Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

MomAdvice Simplified: Simplifying the To-Do List

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Wow, that half hour went by fast and I just want to thank everyone who listened live and chatted with me while I did my first podcast. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You made my day and I feel very proud to have accomplished this first one! I hope that we provided some great information for you and that these podcasts will help to make your day easier.

If you weren’t able to listen live, scroll down and you can click on the player on the left-hand sidebar of the site. These episodes will update as new ones become available. To visit my show page, just click on over to BlogTalkRadio to see what we will have in store for the upcoming month.

Here are some of the resources that we highlighted in our first episode:

Full Out & Fearless- Coach Charrise joined us for our first podcast and offers a valuable blog and website where you can get tapped into accomplishing goals that you have always feared. Many thanks to her for joining us on our first episode and sharing how moms can work through those to-dos!

Simplify the To Do List- Have you ever looked at your to-do list and just felt completely and utterly overwhelmed before you even start? My day was often looking like that and rarely did I actually ever complete all of the things off of the list. I would end my day defeated before the next day had ever begun. While the high of checking things off the list was there, the items left unchecked left me feeling less euphoric about what was actually accomplished… continue reading this entry.

remember the milk- This site is great for our list-writing mommas. You can make as many lists as you like and no one will tell you to put your notepads away. Into tagging items on your blog? Use the task cloud to easily see what you have to do. Want to store notes along with your tasks? You can do that too. Saving gas is always a priority too and you can use the map feature to see where your tasks are located in the real world. See what’s nearby or on your way, and plan the best way to get things done.

Ta-da Lists- Another great site for the list-writing mommas because that is virtually all this program is. It is simple, it takes about ten seconds to sign up for an account and you can make as many lists as you like. You could also be like, “Ta-da!” and have this open on your computer with a giant list of things you need your spouse to do… you know, if you were that kind of spouse!

Simple Mom- I highlighted Tsh as a great example of a mom who uses a wonderful tool for time management. Here is her entry on her daily docket and the goals she creates for her day.

What’s Up Next Week?

Getting a healthy dinner on the table can be a real challenge for moms. What are some things that you can do ahead to get dinner on the table quicker? How can you get out of the rut of preparing the same dishes every week? This week we will be speaking with Kristen Doyle, of Dine & Dish, on some ways we can make our dinner hour easier and how to simplify the planning process for busy moms.

Inspiring Moms: Charrise McCrorey of Emergence Business Coaching

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

I am so excited to introduce you this week to my friend and business coach, Charrise McCrorey!

Charrise will also be joining me on my very first podcast. I mean, if I am going to do something that is completely new for me, who else better to join you then your coach?

We will be exploring how to simplify the to-do lists in our lives and create balance with our work (and/or home management) and our families. Charrise has been an invaluable person in my life and I look foward to sharing this interview with you.

To listen to the podcast live, you just visit my profile page on BlogTalkRadio on January 8th (Thursday) at 2PM EST. You can call in questions to me or just type a question or comment in to me while listening. If you aren’t available at that time to listen, we will be sure to post it on our site. You can stream the episode or download it- whatever is more convenient. I am so excited to connect with our readers in this way!



Can you explain what a business coach is and what they can do for your business?

Business Coaches are not always doing the same kind of work – so much of the work is based upon the unique people involved. Generally speaking, a business coach will work with the leaders of a company to help them manage change, improve bottom line, create new initiatives, empower people, and tighten up profit losses. Another facet of coaching is personal coaching, and in my experience it is critical to create a balance between the two, as we are in fact people with full and busy lives. The more growth we experience personally, the more effective we will be in our business.

How did you begin this journey into coaching? What have you discovered through this career path?

I began a few years back when I found myself at an important crossroads in my life. I was out of work, and had experienced some health issues with my husband and myself. I suddenly woke up to the fact that I was wasting my talent in the jobs that I’d had. I discovered the world of coaching through personal development work I had been doing. I knew instantly that this was what I was searching for. I found a great company to get my certification training from and got started right away. I’ve learned so much since then, about myself, and about the unnecessary ways that people suffer through their life. I’ve become more passionate about living my life as if it were my last day here, and have developed stronger relationships in my life. I enjoy the experience of serving people, knowing that in some way I am helping them lead a more satisfying life.

One of the things you have really helped me with is my time management. Can you give some tricks or tips for work-at-home/busy moms for managing their day more effectively?

Amy, you are very coachable, and it’s been a real pleasure working with you!

I often recommend a strategy that I use myself with good results. It involves creating a list each day of 6 Things that would be satisfying to get done in a given day. These 6 things must be reasonably feasible to accomplish in that day. Mixing small things with big things allows us to actually get through the list, and end our day feeling a new sense of accomplishment, as opposed to our old ways of making lists we never complete and feeling like a failure because of it. Making a list of 6 Things causes us to re-evaluate what is really important to us. It sets us up for success rather than failure. We all have enough time – what we don’t utilize enough is the discipline to arrange our priorities in a way that satisfies us.

What advice would you give to a mom who is struggling with balance? How can moms make themselves a priority when caring for everyone else in the home and balancing their careers?

Being a mom is such a fulfilling and important job. The need to be a super-mom is a made up story that we create, seeking validation for one thing or another and creating the martyr image. My best coaching is to build in time for self care, because who will you be for your family if you are ill or unhappy and stressed out with your life? As a parent, you set the example for your children. You want them to grow up to be happy, healthy adults. They are watching you carefully and will model what they see. Teach them to honor themselves first, so that they are capable of delivering their gifts in a big way to the world. Start by doing this yourself. The laundry will wait. We sacrifice a lot for our children. We must be careful not to sacrifice our health, because they need us in their lives.

You will be beginning a new venture in your business. Can you share a little bit about what you have in store for the future?

