March 21st, 2017

How To Cope With Computer Problems In Your Home Business

When you run a home business, you are inevitably going to run into technical difficulties. It’s the nature of things. While sometimes you will have problems which ruin your entire day, others can be fixed with little difficulty. Here are some things you can try to fix computer problems as they come up.

I fix most of my own technical problems and only rarely have to get help. Usually, that means it’s not on my end of things, such as when the internet is down. I’m helping my son build his own computer, so you will probably agree that I’m a bit more comfortable with technology than many.

Be aware that you will lose any unsaved work with many of these solutions. If your computer has frozen up, the work is often lost regardless. Taking steps to get your computer running again won’t change that.

These instructions are by no means comprehensive. They’re just advice that may help. If they make things worse, I take no responsibility for that. Don’t try anything you think will damage your devices.

Problem: Computer Is Not Responding

Try To Save All Work

Before you do anything else, try to save any open work you have. This will minimize the heartbreak of losing progress. If the program is completely frozen, you will probably not be able to save your work, but try it first to be sure.

See If You Can Figure Out Why You’re Having A Problem

Sometimes the problem you’re having is so basic, you can spot it if you pause and take a look. A window on your computer might not be responding because it’s waiting for a response in a popup that has gone behind the main window. A connection may be loose. A battery may be near to zero. Check all your windows, connections and battery levels to see what you can find.

Shut Down The Program

It’s annoying when your computer stops responding for a time. If you think you know which program is causing the problem, try closing that program. Closing excess programs can help the rest run better, and you may be able to open it right back up.

Ctrl-Alt-Del

If it’s your Windows computer giving you trouble, use Control-Alt-Delete to see if you can get the Task Manager to come up. If the computer is completely frozen, this won’t help, but you can often locate the problem process in the Task Manager and end it. You can also bring up the Task Manager by right clicking on the taskbar.

The problem process may be using too much CPU, Memory or Disk. If the problem is not in a process you’re familiar with, you may not want to end it using the Task Manager. When in doubt, you can look up the process online to find out what it does. Some processes are not good to end in Task Manager, as they’re related to how your computer runs. If one of those is causing a problem, you need to restart your computer.

The problem process is usually the one you’re using. Web browsers freeze up sometimes, especially if you have a lot of tabs open. Other programs can freeze as well, because that’s how computers are some days. Hopefully your work is saved often enough that you don’t lose much progress.

Turn It Off, Then On Again

You can solve many problems can by turning the device off, then on again. There’s a reason why many tech support people have you try this first. Try it on your device. Try first for the normal shut down routine. If that doesn’t work, try the power button. If that doesn’t work, unplug it. If it has a battery and unplugging is irrelevant, swear profusely. Swearing won’t help your device, but it might ease some tension.

Actually, if it’s battery powered and being difficult about shutting down, try holding down the power button. It may take several seconds, but I’ve never had that fail.

Tech support will usually tell you to wait anywhere from 5-30 seconds before restarting. That’s only necessary some of the time. I make sure the computer is fully shut down and the fan isn’t running before I restart.

Problem: Printer Is Not Responding

My kids use our printer far more often than I do, but I still have to troubleshoot it sometimes. Ours gets fussy at odd times, and we usually see a message about the printer not responding as we hear it printing.

Check Print Queue

Open up the print queue for your printer and see if there are any jobs ahead of the one you’re trying to do. Sometimes it will be stuck on a previous job. Ours has been known to hold old jobs for days before the kids tell me that they’ve been having trouble. Cancel all the old jobs before adding any new ones.

We sometimes get a message that another computer is using the printer. We have four computers, so this would be reasonable if it weren’t for the fact that no one else has ever been using the printer at that time. The only thing that works for my printer with this problem is to shut it down using the power button, then unplug, pause, replug and turn it back on. This takes a few minutes, but is faster than just unplugging and replugging the printer because it gets whiny if it’s not shutdown correctly. I have to acknowledge the improper shutdown before it wants to do anything.

Check The Printer

The printer may be low on ink, be out of paper, or have a paper jam. Usually the print manager or print queue will alert you to this.

