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: 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.

December 29th, 2014

How to Make Sure You Don’t Overwork When You Work at Home

How to Make Sure You Don't Overwork When You Work at Home

There’s an image many people have of working at home – sofa, bonbons, television, pajamas… we all know the stereotypes. But the reality is different for many. Many people have a lot of trouble separating their work life from their home life when they work at home, and often overdo it on the work side of things. It’s just so easy to go back to work in the evenings when the house is quiet at last, or excuse yourself from the family because you just want to get a little more done. Before long, you’re working so much that you aren’t making enough time for your family, and feeling overworked.

Just about any job will give you those times when you feel overworked, even if you don’t work at home, of course. Retail workers have the holiday season, software developers have deadlines, and so forth. It’s often not different when you work at home, except that some people find it too easy to overwork when they don’t need to and really shouldn’t. Your office is right there in your home, and it’s all too easy to go back to it when you should be living the other parts of your life. How do you avoid this?

Set Goals Beyond Work

It’s good to have goals for the work you do. It’s one of the most effective ways of getting things done. You should also set goals for other things in your life, such as time with your family, leisure reading, leisure activities and so forth.

These don’t have to be very strict – in fact I recommend against making too strict of goals for most personal things as you don’t want to take away the spontaneity that makes life more fun. Goals can be as simple as stopping work every day by a certain time so you can be with your family. You don’t have to plan things for each day, just know that you will make time for them.

Cut Back on Makework

We all have things in our routine we do that we really don’t need to do. Maybe you’re checking your social media accounts more often you should; maybe it’s your email. Maybe you spend too much time trying to learn new ideas for your business and not enough time trying to make it work. Seek out the things that aren’t really necessary in your work day and cut them out.

Automate… Reasonably

There’s a lot to be said for well done automation in your work day. If you post a lot on social media, some of that can be scheduled in advance. If you type a lot, you can set up macros for words and phrases you type frequently, and greatly increase your typing speed. You can set up stock replies for questions you commonly receive by email, so that you only need to adapt them to answer the exact question asked, rather than start the whole thing from scratch.

Things like these can save quite a bit of time. They cost a little when you get them set up, but should pay back nicely in time saved later.

Know What Can Wait

If you’re running a home based business, there are probably always more things you’d like to get done than you possibly can get done in a day. Odds are, some of it really can wait until later. Figure out what’s really not that urgent and find a better place in your calendar for it.

Hire Help

When it can’t wait and you can’t automate it, sometimes hiring help is the best way to get things done in your home business. There’s always some stress in hiring someone – there’s that bit of training and explanation you have to do even with an experienced virtual assistant. Once things get going, however, having that help can really ease your workload.

Know How You Work Best

It’s hard to work effectively if you’re pushing yourself to work at the wrong times or in the wrong ways. Early bird, night owl, get off to a fast start or start things slow, we all have our own ways of working that are best for us. When you have the option, pay attention how you work best and use that to your advantage.

Do the Most Important Things First

You should always know what you most need to get done and prioritize that, whether it’s a long term priority or an emergency that just came up. Sometimes these things will mean that you can’t pay attention to your preferred work times or styles, but when you have to get things done, that’s how it goes.

Take Breaks

Get away from your work regularly through your day. Go for a walk in your neighborhood or hit the gym for a little while. Do some household chores; just not so many or so often that they’re a problem for your work day. Do some leisure reading. Just relax during your lunch or snack breaks.

Giving your mind time away from your work is a big help in being more productive. This is especially useful if you’re dealing with a difficult problem. Focusing on it too long can actually make it harder to solve, while a break gives your mind time away from the problem directly which can make it easier to solve.

Set Boundaries

Set boundaries – not only about your work time, but about your personal time. Know when you’ll allow the personal to interfere with the professional and vice versa. You probably shouldn’t let a chatty neighbor or a door to door salesperson distract you from your work day for long at all, while a sick child or crying baby probably needs more immediate attention.

Similarly, when you’re off work, be off work. Don’t head back into your home office at times you should be enjoying the rest of your life without good reason. If there’s a crisis, yes, you may have to step away from family time. If you just want to check your email and aren’t expecting something, you’re probably better off staying away, because that one little thing can turn into a dozen little things and then you’ve missed out.

