planning for the new year.

Some people say their goals are as simple as “I want to build a great business online that gets tons of traffic and earns me lots of money.” 

That’s fine. But not really helpful.

A goal must be actionable.

It’s easier to set actionable goals if you use the SMART Goals technique. This means the goals you set must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-related.

Once you have your overall goals set, you can create milestones that will help you work toward those goals. Think of these as smaller goals which will help you reach your bigger goals.

If you want to earn $10,000 a month, for example, you can break that down into milestones that will help you get there.

Milestones don’t have to be the same type of event as the overall goal. One milestone could be finding five high quality products to promote to your list. Another could be getting a certain number of subscribers.

You can also set a smaller version of your big goal as a milestone, such as reaching $1,000 a month. Just don’t limit yourself.

If you find it too difficult to reach your goals, you may have set them too high. Remember that SMART goals must be attainable. If that’s not working for you, rethink the goal.

bulletin board

Is It Time To Update Your Skills?

When you have an online business, odds are that you have some skills that could use updating or improvement. Things change fast online, and it’s important to keep up.

Consider social media marketing, for example. Most social media sites make significant changes throughout the year.

Twitter, for example, no longer wants users to tweet the same post out over and over again. They want you to use the retweet function or change the content of the tweet. This has changed how you should use scheduling tools with Twitter.

That’s only one example.

Consider paying for courses that will help you keep up to date with the things that matter to you most. Many will include free updates for at least a year, and possibly for life. When you’re trying to keep up with a changing industry, getting updates helps a ton.

And of course you should keep up with your industry to the best of your abilities as well. Exactly what that means depends on the niche of your online business.

Udemy can be a great resource to find courses you want to take on just about any subject. Many of the course creators keep them updated regularly.

You can learn about SEO, making YouTube videos, WordPress tricks, ebook publishing, app development, improve your writing skills and so much more. Now’s a great time to get started.

Is Your Website Up To Date?

It’s amazing how fast information on a website can go out of date. This is a great time of year to see what needs to be updated.

Start with your photo on your About page. Does it look good? Does it convey the impression you want to create?

What about the information you share on your About page? Has anything changed? Are you still happy with the information you present there? Does it have a call to action?

If you don’t have an About Me page on your site, make one. People like learning about the person behind the site.

Next, check your website for broken links. Broken links make your site look terrible.

This is easy if you use WordPress – the free Broken Link Checker plugin can handle it for you. Don’t run this plugin all the time – it’s very resource intensive, but it’s great for the occasional check. Deactivate and uninstall it once you’re done. Be aware that some hosts do not allow the use of this plugin due to how resource intensive it is.

If you have Google Analytics installed, you can also use it to find broken links on your site. Follow the steps offered on this site to see how to find and fix these errors on your site.

There are also a variety of online broken link checkers you can use. Most check a limited number of pages for free, and have a paid version that will allow you to check your whole site.

Finally, check for information that is out of date. What has changed in your industry in the past year? Keeping the information on your site up to date makes you look better to visitors.

business planning

Review Your Social Media Accounts

Social media plays a significant role in marketing for most online businesses. It’s affordable, and extremely effective if you do it right.

Start with your profile image for each social media account. Do they convey a consistent impression of your and your business?

In many cases, a photo of you is the best choice for a social media profile. It shows the person behind the business. And while you don’t necessarily have to update your photo every year, it should be reasonably current.

Next, take a look at who you’re following. Cull the ones that aren’t interesting, and find new people to follow who are relevant to your industry. 

Don’t worry about who follows you back – following people on social media should always be about who you find interesting.

Take a look at any analytics you have on each social media account. Tools such as Hootsuite and Tailwind make it easier to see how each social media account is performing. You should do this regularly throughout the year as well.

On Pinterest, take a look at your boards and see how they’re performing? Does it make sense to create any new boards in your niche? Are there any boards that you aren’t really pinning to at all?

Start Organizing For Tax Season

The end of the year means tax season will be upon you all too soon. It’s time to start getting ready.

Start by getting all of your expenses pulled together. Any money you’ve spent on your online business should be listed. Anything you have any doubts on should be put into a special place so you can ask your accountant or bookkeeper if it’s deductible.

Start pulling together your income reports as well. Having all of these things ready to go will make it easier to file your taxes when the time comes. If you’re getting a refund, the sooner you file, the better!

If you have employees or contractors you paid during the year, you need to get the appropriate tax forms ready for them as soon as possible in the new year. You know how much of a pain it is to wait for these forms – don’t make other people wait for one from you.

preparing for the new year

Get Your Email Under Control

Are you the organized sort who keeps their email organized all of the time, or do you let it slide and have thousands of emails sitting in your inbox? If you’re the second sort, it’s time to clean out your email!

Start by finding newsletters you don’t read, and unsubscribe from them. They’re just clutter.

Next, come up with a system for sorting your emails. I have lots of filters set up so that many of my emails are sorted before I ever see them. It helps a lot.

You can use filters to sort out emails from social media sites and newsletters, so that they aren’t the first things you see. If any are important to you, keep them where you’ll see them promptly, but otherwise get them out of your main inbox.

Create email templates for any responses you give regularly. I use email templates quite a bit, and they significantly simplify my responses, as many questions come in over and over again.

Organize Your Home Office

Odds are that your home office has become cluttered during the year. This is especially a problem if it’s the spot everyone throws things when getting ready for the holidays. It might even be the guest room during the holidays, and not available for you to use for a time… which can also mean a mess when guests leave.

But there’s more to it than that.

Take a look at the technology you use. Is it out of date? Should you upgrade or add on?

Do you have all of the tools you need to make things happen?

Not everything has to cost money, of course. Some productivity apps are free to use, at least at the basic level, yet will help you be far more productive.

Don’t only consider the technology in our home office, however. Consider the furnishings.

A comfortable and functional home office can help you be far more productive and worth an investment in appropriate supplies and furnishings. Anything in your home office that is getting in the way of your productivity should be replaced.

Consider your office chair, for example. This one is a current focus of mine because I found out how incredibly uncomfortable my husband’s office chair is. He doesn’t work at home, so it’s not the priority mine would be, but wow, his chair is hard to sit in for any length of time.

An ergonomic office chair will allow you to work comfortably for longer. If you’re comfortable, you’re probably more productive.

Similarly, a good sit-stand desk will allow you to change positions and still keep working. It can be an excellent investment. There are a number of sit-stand desks that simply go on top of your current desk, so you don’t need an entirely new desk.

idea plan action

Commit To Action

Don’t just think up what you’d like to do. Commit to it. Write it out if that helps you. Keep track somehow of your progress. Hold yourself accountable.

Take a look at the things that have been slowing you down. What has kept you from being productive? How can you avoid the problem in the future?

Committing to action is a key part of planning for the new year. Plans are nothing without action.

In a way, committing to action is much like setting goals, as I suggested at the start of this post. But it’s action that takes goals from dream to reality.

What Are Your Plans For The New Year?

Have you made plans to grow your online business in the new year? What items are most important to you?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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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.