If the ink is low, try cancelling the print and submitting it again. Some printers lie about when they’re low on ink and you can still get some perfectly good prints out of them before changing the cartridge. This may save you from having to dash out for more printer ink. I prefer to order cheap printer ink from Amazon because we aren’t printing things for the long term here. I have yet to have any of it damage my printer, but that is a possibility, so take the chance only if you’re willing.

If the paper is out, put in more paper. I hope this could have gone without saying.

If the paper is jammed, figure out the various places you can open the printer to remove the jammed paper. There’s usually a place to open it up in the back, as well as removing the paper cartridge.

Problem: No Internet Connection

Here’s a problem that is often on your end and easy to fix, but otherwise you will have to call for help.

If you’re using wifi, make sure you have a good wifi connection. You should be able to see it on the taskbar. If you aren’t close enough to your router, of course you won’t have a connection. If you need wifi in more of your home, look into a range extender.

Windows can handle some troubleshooting for you. Right click on your wifi icon and select Troubleshoot problems. This won’t always give you an answer, but it might.

If you’re using a wired connection, make sure it’s well connected at your computer and the router. Kids, pets and time can loosen connections.

The next thing to do if you have no internet connection is restart your router. For most, the easiest way to do this is unplug the router, pause and plug it back in. It may take several minutes before you know if you have a connection again. It’s so easy I’ve given my older kids permission to do this. So far they always forget that option and wait for me. You can also try unplugging the power and disconnecting the cable, then reconnecting both.

If this doesn’t work, it’s time to call your internet provider. Pay attention to any parts you could have handled on your own for future reference. The equipment can vary quite a bit, so I’m not going to get too specific here, but there are other things you can do on your own on most equipment. The less often you have to sit on hold with your ISP, the better.

If your home phone goes through the same service as your internet, you are probably better off calling your internet provider from your cell phone. Shutting down some of your equipment will also shut off the house phone, which will terminate the call. Then you have to hope that they will call you back, or call in again knowing that you might have to start troubleshooting all over.

Problem: Computer Runs Slow

Now here’s one you could damage your computer with, so be very, very careful. The benefits can be worth it.

Open the Task Manager on your Windows computer. That can be found by hitting Control-Alt-Delete, as described above or by right clicking on the taskbar. Select the Startup tab.

Do not disable programs you don’t understand. You will mess up how your computer runs. However, if you have programs such as Spotify, Steam, QuickTime and so forth, you probably do not need them to run at startup. When in doubt, do a search online and find out if the program is safe to remove from startup. Once again, don’t do this if you aren’t certain it’s safe.

Limiting what runs at startup can speed your computer up quite a bit. There are many programs and apps that like to add themselves to your computer’s startup that do not need to be turned on before you start using them. They slow the entire system down by doing this.

You will need to restart after this.

Problem: Computer Is Making Noises

Sometimes your computer gets noisy, and it’s not an ad or video playing in the background. It may just be that it needs a good cleaning.

This is one of those things you have to be careful about, especially if you have a warranty and don’t want to void it. Do not do anything that will void an active warranty.

Desktop computers are not difficult to open up for most people. There are some good instructions here. I usually just follow the dusting instructions – it’s rarely necessary to remove and reseat cards. If you’re feeling ambitious or things look that bad, follow the instructions carefully. You will need some canned air and a small paintbrush at the very least.

Problem: Keyboard

I also use canned air to clean out keyboards, just along the surface. I don’t open them up – just blow the air along the lines of the keys. This won’t do a perfect job, but it will get some of the gunk out. This is usually enough to get it working pretty well again.

Now if your kids have been eating Nerds at the computer and drop some into the keyboard, well, I hope you have better luck cleaning those out than I did. The big ones are difficult to get out and get in the way of the keys. Better to make sure the kids don’t eat at the computer, especially anything that can drop small bits into the keyboard or other parts. Lucky for my kids, we had a spare keyboard.

If you want to clean the surfaces of the keyboard, spray a cleaner lightly onto a microfiber cloth and wipe the keyboard down. Don’t spray directly onto the keyboard – you do not want a lot of moisture there. It might work its way down to the electronic parts and damage them.

