• Business
    Marketing Your Work At Home Business

    Get More Publicity for Your Business, Service, or Event the Easy Way

    A Q&A Interview with Crissy Herron of IndieBizChicks.com
    The other day I mentioned Crissy’s newly released package to give your business a nice little boost with publicity tips, checklists, and fresh press release ideas. She really over-delivered with all the tools she packed into the program. Of course when it comes to publicity there are all sorts of questions in terms of how to get it, where to get it, and why you should go after it.

    Check out the Learn How To Get More Publicity Package Here
    Crissy kindly offered to do a quick Q&A with us today about publicity, so I gathered up five of the most frequently asked questions from a brainstorming group that I’m part of and put her on the hot seat.

    Let’s jump right in!

    Q1: Let’s start off with a fun question to get the ball rolling. What’s the most interesting or unusual result you’ve seen come from a press release submission?

    I can’t say that I’ve had anything unusual happen. One time, a writer called me a “Web Woman,” in a front page headline. I thought it made me sound like I was Spider Man’s girlfriend…

    Q2: You and I both consider a blog as a small business in most cases, but bloggers don’t often think about doing publicity and press releases. Can you give them a quick example of what could happen when they dig in and do this kind of work for their blog?

    I know there are some people who just have blogs to post pictures and stories for their families to read, but in most cases, if someone has a blog, one of their goals is to get web traffic. By sending out press releases, writing guest posts, interacting with the media, etc, their blogs will get a lot of exposure. They will get more traffic, and that can equal more sales, more ad revenue, etc.

    Q3: Sometimes sorting through the daily HARO and guest blogging lists can be tiresome, and sometimes the contacts aren’t always the best at communication. I think they’re probably equally tired from all the replies they get each day. Can you give us a quick tip for dealing with those publicity contacts?

    There are several things that a business owner can do to make this easier. First of all, they can outsource it to someone else, such as a VA or an Intern.

    If that’s not an option, or if they choose to do it themselves, set up a filter in your email for the HARO emails. These emails get delivered three times a day. Instead of checking them as they come in, look at them once a day. And, instead of looking at each section, just look at the section that is relevant to your business.

    For example, there is a “High Tech” section. If you blog about knitting, you can skip those requests. I know this may sound simple, but if you set a timer of 30 minutes, and don’t do anything else in that 30 minutes except going through that day’s requests, and responding to the requests that fit your business, you’ll get through all of them in that 30 minutes.

    Side note: Crissy’s package featured here includes a special report focused on how to use HARO the right way in your ongoing publicity efforts.
    Learn How To Get More Publicity

    Q4: Buzz, buzz, buzz. Everyone wants buzz, but sometimes I wonder if people actually know what that means for them. How do you view buzz for small businesses and bloggers?

    I think “buzz” happens when someone in the media is talking about your or featuring you. I don’t discriminate between “small” and “big” media. Any time someone wants to feature you, whether they are a blogger with a small readership, or if they are a national newspaper, go for it. Every little bit helps!

    Q5: One last question before we sign off for the day. You covered a lot about press releases in the package and even gave some handy pre-written formats to fill in the blanks and go.

    Give us a definite “don’t” when it comes to press releases. What’s one ultra mistake that you want people to avoid when they dive into the world of publicity and using press releases for their business?

    First of all, not following the right format is a no-no. Press Releases come in a specific format, with certain information going in certain places.

    A journalist wants to be able to find the information they need, quickly and easily. They’ll even write stories from that press release, without calling you for additional facts. (By the way, that’s why you need to make sure you answer the Who, What, Why, When, and Where in that press release!)

    If you send them a press release where the information is out of order, or missing, and they’re on a deadline, they’re not going to take the time to figure it out. They’ll move on to the next story.

    And you also want to send the press release in with enough lead time for the reporter to create that story. If you have an event on Saturday, don’t send a press release in on Friday and expect to have coverage.

    Thank you so much for talking tips with us today, Crissy. I really appreciate it, and I definitely appreciate everything that you do for small business, women of the web, and bloggers in general – you rock 🙂

    Ready to dig in and start getting more publicity and exposure for your business? Check out Crissy’s new publicity tools and learning package by clicking here.

    The full package includes 7 educational workbooks, 3 handy to have checklists, 5 pre-written press release templates, and 5 informational audios to help guide you through the process of earning publicity. Seriously, I told you she over-delivered on this one. It’s packed full of resources!

  • Promote
    Marketing Your Work At Home Business

    Using Instagram to Promote Your Business

    I have fallen in love with Instagram. At first I thought it was just a photo sharing platform, however I’ve discovered it’s a fantastic way to share your view, your perspective and your business. There is no character limit. There are no lengthy conversations. There’s also no plastering of links and ads all over the place. The primary function of Instagram is sharing photos that you love, for whatever reason. Using this tool, you can share the inside view of your business and grow a new angle to represent your company.

    I Love Instagram I Love Instagram

    I recently attended a session all about using Instagram at the creative blogger conference, SNAP!. The presentation was offered by Rhonna Ferrer, Shelly from The House of Smiths and Susan from Freshly Picked. Each uses Instagram in their own way and if you follow each of them, they share entirely different views. However, they all agreed, you can use the platform to share the “behind the scenes” view of what’s going on with you, your business and your brand.

    Here’s a couple thoughts about using Instagram to promote your business and brand:

    Instagram is a form of microblogging. Instead of 140 characters, you get a single photo to convey a message.
    Make your photos personal, sharing perspectives, opinions and your own unique view.
    Inspire questions and interaction, spark an interest.
    Be consistant with the look and feel of your images.
    Be relatable, share things that other’s can relate to. Things like family, food, entertainment, travel… this is all a part of that “personal” touch.
    Make sure to connect with your followers and those you follow. Leave comments, reply, give feedback and say thank you.
    I’ve been using Instagram for a few months now and love the low pressure sharing. If I’m inspired to take a picture, it’s usually inspiration enough for me to share the photo on Instagram. For me, this simple requirement to share is enough. I don’t worry about what title or which link to post, none of that is included. I add text describing why I took the photo or why I’m sharing it and that’s it. My goal is to show creativity can come from anywhere, so anything I share could quality. If you are a family run business, showing what you do, the family involved and interacting with a family friendly approach would help build your brand through Instagram.

