September 8th, 2017

How to Limit Kids’ Screen Time While You Work at Home

How to Limit Kids' Screen Time While You Work at Home

It’s hard balancing working at home with being a parent. Someone always wants something. Even when school’s in session, kids find ways to need you right when you’re trying to be really productive. And of course, they always want permission to watch TV, use a tablet or a computer. But you can’t let them do that all the time. Kids need limits on their screen time. Sometimes that’s difficult when you’re working at home and screens are the easy way to get them to give you some peace and quiet.

This issue has become both easier and more difficult for me as my kids have gotten older. They’re all old enough now that they can play on their own for quite some time, but the oldest in particular likes to play online games where she can interact with friends whose parents never seem to want to let them just come over.

Giving screen time to the kids is, of course, one of the easiest ways to keep them busy and somewhat quiet while I work, but it’s not ideal. Fortunately, there are good ways to limit kids’ screen time while you work at home. Try a few and see what works for you.

Talk About Screen Time Limits And Set Rules

It’s good to get into the habit of talking about it when you’re going to make a rule change such as limiting screen time. The ages of your children will determine how much they have to say, and you can try to come to a mutually agreeable solution. You can set limits per day or week, and consider ways for kids to earn extra time if you like.

One thing you may have to discuss is how much screen time parents have. Since I work at home, I’ve had to explain why the rules don’t apply the same way to me. I work on my computer, after all. If you aren’t following the rules yourself, be sure to have a fair reason why.

One long standing rule we have is that the kids may not bring screens into their bedrooms – except on sick days when I want them to try to keep their germs to themselves. Keeping screens out of the bedrooms means no one can just sit and stare at a screen for hours without being noticed, and they won’t stay up at night watching stuff.

I don’t count homework time against their allowed screen time. That’s school work, and the older the kids get, the more often the computer is required to get their homework done. They’d be upset if that was the only time they could use the computer, and I would consider that reasonable.

Consider Educational Computer Games And Apps

If you want to give your kids a little more leeway on how long they use screens, find some acceptable computer games or apps for them. My youngest adores The Prodigy Game, an online math game, which is nice because she needs a little extra help with her math.

You may also want to give some leeway if your child is building a skill using the computer or a table. My oldest wants to be an animator, so it’s completely reasonable to allow her extra time to work on that skill, just as it would be for one trying to develop an app or do other work that requires a computer.

Don’t give your kids unlimited time with screen just because it’s an educational game, of course. It’s not unreasonable to allow them some extra time if they can convince you of the value of what they’re doing.

Send them outside

Send Them Outside

Many kids these days seem to really resist playing outside when it’s hot out. I suspect it has to do with air conditioning. Why go outside when inside is soooo comfortable?

I aim to get my kids outside during the more pleasant parts of the day – morning before it really heats up, evening as it cools off. In the heat of the day is more difficult, but a nice sprinkler and a healthy supply of Super Soakers really improves their interest.

Consider also whether your kids are old enough to go to the park on their own or with a group of friends while you work. Whether or not this is possible depends on a lot of factors, but there comes a time when it’s really good for kids to be allowed to do things without direct adult supervision. Once they can do that, you may worry, but you can get things done while they’re gone. You can go along and try working on your laptop or tablet if you like or if the kids are too young to go on their own, but if your kids are old enough to go to the park on their own, you’ll probably be more productive at home.

Classes, Camps, etc.

What do your kids want to learn about or do during their spare time? My kids take swim lessons at least part of each summer, and we look at other classes, soccer camp and so forth. There may be signups at various times, both during the school year and in summer, depending on where you live. While I don’t believe in overscheduling kids (they need down time too!), signing them up for something they really want to do is great for keeping them away from the TV or computer and can give you some work time. If the classes are short, you may be better off bringing some work along on your laptop than driving back and forth for drop off and pick up.

Have activities ready for the kids

Have Activities Ready For the Kids

I keep a variety of craft supplies ready for my kids. My kids went through a phase where they constantly wanted to make things with Perler beads. They print designs off the internet for whatever they want to make, and my oldest is allowed to use the iron to press them.