Problem: Popup Ads

Frequent popup ads on your computer can be a sign of adware on your system. They’re also annoying. It’s time to give your system a solid malware scan.

The first thing to try on a Windows computer is Windows Defender, which comes built in on current systems. It does pretty well these days. You can also try other reputable brands, such as Bitdefender or Malwarebytes. Be very careful what malware scanner you use, as many will cause more problems than they solve. Stick to the quality companies.

Run a full scan. A quick scan is faster, but it won’t catch everything, and when you have a problem you want it handled right, not fast.

Do not run two malware scanners at once. They will give each other trouble. You should have one always on, and you can choose to have an on demand scanner as well.

I hope these solutions will help you with some of the basic problems you can face with your equipment when running a home business. Knowing how to handle the basics can save you a lot of time on the phone or with your computer in the shop.

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.

January 5th, 2017

Practical Tips For Goal Setting

Having goals when you work at home or run a home business is important, but even more important is setting the right goals. The right goals will encourage you to keep aiming at them, while the wrong goals will frustrate more than they help. It’s not just what the goal is – it’s how you phrase it and how you break it down.

Look At Your Big Goals First

Go ahead, look at them. Your dream goals. The things you aren’t sure you can achieve. Get it over with so that you can get to the more practical goals next. Write them down.

Skip things you have little to no control over, such as “winning the lottery.” That’s more dream than goal. When the only control you have over a goal is the first step and the rest is sheer chance, it’s not a good goal. Make your goals something you can work toward and have some level of control over your success or failure.

Look At Your Midrange Goals

Your midrange goals are the goals you’re more confident that you can achieve in a reasonable period. They aren’t huge, but put them together and they might just lead to something bigger. They might not be easy, but you know more about how you’ll get there.

These might be income goals nearer to where you are now, learning a new skill, working more hours more often… you get the idea.

Break It Down

Even your big goals can be broken down into steps. You might dream of running a six figure business (or more), but setting that as a goal has nothing to do with how you get there. You need to break it down into goals that will take you in that direction.

You might have a goal to find 5 new customers in a month. Sounds like a good goal, but it doesn’t say anything about how you’re going to get there. What actions do you need to take to get there? How are you going to get more attention to your services to get those customers? Think this through to come up with the steps you need to take to reach your goal.

Smaller steps can make great goals. These are the things you can get done. Some may take a couple hours work while others will take weeks or months. Some may be a simple to commitment to work a certain number of hours a day on a project.

Consider The Obstacles

If it were easy to meet your goals, most people wouldn’t struggle with them so much. When you set a goal, think about what might get in your way.

When you work at home and have kids, they’re often one of the major obstacles you face. It doesn’t matter how much you love them and enjoy working at home so you can be with them, they also make it harder to reach your goals.

Staying up late to work or getting up early are popular ways to handle the challenges that kids add. That may not be enough. You may need to look at ways to add in a little child care so that you can work during the day as well. You may be able to get a family member or friend to take the kids some of the time, a lovely, potentially free way to handle things, but not something that works for everyone. Working during naps only works as long as the kids are young enough to nap, and may not be enough. Finding the right balance is one of the major challenges for many people who work at home.

Other things may challenge you as you work at home too. Pets, friends, neighbors, TV, chores, there are plenty of distractions that can make it harder to reach your goals. Find a way to deal with whichever are keeping you from reaching your other goals.

Take Action

All this planning won’t help you at all if you don’t take action. Don’t overthink your goals. Don’t overthink the steps you plan to take to reach them. Do something. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t.

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.

September 12th, 2016

TED Talk: How to Build a Business That Lasts 100 Years

This TED Talk by Martin Reeves is about building a business that lasts. He compares it to the human immune system, which responds to changes in your body to keep you healthy.

What I found especially interesting was the comparison between Kodak and Fujifilm. Kodak went bankrupt due to the changes in photography technology. Fujifilm made better business decision, remained more flexible, and took over the lead. Kodak survived its bankruptcy, but was much weakened.

