Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com

It’s been a long time since I have shared some pictures of our home. I have been in the thick of organizing my craft room and today I wanted to share with you some ideas for organizing your own craft space in your home.

For my part on the Walmart craft team, they requested that I tackle a craft project. I made a special request that I could share with you today my organized craft space and see if I could find any fun additions to my space at their store and they agreed. So today instead of crafting it up, I am showing off what I have been up to in my space.

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com

Let’s start from the very beginning. Three years ago, this was our space that I envisioned turning into our office space. We have a tri-level home, now lovingly called a quad now that we finished this fourth level, and this was what we started with. This space was where we threw our stuff that we didn’t know what to deal with. We had to majorly declutter and we had to save enough cash to make the updates to our home. We were able to accomplish both (loan free!) and create the space I had been dreaming of.

I am starting with this picture to show you that maybe there is an area in your home that could be your special space and you just don’t know it. Maybe it just requires a fresh eye, a bit of decluttering, and a few smart craft solutions to carve a space just for you.

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com

Here is my craft and office space today. When I post these types of pictures, people ask me where I found certain things. Here are some of the things you will find in my space.

Floral Chairs- Found at a local Value City (no longer available-sadness)!

Green Side Table- A side table we owned, but spray painted & distressed

Owl Lamp & Burlap Lamp Shade-  Walmart

Record Table- Thrift Shop Find Stained & Painted

Swivel Metal Stool- Home Decorators

Knitted Leaf Centerpiece- Handmade

Everyday I’m Hustling Pillow- Michelle Dwight Designs

Record Frames- H&M

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com

Crafting and organization do not go hand in hand for me.  I spent a good month getting this room organized and trying to figure out the best solutions for my space. Here are some of the solutions I found inexpensively at Walmart.

Glass Jars- I had all of my craft supplies tucked away in baskets. This meant I spent a lot of time digging through baskets and trying to figure out where I tucked all my crafting odds & ends. Glass jars truly helps me visualize what I have and where it is. I found the smaller jars for just $4.97 and my giant 2 gallon glass jar is the perfect home for my ribbon collection (priced at $9.97).

Clear Clipboards- As a craft blogger, I always have a running to-do list for my site and craft projects. I utilized this to-do list printable (previously featured in our DIY Homework stations) and mounted them on these clear clipboards ($3.88)  with 3M hooks ($3.67) on my wall. I also have my favorite Mead Wall Calendar I buy every year to keep track of when all my projects are due ($7.97).

Metal Bins- Over in the closet solutions, I found a metal tub that I could use to organize my knitting needles. When you start really building up your knitting needle collection, you may have four or more different sizes of the same size needle. I was constantly digging through baskets to find the right needles. I decided to use manilla envelopes and label them #0-15 and then put my needles for each size in these envelopes. This saves me tons of time hunting for the right needles and makes it easy to see what I might need to buy. I put all of these in this metal tub ($9.74) and it is on top of my newly organized craft cart.

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com

Two things we purchased to finish out my crafting space was a crafting table and a crafting cart that I could roll out into the middle of our office when I needed to do my crafting. We found this Martha Stewart Collapsible Crafting Table & Crafting Cart on Home Decorators. If you are struggling with a small space, this is a dream come true. You can fold down one side if your space is small or open it all the way out if you need a large surface to work on.

This space also doubles as an indoor photography studio when the weather isn’t cooperating. I have my photography backdrops stored in the gift wrap center and can really spread my work out, if I need to on this space.

I spent an entire weekend whittling down my craft supplies to what I truly needed in my craft cart. I now everything I need right at my fingertips. I had to keep reassuring myself that it was okay to part with some of my craft supplies. If it hadn’t been used in the last year, it was definitely something that could be donated to free up precious space in my craft cart.

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.comAs you can see, I can wheel them over to corners in our office so they don’t get in the way. I am so thankful for these smart solutions for our space. I am also thankful that I finally feel organized in this space.

Smart Solutions for Craft Room Organization from MomAdvice.com

And as a good old-fashioned reminder that all good things should be enjoyed in moderation, I found this old-fashioned closed sign over in the office supplies at Walmart ($1.97). I mounted a 3M clip upside down and hooked it on the back of my computer. This now offers an in-my-face reminder of how I should be spending my evenings.

I hope you enjoyed the tour of my craft space! Feel free to ask me any questions and I promise to try to help!

walmart_mom_disclaimer

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What Do You Do All Day? The Real Story Behind My Niche Blog!

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

One of the biggest questions that I get asked is, “What exactly is your job?” It is one of those things that people are often curious about, and admittedly are confused about,  since my job is so difficult to explain. Today I wanted to offer a behind-the-scenes look at what it is like to run a niche blog.

I have been blogging for 9 1/2 years now which makes me a dinosaur in this business! The blog that you see today is very different than the blog I started out with. The site has grown a lot over the years and many  of you have been through all of its growing pains. For those of you that have been following our journey, I wanted to share with you what my business has evolved into.

What is a Typical Day Like For You?

I am a busy mom of two kiddos so my day-to-life is probably a lot like yours. I handle the day-to-day routines and schedules of my kids. I take my kids to their extra curricular activities, I volunteer weekly at my kid’s school helping with kids that are struggling with reading, we go to worship once a week, and I do my best to workout at the gym three days a week.

Every pocket of time that I have beyond that though is spent working on projects for one of the many freelance clients I write for. I am either shopping for my clients, creating tutorials for craft/diy/food, photographing projects, or writing for them. Since many of my clients are running on magazine calendar deadlines, you will often find me shopping for Easter supplies in the dead of winter or working on Christmas crafts in the Fall.

Even my free time is often accounted for because I share it with you. I try to read four books a month for our reviews and you will rarely find me sitting still when I am watching television because I am usually working on a craft project at the same time for the blog.

Much like you, I am sure, I am pretty beat at the end of the day! By the time the kids go to bed, I am ready for bed myself. I usually head to bed pretty early so I can start the whole routine again!

Who Works With You?

I think one of the things that people have found most surprising about our site is that I was the only writer & contributor on my site for over nine years alone. My husband did all of the coding and design of our site and I managed all the content.

When our site experienced a lot of growth from Pinterest, I realized that there was no way that I could manage all of this on my own. My email inbox had over 50,000 unopened emails, my taxes and paperwork for my business were a mess, and I had been treating my work like a hobby rather than a business.

This last month I hired a virtual assistant to help  me with some of the things my readers had come to expect here, but didn’t really showcase my personality- the weekly freebie list, our weekly notebook, and our giveaway link list. She got my inbox down to zero within two months and I finally felt like I could breathe a little bit. She is, in one word, amazing, and has brought back a quality of life that I felt like I had been lacking.

We also hired an accountant to handle our taxes this year, something that had burdened us greatly over the years, and I also started using FreshBooks (affiliate) to help me keep track of my accounting better (a recommendation made by my amazing friend over at Dine & Dish). Invoicing, following up on payments with clients, and paperwork for them takes up a good portion of my day so any people/products I can use to make my day go smoother really helps me.

embroidery thread egg for Kenmore

 

Why Do You Work For So Many Brands?

I write a lot of content for brands because, frankly, it helps pay the bills. I write professionally for five to six clients monthly and those projects help our family financially, but much of the earnings go towards keeping my site up and running.

When our site was smaller, we had an inexpensive web host and I was able to do everything on my own. Our site grew by 100,000 users this year alone, which is incredible and awesome, but our web host couldn’t handle the traffic! It was time to invest in the business and move to Liquid Web (affiliate), who can handle anything we throw at them. We currently spend about a thousand dollars a month to pay for web hosting, photography props/equipment, our accountant, and my assistant. Many of my projects that I write for just go towards keeping the business afloat and paying my self-employment taxes.

No, I Was Asking How Much You Make?

Yup, I get asked that all the time although I have NEVER asked anyone what their salary is. It is such a weird job that people are always dying to know how much you make. I make a full-time income thanks to the companies I work for as a content writer/creator, ambassador, and spokesperson for. If I was living on our ad revenue alone, we could pay for our web host and maybe a bill or two. In all honesty though,  my income fluctuates a lot because it depends on what jobs come through for me for the year. This past year all my time was devoted towards my book which was a rewarding experience, but also prevented me from taking on a lot of paying jobs.