Of course! I am so passionate about helping people to stop sleepwalking through life, I’ve created an intense coaching program designed to WAKE PEOPLE UP TO THEIR LIFE! It’s a program designed for people who are at the point where they know something’s got to give. They are ready to identify and push through the fear that stops them from fulfilling their dreams. They are committed to living their life as if every day were there last. It’s an exclusive 6 month program limited to 8 extraordinary people, and more details can be found at Full Out and Fearless. After 6 months of working with me in this program, the participants will be living a much bigger, more satisfying life. In fact, it may even be unrecognizable compared to what they’re up to right now. This is the kind of work I was created to do, and there is such a need for it right now. People are ready for change, and tired of settling for the status quo.

What is the proudest moment that you have had as a business coach?

Wow, this is a really great question. All of my clients have created dramatic results in their lives through their commitment to coaching. One client has learned to live his life with an abundant mindset, which has resulted in earning 3x more in the past year since our relationship began. Another client has learned the value of serving others, and is working to build a foundation for charitable giving. My coaching helps them discover what makes them great, and helps them focus on that instead of spending precious energy on weaknesses. I am proud of all of the work we do togeth
er! Coaching is for people who really want to see improvement in their life – and are ready to make an unwavering commitment to do the work. I am grateful to all of my clients for their contribution to my life.

To learn more about Charrise please visit Emergence Business Coaching, Coach Charrise, and Full Out and Fearless.

Simplify: The To-Do List

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Have you ever looked at your to-do list and just felt completely and utterly overwhelmed before you even start? My day was often looking like that and rarely did I actually ever complete all of the things off of the list. I would end my day defeated before the next day had ever begun. While the high of checking things off the list was there, the items left unchecked left me feeling less euphoric about what was actually accomplished.

For the past couple of months, I have had the great opportunity to work with a business coach to help make my business better. Charrise McCorey, from Emergence Business Coaching, has been working with me to help me reach my business goals. It has been such a unique experience for me because I am able to actually discover how valuable my time is, increase my productivity, and discover what can emerge from finding balance in my life.

The first thing on our project list was tackling my to-do list and my feelings of constantly being overwhelmed. I felt like I was juggling way too many balls in the air so I wasn’t sleeping well, eating well, or feeling like a very good parent. I would start a project, abandon it or do a bad job on it, and then move on to the next thing.

The first thing we did was revamp what my to-do list looked like. Here is an example of what my to-do list looked like for my Monday routine- perhaps it looks like yours?

Amy’s Monday To-Do List

Sweep Kitchen Floors
Unload dishwasher
Load dishwasher
Swipe both bathrooms
Make beds
One load of laundry
Clean bathtub
Empty upper level trash
Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms

Now those were just my home management goals, we aren’t even tackling the business goals for the day. What ended up happening was that I would get a portion of the list done and then have to carry it over for Tuesday. Let’s say I got three of those things done. Now we will move on to Tuesday’s schedule and it will look like this:

Amy’s Tuesday To-Do List

Swipe both bathrooms
Make beds
One load of laundry
Clean bathtub
Empty upper level trash
Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands

And then, let’s say I got five things done, then Wednesday would carry over to this:

Amy’s Wednesday To-Do List

Make grocery list and menu plan
Change sheets on all beds
Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands
Do one thing I hate
Catch Up on Everything

Usually by Friday, my list looked something like this:

Amy’s Friday To-Do List

Clean windows and mirrors on upper level
Dust upper level
Steam floors on upper level
Sweep upper level
Organize the bedrooms
Dust main level
Sweep main level
Steam kitchen floors
Clean windows and mirrors
Run errands
Do one thing I hate
Catch Up on Everything
Empty lower level trash
Dust lower level
Sweep lower level
Clean windows and mirrors on lower level
Clean and organize the home office
Visit the library
Clean out car
Update our Quicken software
Mow lawn
Baking day
Hate myself for accomplishing absolutely nothing
Defeat
Defeat
Defeat

Oh, and did I mention I haven’t tackled anything in my business? Obviously, this to-do list was just a running list of things I would never get to and I would hate myself for accomplishing nothing. In tears, I explained to Charrise that I often feel like a bad mom because I had to keep up with my business AND my house and neither was looking good at all. As Charrise says over and over again to me when I say negative things, “That is a story you like to tell yourself. You can change your story.”


We decided to change my story. She advised completely revamping the to-do list. Instead of keeping a running list of things I would never do, why not make a shorter list that I could actually accomplish with great success? How would it feel if I could go to bed each night knowing that I had accomplished what was on my list? How would I sleep? Her advice was simple a list of only six things.

Make 3 Business Goals
Make 3 Personal Goals

Now my list looks something like this:

Amy’s Revamped Monday To-Do List

1. Set up contests for Tuesday on the blog
2. Complete my to-do list entry
3. Conference Call with Kenmore
4. Play on the floor with the kids for one hour
5. One load of laundry- whites
6. Pay Bills

At night before I go to bed, I make my list of six and go to sleep. At the end of the day, I usually can check most of the things off of the list and if something doesn’t get done, it just gets carried over to the next day. I have to say, it is a lot easier to carry over two things rather than twenty each day.

But, what about the bigger goals? I had so many things I needed to do on my list for the website and in my home, but I knew they would never fit on such a limited list.

This is where this comes into play:

Giant Wish List

Instead of adding these to my to-do list each day, take a piece of poster board and begin writing what your bigger goals are. She suggested writing down things you might be afraid to say out loud so that you can see your dreams come into fruition.

Amy’s Giant Wish List

Podcast Radio Show With Huge Corporate Sponsorship
Food Network Television Show
Get Featured in Real Simple Magazine
Regular Column in Good Housekeeping
Book Deal
Meet Brad Pitt
Possibly Marry Him

When I think of things that I want to do in the future, I just jot it down on my giant wish list. It is there, I won’t lose the idea or goal, but it isn’t on
my running list of six…yet.