Of course, as a home business, it can be difficult to think about how to make your business last 100 years. You may often have times where it’s a struggle to make it to next year. It’s hard to be flexible when it’s just you in the business sometimes; you don’t always have the resources you need. On the plus side, you’re the only one you have to convince to give it a try when you have a new idea. On the other hand, it’s up to you and only you to come up with that idea in the first place.

When you’re a very small business, a part of flexibility comes from taking the time to learn what’s new in your industry. Keep up with things, and note the trends. If you can spot the important changes while they’re small, you can start adapting before most others in your industry.

You should also consider which parts of your business can be handled by a virtual assistant or maybe even an employee. You’ll have more time to note upcoming changes if you aren’t always swamped by the routine parts of your business that don’t require your personal attention. It’s hard letting go – I’m no good at it myself – but can mean a big boost to your business once you get things going.

Don’t rely on any one thing to keep your business going. Diversity is vital. That means having multiple products, multiple steams of income, multiple marketing channels, and so forth. Sure you may be getting your best marketing results from Pinterest (Facebook, Twitter, ad placements, whatever) now, but what if things change? If something goes wrong with one thing in your business, you need to have other things there to take its place.

Don’t limit yourself or you home business by only thinking about the short term. You have to think about it some – the short term may well be what keeps food on your table. By considering long term plans as well, you can have a better idea as to the direction you would like to go, and use that to help guide your short term plans.

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.

September 9th, 2015

9 Mostly Useless Things You Can Do For Your Home Business

9 Mostly Useless Things You Can Do For Your Home Business

There are a lot of things you need to do to grow your home business. Unfortunately, there are many things that sound as though they will help your business grow, but are in fact pretty much useless, sometimes even damaging.

1. Excessive Use of Social Media/Social Bookmarking Sites

Social media use is a must for online businesses these days. It’s one of the best ways to bring attention to your website and what you have to offer. But there are limits to how much you should do with them.

The first reason for this is that a good social media website can be a huge time suck. The more social ones such as Facebook may tempt you into interacting with family and friends when you should be working, while sites such as Pinterest may catch your attention with ideas you may never use. They’re each useful in their own way, but you have to think about how you’re using your time on them.

Just plain social bookmarking can take a tremendous amount of time. There are literally hundreds of social bookmarking sites out there. Most of them won’t provide any significant traffic or search engine relevance and are a total waste of time.

If you want to make the most of social media and social bookmarking, know which sites are best for generating traffic for your business and focus your efforts on them. The best sites will generate traffic for you, and if your shares are interesting, others will share them with their audience as well. It takes time to build an interested, involved audience, but it’s worth the effort.

Use the right tools to simplify your social media use. Tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer can make it much easier to plan out your social media use effectively. When you’re done, close them so they aren’t a temptation.

2. Spending Too Much Time on Email

Email is another one of those things that can be vitally important to your business yet be a huge time waster. You need to be ready to respond to questions when clients have them, but you shouldn’t be spending large parts of your day reading your email.

You can consider handing off many emails to a virtual assistant or have response templates for the most common questions you receive. Either can save you a lot of time with your email, so you don’t have to take much time with routine questions and can focus on the ones that need a more carefully considered answer.

Another important thing to do with your email is to unsubscribe from all the junk. If you have tons of emails that just sit unread in your inbox, think about why. Is it a newsletter that doesn’t really interest you?

I keep some control over my inbox by using filters to sort out emails by type. This limits what falls into my main inbox. It also allows me to see which emails I’m tending to ignore and that I should therefore unsubscribe from. I sort out email from shopping sites, political emails, newsletters and so forth. Business emails are sorted by which site of mine they’re relevant to.

3. Working Too Hard

It’s easy to overwork when you work at home. You’re setting your own rules, and you may need to earn a lot to make it all worthwhile. You may have set some highly challenging goals for yourself. You tell yourself that the more you work, the more you’ll earn. But that’s not necessarily true.

Take a break and improve your focus and productivity. Working too long makes you less productive, not more. Many people find a break helpful to get past a mental block or to come up with new ideas.

4. Doing It All Yourself

When you’re running a home business, it’s easy to feel that you have to do it all. It saves money, or so it seems. It saves the trouble of training someone to help you.