    If you’re on Instagram, follow me! I’m jgoodedesigns. Don’t forget to say hi!

  • Shameless
    Marketing Your Work At Home Business

    When Is a Shameless Plug Okay?

    Over the weekend I joined a Facebook group of people who are all going on the same Disney cruise that I am this summer. It’s intended as a way for us to get to know each other in advance, learn more about shore excursions and ship activities, etc. As it turns out, one of the members of the group has been a member of my site SunshineRewards.com since we opened.

    We had no idea that we would be on the same cruise! We started chatting on the page a bit about it and people started asking about Sunshine. I felt a little bit awkward because I am not much of a self-promoter. And yet I knew that these people were my EXACT target demographic–Disney fans with some disposable income who are comfortable online. I couldn’t pick a group of people better suited to promote Sunshine to! But I was held back by not wanting to appear promotional or as if my motive for joining the group wasn’t pure.

    When is it okay just to toss out a shameless plug for yourself and not feel guilty about it? Some people would say “always” while others would say “never.” I’m in the middle and think these are some times that are perfectly okay:

    At an event where the main purpose is to network about your business (easy one!).
    At an educational event where people around you are likely in the same business (still pretty easy).
    In a blog post such as this one where it’s part of the story (see how I worked that in?).
    When someone else brings up your business and asks you to explain it (sort of my Disney example but not really).
    When you are giving out something for free and people expect to hear some kind of pitch or advertising information (but not necessarily a “hard sell).
    In a social setting where everyone is talking about what they do for a living.
    What other examples can you think of where it’s acceptable to plug your business? When is it definitely NOT acceptable?

  • Activities
    Family And Kids

    5 Quiet Time Activities for Your Preschooler

    We all want our kids to be active, imaginative and outgoing. Sometimes though, we just need a little quiet. I work from home 4 days a week and I need quiet many hours a day. I don’t want to stifle my kids, especially my preschooler but I need to get my work done too! So what’s a mom to do? Well I’ve just had to come up with some go to activities that always settle my guy down and let Mama get some work done. Here are some of our favorite quiet time activities:

    • Coloring

    I know it seems so obvious and boring and like there is no way this will keep your child’s attention for very long but I’m telling you it works! There are a few things you can do to set this activity up for success. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “You eat with your eyes first.” Well the same is basically true for everything you do with kids. Its all in the presentation. If you throw some paper and a few random pens on a desk your kid is likely to be bored pretty quick, or worse yet not even want to give it a try. However, if you have an art station set up things all of a sudden become more interesting. My preschooler is really into dressup right now so I start things off by putting a “smock” on him. Check out this great idea for an art smock out of an old t-shirt. I help to make coloring a bit of a sensory activity as well by setting out stickers, stamps and different types of writing utensils. If your child isn’t getting the creative juices flowing try reading a quick story first, then asking them to draw about the story. This normally works to get things started.

    • Cutting

    At first I was really hesitant to let my little guy go to town with scissors but as soon as we found some nice child safe scissors and we talked about the rules I felt better about it. Of course, he is never left alone with them and they are stored in a safe place. Cutting is such a great activity for so many reasons; it builds fine motor skills, it is a life skill they need, and it requires lots of concentration. At first I just gave my little man a piece of paper and let him cut it up however he chose. Now that he is more skilled at using scissors I will draw lines on the paper for him to trace. We also stumbled upon this really great book, The Super Scissors Book, that even comes with two pairs of fun scissors.

    • Dress Up

    Before becoming the mom of two boys I always thought dress up was all about princesses and fairies. OH boy do I know better now! My oldest son, almost 4, loves nothing more than to get into character. Superheroes, Pirates, Cowboys, and fireman are just some of the costumes we have around here. I love this as a quiet time activity because it forces my child to use his imagination. It also helps him build fine motor skills by doing the buttons on his own, pulling up pants, etc. Another reason why I find it to be a great activity is because it sparks ideas for other quiet time activities. If he plays dress up in the morning, in the afternoon when its coloring time I can use who he was dressing up as for a prompt. For example, this morning you were dressing up as Captain Hook, can you draw Mommy a picture of Captain Hook? I will admit this activity is sometimes not as quiet as I would like it, a rousing sword fight can become very loud, but usually it works out pretty well.

    • Puzzles/Memory Games

    This is one of the only quiet time activities that we sometimes use an electronic tool for. I try very hard to limit screen time and not let devices watch my kids. But I also know that we live in a technologically advanced world and that is not all bad. There are so many great puzzle and memory apps out there. We also have a TON of wooden puzzles and a few memory games. When it’s puzzle time I normally lay out 3-5 puzzles in varying difficulty. I tell my boys to come and find me once all the puzzles are completed. This is a great way to get siblings to work together. Let’s face it our kids pretty much want to be with us 24/7 so if we walk away and give them a task that the reward is coming to be with us they will work twice as hard and fast! Never is there an argument when I set this situation up with my boys.

    • Sorting

    Sorting is a favorite around here for everyone. I love it because I can set up a sorting game anywhere anytime. For example, when doing the laundry I can have the boys sort out different items of clothing (i.e. put the shirts in one pile, the pants in another, etc.) When cleaning the house I can ask the boys to sort all of their cars into piles of different colors. When at the grocery store I can ask the boys to sort all of the green items in our basket into one pile. The list seriously never ends and can be customized to whatever skill your child is working on at the time. My preschooler is beginning to read so we are currently sorting everything we can that involves letters.

    I hope these tips are helpful and fun for you and your preschoolers! What are some of your favorite quiet time activities to do with your wee ones? What are their favorites to do on their own?

  • Hardworking
    Family And Kids

    Get the Job Done with a Hardworking Playroom-Office

    Many work-at-home moms will say that time with their kids is one of the best perks of their employment arrangement. But they will also admit that time with their kids is one of the biggest obstacles in their employment arrangement.