How Do You Do It All?

I don’t think I do more than many of the other working parents that I know, but people constantly ask me this. I think the main reason is because when people do these types of projects around their house they aren’t pointing a bunch of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram traffic over to it like,

“LOOK AT ME! I MAKE THINGS! LOOK HOW AWESOME I AM!”

Here is an example of a typical month of projects  for my clients.

I knitted a scarf for a new yarn line that Walmart was carrying.

I painted vases with my kids for Kenmore.

I took my kids over to the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit at Brookfield Zoo to write a review for a local magazine I write for.

I gathered up ideas for things to do with old books for Goodwill.

I made homemade laundry detergent for Walmart.

I made a cookbook with my kids for Kenmore (post coming soon!)

I made whole wheat toasted tarts with Walmart.

There are several other projects, but this gives you an idea of what I am up to. If I look at it as a whole, I am completely overwhelmed. On any given week I could have anywhere between two to four projects for clients. Since I do all of  the shopping, crafting/cooking and then my own writing & photography for these projects, each project is very time-consuming.

I also am maintaining the writing that I do here on  my blog like sharing yummy recipes for pecan-crusted chicken fingers, whipping up Peep-tinis, & sharing all those fun book reviews and making sure we have plenty of content for the rest of the week. All of that, and I haven’t even touched on the social media side of things which is just as consuming now that my readers can connect with me through every available social media channel!

Usually the most surprising amount of time I spend is on the shopping and the staging for photos. I will get a brilliant idea for a client and then get to the store and find out that the items I need aren’t sold there or that I have to completely rethink a project. What’s worse is if I spend a whole day on a recipe and it flops.

Although it appears I take every opportunity given to me, I take about half or less of the projects offered. If you look at the projects above, you might be surprised they were even for companies because they are just the types of projects I would want to share with you anyway. Since the companies supply a budget for supplies, it helps to offset some of the costs to crank out this many projects monthly.

Time management is a tricky terrain with a juggle like this. I have learned that is better to tackle a few recipes in one day and then edit & write the content the other days. Many days it looks like a bomb exploded in my house because I am in some stage of creation for someone. It doesn’t make my Type-A heart very happy, but it is one of those things that comes with the job. I try to look at it the way I see my kids LEGO’s all over the floor or all their art supplies out, I am just proud they are creative and they are making something. I want to always be surrounded by creativity.

Basically, I take it all day by day.

How Does Your Job Impact Your Family Life?

I am so thankful for my job because it usually has a positive impact on our family life. My kids and I see these projects as opportunities to spend time together and the recipes that I create in our kitchen are enjoyed by all at our family dinners. How many people get to craft all day long and call it work? Not many! It almost sounds too good to be true sometimes.

I have gotten to travel to places that I thought I would only read about in books, I got to fulfill a life goal to write a book, my kids have gotten to go to places we couldn’t have afforded, and I’ve met a lot of truly amazing men & women who blog that my life would have never crossed paths with.

rainbow_cake_in_a_jar

Let me be honest though, there are positive and negative aspects about my work. For example, since our holiday content is written months in advance, I am usually not sitting around making rainbow cakes with my kids on St. Patrick’s Day or being a super creative parent like I want to be. By the time the holidays roll around, they are usually lucky if I dye their milk green because we have already done those projects together ages ago and I am on to the next holiday.

Traveling can be hard especially when my jobs end up interfering with family events. One year I had to travel on my daughter’s birthday and I cried a lot over that. It didn’t matter that I had thrown three parties for her, I was not there on the actual day. Inevitably, some kid gets sick or they have a fancy holiday show and I am off promoting the latest product for a company or have a speaking engagement for my work that has been planned months in advance. I am thankful for Skype on days like those so that I can see their faces and feel like I am there. I am sure every working parent feels that way sometimes.

Operating at a frantic pace each week can also have negative impacts on me and my health. I was two years overdue for a lot of routine check-ups for myself this year, my stomach issues have increased, and there are times where I feel completely overwhelmed or just don’t want to do all of this. It is hard to escape your work when it is always there!

We are not celebrities by any stretch of the imagination, but our family does not have an anonymous life. Some of us thrive better than others with this and there are days where we miss that.

There are times where I want to be political or snarky, but I worry how that might reflect to my readers so it definitely censors me in my social media life.I am sure this is a good thing in the long run.

All in all, the positives have outweighed the negatives though. If it starts to turn the other direction, we will have to make a decision to continue or not as a family. We operate under the, “All for one, one for all,” family motto. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have a question for me? Feel free to ask it!

 

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The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

If you asked me the one thing that I could not live without, it would be my iPhone. Today I want to share the top iPhone apps that have organized my life and my family. This gadget has brought more organization to my life than I dreamed possible and is what I rely on daily to tackle the day-to-day tasks as a mom. Of course, you don’t have to have an iPhone to benefit from these apps, almost all of these are available to any smartphone user. Here are my top 7 apps to get your family organized.

Cozi

Whenever I talk about the best apps to organize a family, I always think of Cozi first. Over the years, this app has evolved so much and fits perfectly into our family’s everyday needs. Cozi is a calendar app that is made with a mom in mind. It is easy to use, color-coded (for each family member), includes pictures of your sweet little ones, helps you with your grocery list, and offers text message alerts to you for appointment reminders…all from one central location.

My favorite feature that has saved our family countless fees and embarrassment is their text reminder service. When I input our family’s appointments, I can have a text sent to myself or to my husband that reminds us about that appointment. The reminders can come whenever you designate them (one hour ahead, one day ahead, one week ahead, etc..).  Does your child have jean day at school? Super silly hair day?  Little things like that are even input in this handy calendar and a text reminder goes out to me first thing in the morning to save my children from their mom’s forgotten dollar or the super exciting monthly “skip your uniform,” day.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

 

Mint

If you are looking to get your family’s finances back on track this year, my favorite and most reliable financial reporting comes from Mint. Mint can be set up through your home computer, your smart phone, or tablet.  An account with Mint can be set up in less than five minutes and gives you the chance to set budgets to your spending categories and track them with handy pie charts and graphs. In one glance, you can monitor your checking, savings, investments, and retirement at any moment during the day.

Most of the spending categories are immediately categorized for you while unfamiliar categories (like your favorite local restaurant or doctor’s visit) may need a quick categorization for accurate reporting. For tax purposes, you can also tag items for reimbursement so that it can help later when filing your taxes.

The best part, I have found, is that Mint will alert you via email when spending or withdrawals seem high. Did the mortgage company take out an extra payment? Did you have an unusually high amount of withdrawals in one month? Was a large deposit made? Mint sends you an email to alert you of unusual transactions happening in your account which could potentially save you from being the victim of credit card fraud.

(Free. Available for most devices.)

 

Grocery IQ

Making and sticking to your grocery lists has never been easier thanks to the Grocery IQ app. With Grocery IQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Since I always have my phone with me,  switching to an electronic grocery list has been much easier than I thought it would be. The coupon feature helps save our family money on items we were already planning to buy and the list helps keep our family budget on track. I also love that I can sync my list from my iPad to my iPhone so I can use whichever device I have handy to add items when we need them.

(Free. Available for the iPad, iPhone, or Android.)

Evernote

If you are trying to stop the paper pile-up from school, Evernote is a fantastic tool for  clipping and saving those papers in one spot that you can access from your phone or computer. When items come home to us that I might need to reference for our family later, like the cafeteria lunch schedule or the recess schedule, I can either take a photo of what I need or I can scan that item into Evernote and tag it with, “School,” for easy reference.

Things that I often refer back to, like our library card numbers, gift card numbers that I want to store on my computer, receipts for purchases, or even keeping track of the books my children are reading in a particular series are all housed in my Evernote account for easy accessibility when I need them.

No more scraps of paper all over the house or hanging on to newsletters for one paragraph of information, Evernote has become my virtual notebook to keep us organized.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

SpringPad

Menu planning can be a challenge for families and keeping track of all of those recipes you want to try can be a challenge when your Pinterest boards are overflowing with ideas. I have come to rely upon SpringPad for creating our family’s weekly menu plan. I think of SpringPad as a virtual notebook where you can privately or publicly share things you want to reference to manage your life. Notebooks can be created on any topic, but I create weekly notebooks of menu plans for my family, adding those recipes into a notebook so that I can reference them later, whether I am cooking in the kitchen or I am at the grocery store and not sure if I added all the ingredients to my list like I thought.

