Last Updated 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.

Last Updated 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.

Last Updated 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.

Last Updated 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.

Last Updated 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.

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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.