    Fortunately, with some thoughtful preparations and clever design ideas, anyone can create a smart space that excels at two jobs: home office for the boss, playroom for her smallest staffers. Done well, a double-duty setup earns mom a chance to turn her attention to the task at hand without having to banish the children to a back room to watch TV. And putting the kids to work executing the plan gains them the opportunity to put their mark on the final product, making them even more excited to play when mom has to punch in.

    Here are a handful of tips for promoting a playroom-meets-workroom scheme in your house:

    Behind The Desk

    If your children are school-aged, consider setting up workstations for both you and the kids — they can tackle homework while you tackle your to-dos. And having you plugging away beside them will set a ‘taking-care-of-business’ tone. Consider installing a long work surface along one wall, and then break up the counter into individual workspaces using drawers underneath as dividers. Each person’s “cubicle” should contain the supplies he or she needs to complete their work — colored pencils, notebook paper, calculators, and graph paper for them; staples, envelopes, notepads, and pens for you. Allow each child to select desktop accessories to personalize their place.

    Those with younger children might consider orienting their desks away from the wall, instead facing the room so that they can keep an eye on petite players while working. You also should be sure to wrangle wires and lamp cords to reduce the risk of having your electronics and accessories yanked from the desktop. Opt for a surge protector that closes to keep little fingers out of dangerous outlets, and then mount it to the underside of the desk to hide it away. Cable cord organizers and slim PVC pipe can also be employed for containing cords.

    Functional Fun

    To accomplish its primary responsibility — keeping the children entertained and safe while you’re on the job — the playroom needs to both work hard and play hard. So set yourself up for success by including a number of zones that are both functional and fun. Outfit one corner with bookshelves or cubbies that can house baskets and bins for toys and books, then use the upper shelves for stowing those off-limits items that are necessary to an office but don’t need to be desk-side: the printer, a file sorter, and reference books.

    Turn another nook into a craft corner complete with a small table, old magazines, paper, glue sticks, safety scissors, crayons, markers, stickers, and more (depending on the child’s age). Nearby, have the kids help you tape off and paint a chalkboard wall, which will provide them a creative outlet and may also come in handy for jotting your own notes and messages.

    Lastly, give little ones a place to flex their imaginations, whether it’s a play kitchen, pretend train yard, or costume closet. Get the kids involved with collecting wacky clothes and accessories from thrift shops, party stores, and relatives to fill a DIY dress-up bin. For added appeal, spend time together decorating the outside of the trunk with paint or decals — in one afternoon, you can transform a simple wooden box into a treasure chest, a princess carriage, a pirate ship, a race car, or a jewel box that will play into your children’s fantasies for hours to come.

    Quiet Time

    While blinking gadgets and buzzing gizmos provide a temporary distraction for your kids, they’ll likely distract you, too — and in the long run, such toys won’t hold their attention in a healthy way. When filling up the aforementioned baskets and bins, consider quiet toys like books, dolls, board games, and puzzles, as well as plenty of soft surfaces such as pillows and stuffed animals.

    And unless you want to fight to focus over the songs and silliness of your children’s favorite cartoons, it’s best to skip including a television in this space. Instead, I recommend offering a kids’ hideaway for times when you need to make an important phone call or spend a few moments intensely concentrating: a reading tent, fabric fort, or pop-up playhouse, for example.

    Change of Scenery

    No matter how well you design your office-playroom combo space, eventually the kids will get bored. Be ready to offer them a change of scenery. If your kids are old enough to play outside on their own, situate your desk at a window that overlooks that backyard and be sure that your outdoor playset strictly meets safety standards.

    For example, swings and other hanging components should be attached to a beam rather than monkey bars; the ground cover should be a soft material such as wood chips, sand, or rubber mulch; and the swing set should have a clearance of six feet around its entire perimeter. For added assurance, regularly check wooden playsets to ensure the framework is in good condition. (This can also be turned into a game with your kids — have them play “inspector” and look for problems with the equipment.)

    Feel more comfortable being on site? Create a portable workspace for yourself with a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop and a wheeled file/supply box that can be rolled out onto the patio or deck whenever your kids want some fresh air.

    What big ideas do you have for accomplishing work tasks while in the company of little ones?

  • Soccer
    Family And Kids

    My Secret Mom Confession: I Don’t Like Soccer

    This is the first year that any of our kids have played soccer – both Lucas(14) and Noah(13) signed up and they were excited to try something new even though they’re on separate teams since the brackets break up right between age 13 and age 14. So here we are right in the middle of soccer season and I’m here to confess that I am not enjoying it very much…

    The kids are great. It’s the adults that are giving me a headache.

    Many of the other parents have expressed that they don’t like having “the new kid” on their kids’ team because their kid has been playing soccer hard core since they were 2 years old and these “new kids” are holding them back.

    They’ve even complained to the community team organizers about having newbies on the team. Keep in mind that this is just the local rec league, this isn’t playing for the school or for the bigger league, and there are no division playoffs to be had at the end of the season.

    The main purpose of rec league is to have fun, make friends, and learn a sport. There is a separate league (I believe it’s called Travel League) for the serious soccer players who want to play more often or don’t have a school team and who want to go into a playoffs division. Rec league is for fun and learning, not craziness.

    The other kids don’t care that my kids are newbies, they’re actually really helpful and they enjoy teaching each other all sorts of things. The experienced kids love showing off what they know and being able to teach it to someone else makes them feel accomplished at what they’re doing. And it’s easier for kids to learn from other kids. The coach can explain and demonstrate all afternoon without the kids “getting” something, then after one explanation and demo from a teammate suddenly everyone understands and they’re having fun instead of getting frustrated.

    Kids are awesome and adults are idiots sometimes – that’s just the way it goes.

    Soccer Saturday – Noah’s Game
    This photo was taken by me at one of Noah’s games on a Saturday morning.