Depending on how the recipe is input into the source, SpringPad will either pull the recipe right into your notebook so you can view it right from the notebook, you can manually add in the recipe, or a link to the recipe will be provided so you can access it from the page you found it.

(Free. Available on most devices.)

30/30

Setting a timer to get tasks done around the house is an old school method that works remarkably well for productivity that has now been brought to the future with this 30/30 app for organizing your day.  The idea behind this app is very simple: you work for thirty minutes and focus on a single task with no distractions. When your time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for thirty minutes. This 30/30 cycle is repeated until your tasks are done.

Type in what your ideal day will look like including blocking out times for a little down time like enjoying a cup of coffee, time wasting on sites like Facebook or Pinterest, or just time with a great book.  Then set up what the rest of your productive day will look like and use the 30/30 app to visualize if you are going to get your tasks done in the designated time.  It provides a countdown and a visual reminder of what you are working on and beeps when your time is done. Simple, visually pleasing, and highly effective, I can’t recommend this app enough to increase your productivity.

(Free. Available for the iPad or iPhone.)

8MM Vintage Camera

Capturing my children on-the–go is one of the main reasons I decided to get an iPhone. While I rely heavily on Instagram for capturing still images of our family from day-to-day I also love to capture movies of them.  Although we have many fancy camcorders laying around our house, the one recorder I always have with me is my phone. I am a huge fan of vintage looking film and pictures so I have found that the  8MM vintage camera app is a fun way to add a little vintage to our family’s most precious recorded moments.

($1.99. Available for the iPad or iPhone)

What are your favorite apps for keeping your family organized? Chime in here and share your family’s favorite tools!

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How To Be a Pinterest Superstar

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

It seems that everyone I know is crazy for Pinterest. In fact, my friends who may have never read a blog a day in their lives are now pinning fools.  From a business perspective, Pinterest is one of the best things that has ever happened to our website. Since starting to use it in April, we have had a steady growth of traffic averaging around 100,000 page views each month.  What is the secret to the traffic growth through Pinterest? I think it is a combination of many things that I have been working on and refining since I started using this tool for my site.

I wanted to share with you a few ideas for growing your web traffic using Pinterest and how to help your own site or blog grow. Anyone can be a Pinterest superstar, but you may need to make small changes in the way you blog to truly gain the traffic you desire.

 

Get Visual- For those that aren’t familiar with Pinterest, it is a basically a visual way to bookmark and categorize great things that you see on the web. Instead of a list of text bookmarks, it provides a bulletin board where you can visually see all the great projects, recipes, tips, and techniques all in one pretty space.

Since the bookmarks are visual, pictures are what get people pinning. If you have a wall of text and no pictures, no one will ever pin your content because they will have no images to grab. Of course, the prettier the picture, the more likely you will have pins and repins to your blog.  The best advice I can give you is to focus on developing your camera skills so that you can capture images that will capture the hearts of Pinterest users.

Next month I want to share with you some more photography tips, but feel free to browse our other photography tutorials that we offer on here for now.

 

 

Make Pinning Simple- Although I am not a huge fan of text on my photos, adding text into your pictures will make pinning from your site easier.

When a user grabs images from your site, they can add a few words describing why they are pinning that image. More often than not, people skip this step and just pin the image of the item. By adding text right into your pictures that describes the item and it helps that image to go a little bit further.  Perhaps this wreath picture would be fine on it’s own, but the Loopy Flower Valentine’s Day Yarn Wreath really lets the reader know that they are going to learn how to make it for the holidays.

Let me illustrate why text in pictures can be so important…

 

A picture of this Salted Caramel Mocha does not move me to repin this if the original pinner does not have a description. What is this? Why would I want to repin it?

 

 

A picture that clearly states that this is a Salted Caramel Mocha coffee drink? Heck ya! Let me repin that for you.

 

 

Source Yourself- Not sure what is being pinned on Pinterest from your site?  It is simple to see what your users are pinning on Pinterest.  I just go to http://pinterest.com/source/momadvice.com/ to see the pins from my site. You can do the same thing by simply replacing the last part of that URL with your own web address.

What happens when you source yourself? You can see exactly what people love on your site and it helps to guide the content on your site in a direction that can help with your traffic grow. It was through seeing the pins from my own site that I could see what people wanted more of. When I witnessed a wall of coffee pins, for example, I knew that I should create more fun coffee drink creations. As I created more of the content our readers loved, I created more pins and, in turn, created more readers.

Make Archives Accessible & Visual- It always surprises and makes me happy when an old post starts gaining traction on Pinterest. I understand that my readers don’t have time to sift through eight years of content to find the gems. I don’t have time like that to devote to my own site so that is why it is important that you make those archives accessible and visual for your readers.

Try adding a plugin like Link Within or Outbrain that will create pictures with links at the end of your post guiding readers to dig deeper into the site. This will get people clicking and pinning into your site without the necessity of creating even more content. Make sure that you are checking Pinterest so that you can see what old posts are being dusted off and pinned.

My photography was terrible when I started the site and so I do cringe often when I see old pictures going up on Pinterest. If you have the time to switch the pictures to freshen them up, I encourage you to do that to attract more pins. Once again, getting familiar with your camera and your camera manual is one of the best things you can do for your blog and will pay you back over and over again if you invest the time in it.

 

Jump on What is Trending- I like to visit the Popular link on Pinterest to see what the most popular pins are on Pinterest and to help me brainstorm content for the site. Jot down the ideas and themes that you see are popular and try to create your own unique spin on popular topics.

When I saw Mustaches were trending on the Popular section, we developed Mustache printables & Mustache Mug Templates that our readers could use. Mustaches weren’t necessarily a topic that I had planned to explore, but it worked out for us when the mustache fun hit Pinterest and attracted new readers to the site.

I do think that Pinterest has impacted our content in a positive way. Niche blogs benefit greatly from Pinterest, but any blogger can find ways to weave in content that can attract Pinterest users while sticking to the core content themes of their blog. Don’t be afraid to get creative or step out of your usual content box.

Create a Unique Pinterest Board to Engage Readers- Our readers may remember our 100 Days of Summer Pinterest board that I created at the beginning of last summer. I wanted to create an activity board of 100 activities you could do with your kids to keep them busy over the summer. Instead of sitting at my computer all summer, I switched my posting schedule and used Instagram to document the activities we completed off of the list.

Creating a unique Pinterest Board that could attract new readers is a fun way to interact with your community and bring more traffic to your site. If you run a blog on organizing, for example, you could create a 30 day organizational challenge and pin ideas from other bloggers and weave in a few pins from your own site on how readers could take on a challenge like this.

Install a Pinterest Plugin To Your Site- If you want to make pinning even easier for your readers, consider adding a Pinterest plugin to your blog. We recently added the Pin It On Pinterest plugin to inspire you to pin from our site. With this plugin, I am able to select the pictures that I would like people to pin from the post and even fill in a description of the pin so our readers can simply click and have the pin ready for them, making it easier to spread your content quickly.

Pin Yourself- You can absolutely pin yourself on Pinterest and I encourage you to do that! I like to treat Pinterest just like I treat all of my other social media outlets I belong to.  I try to pin lots of other great bloggers and pin myself every ten pins or so. I don’t want people to think I am only about self-promotion so I concentrate on the things that I think those that follow my boards would really like from our site.

Pin Wisely- Just as I have shared about other aspects of my career, I treat Pinterest with the same professional manner I treat my Twitter stream and Facebook stream. While I may find certain things funny on Pinterest, I have to remember what my readers may think is funny might not be the same as my idea of funny. More importantly, working for other brands also keeps me conscious that I am pinning things that reflect well for my job with them. Hopefully one day Pinterest will have private boards where I can muck it up a bit, but for now I try to keep my pins family-friendly and brand-friendly.

Just Get Pinning- It’s time to get pinning and build your presence. Don’t be afraid to set up your own network of bloggers to help promote each other on Pinterest. Just like all things in blogging, the beauty is in the community that you surround yourself with and sharing the traffic love!