Yes, one day I will have an opening on the list of six and when that happens maybe I might say, “Today is the day to meet Brad Pitt and possibly marry him.” I will add it to the list of six and just maybe, I might accomplish it.

You might ask what happened to all the cleaning on the list? Well, instead of writing it down, I just try and do it when I get my goals accomplished for the day. I either make it my goal to clean one day of the week or I just clean when I need to clean. I don’t hold myself to commitments about it. I know what needs to get done and when I need to do it, and I do the best I can.

It might not be perfect, but it doesn’t keep me up at night anymore.

Simplify.

(photo credits: image 1- one pretty thing image 2-gamookie)

What does your to-do list look like? Could you simplify it? What would you put on a giant wish list?

How Do I Become a Product Review Blogger?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

One of the questions that I get asked the most is how people can receive free products for review. I have been reviewing products for a few years now, but only more recently did we expand our review section into The MotherLoot where it could receive separate attention from the work that I do here.

Really, anyone that has a blog can move into the product review niche. I just wanted to share some things that I wish someone had shared with me when I began receiving products for review and some ins and outs of the product review niche. Of course, folks that focus solely on product reviews may have some stellar advice that I can’t offer you here, but I will certainly try my best.

Start reviewing what you have. If you have not done any product reviews before, one great way to begin venturing into the world of reviews is just reviewing the items you already have in your possession. Look around at the things in your home and review the items that you would hope to receive for your blog. Want to review the latest drugstore products? Start a blog by reviewing what you use in the morning to get ready. Want to own the latest technology gadgets? Start with the laptop you are working on. Of course, you want your niche to fit well with your site so try picking products that would interest your readers. As a family blogger, our readers are interested in the latest toys and tools to make their days easier & more productive. I started by sharing tools that I used to clean my home, not intending to ever receive products from companies. Many companies saw my comments about their own particular products and my experiences with them, and I would begin receiving requests to send me products. That is truly how all of this started for me, just writing about my experience with items in my home.

Put together a set of terms for review.
When companies contact you to review one of their items, be sure to have a standard procedure for reviews. Here are some examples of procedures you could use:

  • It is a requirement by our company that we be able to keep the product that we are reviewing.
  • It is requested that we be able to offer one of your products to our readers in a giveaway.
  • We require a fee from your company in order to do a review.
  • We request that you provide a discount code for orders that can be placed online.
  • We request items that fit with our readers. We are a _____ site that caters to _____. Please make sure your product matches the efforts on our site.

Make sure that your terms are very clear and that the company understands what is required of them. These terms can be made visible on your website or you can just have a document ready to go and email the companies that you are interested in working with.

Streamline your product review process as much as you can. Now that you are receiving requests for products, what are some ways that you can streamline the process? My suggestions truly come from trial and error through my past experiences with companies.

  • Set up a seperate email address for your product reviews so you can keep track of what is coming to you. If it is set up in a different email address, set up an automated response that lets the company know that their request has been received. At this time, it is also appropriate to say, “We receive many requests for products and will try to respond to you in a timely manner. If you would like your product to be immediately seen I would like to provide our advertising rates.” This will give the company an option to pay you for prompt attention and lets them know that you have received their request without them hounding you repeatedly through emails.
  • Word your mailing address so you know if you requested the product or not. I won’t give away my secret, but I have a very separate wording for products that I request. There have been weeks where we receive product after product and I can’t remember what I requested and what I did not request. Establishing a specific mailing address that lets you know it is an item you genuinely wanted to try will help you when multiple mailings start coming in.
  • If you are doing a giveaway with a company, request that they mail the product directly to the winner. Trust me, it is so much hassle to have the product shipped to you and then reshipping it to the winner. It is expensive, not timely at all, and one extra step that you don’t want to be dealing with.
  • Keep track of that paperwork. Keeping the winner(s) information in a file along with the PR contact who handled the giveaway will be of great help to you if there should be a snafu with getting shipment to the winner. Hang on to this information for awhile because I have had errors occur months down the road. At this point, it can be time-consuming trying to hunt down that person who forgot to mail shipment to my winners.

Decide how you will handle products that you don’t like. Of the twenty requests or so we receive each week, we only pick one or two items for the review site because I try to pick things that we would actually enjoy reviewing. Because of this very reason, you won’t see a lot of negative reviews on our site because it is products we really know we will love. There have been the occasional bad products though and we try to review those honestly. There are times though where I have chosen to not do a review and emailed the company privately instead. One company in particular sent me a giant box of their cleaning products that caused me to go into a fit of asthma when I tried them. Rather than bash them publicly, I sent them an email and said, “I am sorry, but these products did not work for me. The scent in them was too strong and caused me to have an asthmatic reaction. I am happy to review them, but wanted your company to be aware.” Instead of posting a review, they took my feedback privately and forwarded it to the team who developed the products with the recommendations that they come out with an unscented line.”

Don’t forget to stay true to yourself & your site. It can be easy to get caught up in all of the loot, but you need to remain true to your readers and the intentions of your site. Our website is family-focused and shopping for family needs fit with our site. Shopping did not fit with a frugal blog though so that is why we chose to move the reviews to its own separate section of the site. If you are conflicted on if it is a good move or not, try to be more heavy with the giveaways rather than the reviews themselves. Nothing makes a reader happier than that email from you letting them know that they won something on your site. It keeps people returning to your review blog if you are sharing the products with others.

Another way that you can stay true to your mission is by donating the items to charity or participating in charitable drives in your community with the items you have received. I am working on a big donation to our local shelter and am so thrilled to be able to pass on some of these wonderful products to others. The items that reflect
our mission and goals will be reviewed, but the majority will be donated or given back to our readers. I feel lucky to be able to give in ways that I could not necessarily do on my own and I hope that others can benefit from our relationships with these companies as much as we have.