    The soccer fields in our area are all set up to put a line of separation between parents and the playing field. There’s one set of bleachers back and away, some fields even have a fence between the bleachers and the playing field. The bleachers are divided into two sections, one for “home” and one for “away.” 95% of the parents do not sit back and away, they bring lawn chairs and park their butts right up against the field out of bounds line. (And of course they then whine and complain when a ball hits them or knocks over their fancy water bottle…)

    These parents sit or stand on the sidelines, literally right up against the line, and yell and complain during games and practices. I don’t think they realize they’re distracting their kid more than helping them. A few times our coach has told parents to be quiet, because she’s losing her voice trying to yell over them to communicate with the team.

    It’s supposed to storm all day tomorrow, and I hate to admit it but I’m kind of glad because games will all get canceled. Our last three soccer games have been played in light rain and we’re all starting to get sick at this point. I might not always like soccer and the other parents might think I’m strange, but I will be there to support my kid even if it means standing in the rain and wind for 90 minutes.

    So what’s the business lesson here? Well, there are a few things we can learn from kids playing soccer….

    First of all, there’s always someone further along in skill than you at what you’re doing, but you can always learn from each other. Ignore whatever is being yelled at you from the sidelines by crazy people trying to sell you on the idea that their way is the best way and just focus on the goal.

  • Holiday
    Family And Kids

    Holiday Ideas For Families

    Make sure that you take time to enjoy your family this holiday season. Instead of getting all bogged down in holiday shopping and the stress of finding the perfect gifts think of ways that you can spread joy. I know most work at home moms have a hard time finding the work/holiday balance. Take time off to enjoy every special moment with your children and loved ones. Whether you are a Christian or not this season is a season for giving and being thankful for all you have. Here are some fun holiday ideas to inspire you:

    Progressive Neighborhood Party – This is one of my favorites. Each home hosts a different part of the party. The 1st home everyone visits will host the drinks, the 2nd home – appetizers, 3rd home – salads/soups, 4th home – main entree, 5th home – desserts, 6th home – after dinner drinks/coffee/tea. Depending on the group of people and how many homes you have this can be altered. On your walk from home to home you can stop by the other homes you may not know and sing carols.
    Have your child start an ‘I Am Thankful’ list. Have him add one thing he is thankful for each day. You can turn this into a decoration by having him write it on a paper Christmas tree or snowflake that you then hang across the fireplace or some other area.
    As a family, write your holiday letter. Have each member contribute one memorable moment from the year to be recorded to share with friends and family.
    Giving back – there are many ways to give back. Some ideas include: Volunteering at the local food bank, Donating to a giving tree for those in need, start a canned food drive in your neighborhood or school, donate your used clothing, deliver fresh baked goods to the local fire department, police station and hospitals, visit the senior citizen homes, visit children hospitals.

    Invite friends who are alone over for dinner.

    Have a movie marathon.
    Craft day – there are many crafts that you can do but here are some ideas: Create a pine cone holiday tree, make reindeer food out of oatmeal, sugar, and colorful sprinkles, popcorn garland, personalized ornaments, fun shaped and decorate sugar cookies.
    Whatever you do make sure you remember to include those who are alone, put work aside and enjoy every moment you have with your family and loved ones. Happy Holidays.

  • Holiday-Gifts
    Family And Kids

    What If You Can’t Afford the Holiday Gifts This Year?

    Adults understand the larger meaning behind holidays that have become highly commercialized. While Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other wintertime holidays represent significant events and remembrances relating to faith, culture and family, these messages are often lost on children who instead think of the holidays in material terms.

    To put it bluntly, the centerpiece of each of these holidays is the exchange of gifts. Whether or not they believe in Santa, the anticipation of gifts creates expectations among children that are sometimes hard for parents to match. Unfortunately, many working moms are on tight budgets that don’t allow them to fulfill every last material desire of their children.

    But that doesn’t mean the holiday season has to be a letdown. Instead, moms just need to get a little more creative in finding ways to deliver a satisfying, joyous holiday that kids of all ages will be able to appreciate.

    That may seem impossible at first glance, but it’s not! Here’s a quick guide to planning a successful holiday season on a small-to-nonexistent budget.

    Emphasize giving rather than receiving

    Understanding the giving mentality of the holidays is valuable at any age, and it can instill children with a sense of fulfillment and service that may be as satisfying as any gift. This is tougher to sell to really young kids, but if your children are old enough to understand the challenges of the less fortunate, they might be more inclined to helping out. This service can come in a variety of ways: By gathering up unused toys and other items to donate to less fortunate kids, or by offering to volunteer at a local church or shelter in whatever capacity needed.

    Such acts of service will also demonstrate to your children the harsh realities many poor people face, and it will help them embrace their own situation and be thankful for all that they have.

    Free activities in the community

    A variety of holiday-themed events are available in most communities. Check your local newspaper and pick out some fun events to go to. Many communities put on parades at the holidays, and you can also take your kid to various church services putting on holiday specials, as well as schools and local community theaters performing plays or musical performances. And there’s always the option of going through town checking out the various holiday lights displays.

    Make hand-crafted decorations

    Crafts are an inexpensive way to keep kids busy and provide them with a finished product. According to WAHM.com, your local library or a quick Internet search should reveal a number of options of hand-made items, such as gingerbread houses, popcorn garlands and other items that will spruce up your home at a nominal cost — and keep your kids busy for a solid afternoon.

    Offer gifts of service to one another

    If you can’t afford gifts of any kind, encourage your family to provide gifts to one another in the form of acts of service. For example, children could offer to do certain chores for their parents, while older kids could offer babysitting or special one-on-one time with younger siblings that look up to them.

    Put on family celebration events

    The holidays will still feel special as long as you deviate from your normal schedule to have fun in new, festive ways. Think of family events that are inexpensive to put on and will be fun for the entire family. For example, watching a movie with popcorn and other snacks will gather the entire family and make for a pleasant experience. Other options include doing a jigsaw puzzle, going sledding or on other outdoors adventures, or having celebrations specific to the religious meaning behind your celebrated holidays.

    Ultimately, your kids will most remember the experience of the holidays more than the gifts they receive. Even if you don’t have any extra funds to provide gifts, you can always give more of your time and attention to indulging in the holiday experience with your kids.

    With a little extra planning and creativity, your kids will barely notice the bare spots underneath your Christmas tree.