Hiring someone to help you with certain parts of your home business, however, can be worthwhile. It’s not always convenient and it’s not always cheap, but it can improve your profits. Why spend so much time on the things that don’t really earn money for you if you can pay someone else to do it? This allows you to focus more on things that will make money.

This is one of those things I don’t do enough of, and I know it. It’s difficult to change. It’s giving up a bit of control. It’s worrying that someone else won’t do the work right. Sometimes I’ve hired something out and it has gone well. Other times it has been a bit of a mess.

Take a look at hiring a virtual assistant for routine emails and other matters that don’t need your personal attention. Finding the right one and training him or her in what you need done takes time, but it should be worth it in the long run.

5. Excessive Research

There’s so much to learn when you run a business from your home. It’s easy to spend too much time trying to learn how to run your business better, and too little time actually running it.

It’s much more important to take action than to keep learning things you aren’t ready to use. Don’t spend a lot of time reading up on things for your business that you aren’t ready to act upon.

Another trap is browsing unrelated sites when you’re looking for information. It’s easy to follow links to things you don’t need to read during your work hours. Save the random reading for your spare time, not when you need to work.

6. Working For Free

Sometimes you will have people or companies try to get you to work for them for free. They’ll call it good exposure or something like that. Truth be told, it’s often not worth the effort to work for free.

There can be times that working for free is okay, but only on your own terms. You might volunteer for a cause you believe in. You might write a guest post for a website that will get you exposure to an audience you need to get in front of.

Where this goes wrong is working for free on someone else’s terms. They contact you and suggest you do something for them for free. For example, some companies will get bloggers to host giveaways for little to no pay, even though this can be a lot of work. Companies might ask you to promote the giveaway, maintain contact with the winner and ship the prize to the winner. You have to track entries, deal with problems relating to entries, and make sure the winner qualifies for the prize. You can request pay for running a giveaway – it’s a great advertising opportunity for the sponsor too. Make up a media kit for your blog so that it is easier for advertisers to see your policies.

7. Striving For Perfection

This is a mistake so many people make when starting a home business. They want everything to be utterly perfect before they even get started, and continue on that path as they go.

I know someone who wants to start a resource website on a particular topic, for example. He has been talking about it for years, but nothing has ever happened with it. Why?

He wants to have a ton of pages ready first. His topic is huge and he wants his site to be fairly comprehensive right from the start. This is a mistake. He’s put work in on it, but gotten nothing for it because he hasn’t published any of the site yet, so far as I know.

It’s better to start small and grow. This gives people time to discover you. It gives you time to make beginner’s mistakes while your business is small and few people will notice. If you monetize from the start, it gives you the possibility of some income coming in as you build. This also limits the frustration of feeling as though you aren’t getting anywhere – traffic takes time to build, but you’ll always have something to work on, something to work on to make your home business reach the goals you have set for it.

You can also get caught by this in little ways every day. I’ve caught myself many times spending way too much time picking out just the right image for a post, then just the right font for the text on the image… the time all this takes adds up. Relax a little about these details. You want everything to look good, but when the differences are small, who else will know what options you considered, or judge you for it?

8. Working in the Kitchen

Lots of people who work at home don’t have a home office space. It’s a bit of a luxury to give over that bit of space dedicated to your work, and it may be difficult to make that commitment. But if it’s at all possible, it’s a very, very good idea.

Working at the kitchen table or in the living room, or even in your bedroom means you are surrounded by more distractions, and this impacts your productivity. I speak from experience here, having worked in all those spaces. The bedroom has the advantage of being a space where you can close the door, but it’s probably not that functional as a work space unless you have a desk in there.

Having a dedicated home office space also means you can consider taking the home office deduction in your taxes. This is something you would want to consult on with your tax professional – don’t ask me if your situation is right for that because I don’t know. The money off can be pretty nice if your situation merits it.

9. Being Disorganized

Being disorganized is a huge failing of mine. I’m working on it. The process of deciding to buy a house and going into escrow has certainly pushed matters – I had to search for certain financial paperwork that wasn’t properly filed. I also need to get rid of clutter to get ready to move.