Do you have any tips or questions on product review blogging? Leave them here and we can start discussing!

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Speaking of product reviews & giveaways, I just wanted to let you all know that we are offering a brand new giveaway to our readers! Two lucky winners will receive a copy of Build-A-Bear Workshop for the Nintendo Wii. This is a family-friendly game perfect for young children. The game is for children three and older. Put your entry in over at The Mother Loot today! The contest ends October 28th at 8PM EST!!

What In The World is Twitter?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

I will be honest and admit that I am completely behind the times on networking through the internet. I find a lot of these social networks to be more maintenance and more bothersome than they are worth.

When my husband suggested that I join Twitter (eons ago), I went into a speech about how I was out living my life while people sat around and twittered about it. I rolled my eyes at people who were glued to their computer screens reading one simple answer to one simple question, “What are you doing?” What am I doing? What am I doing? Um, let’s see… yeah doing stuff.

Finally, I decided to really devote some time into discovering what Twitter was and if it would truly be beneficial to me. Reading people’s updates about drinking coffee, heading to the movies, drinking wine, blah, blah, blah- that did not sound like fun reading material. What I wanted to see was one thing and one thing alone. Will this improve my site?

Now that you know the attitude that I went into it with, you might be shocked to find out that I am absolutely loving Twitter. No, not for the ho-hum everyday details of people’s lives, but I am loving it from a networking standpoint and what it is doing for my business.

First, if you do not understand how Twitter works, I would HIGHLY recommend this video that I am posting here. It breaks down exactly how it works in a way that is very easy and basic to understand. Simply sign up for an account, find your friends (or find a really good friend who is well-networked and then look at all of his/her friends) and then click, “Follow.” Now you can post updates to the people who begin to follow you and you can post a quick update (140 characters or less) on what you are doing throughout the day.

Here are some of the positive things that have happened for me since joining Twitter:

Networked With Other Bloggers- Twitter is an amazing networking tool. Do big-time bloggers not know about you? Do you want to connect more with bloggers in your own category? This is the place to do it. Following people requires one click and then you can begin building relationships with others. You might think, how could that possibly help me? Well, within the first week I was able to see how great it really was.

Is a blogger going away on vacation and in need of some bloggers to do guest posts? That blogger will post this on Twitter and you can scoop up a guest post on other blogs in your genre. Is a blogger looking for an article on a particular subject that you just so happened to have written on? That blogger will post that article request on Twitter and you can send them a message to let them know that you have the perfect article ready to go for them.

Not only does it help you network with other bloggers from those superficial standpoints, but it also helps you connect on a deeper level and build friendships with people in your blogging community. You know if a blogger is having a really bad day and can send them a quick message to cheer them up. You also know if someone is having a great day and can be their cheerleader. These deeper connections with other bloggers are what you need to grow your blog.

Pointed People to My Posts- Want people to read what you have written? Point them to your posts! Because of the limited character space, you will want to make a smaller url to point them to, but you can link right up to your blog when you have an update. Let people know about your contests, drive traffic to posts, and get people to read what you are talking about. Many of the people that I follow were not bloggers that I was familiar with, but when I saw that they had posted about something I was interested in reading, I headed over and left them a comment. Guess what? They headed over to my site and then left me a comment in return. You have to love that!

I could see from my web statistics that traffic did increase from direct hits through my Twitter links, but it was not a substantial amount. What did increase though was the awareness of other bloggers who found me and then added me as a link on their page or included me in a post. In an indirect way, my traffic then increased more through that and then the added benefit from the direct links in. Roughly, we had an increase this past month of about 100 hits, which I think is pretty good for just telling people what I am up to. Those 100 hits might lead to many more, when accessed by the right blogger or media outlet.

Got Questions Answered Quickly- The fact that Twitter is in “real time” really helps to get answers quick when you are struggling as a blogger. You will often see questions like, “Can you see this page in IE?” or “Can someone please tell me if my comments are working?” When you have a question, it is hard to wait for a delayed response especially if you are trying to check if things are loading properly and if people can access the information they need. Hopping on Twitter gives you hundreds of people who are not only willing to help… they also can give you valuable feedback right away on what is or is not working for your blog. It is probably one of the best things about Twitter.

I Can Network with PR Folks- If you are reviewing products for your blog, Twitter helps PR people track what you are up to and also find bloggers who are doing reviews. You can add another dimension to your relationships with PR people. By joining the Twitter community, I have gotten some really great products to review for our site and have been able to offer giveaways that would have not come to me otherwise. Twitter updates also immediately notifies the PR folks that a review has been posted and they can pass that info on to their client. I still email them directly, but I also post the link through Twitter as an added bonus. If you don’t do product reviews, this might not appeal to you, but this is great for bloggers who do the reviews.

I Don’t Need to Twitter All Day & It Still Works For Me- Part of my issue was the fact that I didn’t want to have to maintain one more thing on the web. I am already overwhelmed and spending more time than I would like on the computer so why would I join another program that I had to keep up with? The beauty of Twitter though is that you can check in as frequently or as infrequently as you need to. Some days are too busy to log on, other days are slow and I feel like chatting and bouncing ideas around with people. It is that kind of freedom that really appeals to me and that there are no expectations. Low expectations make it easier for me to check in when I need to, and stay off it when I don’t. Yes, it can be addictive to read, but I try to keep it low-key.

Best Part, You Already Have Your First (Or Millionth Friend)- Need to follow your first person? I can be her! Just sign up for an account and follow me!

I hope that this helps explain Twitter a little better and please watch the video for a fun visual explanation for how it works.

Need some more blogging help? Here are a few more posts to help you on your way!

The Player Scores & Silence
Five Commandments for Blogging
How Do I Track My Traffic?
Gaining a Readership (The Frugal Way)
How Do I Work From Home?