  • Mom
    Family And Kids

    Introducing My Mom, Cindy (@cingroomer)

    I was on the phone with my mom today when I was trying to come up with an idea for my post. We were chatting about a little bit of everything–from my daughter’s birthday to one of the merchants that she manages. That’s how all of our conversations go. The personal gets mixed in with the business. I thought to myself…what better topic to write about today on a mom site than my own work-at-home mom?

    When I was a kid, my mom always worked at least one job but most of the time more than that. She usually had one “real” job and then some kind of venture that she started herself. Some were kind of odd (like the home screen printing business) and some turned into full-time jobs (like the pet grooming business she started in our back room). I always saw her working and she always found ways to involve the rest of the family. Sometimes we helped in return for getting paid. Sometimes we helped just because she was the mom and she said so.

    I have no doubt that watching my mom in her businesses helped me when it came to starting my own. Seeing up close and personal the amount of work it takes to be your own boss prepared me for what I would face. And thankfully I can still call her when I have questions.

    Even though she doesn’t have kids at home anymore, my mom is still a work-at-home mom. Now she is an outsourced program manager (OPM) for Greg Hoffman Consulting. She doesn’t have her own kids underfoot, but she does have plenty of dogs and cats around plus occasionally some grandkids. She deals with a lot of the same work issues that I do like neighbors dropping in during the day and trying to balance work and personal time when they seem to bleed into each other all the time.

    If you don’t know my mom, Cindy Ballard, you should. If you are in affiliate marketing, she’s a good source of information. If you are a WAHM, she’s an inspiration for how to run your own business. Even if you are neither of those, you will find her to be a spirited, entertaining person worth getting to know.

    (Wait until she finds out that I was multi-tasking and writing this article while I was talking to her about Harley shirts and Medicare!)

    January seems like such a relaxing month after all the craziness of the holidays. You can just sit back, send your kids back to school, start working on your goals for 2013. All the sudden you look at the calendar and realize that your child’s birthday is right around the corner and you have done no planning at all. I know, because I have been helping plan children’s birthday parties for over 11 years with my party planning persona Partyelf.

    What’s a busy work at home Mom to do? Research and shop online of course. One of the reasons that I started Partyelf is because I know that parents do not have time to run from store to store trying to find everything they need to host a birthday party that their child will always remember.

    My top tip is to talk to your child about what kind of party theme that they want or if they are not quite verbal yet, take into account what their interests are. My daughter wants to be a ballerina, loves the Olivia books, and is a huge fan of ladybugs. And those are some of the birthday party themes that I have used when planning her parties.

    Need some inspiration? Here are 5 of the hottest birthday party themes right now:

    Little Man Mustache Basic Party Pack for 8Little Man Mustache Party – Everyone needs a little mustache in their life. This party theme is very cute with a mustache on everything, including a Stick the Mustache game. Despite the title, I think this can be a very gender neutral or large age range birthday party.
    Ballerina Tutu Deluxe Party Pack for 8Ballerina Tutu Party – Pink, tulle and ballet slippers. Need I say more? This classic party theme is sure to be loved by many little girls. It is such a hit in my house that my daughter wants to have another ballerina party.
    Sock Monkey Red Deluxe Party Pack for 8Sock Monkey Party – This simple toy has had a resurgence of popularity in the last couple of years. It appeals to both boys and girls and it is just darn cute! A fun activity for this party is having a create your own sock monkey station set up for your guests.
    Madeline Basic Party Pack for 8Madeline Party – I can just picture all the party guests in blue dresses and yellow hats. March them all in two straight lines right to the birthday cake! I absolutely adore the yellow hat piñata.
    Goldfish 1st Birthday Deluxe Party Pack for 8Goldfish 1st Birthday Party – A first birthday is a very special occasion and I think this party theme is perfect. You guests will just flip over it! (Hey I couldn’t resist making at least one lame joke.)
    I hope that helps inspire you and makes planning your child’s next birthday party a little bit easier. Trust me, when the big box of things arrives on your doorstep, you will be so happy with all the time that you save. Plus save money when you use this link to save 10% on your next Birthday Express order.

  • Gifts
    Family And Kids

    4 Ideas for Great Last Minute Holiday Gifts

    It always seems to happen in December, time just slips away and before you know it there’s barely any time at all left to shop and the stores are packed with last minute shoppers who have no idea what to buy. You might be a last minute shopper, but I can help you figure out what to buy before you get to the crazy chaos filled store with these five quick ideas for last minute holiday gifts that are easy and affordable…

    1: Gift Cards

    You probably saw that coming, right? But don’t grab just any old gift card off the rack and your local gas station. Choose a gift card that the recipient is going to actually be excited to receive.

    Maybe your sister has been stressed out lately and could use a trip to her favorite salon for some pampering – Stop into the shop to pick up a gift certificate and while you’re there ask them if they can help you pick something to go with it. A lot of salons keep a record of each client’s “favorite” list, including colors of nail polish, favorite shampoo/conditioner, and so on. Those little things make a big difference.

    Maybe your favorite Aunt is a foodie and would love to try the new restaurant in town but hasn’t been there yet because she’s worried about her budget – A gift certificate works nicely in this instance and she’ll be able to leave a nice tip. If you’re nice she might even invite you to dinner with her 😉

    Maybe you happen to know that your nephew is getting a video game console this holiday – With the online gaming connections for Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo you can purchase add-ons and even full games with their points systems or directly from the console with a credit card (though, after the Playstation Network hack earlier this year, points are probably safer.) You can usually find gift cards for the points at stores like Target and Best Buy, anyplace that sells video games.

    If you’re totally stumped and don’t know what the person would truly enjoy, or for the mysterious teenager in your life, you can always go with a plain old Visa gift card for any amount and let them choose their own adventure and splurge on anything anywhere Visa is accepted.

    2: Shop Your Local Mom & Pop Shops

    This is like two gifts in one. While the majority of shoppers are off at the big box stores a lot of small business owners are wondering where the crowd is.