Schedule Social Media and Other Time Sucks

Social media has its place when you work at home, but it can turn into a huge time suck. Set limits on how long you can spend on social media, email and anything else that tends to suck up more of your day than it should. Pick times to work on those things when they won’t interfere with more important things you need to get done. Social media and email can be very important themselves, but odds are there are more important yet things you need to work on most of the day.

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 30th, 2014

Are Your Passwords Strong Enough?

Are Your Passwords Strong Enough?

When you work at home, online security should be a big deal to you. Your professional life can be badly damaged if your major accounts get hacked. Too many people use really easy passwords, or worse, use them over and over on a variety of sites, leaving themselves vulnerable on many sites if just one gets hacked. Having strong passwords for important accounts is vital.

There are a couple ways to go about creating strong passwords, and they don’t have to involve a lot of complicated rules. Some websites make strong passwords more difficult than others to make, often by limiting the number of characters to a number too small to provide true security. 8 characters, even if mixed in with numbers, capital and lowercase letters, and special characters, really isn’t all that secure.

Here are some ways you can create strong passwords for most sites without making your own life too difficult.

Use a Password Manager

I use LastPass for my passwords. It’s pretty secure – you have to use your master password to get into your account. There’s a simple browser addon to install, then it fills in your login data for various sites as you use them, once you’ve saved that data into LastPass. I find it really easy, and it works well with most websites. The basic level is free, but you can go to Premium if you want the mobile app or other features.

LastPass can generate those absurdly complex passwords for you, at whatever length you require. That’s really handy when you come across a site that limits the number of characters you must use. I keep them on the long side for most sites, only cutting it down when a website insists on something shorter. Banks in particular are often ridiculous about insisting on shorter passwords, which drives me up the wall!

LastPass encrypts your data, and it only decrypts locally on your computer, which keeps it safer. You can even add multifactor authentication so that just having your password is not enough for someone to get into your LastPass account.

The big thing people fear with a password manager is that it is a single point of failure. If something goes wrong with it, you have a big problem. I feel comfortable with how LastPass handles my data, so I don’t consider it to be a big problem.

Use a Passphrase

If you don’t want to use a password manager, a passphrase that you use is a good solution. You’ll still want to vary from site to site, but that’s just a matter of coming up with rules you can use for the variations on different sites. Many people use their phrase plus a couple of special characters, plus something to do with the website the password is for.

Think of a phrase that won’t be obvious to others. Inside jokes, a favorite quote that isn’t too long to type in, a memorable event, etc. Don’t be too picky about length if you can stand typing it in and the site allows – longer passwords are far more secure in general.

Don’t Reuse Passwords

Reusing passwords is one of the biggest security mistakes you can make. It’s one thing to reuse passwords on sites that won’t impact your finances or professional reputation; it’s another thing entirely if you reuse a password where those things matter.

Hackers can get passwords more easily from minor sites with weaker security, and all too often those passwords will give them access to other accounts that really matter. The more important the information your account on a site is to you, the stronger and more unique your password needs to be.

Lie

For those times you need to reset your passwords, you may have to answer a security question. The problem is that too many security questions are things someone could look up about you if they chose to do so. There’s a reason why banks no longer rely so much on the “mother’s maiden name” question on new accounts, although older accounts may still use that. My credit card company recently had me change to a new security question because that one is so out of date.

But many of the new questions are really only a little more secure. Come up with a standard answer for them, but don’t be honest. Have a little fun with your answer. You can even use password rules on it… not like any site checks to see if the answers you give mean anything. They’re for your personal use.

Be Sure You’re On The Right Website

The most secure password in the world isn’t secure if you just give it to the wrong website. If you get an email from a website telling you to log in for some reason, type the domain name in rather than click the link in the email. Phishing emails try really hard to look official, and sometimes even a careful person will fail to notice that the URL is wrong when they hover over the link.

These are some of the ways you can protect your important accounts with strong passwords. While there’s no guarantee that even a strong password will always keep your accounts safe, it’s a great place to start. Do you have any suggestions I’ve missed?

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.

June 16th, 2014

Can You Take a Real Vacation From Your Home Business?