Sound Off: What social networks have helped you to network and build your traffic? Do you use Twitter and what has been your experience with it?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddO9idmax0o]

The Player Scores…& Silence

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

It is the last thirty seconds of the basketball game and the teams are tied. The star player moves down the court gracefully, dodging player after player, his eye on the prize. He dances around them as he dribbles, and, as the seconds slip by him, he makes a beeline towards the basket. The crowd begins to count down loudly, “Ten, nine, eight…” And just before the last second, he slams the ball into the basket. And the crowd sits silent.

Wait? What? Why would the crowd not cheer? This is the moment, the moment that he has worked towards and yet, you could hear a pin drop. How do you think that player feels?

Well, I have been that blogger a lot and it really stinks. To be honest, you have to really love the process and therapy that comes with your writing to endure the dead silence that you receive when you first start blogging.

Let’s take that player that we talked about, for instance, and how he would have felt if the crowd went wild instead of went silent. As someone who has done theater for years, I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing like the adrenaline rush that you feel from the crowd cheering. Your heart starts to pump, your face flushes, you get that natural high from the praise, and then something really great happens…you want to do it again. That praise, that rush, that love that you feel from the people around you motivates you and you feed off of it. Suddenly, you picture yourself doing it over and over again, but each time you vow that it is going to be better next time.

For me, the process of writing these entries can be very labor-intensive. Sixty shots of whatever I am eating before I get to eat it, reading books and magazines to stay on top of new subjects that might strike our fancy, researching and sharing about other blogs, and just plain working my butt off. Some of my entries take very little thought and others are put out there after hours of careful thought and research. What stinks is when you put it out there and receive no comments on all of that effort.

What can bring a blogger comfort when they receive no comments and what can you do to get more comments to come your way? Let’s chat about it!

Take Comfort In Your Stats- Remember how we talked about tracking your site/blog’s traffic? Well, sometimes you can take comfort in those numbers even if your comments are in the single digits. What brought me a lot of comfort in the beginning was knowing that fifty people visited my blog even if only four people commented on an entry. Just knowing that someone is out there reading your stuff can provide a lot of comfort.

Ask Advice- If you are blogging about a particular subject all of the time, it can become less interactive with your readers. Sometimes throwing a post out there and asking your reader’s take on a particular subject can bring in a lot of comments. It can be something as simple as, where do you find the best grocery prices, but if the readers can help it can become a great role-reversal and will give you more discussion than a post on here is where *I* think you should grocery shop.

Make Yourself Vulnerable- Oh, I know this is a tough one, but this can be a great way to show readers the real side of yourself. This one has been a tough one for me because I am striving to be a positive person and sometimes things in my life don’t feel so positive. Expressing some vulnerability and showing the real sides of our family makes that connection with your readers a little deeper. Be careful when being vulnerable though and protect your family and your privacy as best you can when sharing in this format.

Be the Commenter- If you are not getting comments, then be the commenter. When I say this, I mean it in two different ways. If you receive a comment in your own entry, comment back to that person. “Thanks so much, Jane, for your comment! Using powdered milk IS a great way to save on groceries- I will try that!” This not only boosts your comments by one (and yes, in the beginning stages you can count that!) and it also builds a conversation with your readers. They see that you are reading their comments and that makes them want to continue the discussion with you. Better yet, another person might want to throw their two cents in now that they see that you are learning something and sharing in this way. Not everyone comes back to read the comment thread, but sometimes I read comment threads just because it seems busy. If you answer your comments, that boosts people’s interest in wanting to see what all the fuss is about. See, you just roped your readers in!

The other way is to, of course, spend time commenting on other people’s blogs. This can be a very time-consuming process in the beginning, but it is so fun to read what other people are writing and it will help you with your own content. Be sincere in your comments and the other blogger will want to see who this amazingly thoughtful person is! They will visit your blog and then who knows where that one comment will lead?

Highlight Your Old Stuff- Maybe you put out a killer entry the first time around and not a single soul commented on it, but you knew it was sheer brilliance. What to do? Bring that old entry back! I have seen bloggers do great round-ups of their old entries daily, weekly, or monthly… it just depends on how much content you have to work with. We do a weekly recap on Fridays, but in the beginning I did a, “Play It Again, Momma” where I would just bring back a single entry that I wished someone read. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

Here is what I will say, no matter how big of a blogger you are, those comments really mean something. I read every single comment that comes through my blog and I am so proud if someone tells me they appreciated something I did or said. I gloat so much that sometimes I save them and read them to my husband when he gets home. “Look, this person said that my line drying article saved them $20 this month on their bill. Isn’t that awesome?”

I try not to take the silence personally, but sometimes it is hard. Remember that a thoughtful comment can make a blogger stronger and give them that crazy rush they need to press on.

FAQ For Amy

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Q: I want to start a blog or find a work-at-home job, but I don’t know how. How can I start learning about blogging and working from home?

A: I have a post here that addresses the questions on working from home. I also posted awhile back on how to gain a readership, and how to track that traffic. I hope these help!

Q: Will you be discussing the economy slump?

A: I will be honest and say that I am not what I would consider a personal finance blogger. I write about frugal measures that our family takes, but am not as educated on specific topics of personal finance. I will continue to share how we save money, address the personal finance issues I feel confident on addressing, and will try to lead by example through my blog. I am more of a tightwad blogger than a personal finance blogger. What I learn though, I always will share- I promise! I am working on some new material to add to address these issues and am researching blog ideas to share more on this topic though, but it might be a bit on the “light” side for the hardcore PF bloggers.

Q: Can I add you to my blogroll? How do I get added to yours?

Absolutely, we love being added to blogrolls. In fact, I will say that this is one of the easiest ways to find great blogs for me to read is through your referral links. I periodically check referral links and try to send a thank you for referencing my posts. One of the ways we thank people back is by featuring them here through the notebook entries and I try to reciprocate as much as I can through a blog entry format. Another way to get on our site is to join the Frugal Hacks network and then you are automatically added to the blogroll through my handy Frugal Hacks button that you will see to the side.