I hope you will follow me on Pinterest because I  love new friends.

I really, really do.

Let’s talk about using Pinterest for your business! What has helped you build your presence on Pinterest? What tips do you have for other bloggers? Do you have any questions for me about how I use Pinterest? Have any Pinterest tutorials you would like to share? Feel free to link them up below!

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Achieving Balance When Working From Home

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

Achieving Balance When Working From Home I knew that I always wanted to work from home because it would be the ideal situation for our family. I would be able to be home with my children and do all of the things that I could ever want with them, and I would also maintain a booming business in the process. I wanted the best of both worlds and never really thought about what it would take to achieve the balance of home and family life when both were so intertwined.

Working from home is an incredible blessing and is something that many people desire. Receiving a paycheck while being home with your children is ideal for many families, but how do you squeeze in time to work and also make time for your children, particularly with small children underfoot?

Here are some tips for achieving that balance in your life:

Make a Schedule and Stick to It

Just because you are not clocking into a workplace, does not mean that you don’t have the opportunity to create regular hours. Life does get in the way of this, but trying to set aside a specific block of time to work is ideal for you and for your children.  Set a timer for yourself and begin working during this time. When the timer beeps, it is time for you to turn away from the work you are doing and focus on the children. The children will be just as excited as you to hear the timer beep and will be more respectful of the time you need to get your work done.

Take advantage of any down times that you can. Do your children have a nap? Use their nap time to work. Do they have quiet time each day? Use this time to accomplish some tasks off of your list. Down times can also include time when dad can help with the children or when the children are tucked away in bed.

Sit down and write out an ideal schedule for your life and print it out and hang it somewhere visible for the whole family. Explain that these are your hours and that you need these hours to work so that you can continue being home with them. It will take some time for the family to adapt, but they will adapt. You will have a greater sense of accomplishment for the day and you will have more time for your family in the process.

Create a Kid-Friendly Office

Making your office child-friendly is very important, particularly when your children are small. It is important to incorporate them into your work environment and have fun things for them to do in your workspace.

In our office, for example, we have tons of art supplies and a small table and chairs for the children to sit at. While mommy is hard at work, the children can be “working” on their own projects. Other ways that I have included them in my workspace are a set of shelves for their own books, a special selection of toys, games, and a chair for them to sit on and talk to me. They are small additions to the office, but provide a welcoming place for them to visit with me while I work.

Conducting Business

It is hard to conduct business with children. The best way that I have found to do this is through email. I try to do the majority of my communications through email because there are no distracting noises on our end and I can do my replies at my leisure.

If emailing is not possible, suggest times during a child’s quiet time or during their naps so that you can have a time with the least amount of disturbance. Suggest a window of time to the person and make sure to specify your time zone.  I have had many an unfortunate conversation at the wrong time because I did not make this specification.

Just realize that it is Murphy’s Law that whatever time you pick, your child will choose an entirely different schedule for that day. I try to go with the flow and if there is a lot of noise on my end, I think it indicates to the other person that I am exactly what I say I am- a mom who is busy doing both roles at home. There will be the occasional person who is irritated, but more often than not, they say, “You really do operate your business out of your home!” If the noise begins to cause too much confusion, request a different time to chat and chalk it up to just another day of working from home!

Get Help When You Can

If you are having trouble with your workload, it might be a good idea to hire someone to help you.  There is no shame in asking for help and many times friends and family will feel proud that they can help you in achieving your goals.

Try and take advantage of the summer days and hire a mommy’s helper to take care of your children while you work in your office. Teenagers have more availability in the summer, but you will also have to work around their family vacation schedules and summer camps.

If you can’t afford to hire any help, check in with other people who have work-at-home businesses and see if you can trade babysitting with them. They are probably in the same exact predicament and would welcome the opportunity to trade with you.

Your significant other is also a great person to have help you during the evening and weekend hours. Explain to him the difficulties that you are having with time management and sit down together to tackle a plan of attack. Your spouse knows you better than anyone else and will know where your weaknesses are  versus your strengths.

Utilize Time-Saving Strategies

When you run a home business, you may still be responsible for the laundry, the dinner, and keeping up with the house. It is important to try and take advantage of ways to save time so that you can get these things done and still have time with your children and your business.

Slow cookers can be an invaluable way to save time when preparing a meal. Make sure to chop everything and throw it in the crock before going to bed and all you will have to do in the morning is turn your slow cooker on.

Laundry is better tackled one load at a time so each morning, hunt through your hampers and see if you have enough for a load. If you let the laundry pile up, you will feel overwhelmed and it will require more of your time.

Keeping up with the house is easier if you just take short bursts of time and try and tackle one room at a time. Set a timer and devote fifteen minutes to each room, concentrating on the rooms that will be most seen, especially if you are having a sitter come. It is easier to shut to door to your bedroom than it is to the family or living room that the children play in. Pick the rooms that need the attention the most and worry about the rest later!

What is the best time-saving strategy of all? Involve your family in helping you with the house. Give the children daily chores and make sure that they follow through on them. While teaching your children to do things around the house can be tedious in the beginning, the rewards will be worth it! Have your spouse and children help you so that less of that work falls on your shoulder. Remind them that the help that they offer you will give you all more opportunities to spend time together as a family.

However you decide to balance your work and family life, remember the original purpose for working at home…it was so that you could spend time with your family. If you find your business begins to take priority over your family time, it is time to reevaluate your life and your goals.

Selling Yourself: Self Promotion

Monday, July 11th, 2005

Beginning MomAdvice has been quite the journey for me and I never thought that it would have become a full-time job, but somehow that is exactly what it has become. I originally had started it to share with others my ideas on things and to teach others about how to avoid being scammed in the work-at-home business. I never expected that I would now be fielding calls, getting requests from others to pay me to advertise, to have people join my forum, or that I would begin writing for other sites, but that is exactly what happened.

I wish that I was a woman who had years and years of business behind me and that I could offer loads of wealthy information on how to begin your own business, but I am new to the scene and am just gaining my own spot in the work-at-home world.

With that in mind, I want to share with you what I have learned through my years of sales experience and starting my own new website.

Sell Yourself but Don’t Lose Your Friends

Ever have a friend who has started direct selling and suddenly your friendship becomes about their products and is no longer about their friendship? I know that I am not the only one out there who has become increasingly annoyed with friends who are always trying to push their products onto you so that they can survive in the sales world. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I am interested in buying things, but I think that you do walk a fine line in friendships when you began selling. With friend’s, I encourage you to take a less pushy approach. Offer to share with them a brochure and if they are interested, they will let you know. Don’t repeatedly continue to bother them or they will likely avoid you so that they don’t have to be subjected to this. There are less pushy ways of going about selling your business. For example, if you sell something that you think your friend would like, get it for them for their birthday. You can hope that they become so dependent on your product that they will continue ordering it from you and then you will still maintain your friendship. There are ways to share your business without losing your friendship, you just need to learn to keep the friendship first and the business second.

Love What You Sell but Not Too Much

When I was in college, I sold AVON products to help me financially during those starving college years. I had always admired the AVON products and thought that this would be a perfect thing for me to share with my girlfriends. Let’s just say that I probably could have made some money, but instead I fell into the trap. You know, the trap where you just have to have all of the products for yourself and what would have been proceeds from sales now becomes just fulfilling your own cosmetic fix. You have to exercise some real self-control when selling these types of products because you end up losing money rather than gaining it. If you really want to have all of their products, then set a goal for yourself of how much you need to make before you buy an item for yourself. I know it is terribly tempting especially when you are getting things for next to nothing, but you must learn to exercise some self-control if you want to succeed in your business. When you begin succeeding and building up loads of customers then that is the time to partake in the goods yourself.

Networking & Advertising

Networking is one of the most time-consuming parts of starting a work-at-home business. I spend hours upon hours a day on every single type of board imaginable trying to get our name out there. When you are first beginning a business, you may not have the funds to pay for someone to advertise your site for you, so you have to begin to think of more inventive ways of getting recognized. There are lots of different ways to do this; one is exchanging advertising with another company. This is usually referred to a link exchange or a banner exchange. One important thing to remember when exchanging links with someone is to make sure that their site is actually a good platform for your own. I also recommend that you not exchange links with sites that are in direct competition with the same audience. For example, I would not sell AVON products on a Mary Kay site because it would hurt both businesses to operate this way.