    Take a trip off the beaten path and visit local small stores to pick up gifts. You’ll avoid the big box crowd, wait in line less, find some pretty amazing gifts that everyone will love, and you’ll support a local small business owner all at the same time. It’s win-win.

    3: Practical, but Creatively So

    A bottle of wine is a pretty standard gift, but if the person you’re shopping for is a wine lover then there’s nothing wrong with giving a bottle of wine. Get creative and pair that bottle of wine with a set of new wine glasses, an interesting corkscrew, aerator, or some other wine gadgetry.

    Or perhaps your gift recipient isn’t a wine drinker at all. Think about something they enjoy, whether it’s a daily breakfast smoothie or their favorite chocolates. Get that item and something that could go with it nicely, like an eco-friendly drink container or a unique candy jar for the kitchen. As an example, my youngest son has started a tradition of buying me a bag of Starbucks coffee and one of their holiday collector’s mugs for my birthday every year (that’s on Dec 27th in case you’re wondering wink wink)

    4: Go for the Ornament or Other Decoration

    It might be a bit cliché to give an ornament for the holidays, but if you know the recipient appreciates that sort of gift it can actually be a really great gift to give. And it doesn’t have to be an ornament, it can be any holiday decoration. Think about when you’re decorating for the holidays and how each piece you unpack and put in its place sparks a memory for you – receiving your gift could be that memory and it will be appreciated year after year.

    If you have a favorite photo of you and the recipient, there are some fun photo frame ornaments out there that display digital photos. Those are especially cool if you went on vacation together or attended an event together, you can load the photos into the ornament for a fun gift full of memories.

    Last Minute Gifts Can Be Awesome
    So just because there are only a few days left and you’re in a rush to finish your shopping this weekend doesn’t mean you can’t give great gifts that will be adored and appreciated. Just take a few minutes to think about the recipient and remember, it’s the thought that counts.

    Happy Holidays!
    One last tip before I go…. If you really don’t want to leave the house to do that last minute holiday shopping this weekend, today (Friday December 21) is the last day to get 2-day shipping on Amazon orders in time for delivery before December 25th as long as you order by 4:00 PM PST.

  • Business
    Marketing Your Work At Home Business

    Have You Embraced Pinterest For Your Business Yet?

    By now I’m sure you’ve heard of Pinterest. It’s likely you have an account for your own personal use. But are you really using it for your business? Pinterest offers a great opportunity with some interesting tools to help you promote your promote your products, build awareness and inspire current customers to buy again. There’s now Pinterest business pages and most recently, analytics. You can always share pretty pictures and links to your products, but now you can alo see how users are interacting with those pins.

    Melissa Taylor, author of Pinterest Savvy, shares plenty of juicy details and how tos for making Pinterest work for your business. She’s gained more than 1 million followers on her own Pinterest boards. She’s written this book to help other’s follow the steps she took to find success. Learn how to attract more followers & increase brand awareness, read success stories of top Pinners and start using business specific strategies. Pinterest isn’t useful to businesses unless those pretty pins turn into sales. There are specific techniques and approaches a business needs and learning to use this tool appropriately can help grow your business.

    Here are some questions to ask yourself about your business and using Pinterest:

    How can I use Pinterest to grow my brand awareness?
    How can Pinterest help me reach my marketing and sales goals?
    How can Pinterest increase my traffic?
    How can Pinterest turn followers into buyers and traffic into sales?

  • Valentine’s Day
    Work At Home Mom Issues

    5 Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for the Work at Home Mom

    February 14th is approaching fast and while most women love flowers and chocolates, a work at home mom will likely appreciate the more “productive” kind of gifts. If you’re searching for inspiration for a gift for the WAHM in your life, you might find some below.

    Spa Day

    Wait, I just said productive gifts, right? This IS all about being productive. Working from home usually means blurring the line between your work and home life. AKA, it’s easy to get burnt out.

    Sometimes, the most productive thing you can do for your business is to take a break – recharge and re-energize your mind and creativity with some downtime.

    A few hours of a massage, pedicure and manicure at a spa can often send a WAHM home with tons of new ideas, inspiration and motivation – in both her business and personal life.

    A Kick Ass Crock Pot

    Some women might find kitchen gadgets boring, but WAHMs are often pressed for time. Anything that helps them save time while still managing the household will be a welcome item. I’m actually a very good cook, but I until recently I wasn’t a big fan of crock pot cooking. Most of what I attempted to make in a slow cooker didn’t turn out that great. That was until Michael Gray taught me that not all crock pots are created equal.

    I’ve since purchased a really nice slow cooker and have found some pretty kick ass crockpot recipe sites. And just to avoid the possibility that it may SEEM like a “so you can cook me dinner gift”? Try including a short note about how much you appreciate all the roles she juggles and that you hope this will make the amazing job she already does a tad bit easier.

    “On the Go Office” Capabilities

    If you’re not on a tight budget, nothing makes a WAHM smile like gadgets that make their ability to productively work on the road, at the park or while sitting at their child’s football practice. Think Hot spot services, adding a tethering function to create a personal hotspot via your phone to your monthly plan (if it’s not already included) and gadgets that make going mobile easier.

    You can find tons of computer and tablet related Valentines day gift ideas (and deals) right now. And don’t forget accessories! Grabbing a WAHM a keyboard for her iPad can greatly increase what she can get done while mobile.

    “Uninterrupted Time” Coupons

    If you ARE on a tight budget, giving your time can go a long way. Have a friend who is a WAHM? Offer to take her kids on a play date once every two weeks at your local park to give her some uninterrupted time for her business tasks. Married to a WAHM? Giving her a morning every other Saturday where you’re on kid duty can help her schedule important tasks for times she knows she can get them done more effectively without interruption.

    A Killer Office Chair

    Office chairs are often overlooked, but as Missy wisely pointed out, an office chair is one of the top things you shouldn’t skimp on as a work at home mom. Sitting all day can cause a lot of issues – a chair might seem like a “boring” gift, but the WAHM in your life will likely think otherwise.

    Missy uses a Star Ergonomic Chair. I have tons of friends who swear by Herman Miller chairs (but, be prepared, they’re costly). I personally use a Boss chair (I discovered them via staying in so many Hilton properties).