Pay attention to the kinds of crafts and other activities your kids enjoy so you can keep supplies ready for them. The easier it is for the kids to access the supplies on their own, the more they’ll use them rather than watch TV, and the more they’ll let you work.

Board games are another good choice. Play as a family sometimes, but make sure your kids know how to play some games just with each other. Some games are good for a wide range of ages – mine play Sorry together sometimes, for example.

Be ready to help the kids negotiate when they can’t agree on what to do. One time I persuaded my two older kids to play a game called Greed (what they wanted to do) while taking turns playing Mastermind with my youngest. It worked out pretty well, as everyone was doing something they wanted to do.

There will probably still be times when you’d rather let your kids watch TV or play on a computer or tablet. If you plan alternatives in advance, you won’t have to give in as often. As everyone gets used to relying on screens less and less for daily entertainment, it gets easier all around.

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 5th, 2017

Are You Using Pinterest For Your Home Business?

 

Are You Using Pinterest For Your Home Business?

Pinterest is a lot of fun to use on a personal level. It can also be extremely beneficial for your home business. Fortunately, Pinterest makes it pretty easy to set up a Pinterest Business account.

The advantages are simple: you get more information about Pinterest activity and your website. This is a big deal when you want to know what does well for you on Pinterest. There will often be some surprises.

You should always be aware of the Terms of Service for any account. You can find them for Pinterest at http://business.pinterest.com/tos/.

You may want to create a new account for your website rather than use your personal account. It depends on how focused you want your business account to be. You’re more optimized that way, but if you haven’t had an account focused on your business before, it can be hard starting over in terms of building a following.

Alternatively, make your non-business boards secret. This keeps the visible focus of your account on things related to your business, while allowing you to use Pinterest for your personal interests on the same account.

You can, of course, just not worry about focus. There can be reasons to have broader interests included in your account

How To Create A Pinterest Business Account

1. Log into your Pinterest account and find the Pinterest for Business section. It will give you the option to join as a business.

2. This will send you to modify your current account settings to get set up as a business. You can select the type of business you’re running and edit your information to look more professional.

3. Confirm your website. Pinterest will give you the information needed so that they can confirm you own the website listed in your profile. This will be in the form of an HTML file to upload or a meta tag to put in your header. Which is easier depends on how you run your website. If you use WordPress, the meta tag is probably the easiest, as it just needs to be added to your header file.

Once you’ve done this, go back to Pinterest and click “Confirm” by your website in your settings. It should be confirmed quickly, although sometimes it takes a little.

That’s all it takes.

Apply For Rich Pins

Take a little time to apply for rich pins for your website. Rich pins give a little more information on pins from your website. Depending on the kind of pin, this can be a big deal. Rich pins can include pricing information, ingredients for recipes and extra information on articles.

To get approved for rich pins, you have to add meta tags to your site, and apply for approval. The quickest way to do this if you have WordPress is to install and activate the Yoast SEO plugin.

Next, go to the Yoast Features tab and enable the Advanced Settings page. This will add the metadata to your pages.

Once this is done, you can go to the Rich Pins Validator on Pinterest. Paste in the URL of any post and click validate. If the page validates, you can apply. Approval usually takes a few days.

What’s The Point?

The point to having a Pinterest Business account is getting all the extra information about your business on Pinterest. Check out the analytics section, for starters.

Pinterest’s analytics will give you information about which of your pins are doing well, how many impressions your pins are getting, and more. Better yet, you can see which of your pins are doing particularly well.

My favorite part is seeing how pins from my domain are doing. The all-time most shared pins section is very educational, as is seeing which pins from my domain do best in search. This is vital information if you want to do better on Pinterest.

Don’t Forget To Make Pinning Easy On Your Website

Make sure you’ve made it as easy as possible for people to pin your content and to follow you on Pinterest.

You can add a script to add a Pin It link on your images. You can learn how at https://developers.pinterest.com/docs/widgets/save/?.

If you use WordPress, there are plugins that will add links for pinning (and other social media) to your website. I use the Shareaholic plugin. It’s easy to configure.