Another form of advertising is writing articles for other sites. There are many sites out there that accept articles and I submit my articles to a variety of different sites. Some require that your article appear on your own site, others require unique stories that are written only for their site, and others have no criteria. Whatever the criteria, always make sure that you have a very good byline that would attract those readers to your site. Within this byline provide information about your company/services and a web address where they can go for more information.

You can also advertise on different Yahoo groups and chat boards. It is important to know what the rules are for that group/board because you don’t want to be remembered for advertising when it is not allowed. Follow the board regulations and if you have questions about if a post would be appropriate or not, email the moderator or site administrator to find out. One way that you can advertise is just by having your web address and a catchy phrase in your signature line. For example, my signature is:

Amy
http://www.momadvice.com
“Being a mom is more than a title…”

You can also customize your signature lines to reflect the topic to get a more targeted audience to come to your site. It can change depending on the topic, but make sure that what you are saying you offer really is offered. Use words that draw people, but don’t make your tagline so lengthy that people decide not to read it at all. I have seen people on the boards with these enormous signature lines and sixteen links underneath their name, and you know what I do? I don’t click on it because it annoyed me that their signature took up that much space and because I don’t have time to click on sixteen links.

If you do have the funds to advertise then you need to really research the business and ask the right questions about the company before advertising. When choosing an advertiser, you want to make sure that your product fits well with their site. There really is no point in advertising if you don’t have the right target audience. I also chose places that will only accept one representative from a company because that is a better platform for me to sell my business. If there are sixty-five Pampered Chef advertisements on one site, chances are that my site is not going to be clicked as often. I always request that this is mandatory with every site that I advertise with- it is good business to handle things this way because it is more profitable for me as the advertiser.

Networking boards that are solely devoted towards networking are a great place to learn more about where to advertise and often these people that you network with will become your biggest fans. No one can celebrate more with you your successes than someone who is struggling to start their own business themselves. There is much to be gained by these friendships and you never know if one of them will become a great customer for you and benefit your own business. Always remember that networking works both ways though. Do not expect to be on the receiving end, but never offer anything back. It is customary, just as it is in friendships, to be giving too so do what you can, when you can. Offer advice and share your own knowledge so that you are a beneficial partner to network with.

Don’t Give Up

I am no motivational speaker, but I think it is important to never give up. Set goals for yourself and do your very best to achieve them. Maybe your goal is to pay off a car, go on a vacation, or just be able to go out to dinner once a week. Whatever your goal is, make sure that it is an attainable one. Start small and build up your goals as you go along. I find such a sense of accomplishment when I can check a goal off on my list and I know you will feel the same when you have accomplished one of your own “reasonable goals.” Another way you can help achieve these goals is by finding one person in your life who you can share your goals with. Doing this can hold you even more accountable for achieving these goals and can help you strive to reach each and every one of them.

I wish you much success in your endeavors as an entrepreneur and I hope that your success leads to many great things in your life.

Organizing the Home Office

Thursday, June 24th, 2004

This is the hardest place in our house to keep up with because despite the fact that we spend hours and hours in this room, it just never makes the top of the priority list. When our office is in disarray I feel as though my life is in disarray because this is where I do my work.

Now let’s say, for example, that you went to go purchase an insurance policy in an office and you walked into a tornado of paperwork laying all over the floor in piles. Would you want to purchase a policy from this office? My guess would be that you would run out and take your business elsewhere. If you have trouble finding what is underneath all the papers on your desk, it is time to make this a place that you can be proud of and one that (if you had clients) they would want to retain their business with you.

Here are a few facts that you might not be aware of. By seeing these facts, I am sickened by how much of my life has been wasted due to my disinterest in keeping our home office organized.

Facts:

  • The average disorganized person has 3,000 documents at home.
  • Clutter in the average home creates 40% more housework.
  • Americans waste one year of life looking for lost objects.
  • It can take from three hours to three days to organize a home office.

When I began researching this topic most of the web sites I looked to all had the same idea which was to file your papers. There are many ways you can go about doing this, but whatever your method, you want to make sure that it is simple to follow and easy to remember. Here are a few ideas for filing those piles of papers on your floor.

Assess the Damage:

Just how big are these piles you are working with? You want to make sure that you have enough space in your filing cabinet to keep all of these papers. Before you think about purchasing this, you need to make a list of the things you will need in order to make your home office a more livable space. A few things that you will want to have on your list would be filing folders, a few boxes for storing things that do not need to be kept in your office, a few expandable files, and a paper shredder for shredding papers that have confidential information on them.

Reading, Trashing, and Organizing:

It is time to whittle through these enormous piles. Bring in your recycle bin and have a box ready to put papers in that need to be shredded. Read all of the papers carefully and make sure that you are not tossing anything that is of importance to you. There is no need to hang onto every single phone bill you have gotten in the past year unless you use these for tax reporting purposes. Once your next statement has arrived from the phone company and you see that they have credited your account you can toss the previous months bill.

One way of tracking your bills is to keep three separate expandable folders. I label these: Receipts, ATM withdrawals/deposits, and Paid Bills. There is no need for me to hang on to these forever, but I do keep them for a year just for my own comfort. I often need to return things and knowing that my receipts are in one particular place makes hunting for these a lot easier for me. Many professional home organizers would say that there is no need for me to hang on to these things, but if it brings me comfort and doesn’t take up too much space, then I think that this is the system that works for me.

If you have receipts that you are hanging onto because there is a warranty on the product or appliance, be sure to attach the receipt to your user manual so that you have both the manual and the receipt together if you ever need to cash in onto the warranty.

Recycle the magazines that you are hanging onto and pull out just the articles that are of importance to you. You can have a separate expandable file for these articles using the alphabetized expandable file. You can use “C” for cooking, “G” for gardening, “B” for baby and so on. By just pulling out the articles of importance you will save a lot of space in your home.

If you keep a stack of take-out menus for places you frequently eat at- designate a place for these. You can attach these with a binder clip in the front of your phone book so that they are easily accessible or if you keep a lot of these you could use a folder to keep all of them in and put them near the phone book. That should eliminate another pile.

For everything else, create folders for each grouping. If you have file folders already in your box/cabinet, take the time to go through these and weed out all of those old papers. There is no need to overload your folders with out of date information so make sure you recycle/shred all of this old information. Here are some folders that we have in our filing cabinet: Bank Statements, Taxes (be sure to put the year on the label), Medical/Dental, Utilities, Pet Information, Furniture Receipts, Appliances, Auto, Health Insurance, Life Insurance, Auto Insurance, Student Loans, Credit Cards, and User Manuals/Guides. By looking through your own piles you will know what folders you personally need to create to organize these into appropriate folders. Make sure that you do NOT have a miscellaneous folder because that is way too broad and is yet another thing you will need to weed through when trying to find a particular document. Anything worth keeping should have a home.

Once you have everything categorized and papers shredded you will be able to see just how many organizers you are going to need. By waiting until the end of your weeding you have a much clearer idea of what you need and end up spending less money. Look for attractive wicker baskets for storing current magazines, a filing cabinet/box for your papers, expandable organizers for your magazine articles/bill folders, and look for shelving to store office supplies. Use your walls to hang more shelving for books- this is wasted space for where things can be organized.

Maintaining:

Once you have everything organized and in its respective home you need to make sure you maintain this by keeping up with the papers instead of allowing them to pile up again. When you get your mail, sort it over a recycle bin and immediately toss out the trash and junk mail so that you don’t end up spending three hours sorting through it later. Then head straight to your filing cabinet and make sure that you file the rest of the items right away. By taking these three minutes a day to do this, you will save yourself a lot of time in the end. Make a promise to yourself that you will keep up with this and reap the rewards for not wasting hours of your day looking for important documents, and then pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Cheers!

More ideas for organizing:

www.ineedmoretime.com
www.organizedhome.com

www.flylady.com

Places to look for kitchen organizers:

www.organizes-it.com
www.kitchensource.com
www.organize-everything.com

Recommended Reading:

Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House
by Cherly Mendelson, Harry Bates
To me, this truly is the Bible for all the folk’s out there who aspire to be more organized.