Can You Take a Real Vacation From Your Home Business?

I just got back home from a long road trip to see my dad and grandma, southern California to Washington state, about 2600 miles of driving overall in one very full car. The kids were incredibly grateful for their iPad and DVD player, and while they didn’t pay enough attention to some really lovely scenery, I did appreciate that the kids were occupied enough to not demand a lot of stops. It was a good vacation, with very minimal internet access, as grandma doesn’t have an internet connection and my cell phone does not have an unlimited data plan, by choice. We use Ting, and my bill for two smartphones was only about $20 last month – obviously we use them very little, but that’s why Ting makes sense for us. And yes, of course that’s my referral link.

It was a nice vacation, much needed. I checked in with my business very little – maybe 5 minutes each evening to make sure no crisis had developed while I was having fun. It’s hard leaving things completely along even when on vacation. But there are ways to get completely away if you choose to, and take a vacation completely away from your home business.

Option 1: Have Someone Else Keep an Eye on Things

The best way to feel okay about leaving your business alone for a time is to have someone else watch over things for you. I’ve had one of my sisters do this for me sometimes, basically just making sure the site doesn’t totally vanish due to major problems, and maybe keep an eye on blog comments. For home businesses that don’t require daily work, this is a possibility.

But if you want someone really handling things, you may want to hire a virtual assistant. You can set things up for a virtual assistant to be able to approve or delete blog comments, and maybe even forward potentially important emails while you’re on vacation.

If you have interactions with customers, a virtual assistant may be a necessity. Going on vacation doesn’t mean your business has to stop completely – just think about what kinds of things may happen while you’re gone and how it needs to be handled.

Hiring someone to handle things while you’re gone takes planning, but if the income you earn is enough to make it worthwhile, it’s far better than closing up shop just because you’re not home. You have to pick the right person, and that means you should try them out while you’re still home. You don’t want to have to worry about how things are going while you’re on vacation because you don’t know if the assistant you hired really understands the needs of your business. Take some time beforehand and make sure they know what you expect of them.

Of course, it’s smart to have someone to delegate basic tasks to all the time, not just when you’re on vacation. But if you haven’t hired any help before, this is a good reason to get started and to find out if it works for you. Having someone else do the basic work while you do the things only you can do can be a huge help in growing your home business. Make a list of the jobs you need done, and which emergencies may demand your attention even on vacation, so your assistant knows when to contact you.

Option 2: Shut Down For a While

Some people do shut down their businesses so they can take a vacation. This will have an impact on your income, of course, and may discourage some customers, but there are times when it’s the right decision.

Option 3: Just Go, And Don’t Worry

If your business can run mostly on autopilot, you may be able to just go on vacation and not worry about hiring an assistant or shutting down. I’ve done that. It’s not my favorite solution, as I can’t help but wonder how things are going, but since most weeks there aren’t problems that demand my attention, I can get away with it and know it probably won’t be an issue. Certainly, if a crisis develops and you don’t know about it, a small problem may turn huge, but most of the time it really won’t be an issue if your business can be left on autopilot.

This is close to what I did this vacation, except as I said above, I did check on things a little bit. I could have left it all alone, however, and there wouldn’t have been any problems… this time.

Oh, and if you’re visiting Portland, OR, and you love books, don’t miss Powell’s City of Books. Their website is nice enough, but really doesn’t compare to walking into the building and browsing their selection. It’s just worth the visit.

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.

May 27th, 2014

20 Great Books Work at Home Moms and Dads Should Read

20 Great Books Work at Home Moms and Dads Should Read

There’s a lot of great information out there to help you be a better work at home mom or dad, from how to start working at home, to running a home business, to dealing with the kids while you’re all home. Here are X suggestions to get you started.

Work at Home

1. Work at Home Now: The No-nonsense Guide to Finding Your Perfect Home-based Job, Avoiding Scams, and Making a Great Living by Christine Durst, Michael Haaren
By the folks who run Rat Race Rebellion, this book provides resources to help you find a work at home job while avoiding scams.