  • Plans
    Home And Business Finances For Work At Home Moms

    How To Find And Compare Health Insurance Plans

    I became the primary breadwinner for my family in February 2009. My husband and I had agreed that he’d quit his job as an International Sales Rep to go to graduate school at night and be a stay-at-home dad by day. I’d continue working at a Minneapolis-based non-profit. Three weeks after we made that transition I got notice at my full-time job that I’d be laid off. It wasn’t immediate, thank God for that, but a few months later I did lose my job and with it, my family’s health insurance.

    In the months between receiving notice of the impending lay off and actually losing my job and its benefits my husband and I debated whether we could really launch an at-home business and whether I could really become a work-at-home mom. One question overshadowed much of the conversation. ”How will we pay for health insurance?” I was petrified of buying our own. I really knew nothing about how to do it or what it would cost, but I was convinced that it would be thousands of dollars per month and potentially out of financial reach.

    Because of my fear I actually buried my head in the sand for the first year after I was laid off. We opted for COBRA coverage through my previous employer and qualified for a federal subsidy to the premium. Eventually that COBRA coverage and federal subsidy came to an end and I had to figure out what to do next.

    How to Compare Plans

    I couldn’t procrastinate it any longer. I had to sit down at the computer and figure out what my health insurance options were as a self-employed, work-at-home mom. Like any Type A woman would do, I made an Excel worksheet to track all my options and crunch all the numbers related to each plan. Once I started loading information into my worksheet, my fear melted away. Knowledge really is power.

    The most valuable numbers I looked at while comparing health insurance plans were the minimum and maximum out-of-pocket expense annually.

    Minimum out-of-pocket expense. I looked back at our medical history over the last few years and decided what I’d expect us to need in terms of the number of doctor’s office visits and prescriptions in a year’s time. In addition to paying our monthly premiums I assumed that we’d have these other basic medical expenses. For some plans we would pay co-pays for office visits. Other plans had co-pays for prescriptions. Some plans required us to pay 100% of the expenses out of pocket. I considered the total amount of premiums we’d pay annually and the cost of our essential medical expenses to be our minimum out-of-pocket expense.
    Maximum out-of-pocket expense. The maximum out-of-pocket expense is the plan’s annual deductible amount. In most cases there is an individual deductible that applies to each individual family member, plus an out-of-pocket maximum per family. I listed both of these numbers in my Excel worksheet.
    With those two annual numbers clearly identified for each different policy we were considering, I could easily compare plans side-by-side. My husband and I decided on a plan that fit our monthly budget and was a comfortable amount of financial risk for us annually, should we ever have to max out the plan.

    Finding Plans

    The first place I looked for plans was an online health insurance rate quote site. I normally don’t like those sorts of online quote sites, but I found them to be surprisingly useful in getting me started. I reviewed every plan suggested by the websites I visited, then took my research a step further.

    I jotted down the names of the insurance companies that offer plans in my state (there were only 3 or 4). I went to each of those companies websites directly to look for any other insurance plans for individuals. I discovered a few plans that seemed like good fits for my family, but had not been mentioned in the quote sites I’d visited.

    Before making a final decision, I called the customer service line for the two companies whose plans we were seriously considering. I inquired about dental insurance (which is difficult to buy apart from a health insurance policy) and confirmed my understanding of how each plan worked.

    We ultimately decided on a hybrid plan – a high deductible, but no health savings account because it offers standard co-pays for office visits, prescriptions, two urgent care and one emergency room visit annually. Beyond those things, we are responsible to pay 100% of everything else up to our deductible. My biggest surprise – our premium, as a self-employed family, is only slightly more than what we were paying in subsidized COBRA premiums.

    How have you navigated the waters of finding and securing health and dental insurance for your family? What advice and what questions do you have?

  • Inspiration
    Productivity Tips For Work At Home Moms

    4 Tips for Writing a Blog Post When You’re Out of Inspiration

    Some days the words flow like a river. Other days they’re stuck behind a dam. But if you’re running a blog, you don’t have the luxury of waiting until inspiration strikes. A successful blog depends on consistent, original content that keeps its audience engaged. That means even rainy days need to be answered with some sort of blog post.

    But, bloggers are also keenly aware of the importance of quality in their content. Even one bad post can cause readers to reconsider whether they want to devote their time to your regular blog postings. A lack of inspiration isn’t an excuse to publish a post that provides nothing of value to readers. So how do you overcome this paradox?

    For beginning and amateur bloggers, this is a serious challenge. But seasoned bloggers and content managers all have their tricks for maintaining quality content even over stretches when the passion is reeling, whether from exhaustion, stress or a dry well of creativity. When you reach these obstacles, there are at least four things you can do to press on in a meaningful way.

    1.Compile Q&As

    If you have a steady stream of readers, you have a great blog post to fill gaps. Encourage readers to send you questions and let them build up until you’re ready to publish an entire post dedicated to responding to those questions. I take a similar approach on AskMissyWard.com, where questions related to affiliate marketing can be submitted for future blog posts.

    With the questions submitted by readers, your format and content are essentially chosen for you. All you have to do is fill in the blanks.

    2.Offer commentary on recent industry news

    What’s the latest buzz in your industry? What about new innovations, companies, opportunities, etc.? Just by keeping up with the news that’s relevant to the blog you’re curating, you should be able to cobble together some quick paragraphs that brief your readers on industry news while offering a space to editorialize. Once again, the industry’s recent news creates the format and directs the conversation for you.

    3.Create a post covering tools and resources to solve a specific problem

    If you want to flex your expertise without draining your creative drive, focus on a single problem or challenge within your industry and provide readers with a game plan for overcoming that challenge. Identify tools and resources both online and offline, as well as any professional guidance you can offer. As people flock to search engines in search of answers to their current problems, you could earn a lot of traffic over the coming months and years.

    4.Curate a weekly roundup

    Whether you offer commentary on industry news or not, roundup blog posts are both easy to write and valuable to readers. By keeping a pulse on the industry, you can put together a weekly post that condenses the biggest news and articles from across the industry into a single post on your blog. This helps solidify your status as a viable news source while keeping your blog active and fresh.