Add a link to your Pinterest account to your sidebar. This is one more way for people to connect to your site, and hopefully come back. You can download the official Pinterest badge for this, which you can link to the URL of your account.

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.

August 30th, 2017

20 Freelance Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

20 Freelance Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

When you need flexible work, starting a freelance business is a great option. While you still face deadlines to get things done, you usually have a lot of options for when and how the work gets done. But first, you need to find the right idea to get started as a freelancer.

Most freelance businesses don’t require a lot of equipment beyond what you probably already own. You need a good computer setup, with all the accessories required for the work you want to do. These may include a printer, fax machine, drawing tablet and more.

You should focus on skills you can easily demonstrate as a freelancer. It’s very hard to get started if you can’t show potential clients the work you’ve done in that area before. You need a portfolio or work history with clear examples to show them.

Here are some business ideas you can start out with as a freelancer.

1. Virtual Assistant

Virtual assistants provide a range of services to businesses, such as graphic design, writing, administrative tasks, social media marketing, and more. If you have a range of skill you would like to use as a freelancer, marketing yourself as a virtual assistant may make a lot of sense.

You can specialize in certain types of tasks as a virtual assistant. You can start out on your own or join a virtual assistant service if you’d rather have some help finding clients.

2. Bookkeeper/Accountant

If you’re good with QuickBooks or other accounting software, you can find freelance work. Many home businesses need help with their bookkeeping, both at tax time and year round.

3. Writer

There are many kinds of writing jobs out there that a freelancer can do – blogging, ghost writing, and article writing, to name a few. Depending on the type of writing you do, you may have to pitch your ideas to someone, or they may come to you and ask you to write a specific piece for them.

4. Copywriter

If you’re good at writing copy for marketing purposes, you may do well as a copywriter. You need to create compelling and convincing copy for your clients’ needs.

5. Graphic Designer

A graphic designer creates images for their clients’ needs. This can be a logo, a pamphlet, a layout for a website, and so on. Most graphic designers use software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. The quality of your graphic design can make or break a marketing project.

6. Translator/Interpreter

There are companies that hire freelance/contract employees to do translation and interpretation. You can work on business documents, interpret for doctors and patients, and more. You need to be fluent in both languages you are working in.

7. Music Teacher

Music teachers have been finding their own students pretty much forever. You may need to go to students’ homes as a music teacher, or they may come to you.

8. Pet Sitter

When people go on vacation, their pets still need to be cared for, and many don’t want want to put their pets into a kennel. A pet sitter goes to their clients’ house and cares for their pets while the client is away. This includes making sure the pets have food, water, and have been cleaned up after. Cats and dogs will need playtime. It’s ideal for someone who truly loves animals.

9. Pet Trainer

Another freelance opportunity you can consider if you love animals is that of a pet trainer. This will probably involve dogs most often, but some cat owners need help too.

10. Mobile Notary Public

A mobile notary public goes to clients to witness documents. The pay can be good, but finding work can be challenging – I had a cousin try this a number of years ago.

11. Google Advertising Consultant

Take a courseicon and get Google AdWords Certified, and you can be a consultant to businesses that are advertising on Google AdWords. Many businesses need help getting their ads set up to maximize their return.

12. SEO

Many businesses also need help with their search engine optimization and other digital marketing. If you have learned how to help pages and websites rank well on search engines, many companies will be glad for your help. A good SEO knows how to use the right keyword research tools and keeps up with what works and what doesn’t over time.

13. WordPress Consultant

WordPress is incredibly popular and relatively easy to use, but some small businesses need help getting it setup just a right. Choosing the right plugins, theme and other settings can be overwhelming to someone new to WordPress. As a consultant, you can help businesses configure it properly for their needs.

14. Photographer

Photographers usually don’t work entirely at home, but you can base your freelance business there. You have a lot of possible specializations as a freelance photographer – wedding photography, family portraits, stock photography, real estate photography and more. Specialization is a big help in finding clients, so that they know what to expect from you, and you know what to expect in a job.

