Posts Tagged ‘Work’

The Top 7 Apps to Organize Your Life

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Note: In honor of our M Challenge focus on Technology, I’m reposting this because I still can’t live without my iPhone, and these apps are still some of my top favs! Please chime in with any you use now, too!

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 App


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.)



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.)


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.)


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.)


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 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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I Did it My Way: Long-Term Blogging Success Tips

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Almost seven years ago, I came to my husband with a few sketch drawings for a concept that I had for launching a website. Our family had suffered an almost year of unemployment and I was a new mother trying to find a way to stay home with my one year-old son. A woman desperate to make her husband’s paycheck stretch as far as it could go, I became a human sponge for anything and everything that was frugal.  It was before the truly big days of blogging, before the days of Facebook and Twitter, when being frugal was far from the minds of most people. It was me, with ideas, and Yahoo groups and forums trying to share information on frugality with anyone who would listen…

It was me with a tiny little megaphone shouting my message of frugality to a very small niche community.

The beauty of that, for me, was that I didn’t have the noise that bloggers have now coming at them from all angles. No one was sending me on trips, no one was pushing products to me, no one wanted to hire me to do anything, my inbox was relatively empty, my guests were few, my failures great. It was me with just my written words and trying to figure out who I was.

I had time to experiment with finding flow, and discovering what I wanted to stand for. I can’t imagine how different my approach would have been if I started now and where I would have concentrated my efforts.

It was the roots of that time without the noise that I cling to and that I still can easily fall back into. It is those little nuggets that I want to share with you today for how to have long-term blogging success in a saturated blogging world.

Write What You are Passionate About- I knew from day one that I was passionate about saving families money and showcasing ways to make their life beautiful for less. I could talk all day and night about how to change life’s little budget-draining habits, I loved to share how families can create a restaurant experience within their own home, I loved anything that was free, and I loved finding ingenious ways that others have found that too. I still love it and it is still what I am talking about today.

I will admit, reading my earlier work makes me cringe a little inside, but it also has served to remind me how far my writing has come. Even in those cringe-worthy days, that passionate life was fiercely alive.

People ask me all the time if I encounter writer’s block and the short answer is no. The longer answer is, I don’t have writer’s block because I am wildly passionate about what I am talking about and I live my life with that same passionate. While I have never really had an editorial calendar necessarily, I do have a flow for my writing that has served this passion for frugality well. Find what you are wildly passionate about and make that your top priority. If you are not passionate about it, no one else will be either.

To learn more about how to develop great content, I encourage you to read what I shared this past year at BlissDom!

You are Worth More Than Free Yogurt- Free stuff is often one of the perks that bloggers get most excited about. As someone who was watching her spending, it was something I was very enthusiastic about when I started. Here’s the thing I wish someone would have told me…your blog is worth more than a carton of free yogurt.

I use yogurt only as a free analogy, but I am saddened at how many seem to compromise their blogging space for free stuff. I would encourage you to really think about what your time is worth and select opportunities that are really worth the time you are spending on them. Focus your efforts on the things that promote your passions and that will benefit your community.

This means you have to turn down opportunities, it means you will be overlooked for trip opportunities, it means you might not be able to receive a pay check from a company… and you know why all that is okay? Because your readers will respect you. And that is worth more than a free yogurt, more than a trip, and even more than a pay check.  It is that loyalty that will help your community grow and will translate into paid opportunities that do fit with you.

The stuff that I have turned down sometimes was really hard. I had an opportunity to do my grocery shopping for free, but they wanted me to showcase convenience foods you could buy to start the school year off right. A stocked fridge would have been great, but would you have respected me for telling you to buy crap food to stock your freezer to get your kid’s day started out right?

This is not an  exclusive opportunity, I get something like that in my inbox all of the time. I refuse a lot of it because I respect your opinion more than a corporation’s opinion. It means I have moved to the D-list for a lot of invites and parties, but I hope I made the A-List for my readers!

Be sure to read this article on how to do great product reviews!

Find a Rhythm You Can Live With- Blogger balance is a topic that comes up all of the time  and I always love to hear how people find their own work/home life balance. I will tell you my secret that has held this site together over the years…I chose a balance to posting and taking on assignments that I can live with.

Here is what I had envisioned for myself when I started. I wanted to be able to be home with my children, do what I love, and do it when I wanted,  in a way that would not take away from the time I wanted to spend with my kids. It meant I had to step away from time-sensitive posts, and to instead concentrate my efforts on providing evergreen content that I could develop on the weekends.

I work primarily Saturday, rising early before the rest of the family, and then Sunday afternoon through the evening. I write all of the content for the week and schedule to air on the weekday mornings. The rest of the week, I do my best to maintain my email inbox, take pictures and create for the next week,  share on our Facebook page, and do a little tweeting when I feel like it.

I found a rhythm to my posting schedule that I would not have a hard time creating and that my readers could expect from me each day.  The rhythm of a recipe a week, a craft/money-saving-tip/organizing idea/mommy time management (once idea highlighted each month), a notebook of inspiration, and a weekly dose of freebies has serviced our site well.