An online acquaintance of mine, Lynn Terry, did a big home office reorganization recently and posted about it on her blog. She shared a variety of tips on how to get your home office organized so that you can be more productive and why you should get it done.

Getting organized takes time and commitment. It’s not just getting organized, it’s staying organized. The good part is that once you have a good system down, it’s easier to remain organized. You’ll save time in the long run by taking time now to figure out what works for 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.

July 20th, 2015

7 Essential Elements to Overcome Information Overload in Your Home Business

7 Essential Elements to Overcome Information Overload in Your Home Business

One of the most overwhelming parts of running a home business is how much information is out there to help you. Forums, blog posts, ebooks, real books… no matter what kind of business you’re running, there’s information available, and usually too much of it. How do you beat information overload and take action?

1. Hold off on buying products.

It’s hugely tempting to buy ebooks and software that claim they will solve a particular problem for you. If you aren’t ready for that information, it’s not the time to buy it, however, no matter how good or limited the deal may appear.

What too many people do is buy an information product, read it, then notice the next shiny, new product that promises even better results. They buy that, maybe take a little action but not enough to really see results, then the next shiny, then the next.

Buying products too soon makes it harder to succeed because you spend too much time researching and too little time doing. Taking action is the best way to grow your home business. As you grow, if you find there’s a particular something you need, whether it’s software or information, that’s the time to buy it. Buying in advance makes it much less likely that you’ll ever use that particular solution, or give it a fair try if you do.

2. Cut down on reading.

Even free information can be too much. Limit how much time you spend reading blogs, social media and forums. When you find useful information, you might spend some extra time reading it, but this shouldn’t take up extra time every day.

A feed reader can make it easy to scan headlines from your favorite blogs and decide what’s worth reading. I sort my reader by the type of blog. This allows me to quickly find blog posts that might be relevant to what I’m looking for. Casual online reading is separate, so I can enjoy it at other times.

Similarly, sort your emails. Most email programs make it easy to sort incoming emails by sender or other criteria. This way your personal email is easy to notice, apart from your professional emails and subscriptions.

As for forums and social media, the timer solution is often best. Know how long you are willing to spend on those for professional purposes. Keep your time on these reasonable, even when you’re using them for marketing purposes. It’s all too easy to stay on these sites far longer than the benefits justify.

3. Know your priorities.

Knowing your priorities makes it easier to know what information you should pay attention to, and what you should ignore for later or completely.

Sometimes your priorities will cause you to seek out particular information. Other times your priorities will make you avoid reading new information because you have enough to work with already. More information is often a distraction, not a help.

4. Set limits.

As mentioned above, setting time limits can help you keep your social media use under control. You can also limit how much information you read versus how much productive work you get done.

5. Focus.

Get rid of distractions when you work. Close extra tabs on your browser and any programs you don’t need open. Put your cell phone to the side and don’t answer any calls unless you need to. If you have an office door and the kids are old enough, close that door. Get the cat off the keyboard and your lap.

In general, get rid of the distractions that make it harder to be productive. Not all of these cause information overload, but they’re certainly a problem when you need to work.

If background music helps you focus, music may be okay. A totally quiet space may make it more difficult to work.

6. Take more action.

Don’t spend so much time reading or studying the things you need to do. Do them. Write a to do list, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly. The more you know what you need to accomplish, the more likely you are to get it done.

Make sure you know which things are most important to get done each day. Some things are very easy to get done, but aren’t really all that productive or beneficial to your business.

7. Take breaks.

Taking regular breaks gives you time to think about and do other things. You don’t get paid breaks when you work for yourself or if you’re paid on production, but that doesn’t mean breaks aren’t important.

A break can be as simple as getting up and stretching, focusing your eyes on something other than your computer monitor. You could also take a walk around the block, play with your kids or pick them up from school. Plan your work day around the breaks you have to take as well as the ones you ought to take. A break right after reading something might help you absorb the information better.

Don’t forget a good lunch break and appropriate snacks. Hunger can make it harder to focus on the information in front of 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.