15. Tutor

Many students need a little extra help to do well in school. If you’ve taught a particular subject or are very good at it, you may be able to work as a tutor.

Some tutoring companies require that you have a teaching certificate, but you can work on your own as well. Tutoring may be done in person or online. So long as you can do a great job helping students understand the subject, you should be able to find clients.

16. Social Media Marketer

Social media is huge, and many businesses need help with it. If you know how to build a following, post interesting statuses and bring sales to the business, you can do well as a freelance social media marketericon. You need to know which tools are most effective, how to track metrics and keep up with current social media trends.

17. Software Developer

Many companies need software developers for short term freelance projects. You may update previously developed software or start up something new. Software developers can work on traditional software, apps, or advanced websites.

18. Website Designer

A website designer is not always a software developer. You might work more on the appearance of the website than on how it runs in the background. A good designer creates an interface that is easy and attractive for visitors to use.

19. Party Planner

Do you throw a great party? You may be able to plan parties for others as your own business. Take the stress of planning parties off your clients and make their events memorable.

20. Caregiving

Caregiving doesn’t have to mean running a daycare in your home. You can use sites such as Care.com to find babysitting jobs, opportunities to care for the elderly and more.

There are quite a few more freelance businesses you can start as a side hustle or as a business intended to become your sole income, but these are a place to start your consideration. Specialization is often a good idea, so that your reputation is built on your best skills.

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.

August 25th, 2017

Beat Your Impulse Shopping Habit To Save Money

Beat Your Impulse Shopping Habit To Save Money

Most people like to shop. There’s always something new you want, clothes, the latest gadget, even that snack by the register that looks so good. You tell yourself you’re just browsing, just considering it, but soon enough, you’re serious, and you’re buying it. Some days it’s hard to avoid getting that impulse purchase, even when you’re trying to save money.

There are a few simple ways to cut down on impulse shopping.

Come Back Later

Telling yourself you can come back later can be a huge help for controlling impulse shopping. It’s not like the impulse to buy is always wrong. It is sometimes, and that’s where deciding to take more time to think helps.

With most purchases, coming back later isn’t that big of a deal. Most things you want will still be there in an hour or a day, or whenever you get back to it. If you really need or want the item, and it’s a reasonable purchase for your budget, getting it a little later is not a problem.

The idea here is to cut out the impulse part of impulse shopping. Give yourself time to think, and you will know in a while if your reaction was to seeing an interesting item or if it’s something you need.

Depending on where you are and what the item is, you might walk away for a short time or several days. It depends in part on how easy the item will be to get later.

When my husband and I were at the fair, for example, he came across a garage door storage rack. It’s a pretty neat idea – you can put your shovel and other long-handled garden tools onto it, and the rack hangs on the garage door. The items stay put even if you open the garage door.

He didn’t buy it right away. We walked the rest of the shopping areas of the fair, did some more fun stuff, and on our way out he decided that he still wanted the organizer. He bought it.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am still waiting for him to use it. He has gotten as far as taking it out of the box. He hasn’t done any big organizing in the garage lately, but I’m letting that slide.

Possibly, this was a foolish purchase. If he never gets around to putting it up, then it was definitely a foolish purchase. But it was the only one, and I still have hope for it. There were other things we considered buying. I can’t even tell you what they were, because they’ve been forgotten. Interesting in the moment, but not beyond. Coming back later kept several other purchases away.

The thing to remember is that pretty much anything you see while out shopping will still be there later. Very few things are all that limited, and most really limited things you might buy on impulse aren’t things you need. The things you need are more likely to be there day after day, week after week.

Coming back to a potential purchase later works pretty well if you have a few options to consider. It’s time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the things you’re considering. You might find that an item that attracted you immediately doesn’t matter as much as one you notice with a little more thought.

What About Grocery Shopping?

Impulse purchases can be extra difficult to avoid when you’re grocery shopping. Not only do they put tempting items all around the store, they keep it up right to the cash register. Inexpensive candy and treats are there for a reason!