Organizing from the Inside Out
by Julie Morgenstern
This woman has been featured on Oprah as a goddess for home organization. Reading her book will help you discover what type of organizer you are and how to tackle your trouble spots. Be amazed at the fantastic advice she offers.

Organizing for Dummies
by Eileen Roth and Elizabeth Miles
The title says it all. It is for those of us who are just starting on the road to organization.

Work at Home Ideas

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

Start a Business

Right now the opportunities are endless for creating unique work-at-home positions along with some tried and true ideas for selling established products, hosting parties, or selling online.

Childcare Services

Since you are already at home with your own children, you could offer childcare for others in your area. Take out an advertisement in your local newspaper or offer to your friends, folks in your playgroup, or at your church. Make sure that you look into your state laws on how many children you can have in your care without being licensed. This is an especially profitable thing to offer around the holidays when parent’s need to get out to do a little Christmas shopping. They will be happy to know that their child is safe with an experienced mother and you can make a little extra cash when you probably need it the most.

Baking/Catering

If cooking is your strong point, then maybe doing some baking or catering on the side might be a good option for you. They offer wonderful classes on cake decoration, candy making, and other baking courses for a relatively low fee at many of your local craft stores. Check into these and see if you can acquire a new skill. As mentioned under childcare services you will need to check into your local laws for what you can do within your own kitchen. If you are required to meet certain commercial kitchen standards, you could always go to the person’s home to prepare the baked goods, meals, or whatever type of food you might be offering.

Scrapbooking

This is a very hot and exciting time for people who are in the scrapbooking business. There are so many people who are enthralled with the hobby, but few who actually have the time to do it. You could start a business offering your expertise in scrapbooking to create the scrapbook of their dreams. Many people who do not have the time would pay for someone to put these together for them. They make wonderful anniversary, birthday, and wedding gifts as well. You would need to pay for start-up costs, but with enough people interested you could recover these costs quickly.

Errand Services

You have to run errands yourself, right? Might as well see if someone else might need errand services as well. Many elderly people or those without vehicles would benefit from these types of services and you could earn a little money doing what you were planning to do anyway.

Crafts/Floral

Do you make beautiful wreaths? Are you creative with making holiday ornaments, gifts, or knick knacks? Maybe you could earn money selling these at craft shows, garage sales, or to friends/relatives.

Mystery Shop

Be sure to check out my mystery shopping section for more information. This is where you are sent out by a company to different shops in your location and you are responsible for completing a survey on behalf of the company. The mystery is that no one knows that you are working for a company; therefore they act as they normally would with their regular customers. Upon completing the survey the company either reimburses you for a purchase made or you receive a cash payment for your services. These can range from five bucks on up depending on the lengthiness of the survey and the effort that is involved. I have been doing mystery shopping for the past several months and have been very successful at it. It is important to know that you DO NOT have to pay anyone to become a mystery shopper- you do not need an e-book to explain how to do it and you do not necessarily need to be a member to any organization in order to do it.

Gift Baskets

There are many inexpensive ways to create beautiful gift baskets and many people pay top dollar to have gifts put together for them. You can find beautiful vintage baskets at garage sales and antique stores. Using these baskets you can fill them with gifts that all center around the same theme. For example, center a bridal shower gift all around pampering the bride. Fill the basket with pretty bath soaps, a cooling eye mask, pretty nail polishes, lotion, and a pretty loofah scrubber. Contact local businesses around the holidays and ask if they need help in creating unique gifts for their employees. Many higher ups don’t have time to devote towards making unique gifts, but they are looking for something special for their employees and your basket could be the ticket.

Selling on eBay

This is a very hot time for selling on eBay, and even Oprah is doing it for her charity. As the old saying goes, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure” Begin by checking out books at the library on selling on eBay. Also think about a specific type of thing you might like to focus your selling on- fine china, old maps, dolls, or wherever your interest may lie. It is easier to begin with a passion you have already had because you won’t have to start from scratch with your knowledge. Once you have picked your item start watching the listings on eBay. I would suggest starting small when you are first starting out. The worst thing in the world would be to buy something at a huge cost, try to resell it, and then no one have an interest in your item. There are many great books that you can get at your local library that will provide the beginning tools you need to start on this business venture. People make incredible amounts on eBay- why can’t you?

Join a Business

Along with creating your own business, you could begin taking part in a business that has already been established. This can really work to your advantage because the products that you will be selling or the parties you will be hosting will already be recognized by individuals. Immediately an individual can tell you whether or not they like certain products or if they are too overpriced. The problem you run into is that people already have these preconceived notions and the market is very saturated with lots of people selling the same thing. Every market is competitive though, but with the right mindset and drive you can make your dreams possible in any of these home businesses.

Avon

Ding-Dong, Avon calling. See, all I said was the word and you are already thinking about a positive or a negative experience that you have had with the company. Let me begin by saying that Avon sells in over a hundred countries and they have over three million sale representatives all over the world. They are the world’s leading direct seller of beauty products and their line doesn’t stop at just make-up. Avon sells everything from jewelry to clothing to children’s toys- there really isn’t anything that you won’t find in an Avon catalog. Your income is determined by how much money in products you sell and it is completely commissioned based. The beauty of Avon, in my opinion, is that there really is no huge investment other than your time. You can begin selling Avon with only a ten dollar investment. These ten dollars get you started with your first two campaigns of catalogs, a training manual, and a bag full of goodies which include samples for customers, ordering booklets, and information on embarking on your career in Avon. If you are interested in selling Avon click here and I can get you started or answer any questions you might have.

Mary Kay

This is also one of the largest direct sellers of beauty products. Mary Kay offers a large line of face care products and make-up along with health supplements. Mary Kay was founded in 1963 by Mary Kay Ash. Consultants sell products by organizing home parties, selling door to door, and selling through their internet Mary Kay approved web sites. The starter costs for this company is a bit higher in that you need to invest a hundred dollars to get your starter kit. This kit includes all the sales materials and products you would need in order to get started. As an Independent Consultant you are also eligible for a fifty percent discount on your products. The company offers wonderful incentives to its top sellers including the ever famous pink Cadillac for the company high-rollers. If you are interested in selling Mary Kay products please call 800.MARY.KAY for more information on how to get started.

Pampered Chef

Pampered Chef is a direct seller of guaranteed, professional-quality kitchen tools and pantry items. These include cookware, preparations tools and gadgets like ice shavers and apple corers. The company was founded in 1980 by Doris Christopher and the majority of the money made by the company is made through the Kitchen Shows which are hosted by the Pampered Chef consultants. There are many different sizes of starter kits you can obtain to being as a consultant and there is a price to fit the range of each individual. The Pampered Chef’s Kitchen Consultants host shows or parties in homes to sell products. The company provides various incentives to their consultants including jewelry and vacation rewards for good sales. Call 800.266.5562 if you are interested in obtaining more information about Pampered Chef.

Southern Living

Southern Living magazine has been around for decades, but the latest and greatest addition to the Southern Living family is their home parties where you can buy and sell products that are featured in the Southern Living magazine. The products include food products, cookbooks, pottery, and other accessories. As a Southern Living at Home consultant, you will sell products primarily through home parties and catalog distribution. Southern Living at Home offers a basic starter kit, which includes business supplies and 20 products, for an investment of $199, plus sales tax. Consultants get a commission of 25 percent on each product sold and can buy company merchandise at a 25 to 40 percent discount. Most products in the Southern Living at Home catalog range in price from $7 to $100. The company also provides incentives such as free merchandise and annual trips. To get information in the mail, send a $10 check to receive the Fast Track Opportunity Pack (includes an informational video, application form, product previews and a current catalog) to:

Southern Living at Home
Fast Track Opportunity Pack Request
P.O. Box 830951
Birmingham, Alabama 35283-0951

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

Introduction

I have been doing mystery shopping for almost a year now and have found it to be a rewarding job for me to do financially. I remember the first time I heard the term mystery shopping, I thought immediately that it was a scam. Most people do, simply because there are people out there who are trying to charge others for information on mystery shopping. I am here to provide the information to you free of charge; of course I will not refuse any clicks on our advertisements as a way to help the site to continue growing strong!

Let’s begin with the information on what is involved as a mystery shopper and then I will provide the link to where you can begin to sign up for these types of jobs:

What is mystery shopping?