Q: Are you going to do the spring cleaning series anymore?

A: I actually got really overwhelmed with it and now that it is nice out, I haven’t been spending a lot of time indoors. I hope to do more printables in the future, but I have been trying to still devote one hour weekly towards working on some little tasks to tidy the home. I can start posting those in the interim and share what I am working on, but the printables might be on hold until the nice weather is over. My kids want to play outside and I love to be outside with them. With all of the regular writing engagements I have, I am struggling with some of the necessary work for my site. I promise to continue to inspire you in your home though and hope to always have new ideas and recipes to share to get things tidy.

Q: Are you going to do more Aldi menu planners?

A:
I hope to put more of these together in the future. Frankly, we ran out of recipes and so I have been taking a little break. I still try to do a new recipe each week, but we eat some of the same things each week too. If I build up enough new recipes to do another planner, I promise to do my best to put another one together. In the meantime, Aldi has their own recipes now and you can put together menus from their very own site. They are not Amy-tested and kid-approved recipes, but it is a great start towards adding some variety in your mealtime.

Q: I have an Aldi complaint. Can I just send it to you to forward my feedback on to the company?

A: Um, no. Please don’t send me your Aldi complaints. I don’t work for Aldi and, as of yet, have not gotten a paycheck from them for all my lovely product endorsing. I don’t have a contact there for you so you will have to take your product in to your local store and request a refund there.

Q: What kind of camera do you use and are you happy with your new camera?

A:
I bought my camera after I had asked our reader’s opinions on the cameras that they use and the success they had with them. The camera I use is a Canon PowerShot S5. I would have loved to have gotten a Rebel, but the practical side of me won out and I am so glad I got this one. It is FABULOUS and I couldn’t be any happier. I have been having so much fun playing around with it and it has made my blogging a ton easier. My other camera needed a steady hand all of the time and I seem to have a shaky hand so this has been a wonderful investment for me. No more missed photo opportunities of my children. I paid roughly $320 for this camera and it has been worth every penny.

Q: I emailed you and you never wrote me back? Why?

A: I apologize if you have emailed me and I haven’t responded. I receive anywhere between sixty to a hundred messages each day. I try to respond to as many as I can, but please know that I read ALL of your messages and have appreciated everything you guys send. I love each of you and appreciate your thoughtfulness!!

Sound Off: Have a question for me- here is your opportunity! I will answer any question you have- personal, cleaning questions, homemaking questions, money questions, stuff about your kids… whatever!

Ask the Frugal Momma: How Do I Track My Traffic?

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Continuing with our series on blogging, for fun or for profit, today I wanted to talk a little bit about tracking your readers. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read the past posts, in my first entry, I discussed some basic starting points for working from home and then shared in another post ways to begin building your readership.

Today we are going to talk about tracking your readership and how statistical information can actually help you build a better blog. Be forewarned, stat tracking can become highly addictive! There is nothing more fun than seeing where your readers are coming from, the growth of your site/blog, and how people happened upon your website.

First, if you have a website, it is likely that your web host offers some type of statistical information. Since you are already paying for the hosting, you might as well take advantage of any of the stat services they offer. Your host might offer a more in-depth analysis of your stats so start here if that is what is available to you.

If you just have a blog through a service like Blogger, Typepad, or WordPress- you will need to find your statistical information through an alternative means. There are tons of places that you can use for traffic-monitoring, but a few of the more popular are Google Analytics, SiteMeter.com, or StatCounter.com.

Each of these programs offer very simple guidelines for adding a tracking code into your page. It literally will be a matter of signing up for an account, highlighting the code that is provided, and copying the code into your site. Once you have added the code, you can sign into your account and begin viewing your site traffic.

Once you have access to your statistics, you will have a snapshot into the volume of readers you are tracking, what the readers were looking for, and how they were able to discover you.

The first thing you will see when you look at your statistics is your “Unique Visitors.” This is the most important statistic and something that you will need to share if you are planning to make revenue from your site. Most advertising networks will need this information to determine whether or not you qualify to be part of an advertising network. A unique visitor is the total number of people who have come to your website and it can be viewed by week, month, or year.

The next statistic you can look at is your “Number of Visits.” This is the total amount of visits that you have had over the week, month or year. This number will be higher than your unique visitors because, chances are if you have excellent content, your readers will be coming back multiple times to your website.

The final statistic I like to view, and that will often come up if you are joining an ad network, is “Page Views.” This statistic tells you how many times pages have been viewed on your site or blog and can tell you the average of pages a reader views per week, month, or year on your site.

Now that you know how to get your web traffic details and can understand your reports, you can begin discovering how people have found you and what it is they are looking for. One of the most fun things to look at is your keywords or keyword phrases. Lets take a peek at some of my top keyword searches for the month.

1. Mom Advice
2. McDonald’s Birthday Parties
3. Aldi
4. Redbox Codes
5. Cheapest Shipping
6. Birthday Freebies
7. Recipes for Picky Eaters
8. Dinner Ideas
9. Monthly Budget Sheets
10. Powdered Milk

Using this list, I can get an idea of what people were looking for when they came to my site. I can see immediately what is popular and what I can expand upon. With a notebook in hand, I can begin drafting up some ideas for future articles that can help even more people find me. In my case, for example, maybe I could put together an article on getting cheap shipping on your packages or I could put together more dinner ideas for picky eaters. Use your statistics to your advantage so you can build a site that will attract more visitors and give your audience exactly what they are looking for.