The first thing to do to avoid impulse shopping at the grocery store is not go shopping hungry. Go after you’ve had a meal or at least a snack. The hungrier you are, the more you’re likely to spend.

The second thing is have a list and stick to it. If you know what you need, the things you don’t need are less tempting.

There are two big reasons to control impulse shopping at the grocery store. The first is financial – it’s amazing how quickly impulse purchases there add up over time.

The second is that many grocery store impulse purchases really aren’t that healthy for you. Chips, soda, candy – they’re all tempting and shouldn’t be bought all that often. There are healthier snacks out there that are pretty good. If you can find the right ones, it’s easier to avoid the wrong ones.

Use Cash

When you’re shopping in person, stick to cash to control impulse shopping and save money. Bring no more than you’re willing to spend and can afford. You’ll think your purchases over more carefully when you know there’s no way to go over budget. Leave the credit and debit cards at home if possible, or at least refuse to use them.

Do A No-Spend Month

Try having a month where you only spend money on necessities, such as rent/mortgage, utilities, food, and gas for your vehicle. No buying clothes. No extra stuff. If something tempts you, make a note of it, but don’t buy it until you reach the end of your no-spend time.

Much of what tempted you won’t matter to you by the end of the month. That’s money saved.

Look At What You Already Own

When you want to buy something, take a look at the stuff you already own, especially if it’s similar.

When you want to buy a new pair of shoes, go over the shoes you own now. Do any of them really need replacement. Would these new shoes do something for you your current shoes won’t?

Do the same for other purchases you’re considering. If you already own something good enough, you don’t need to buy something new.

Just Don’t Look

The final way I’m going to discuss to avoid impulse shopping is the just not look. Don’t go places just to window shop too often. It’s too likely to turn into impulse buying.

This includes shopping malls and shopping online. I know quite well how dangerous Amazon can be. They’re very good at suggesting items you might find interesting. Bad enough when you’re there to buy something you need. No need to give them more chances when you don’t need anything.

Avoiding the places where you have trouble resisting impulse purchases is a good idea. Try keeping track of your impulse purchases. How many were actually good purchases? How many weren’t? Which ones would you have still bought if you had taken a little longer to think about it? You can learn a lot about your impulse purchases and shopping habits if you stop and review.

What works for you to avoid making too many impulse purchases?

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.

August 23rd, 2017

7 Free Image Editing Tools To Make Great Blog And Social Media Graphics

Free image editing tools

The graphics you use on your blog and social media do a lot to bring attention to your website. A well crafted image will bring attention to your posts. Making great graphics is a challenge if you don’t know how. Fortunately, there are some very simple and free image editing tools to use to make appropriate graphics for your blog and social media.

Use these tools after writing your blog post or when you have something you want to say on social media and an image is appropriate. It’s hard to craft an image to match your message when you don’t have a message prepared.

To start with, use my post on finding free images to use on your website to locate the images you would like to use in your posts. Some tools make it easy to find images through their interface, but not all of those are free. I find it easier to import an image I’ve found elsewhere than to use the search function on these sites.

Online Free Image Editing Tools

Adobe Spark

Adobe Spark does a great job with images, but you can also make videos with it. I haven’t tried that feature personally, but it strikes me as very useful if you’d like to get into video.

When you decide to create an image with Adobe Spark, it first offers you a range of templates. You can pick one or start from scratch. I usually start from scratch.

Type in what you want your image to say. You can edit this later. Pick your graphic size. You may not be able to pick the exact size you want – these aren’t always clear, but you can resize them later, in Gimp if necessary. I usually shrink them, as Spark makes huge images for most things.

Even though you’re starting from scratch, it will present you with an image with your text on top. You can change this however you want, replacing the photo with one of your own, changing the layout of the text and so forth. You can add another section of text, use multiple images to form a collage, and more.

One of the tools I like on Spark is the Style Suggestions tool. Spin the dial and your text will change over and over and over. Stop when you see one you like. Even then, you can change the colors if you like the style, but the colors aren’t quite what you like. You can back up on the dial if you pass one you liked.