Mystery shopping is when you pose as a customer of a store and observe the employees, the premises, and the quality of the goods offered. Most mystery shopping jobs require that you keep your identity to yourself, thus it is a mystery that you are even there. Obviously, if employees knew that you were critiquing them, they would be on their best behavior and be performing for you rather than performing their normal day-to-day routine. Most companies will provide a scenario for you to use when posing as a customer. For example, if you went to a pet store, then they would tell you that you have a dog that is overweight and you are looking for the appropriate type of food to give to him. Some scenarios are very detailed, others lack detail, and some ask that you come prepared with a scenario that you have imagined yourself. You are usually given a window of time to complete the job. Some jobs will give you a week to complete, while others are more rushed and need to be completed within the next day or two. You are usually given a time to shop and many of these are performed during the daytime hours- perfect for stay-at-home moms. Each mystery job is different in what they expect from you. I have done a lot of different types of shops such as film development, food, checking promotional materials at stores, department stores and retail shopping, bowling alleys, cellular companies, and pizza delivery. There are lots of different jobs out there that you can do and once you become a more experienced shopper and are known for completing jobs in a timely fashion, then the companies will begin to contact you for more jobs and you will have to do less searching for them.

What am I reporting to the company?

Usually the company requires that you complete a questionnaire on the service that you received. Each company is different on the length of these and the amount of details you are expected to provide. I usually weigh the length of the questionnaire against the amount paid to me if I really want to spend the time filling out a particularly long one. It is important that you read the questionnaire BEFORE you complete your assignment otherwise you will have no way of knowing what to be looking for. You can’t bring the questionnaire into the store because this usually alerts employees that you are performing a mystery shopping job so you either have to write a few discreet notes to yourself or have extremely good memory. Sometimes you are asked in these questionnaires to observe one particular thing. For example, I mystery shop a particular restaurant in our food court pretty regularly and I am usually looking for the exact same things- the quality of the food, the customer service, and the cleanliness factors. I do not have to memorize a large amount of information so I sign up pretty frequently for this one. If I got a job to survey the entire food court though, then I would have a lot more to memorize and this would create many more categories for me to have to observe and there is a greater chance of error. This is where good memory and note-taking would be needed. Most questionnaires can be completed online although I have mystery shopped for companies in the past that required that I mail in the questionnaire.

Costs and Payments

What’s this going to cost me?

This is important to know especially if you are on a budget like I am. Some of the jobs require that you make purchases and it is important to know the dollar amount associated with these purchases since it will be awhile before you are reimbursed. I usually pick jobs that don’t require me to spend anything over twenty dollars. There are always exceptions though depending on our finances, but I try to pick jobs were no purchase is required, or where the purchase is minimal.

How much do I get paid?

This is a tough question to answer because some jobs pay nothing except for reimbursement, while others pay anywhere between five and a hundred dollars depending upon the assignment. You are probably wondering why anyone would take these jobs and not get paid. Well, you are still getting paid, but it is going towards a purchase that you are required to make on behalf of the company. I have taken a few of these where I have wanted to eat dinner at a particular restaurant or wanted a particular item, but could not justify the cost for it. It is much easier to justify when the mystery shopping company is footing the bill for dinner or my retail purchase. Jobs that pay very little usually have shorter questionnaires, while the jobs that pay more offer up several departments to be checking or require much more detail.

When do I get paid?

This also depends on the company, but the earliest that I usually see is three weeks. Most companies take six to eight weeks to process your checks so this is also a factor that you need to weigh very carefully if you are on a budget. It is going to be awhile before you see any profit from this business venture and if the budget is tight in our family, then I chose jobs that require little or no cost.

Tips for Successful Shopping

Any tips for a novice mystery shopper?

Although this sounds like a particularly easy job, in actuality it is not. I have had friends accompany me on these jobs and they can’t believe some of the work that goes into preparing this information for the companies. This is a job even though it doesn’t sound like one and much is required from you as a shopper. They want people who can shop and accurately portray the service they receive. I would like to share with you a few of the things that I wish someone would have disclosed to me when I was mystery shopping.

You might not be able to bring your children with you on some of the assignments. Some companies do not want you bringing your children because children can be very distracting when you are supposed to be completing an assignment. Be clear about the terms of the company and the terms of each job because this is an important thing to know. Some of the jobs will allow children, but if it is a lengthy survey that needs to be completed or requires you to do a lot of interacting with the salespeople you may want to choose to leave your child at home so you can do a good job on your assignment. Quick surveys that require little detail or restaurants where you can bring your family are ideal for bringing your children.

You need to keep very good records especially if you are completing a lot of assignments for various companies. One of the files I keep has all of my passwords and user identifications for the mystery shop companies. I also include within this file a few other items that are frequently asked on applications for mystery shop assignments. When you apply to hundreds of companies, I find it easier to have the information typed up and saved in a file rather than trying to come up with a unique answer for each company. Some of the information I keep is what companies I have shopped for in the past (be sure to update this as you gain new assignments), zip codes and area codes where you are willing to shop, a description of your best shopping experience, and a description of your worst shopping experience. Almost every company requests this type of information so it is good to have all of this ready to go when filling out the applications.

The other file I keep is a spreadsheet of the jobs that I have completed. The information I plug into this is the name of the company I shopped, the date the shop was completed, the date I should be paid (based on their pay system), a brief description of what I did at the job (good to have if this is requested on a future application), the amount that I need to be reimbursed, the pay for the assignment, the contact person’s email/phone number (if this is applicable), and finally a field that requires a yes or no answer on whether this has been paid. By keeping good records, you can save yourself the time of having to track down the long forgotten email that had the information in it about the job. If this system does not work for you, you can devise your own system of record-keeping. This record is also handy if you need to report this information for tax-purposes.

Your answers could affect another person’s job. I realize that if the person is not performing well at their job that this is through no fault of your own, however, I would be very careful with the criticism that you offer. Everyone has bad days at work and their bad day may be the day that you walk in and assess their performance. If you are between the ages of 21-25, you may be asked to go into various restaurants and request an alcoholic beverage. Should the waiter not ask for your identification, they will be immediately be terminated from their job. Personally, I think that I would feel pretty lousy if I caused someone to lose their job just so I could get a free meal. I realize that this is important to know for the company, but in the past I have turned these assignments down, my conscience just will not allow it. I think it is important to be careful, but accurate in your criticism. Keep in mind that this is a person who makes mistakes on the job just like you and unfortunately you are there to critique. If someone makes a mistake on something that I ordered, for example, I always try to note how well they handled repairing the mistake they made. Did they apologize and immediately try to correct it? Did they offer the meal to me for free? Did they check to make sure that it was correct and that I was happy the second time? These are the types of things to look for, not that they made the original mistake.

You are not a critic, you are a reporter. Mystery shop companies are usually not looking for a detailed description of how you didn’t think the décor was that great in the restaurant, they are usually looking for factors like cleanliness, if you are greeted when you walk in, and if you receive service in a timely manner. Good reporters tell the accurate details of a newsworthy story, not their own feelings on it. Try to keep that in mind when you are doing your reporting.

Read the directions for completing the paperwork and then read them again. I know that this is time consuming, but if you do not report the exact way the company specifies then they can refuse to pay you for not completing everything the way that they requested.

Where to Start

The best place I have found to sign up for mystery shopping is Volition. Remember that this is the most time-consuming part of beginning your career in mystery shopping, but the more companies you sign-up with the more assignments you will have to choose from. Make sure that you have them notify you if they have jobs in your area through your email and then make sure you check your email frequently. If you live in an area where the shops are fewer and far between, they go very quickly so you want to be the first one to answer the email, and not the last.

I hope that this information will help you become more acquainted with the whole world of mystery shopping, and that you have lots of mystery shopping jobs in the horizon filled with free lunches and money to begin doing your own shopping.

Spotting Work at Home Scams

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

Spotting Work at Home Scams

Where to Start

It would be wonderful if I could honestly tell you that I had not fallen victim to a work at home scam myself, but that would be untrue. When I was very desperate to find a job where I could make money from home I lost money in a couple of different work at home schemes which caused us both a small financial loss as well as being a disappointment that rather than making money for our family, I was losing money.