Note, I will never be a social media starlet and I will never make a million dollars on my blog… and I have found that I am okay with that. I am paid in sticky kisses from my kids and more time being the mom I really desire to be which is so much cooler.

Be sure to read this article on finding your own blogger balance!

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone- Blogging requires  a lot of bravery.  I thought I was brave just blogging, but I never dreamed all of the things that I would try over the years to stay in the blogging game and providing creative content for our readers. I have done a podcast, I did our local news for a year, I joined Twitter, I created a fan page on Facebook, I vlogged, I consulted companies, I did cooking demos, I did media tours, I created content for brands…. and none of those things were things that I ever imagined I would attempt in a million years.

Keeping up with the trends and finding new ways to interact with your readers becomes essential for growing your audience. It doesn’t mean that you will always have to stick with it, but it is great if you can try things that are out of your comfort zone.

I have found that no matter what type of medium I attempt, I feel most comfortable writing. Vlogging is my least favorite thing to do because I am a perfectionist and it requires take after take for me. Live segments, however,  go really well because I don’t have the opportunity to rethink thing.  Podcasting is fun, but required time and effort that I didn’t have extra of. Doing demos for brands has been my favorite thing to do yet and I never thought I could have done that. It is attempting something out of the ordinary that helped our site continue to grow.

It doesn’t mean you always have to do what doesn’t feel right in your comfort zone, but it feels good to know that you can if someone requests it!

Embrace Your Inner Madonna- Along with stepping out of your comfort zone, I encourage you to not be afraid to reinvent yourself and your blog. In the beginning I wanted my blog to be very personal to me and to my family. Living in a small town and being a girl that craves privacy, this format just didn’t work for me. While you hopefully still see my personality and what I am passionate about you will find that I also don’t disclose a lot about my family online to protect who they are. It was a risk I took and it has paid off.

Likewise, if you find new passions and talents, don’t be afraid to take your readers on that journey with you. Over the years, I have discovered a new talent for knitting, love fumbling around with my camera, and I have embraced my inner bookworm. Those hobbies might not interest all of my readers, but they do bring in new ones while still maintaining my tried-and-true categories of the site.

Want to learn more about my commandments for blogging? Read my 5 Commandments for Blogging!

Be Humble And Grateful- If there is anything that I am working so hard on it is to recognize what a gift that this journey has been.  I don’t know what else to say except that I am so thankful for every little blessing that has come. I do my best to never feel entitled,  I stay clear of drama, and I would probably cry if anyone thought I was a diva. The best compliment I have ever gotten is, “You write exactly like you are.”

My grandma is from the South and if there is ever any wisdom that was passed down from her and our Tennessee roots, it was  that it was always important to be a lady… oh, and wear a slip under your dress!

The best part about being a lady in this business though is that if you do your very best, you are genuine,  and you always follow-up business opportunities with a thank you, then you will find that the most amazing opportunities happen to you!

And when they do, count your blessings!

This past week on our Facebook page, I asked what you wanted to know about me and about blogging. Here are some of those questions that were asked and my answers.

Q: How do you come up with so many great ideas to keep people interested?

A:  I think the beauty of our site has been that we started the site when my son was only a year old. We were exploring ways to save as a family who were dealing with the budget-busters of having an infant. In those days, I was sharing on topics like baby food, cloth diapers, and how to baby proof your home without spending a lot.

Now my children are eight and four and we are sharing on how to save on lunches for school, how to organize those homework papers, and how to keep your children entertained during those long summer breaks. We don’t plan to go back to cloth diapering and baby food, but those topics are there in the archives for our readers! We will continue to press on as we discover and strive to live our simple life as our kids get older and we will continue to face new budget-challenges and share those with our readers.

That being said, I also try to appeal to universal subjects that all people struggle  with- how to get dinner on the table every day, how to manage those household routines, how to keep entertainment affordable, and how to manage the day-to-day of a busy life. That is why we have readers that aren’t moms and why there is something for everyone no matter what ages your children are at!

The ideas come from just living my life. I like learning new things!  I like being a sponge on new topics and it makes me happy to find new ways to save for families. I gain a lot of inspiration from reading other bloggers, reading magazines, and watching a whole heck of a lot of Food Network & TLC!

Q: How do you get sponsors for giveaways?

A:  I only do product reviews very infrequently anymore because they are time-consuming and I don’t really have a great desire to clutter up our house with a lot of products. Instead if a company reaches out to me about a review, I try to see if there is a way we can offer a great giveaway for our readers instead. I know that our readers are leading a budget-minded life and there is nothing I enjoy more than sharing items with our readers.

I did a lot of product reviews in the beginning though to establish relationships with the companies that reached out to me and then established giveaways through them.  I would encourage you to reach out to companies that you are passionate about (even if you just send out a tweet) and see if they would like to do a giveaway with you.

I don’t know if anyone has any better advice than this, please feel free to share in the comments below.

Q: I would like to know how you get Facebook followers to follow the blog?