Last, but certainly not least, is the opportunity to see what sites like to yours (also known as the referrers). Let’s take a look at my some of my top referrers for this month:

1. Money Saving Mom
2. Freebies 4 Mom
3. Frugal Hacks
4. Baby Cheapskate
5. The Dollar Stretcher
6. 9 Rules
7. Festival of Frugality (hosted at Cash Money Life)
8. Simply Thrifty
9. Frugal Upstate
10. The Homespun Heart

So let’s take a look at our referrers and how this information can help me. Well, first of all, if they just were talking about something I did over here or are sharing me on their blogroll, I want to head over there and give them a big thank-you or leave them some comments on the great stuff they are doing. This give-and-take is what is all about in the blogging community, so be sure to send them lots of thanks (hopefully highlighting them above will be a great way to thank them!) or head over to their neck of the woods and let the comments flow.

Looking at some of the other things on the list, I can see what has been really successful for me and what has been a dud when it comes to time and energy. Writing for Frugal Hacks, for example, has been very lucrative for me and brought lots of great (like-minded) people my way. I guest write weekly for them and I can see that being part of that community of writers has boosted my traffic and is worth my efforts.

Likewise, guest writing for other sites and sharing my articles with them is worth my time too. The Dollar Stretcher, for example, ran one of my articles and I saw a big boost in traffic. It would be worth the time to continue sending articles their way.

Partnering with Freebies 4 Mom to offer my weekly freebies has been worth my effort too. I can see that she is sending lots of traffic our way and I am returning the traffic back to her. Seeing that my traffic has grown from collaborating our talents shows me that this is a good relationship to continue.

Participating in the Festival of Frugality is worth my time and the effort that goes into being a part of this event. It only takes me five minutes to submit my entry, and it keeps traffic coming my way throughout the month. This is something I should continue.

Being part of the 9 Rules community has helped boost our traffic, but I am able to get technical advice and support through their network. It is an honor to be part of it, but the traffic has been secondary to the relationships and guidance we are able to get through our community.

Sometimes I do things just to give myself an opportunity for me to grow and become more familiar with other forms of media. Doing the news segment, for example, is a great way to learn to be comfortable in front of the cameras and learn to communicate with my readers in a different way. Writing monthly for a local magazine helps me share in my own community and build a community-driven r
eadership. I can position myself within our community as a local expert that knows a little bit about household management which may lead to other mediums of conveying my messages. These gigs might not show up in a statistical sense, but I know that they are adding to my portfolio of work. I can use these when companies call to see if I can handle certain jobs. “Are you comfortable in front of a camera?” they might ask. “Actually I appear weekly on our local news and I can point you to some news clips so that you can see how I am on camera.” Another question might be, “Do you feel comfortable writing for other publications?” My answer would be, “Here, let me show you some of my work in this magazine that I write for. This will give you an example of what my writing looks like.”

In short, look at your statistics as a way to show where you should concentrate your efforts, but don’t use it as a means to the end of what you should do. Remember to look at each opportunity as an opportunity to not only grow your site, but to grow yourself.

Reading Corner:

To go along with our series, I would like to highlight great reading material for building your web business. I encourage you to check this books out from your local library to help build your mad web skillz. Today’s book is “The IT Girl’s Guide to Blogging With Moxie,” by Joelle Reeder & Katherine Scoleri.

This book is excellent for someone who is interested in just beginning to blog. They share how to start a blog, how to build your readers, and they share more technical information on blogging in a fun and easy to understand way. This is the type of book that I wish I had read when I first began blogging and I hope that it will be a wealth of information to you too.

If you are looking for even more great information, I would highly recommend visiting Blogging Basics 101. These ladies are a wealth of information and their site is a great starting point for learning all about blogging!

Please continue to keep the questions coming our way and I will continue to answer them. Send your questions to amy@momadvice.com and I will add it to my weekly frugal momma chat on here.

Sound Off: How do you track your website/blog traffic and statistics? What have you learned from this statistical information? Anything funny popping up in your keyword searches?

Ask the Frugal Momma: Gaining a Readership (The Frugal Way)

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Q: How do you establish a reader base?

A: I may have opened a can of worms by answering the work-at-home questions, but I am hopeful that I can help offer some advice to those of you out there who are trying to start a blog or website for profit. As always, I promise to be as honest as I possibly can and share any details about my work-at-home experience to help others.

Let’s say that you start a website/blog and then you are left wondering, “How in the world am I going to get people to come to my corner of the internet?” You could obviously pay to advertise on websites that target the same audience profile, but usually when you are beginning your funds are often tight and it can be difficult to fork over money. After all, you are trying to make money for your family and you want to be as smart as you can with your dollars.

I will be very honest and say that I have never paid to advertise anywhere. In the beginning, we tossed around advertising on other sites to build our audience, but we just did not have the money to pursue the sites that we felt would fit our audience best. We are just now beginning to shell out real money to get our site known in the web-design community and to boost our traffic so I think it is very possible to have a profitable website without spending a huge amount of your profits to gain a readership.

But let’s be frank, without a great and interactive audience your site just won’t have that sparkle that keeps people coming back. You need an audience that can provide feedback for you not only as motivation to keep doing what you are doing, but also to also create a community of people who want to keep going back to your site over and over again.

Here are a few of the ways we have gained our readership:

1. Join like-minded communities- When we first started the site, I joined every Yahoo group that had something to do with personal finance or frugality. You will have to look into the guidelines for these groups, but usually you can have a signature line at the end of your posts. This is a great way to get your name out there, participate in a group of like-minded folks who will respect your ideas/opinions, and gives you an opportunity to peek into what other people are interested in on your topics.

With a signature line, I think it is important to keep it short, sweet, and to the point. None of us have time to read a paragraph of a signature line, but a link to your site/blog and maybe a quick quip underneath can get people interested in wanting to learn more about you and what you are doing.

My signature line could be:

Amy
MomAdvice.com
“Helpful financial advice for every mother!”