There is a variety of work at home scams that are listed on papers, sent to you through email, and posted on job boards. They claim that you can earn hundreds of dollars a day doing simple things like stuffing envelopes or data entry. Let’s face it folks, if it sounds too good to be true, you better believe it is.

Here are just a few of the scenarios you may run across and be tempted, in a moment of weakness, to respond to:

Nigerian Money Email

I have received emails and faxes for this scam countless times. The Better Business Bureau reports that this scam has been around for ages, however, with the dawn of email it has taken on a whole new life. The fund fraud transfers scams can come to you through email, fax, or even by personal mail. The sender, who claims to be a government official or member of a royal family, requests assistance in transferring millions of dollars of excess money out of Nigeria and promises to pay the person for his or her help. The message is always of an urgent, private nature. Although the country primarily listed is Nigeria, I have seen other countries listed with the same urgent news.

Those willing to assist are asked to provide their banking account number, Social Security number, birth date, and often times other personal information. Or they are asked to send money to the letter-sender for taxes and various fees. Victims will never see their money again and the con artist pockets the money.

You may think that there is no way that people could fall for such a ridiculous scam, but the FBI reports annual losses of millions of dollars to just these types of schemes. In fact, some victims have actually been lured to Nigeria, where they were imprisoned or much worse.

If you should receive an email of this nature, forward it to spam@uce.gov, then immediately delete the correspondence. If you have already, however, responded to this scam or know someone who has, please contact the U.S. Secret Service as soon as possible by phone (202.406.5572).

Assembly Work

This type of scheme is where you send a company money to send you supplies to put together different types of crafts, bows, or other type of small project. You send hundreds of dollars to the company for supplies who have claimed they will pay you “x” amount of dollars if you put the items together as instructed. You will invest hours of your time into putting these crafts together only to have the company tell you that you did not meet the “standards” for the work that they have sent. They will then send the materials back to you which you will be stuck with items and you will also be out a bunch of your own money which you had invested.

UPS & Federal Express Recovery

This is a scam that I have personally been victim to and spent $69 of our money only to discover that I was stuck with software that I could not use. Stupidly, when I think of a name such as UPS or Federal Express I automatically think that this has to be legitimate, right? Wrong!

The claim with this software is that companies that send out large amounts of shipments through Federal Express or UPS do not have the time to track these packages. If the packages are even one minute late with delivery, you are entitled to a full refund. With these “amazing” software packages, you will now be able to track all these parcels for the companies. You simply call on behalf of your clientele and they will get fifty percent of the refund while you pocked the other fifty percent. These people will agree to this because this is money that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. You can make $50-75 an hour and download the list of the packages while you are sitting in your robe and sipping your coffee. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

First of all, neither Federal Express nor UPS is affiliated with any of these software programs. They also have every right to refuse the refund to you, a third-party who did not pay for the shipping in the first place. UPS online tracking system can only be used by the sender of the package or by the recipient. Besides, information obtained through the tracking system can only be used to monitor one’s shipment and not for someone’s commercial gain unless UPS openly authorizes it. To top it off, UPS prohibits any uses of automated software to access its online shipping-related systems. Therefore, the software you would be using would be deemed illegal.

I guess I had been under the assumption that they would be providing a list of people to contact that would be interested in these services. What they did provide was a list of general types of companies to target like the health industry, industrial services, or retail companies. Through this list you are supposed to come up with a list of people you think would be interested in your services, try to obtain the name and email address of the correct person who should be targeted, and send them this letter that the company has so kindly supplied for you. Then you just sit back and watch people chomping at the bit to get this amazing service. Who in the world would ever give out any of this private tracking information on their packages to a complete stranger? The answer to that, of course, would be no one in their right mind.

Envelope Stuffing

This is also a very old scam, however, people continue to fall for it. This scam informs you that you can earn hundreds of dollars by simply stuffing envelopes for companies. What you end up doing is paying someone to get information about stuffing envelopes and instead you get information on how to place the same advertisement for other people to become suckered in just as you have. Today everything is so automated that there is no reason that a company would outsource for envelope stuffing.

Data Entry

This is another scam that I fell head over heels for when searching for a work at home job. I saw an advertisement for a position doing data entry. All I needed to do was pay ten dollars for my “training packet” and they would send to me all of my training materials. For this particular company, I emailed the person in charge to request more information. The person that emailed me back seemed so sweet and told me how much money she was making doing this, sent me an application, (here was the clincher for me) signed it “God Bless.” Well, I figured this woman had a little God in her life so she wouldn’t be scamming me….right? Wrong again! Upon filling out my application I received within two seconds an email explaining that all I had to do was send the same advertisement out to other unsuspecting people along with an application for employment, review the application (for what reason, I do not know) and send them the congratulatory letter that there employment has been approved. I would then get half of the money and the other half would go to the person who recruited me. Believe me when I say that I got my money back for these training materials. I will explain more on what to do if you become a victim at the end of this article and how to try to salvage your money.

Medical Transcriptions

There are tons of phony advertisements out there for this job. While knowing medical transcription is great in a traditional work place, unless you personally know the company and they check out with the Better Business Bureau, be very wary of these types of job listings. The typical scenario usually plays out with the company telling you that you can make hundreds of dollars working from home and all you will need is the CD Rom which will have everything you need to know about medical transcription and at the end of their course you will officially be certified and people will be dying to hire you because of your qualifications. After purchasing your software and the computer system needed in order to link with the central computer system for “training purposes” you will have spent thousands of dollars with absolutely little or nothing to show for it. There will be no job and no clients with an amazing certification from Jon Doe’s Medical Transcription Online Schooling Company and you will have wasted both your time and money into yet another fruitless cause.

Tips for Spotting a Scam

These are just a few of the many scams that you will find on the internet and could become a potential victim to. These advertisers are looking for desperate people especially stay-at-home moms who are dying to continue staying home with their children or are in a difficult financial position. It is important for you to be an informed mother and know what to look for in a work-at-home scheme. Here are a few red flags that should help make a work-at-home scam more apparent:

  • The advertiser is using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS with lots of exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!! IT WOULD LOOK SOMETHING LIKE THIS!!!!!!!!! AREN’T YOU LUCKY TO BE SCAMMED????
  • They claim that you can make hundreds or thousands of dollars a day with no experience needed and minimal effort is needed in order to achieve this financial miracle.
  • There is a fee in order for you to apply. This fee is for training materials, a membership into a work-at-home club or for a transaction fee and it is an obscure company that you have never heard of. If there is a fee involved, chances are that you are being scammed. If you are applying for jobs in your neighborhood you are not charged transaction fees in order to submit your resume to a job so you shouldn’t be charged for one for a work-at-home job.
  • The advertisement lists no company or any information that you can check into. They don’t give you any contact information other than a first name and a number where you can leave a message. A job listing shouldn’t be a mysterious advertisement unless there is something to hide. Be very leery of these types of advertisements.
  • Look the company up on the Better Business Bureau’s web site. If they do not check out on this web site, chances are that this company is trying to scam you. The Better Business Bureau is a wonderful tool for you if you are trying to spot a scam. Their web site is full of helpful information and tips along with consumer alerts on new scams that are taking place.

What to Do if You’ve Been Scammed

Okay, so you are asking, “What if I have already been scammed?” How do I get my money back and who do I report the scam to. As I said before, I had been victim to the “data entry” position and so when I found out that instead of doing data entry I was typing the same dirty little ads out to other unsuspecting victims, I simply sent the company an email and asked for an immediate refund. I received an email back stating that I should have known what I was getting myself into and that they were sorry, but they wouldn’t be refunding my money. That is when I looked on the Better Business Bureau’s web site to find out how they suggested I get my money back. There web site states the following:

If you become a victim of a work-at-home scheme, ask the company for a refund. If they refuse or give you an evasive response, tell them you plan to notify law enforcement officials.

Keep careful records of everything you do to recover your money. Document your phone calls, keep copies of all paperwork such as letters and receipts, and record all costs involved, including the time you spend. If the company refuses to refund your investment, contact:

All it took for me to have my money refunded was to tell the company that I was planning to contact law enforcement. Hopefully, if you are victim of a scam you will not have to go through these steps, but it is good information to have just in case. Please see my Work-At-Home Ideas to give you more ways to make money from home.