2. The Mystery Shopper’s Manual by Cathy Stucker
Want to become a mystery shopper? Here’s how, without all the hype.

3. Undress for Success: The Naked Truth about Making Money at Home by Kate Lister, Tom Harnish, Jack M. Nilles
Learn about the types of work at home jobs available, what they require, how to find them and more. Starting a home based business and freelancing are also covered.

4. Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
If you want to be a remote worker for an employer, this is a good read. You could get some ideas to help you convince your current employer to allow more remote work, and learn how to make it work for you.

Home Business

5. Craft, Inc. Revised Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Turning Your Creative Hobby into a Successful Business by Meg Mateo Ilasco
If you love doing crafts and would like to turn it into a business, here’s a good place to start. It includes internet resources to help you build your new crafting business.

6. The AdSense Code: What Google Never Told You about Making Money with Adsense by Joel Comm
AdSense can be a nice little money maker when you run your own website. This book helps you understand how to improve your implementation and improve your click through rate.

7. The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly by David Meerman Scott
Marketing your business well is vital to your success. This is one of my own weaknesses, and a book I’m strongly interested in personally. It’s on my own reading list for this summer.

8. Own Your Niche: Hype-Free Internet Marketing Tactics to Establish Authority in Your Field and Promote Your Service-Based Business by Stephanie Chandler
Marketing strategies for online businesses in a more down to earth manner. The book starts with choosing your niche, and works through areas such as building authority, engaging your community, SEO basics and much more.

9. Making Work at Home Work: Successfully Growing a Business and a Family under One Roof by Mary Byers
Balancing working with being at home is one of the major challenges of running a home business. This book will help you better fit your family life into your business as your business grows.

10. Mogul Mom – How to Quit Your Job, Start Your Own Business, and Join the Work-at-Home Mom Revolution by Andrea Clayton
The best part of this book is the profiles of successful work at home moms it includes. Reading about what they do, the challenges they’ve faced and how they overcame them. But it also covers the basics of running a business from home, which is something we all need to learn when getting started. There are other books in this series on subjects such as selling on Etsy and making a living as a writer.

11. Mom Blogging For Dummies by Wendy Piersall, Heather B. Armstrong
If blogging is your interest, this book is a great place to start. It will help you figure out how to get started, teach you about ethical standards for blogging, working with brands, earning money and more. I read Wendy’s blog back when she got started, and while she has moved on from that site, she definitely knows what she’s talking about.

12. The Relationship Edge: The Key to Strategic Influence and Selling Success by Jerry Acuff, Wally Wood
Understanding your audience and building a relationship with them is hugely important when making sales. This book will help you learn how to build those relationships within your business.

13. Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet by Jay Conrad Levinson, Shel Horowitz
Want to learn frugal marketing while being eco friendly? This is your book. You’ll learn how to get vendors, customers and more telling others about your business for you, how to use social media and more.

14. Buzzmarketing: Get People to Talk About Your Stuff by Mark Hughes
Want people to talk about your business? Buzzmarketing will help you learn how to get buzz going about your business. You’ll learn what kinds of things get people talking and how to use that in your business.

Lifestyle

15. Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson
A popular book on learning to manage the quality of your life. Working at home can be stressful with all the demands pulling on you. This book takes you through seven steps to improve the quality of your life.

16. The Have It All Woman by Susan Sly
Having it all sounds difficult, but with the right foundation, you can make your life better.

17. Back on the Career Track by Carol Fishman Cohen, Vivian Steir Rabin
After being a stay at home mom for a number of years, many want to go back to work. Picking up your career again isn’t always easy. This book may help you find your way if that time comes for you.

Kids & Family

18. Raising Financially Fit Kids, Revised
by Joline Godfrey
Teaching your kids how to manage their own money will help them be more financially secure as adults. Nothing to do with being a work at home parent – this is a book you should consider no matter what you do.

19. Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy
A favorite of mine. So many parents keep their kids from being kids due to the fears the media promotes, even though for most families, there’s no need to overprotect our children so much. It’s not just fear of strangers, it’s when parents don’t even let their kids do normal things such as learn to use a kitchen knife or otherwise do too much for their kids that children should do on their own.

20. Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting by Ann L. Dunnewold
Another great reminder that we don’t have to get it all right all the time. Quit feeling as though you’re in a competition with other parents and just be the parent you are.

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.