    Running an effective, useful blog isn’t always the easiest job, but it’s rewarding when you can continue to deliver valuable content to your readers. Use these tips to keep things fresh, even when you’re short on ideas.

    Do you have any other tips for creating content when you’ve hit a brick wall?

  • team
    WAHM Entrepreneur Success Stories

    WAHM Success Story: Missy Ward of Affiliate Summit

    Missy Ward is the owner of Affiliate Summit which she co-founded in 2003.

    missy wardAffiliate Summit, Inc. is a media company which provides solopreneurs and large companies, opportunities to create prosperity in the affiliate marketing industry through its conferences and trade shows, magazine, podcast network, forum and blog.

    Missy is also the Co-Publisher of Revenews.com and Revenews.org, a Co-Founder of itsaWAHMthing.com, Founder of joinWOMU.com and AffiliateMarketersGiveBack.com and she also operates numerous affiliate websites.

    Missy is a work at home mother to two boys.

    Check out her take on being a WAHM entrepreneur below.

    What made you start your business?

    Just nine years ago, when people thought about affiliate marketing conferences, it was generally a negative connotation. At the time, the reigning conference was Affiliate Force, an annual cruise around the Caribbean.

    I helped coordinate those conferences, along with Shawn Collins, but we truly believed there were ways it could be done better. To make a long story short, Shawn and I offered our opinions to the owner of the company, who decided to ignore us.

    So, Shawn and I decided to create an alternative shortly after the April 2003 edition of Affiliate Force. Our first show had 200 attendees. Fast forward 9 years later and our last Vegas show, this past January had more than 5,000 attendees.

    How did you finance your business in the early days?

    Back in 2003, I was a single mom of an almost 3 year old going through an awful divorce. Shawn was the sole breadwinner in his growing family at the time. Together, we didn’t have two nickels to rub together.

    We invested what little we had (a couple of hundred bucks each) and worked outrageous hours doing everything ourselves so that we could make a go of it. We’ve been self-funded the entire time and today, we stand as a privately-held, multi-million-dollar business.

    What is your average workday like?

    I wake up in the morning, make breakfast and lunches for the kiddos and get them off to school. My husband usually walks my boys to the bus stop on our corner. Then I either go for a Jazzercise class, take a walk, or immediately head to my office which is located in the upstairs of my home.

    After putting in a few hours of work, running business errands or attending meetings, I start my other job (Mommy Taxi Driver) and run the kiddos to Soccer, Hockey, Drama,Cub Scouts, Religious Instruction or wherever their social calendar dictates. I pop in a few more hours of work before they get home, then make dinner (or make dinner reservations), help out with homework, wrangle them into their respectful showers, get them off to bed and head back to my office for a couple more hours of work.

    Hubby and I usually meet up around 11′ish to catch up on the day’s events, watch a TV show, read a book, or simply sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine.

    What has been your biggest challenge as a WAHM Entrepreneur?

    My biggest challenge is balancing work, family and friends. You see, I absolutely love what I do, so I spend a lot of time doing it. Half the time, I don’t even think I’m working. But juggling long days and travel, with my family’s schedule and still trying to maintain friendships and have “unrelated to work” fun, it can get a little frustrating.

    It’s really hard to be as good of a mom, wife, friend, daughter and business owner as I want to be every day.

    What has been your biggest success as a WAHM Entrepreneur?

    I think my biggest success resides in those rare days where the stars align and somehow magically, I’m good in all my roles. Granted, those days are few and far between, but they inspire me to try to be just a little better every day.

    How do you stay motivated when working from home?

    Occasionally, I admit it… I can be a bit of a slacker. It usually happens if I’m burning the candle at both ends or have over-committed and feeling a little overwhelmed. When that happens, I will usually go out for a walk and think about why I started my business in the first place. Focusing on that usually gets me on track.

    But, if that doesn’t turn things around, and I just can’t get inspired, I don’t force it. I’ll usually just blow out of the office for a few hours, get a mani/pedi, have a long lunch with a friend, or simply just lay out in the sun with a book. It’s that little bit of rejuvenation time that brings me back to the work world with a smile.

    How do you balance your work and family?

    See above. 😉

    What has been your most successful marketing tactic for your business?

    My most successful marketing tactic will continue to be turning customers into raving brand ambassadors for my business. You see, I spend very little money advertising — maybe a couple of hundred bucks on Google each month. The growth of my business is directly related to our customers. We’ve listened to what they’d had to say through extensive surveying and try to provide them with the experience they’re looking for. That’s it in a nutshell.

    What is your favorite productivity tip or tool?

    I love ManyMoon (now Do.com). It’s a free productivity tool that integrates with Google Apps that lets me organize projects, tasks, and conversations with everyone that I work with. I don’t think I could live without it.

    Who do you admire most and why?

    I’m fortunate to be surrounded my a bunch of hard-working underdogs that have achieved the success that they were looking for.

    Rae Hoffman-Dolan of Sugarrae.com; Shawn Collins, my business partner in Affiliate Summit and more; Connie Berg of FlamingoWorld.com and Brian Littleton, CEO of ShareaSale.com are not only business influences that I respect and admire, but I also marvel at the kindness they show to the people around them.

    What is something most people would be surprised to know about you?

    I’m an open book. I used to surprise people with fact that AC/DC is still my favorite band in the world, or that I’m a shoe-aholic. But I think that most people know that by now. I guess the most surprising thing might be that I fired my first shotgun this year — a 12-gauge — and I liked it.

    Where do you see your business at two years from now?

    I see the Affiliate Summit Conference and Tradeshow series growing much larger. We have a number of initiatives going including new events in different locations, our new forum and monthly meetup groups and more driving that growth.

    What advice would you give to aspiring WAHM Entrepreneurs?

    Learn to let go of bad ideas. No matter how passionate you are about an idea, you’ve got to test it to see if it’s a good one. If there’s ever a point where you’re not making money from the idea, move on and don’t take it personal.