This is short, sweet, and to the point. You don’t want to be booted out of communities for spamming them so make sure that when you are sharing on these sites that you don’t continually drop in things that could qualify as advertising or make others feel uncomfortable. Understand the rules and play by them. People will respect you more for it and it is great fun to find a post that someone else has written about what a great resource your site/blog is without you spamming everyone to death.

If you are unclear about the rules, email the moderator and make sure. It is better to be safe than sorry!

2. Name Drop- And name drop often! This is something that I learned as I got further along in my career. I was so scared that I would lose my readers that I would never share about other websites or blogs. I thought I was keeping my readers secure in my grasp if I never gave them something to take them away from my spot. But then I realized that what I was doing was actually keeping my readership low and I was losing out on a lot of readers that might come my way.

I started doing the “Amy’s Notebook” entry on Thursdays to highlight other blogs. I would share great things that I ran across on other sites and include them in a weekly round-up for my site. What ended up happening was that those blogs found out about me and would add me to their favorite links, would share my site with others, or would become a reader on my blog. All of a sudden, your name gets dropped in ten new locations and those ten locations have a whole slew of readers who never knew about you.

Better yet, when you name drop in a blog post, sometimes you don’t even have to come up with content for the day. This can be great when you are suffering from a case of writer’s block or you are too busy to write.

3. Share Your Content- One of the greatest ways that you can get readers is by sharing your content with other sites or print publications. If you are a blogger, many blog entries are the perfect length for ezines and newsletters.

Share content with sites that are going to bring in your perfect target audience. One easy way to figure this out is to look up a site that you really like (or your own site if you are already established) on Alexa and see what other sites they recommend. You will see “Related Links” on the left-hand side and you can click on that to see what other sites other people visit that are similar to your own. For example, here is the listing for our site. That can give me a good starting point for great sites that I could contact and see if they would use my content for their own site.

Sharing your content with competing and more established sites will give you the readership boost when and where you need it most. Not only can that be good for gaining readers, but it can also help establish relationships with other website owners that can be great for networking purposes.

You can also share your content through sites that keep a directory of articles for ezine and newsletter purposes. I would list mine on Ezine Articles and also send my articles to the website owners directly to make sure my content was making its rounds. Do be aware though that when you release your content out into the world that you relinquish the rights to choose where the content might be shared and you have much less control over how it appears and might have more difficulty tracking if your site is linked to that article. Some people don’t mind doing this, but others are more protective of their work and like to have more control over where it is seen.

4. Update often- I love to read blogs that I know are updated often and always have something new for me to read. Updating can be difficult and working through a writer’s block can be challenging, but this is one way to be sure that people know that you are always offering something fresh. This doesn’t mean that you have to add a new entry daily, but even two-three times a week is good and keeps people coming back for more.

I am a big believer in quality over quantity though so don’t update just to update. Likewise, don’t crank out more of whatever you are selling, but decrease the quality of your workmanship. In a world that seems to consider quantity over quality, a quality looking site with quality content/goods is a rare gem.

5. Take theming to new levels-<
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When I first started out, one of the best ways for me to get readers was by participating in those group theme events. There are so many theme days that it is hard to know where to start, but chances are that you can find a theme that will relate to what you are up to on the internet. Sometimes it is even fun to participate in these events even if it doesn’t exactly fit with your theme. A creative mind can always work a theme into what they are doing. Here are a few events to get you started:

Menu Planning Mondays
Tackle it Tuesday
Works-For-Me Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday
Thursday Thirteen
Frugal Fridays

Maybe you are someone who sells handmade aprons. You could participate in an event like Tackle It Tuesday and share tips for caring for an apron. Maybe you sell soy candles and you could come up with ideas for extending the life of your candles, making you a perfect candidate to participate in Frugal Fridays. Maybe you are an eBay Queen and are trying to make money by selling items online. You could share your tips for posting an auction on Works-For-Me Wednesday.

6. Comment & Share- One of the best ways to get people to come to your blog/site is by visiting other people’s sites. I have made some of my best buddies and created some of our best networking opportunities by commenting on other people’s blogs.

Make sure that you have created an account or made yourself reachable when you do leave an account. Leaving anonymous comments won’t bring in an audience to visit you so make sure you set up an account. Our blog is through Blogger so you would need to create a free Blogger account and make an account that you can sign into and that will direct people to your masterpiece.

7. Start Locally- Local folks are going to be even more interested in you than the other people because you are part of their community! Don’t be afraid to contact your local media and see if they might be interested in doing a story on what you are doing. Small-town communities are more receptive to this because there might be less to cover in your area. Check your local media’s websites and see if they have a free local directory for businesses or if they have a community forum where you can chat with other local business owners.

Join a small business group in town, look on Meetup to see if you can find other people who are working from home, and join community organizations that will help serve as a networking opportunity. My mom’s group, for example, has been an excellent way for me to get the word out about what I do. Not only do these women clue me in on things that will help my website be better, but they also let me guest speak on occasion and share my site with their friends and family. They have become my best fans and have helped me be better at what I am doing!

8. Participate in the Festivals & Carnivals- Participating in online festivals and carnivals can really help boost your traffic. These days they have an event for just about everything in the book and these can be a great way to draw more readers to your site/blog. Create an account on Blog Carnival and start browsing through the categories that fit with what you offer. Submit your articles through their entry form and schedule these events weekly on your calendar. I just submit all of my entries each Friday since most of my events have a deadline for Saturday or Sunday. Making this a priority can help you a lot especially when you are looking for new readers. Better yet, read the other entries for fresh ideas for content to your site or do a round-up of your favorite entries so readers don’t have to read the entire festival/carnival to find the really great stuff.

These are just a few of my ideas for getting started with a reader base. As always, keep the questions and comments coming. I will keep answering them as long as I have questions coming to me!

Sound Off: If you have an established site/blog, what were some of the best ways that you were able to get readers to come to your site, particularly in those beginning days?