Spark has a bit of a learning curve, but overall I like the results I get from it best so far. As free image editing tools go, it’s quite good. The Share button is also where you download your image, which isn’t immediately obvious, but not too difficult.

One disadvantage to Spark is that it may add branding of its own to your images. If you share your images on social media, this is removed. This doesn’t happen much on the website, but may be more common on the app. The ability to remove the Spark branding.

Another disadvantage is the lack of an undo button. This can be spectacularly annoying.

On the plus side, you can create one image, and then resize it for different social media uses. I love this, because it becomes easier to be consistent across the different social media sites.

Website
iOS App
Android – coming soon

Canva

Canva can be used to make a wide variety of graphics, and the basics are free. There are parts you can pay for, but you can make some beautiful blog and social media graphics completely free.

I don’t like to search for images on Canva because a lot of them are not free. I prefer to upload a photo I’ve taken or something I’ve found on a site that offers Creative Commons Zero (CC0) images. Once they’re uploaded, there’s a lot you can do with them.

Canva offers templates for various popular uses, such as images for Instagram. Their template page has templates sized for Facebook headers, YouTube channel art, Twitter posts and more. Having a template when you’re making social media graphics is useful, especially if it’s something you don’t make often, such as a header.

I find Canva quite intuitive to use. It has a decent selection of fonts – not huge, but not bad. You can change the colors around easily.

As online free image editing tools go, Canva is my second favorite. I use it when Spark isn’t working out for what I have in mind.

Website
iOS App
Android – not available

PicMonkey

PicMonkey has a decent suite of tools you can use on images in the free version, but they push the premium version hard. You can edit your image, including crop, rotate, sharpen, touch up and more. You can make a collage with multiple photos. They even offer printing services (for a fee, of course).

Adding text is easy, as is adding other features to your images. Once you’re done, download it for whatever use you have in mind.

If you want to try the premium version of PicMonkey, they offer a free trial. I haven’t used PicMonkey as much as Spark or Canva, but I know a lot of people love it.

Website
iOS App
Android

Piktochart

Piktochart’s focus is on infographics. If you have an idea for an infographic, it makes a lot of sense to use a tool that is ready for that. I haven’t tried it personally, but when I read up on it, people like it fairly well. It has some great tools, such as a chart builder that can take your data and make it into a chart on your infographic.

Website
iOS App
Android – not available

Visme

Visme is more robust in many ways if you want to make infographics. You can use it to make animated or interactive infographics, something you can’t do with Piktochart. It’s a little harder to learn, from what I read about it, but it’s more powerful once you know what you’re doing.

Visme has a basic plan which is free and allows you to store up to three projects. So long as you aren’t storing a lot in there, I don’t think that will be a problem, since you should usually download your work once it’s done.

Website
No apps

Free Image Editing Software For Your Computer

Gimp

Gimp has an awful name, but it does a great job editing your photos. I often use it for final touches on projects I’ve worked on with an online tool. It has been my main tool for making graphics for many years.

Gimp has a lot of addons that make it extremely flexible. Many people compare Gimp to Photoshop. It’s not quite as powerful as Photoshop, but free is much easier to handle for most people than paying for Photoshop. You can do most of the same things.

Gimp is open source, so various developers had created plugins and more for it. You can find some interesting Gimp addons at the DeviantArt site. Pay attention to the terms of use for these. It can also use Photoshop plugins.

One of the big things I love about using Gimp is that I can keep some images ready to use. I have images ready to use to put my domain name on each image, so that where it comes from is apparent. You can use this for branding, creating a version of your logo that goes onto any image you create. Then it’s a quick copy and paste to add it to new images. Make it bigger than you need. It’s easier to size an image down than up.

Paint.NET

Paint.NET is much simpler to use when compared to Gimp, but can still do a good job. It was originally intended to replace Microsoft’s Paint, but it does a lot more. It has the ability to use layers and filters, for example.

If you want something on your computer that’s easy to use, this is probably the one.

If you’ve found it intimidating to make your own graphics for your blog and social media, I hope one of these will prove to be helpful. They won’t do the work for you, but the right one will make it easier. Are there other tools you like?

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.