A: I am still pretty new to Facebook and I am still trying to grow that page. I think if you are trying to get people to head over to the blog, that you need to offer some value-added benefits to being a part of your community. On our site we try to share other sites, freebies, a daily menu idea, and something from the archives that would be helpful during that month from the archived articles. Try pushing traffic back to the work you have already done because chances are that it will be new to someone and they will begin to explore and want to follow your blog.

In the beginning I found Twitter to be a great way to attract readers to the site and create new blog followers. I don’t find that Twitter is half as effective as it used to be for me, personally, and Facebook has been a bigger attractor for us. It is my belief that on Facebook there is often a personal investment there. Who wouldn’t want to see what their old high school friend is up to or what the mom down the road is doing to save money? It really is that personal investment that translates into traffic for me and those people are often my biggest referrers and happily share about my site with their friends.

(mobile upload: on set with Cheer)

Q: How do you get relationships with brands?

I have never approached a company about working with them as a spokesperson, they have always found me. I will tell you though the two things that have helped me secure jobs with brands.

The first thing is that I wrote about topics that would make me perfect for certain brands, unknowingly, but that is how the jobs have come to me. For example, I wrote a lot about ways to save with your appliances and Kenmore reached out to me about working with them as their spokesperson teaching moms  home management tips and ways to save with their appliances. When I wrote about how to save moms time cleaning, Cascade hired me to work with them to write materials on how to save time in the kitchen. When I wrote about how to save money on gifts and the holidays, Glade approached me to be their spokesperson and showcase  gifts and ideas for the holidays for cash-strapped moms. Keep that in mind when you are writing your blogs and articles that brands might be looking to hire someone just like you to represent their product.

The second recommendation would be to get some on-camera work. Contact your local news about working with them and doing a segment or a series of segments on what you write about. If you can’t get on your local news (if you live in a larger city), then put together some vlogs that showcase your camera work.  Get comfortable in front of the camera because a brand is going to hire someone who can handle interviews, media tours, commercials, and online campaigns and represent their product well.

Honestly, I find being on camera to be nerve-wracking. The first five months that I did our local news, I never slept the night before my segments. I  have learned to choose colors that won’t showcase how sweaty I get and I have to buy that prescripition strength deodorant. I am always thankful that I did years and years of theater though (even when I was pregnant with my Ethan) and it is that time invested in community theater that has helped me get through all of the camera work today.

Q: How/when do you fine time to read 5 books in a month for the Great Reads section with all that you do? Do you stay up late, get up early?

I am not a morning person, but I have been forced to be now that the kids are in school. I don’t have a lot of time to read in the mornings anymore though because both kids have to head to school in the morning at two different times. I used to do my best reading first thing in the morning.

The truth is, I don’t really watch a lot of television during the week.  My husband freelances on the side and has a busy job as a web designer so I read a lot in the evenings after the kids go to bed . Keep in mind my kids are also 4 and 8 now- it was much harder when they were younger.

I truly just take advantage of those tiny pockets of time- an hour here and there in the afternoons, reading in the tub (seriously), time in the evenings, and when I travel all I do is read in the down time on my layovers.  Does it also help to know that I used to help our English teacher and volunteered to help teach kids speed reading in middle school? I am a fast reader, especially if the book is a good one!

Do you have any questions for me that you would like to ask? I am an open book on the topic of blogging and will do my best to answer them!

10 Useful Tools for Twitter Users

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
Photo Credit: Panduro Tveskov

By now, most people are familiar with Twitter and how it works. If not though, we have a handy article, What in the World is Twitter?, that can help you decide if Twitter would be beneficial for you personally or for your blog/business.

There are many applications and tools that you can use to help bump up your Twitter experience. Here is a gathering of great tools to make your tweet time a little more effective.

Reminder & Organizational Tools:

Twitter Timer: Add this guy to your list of friends and send him a direct message (DM) when you need to remember to go to the dentist or a friendly reminder that next week is your best friend’s birthday.

Remember the Milk: We highlighted Remember the Milk in our family planning tools, but Remember the Milk can also be used through Twitter as well. Add Remember the Milk to your list of friends and send DM’s to remind yourself to pick up milk…or your kids. You know, those important things in life!

Commuter Feed: Wouldn’t your morning commute be smoother if you knew where traffic was backed up or where accidents have occurred? Commuter Feed is a free service that lets you see reports on traffic incidents in your local area using Twitter. It works for any city that has an IATA airport code worldwide. Even if you don’t input the information yourself, you can look up your city and see what was recently posted to keep up-to-date on what is happening in your neck of the woods.

Fuel Frog: This great site works with Twitter and help you easily track the gas mileage on your vehicle. This can be a great way to track the fluctuating gas prices, see how you are doing on your gas mileage, and keep track of mileage for your job.

Twitter Efficiency Tools:

Twitter Snooze: Is someone being a tad too chatty and you are feeling overwhelmed with their tweets? Is someone live-blogging at an event and you just want to tune their tweets out for a bit? You can visit Twitter Snooze and put their posts to sleep until the event is over, without blocking your friend or ruining that great relationship.

Twitter Search: This is great if you are off of Twitter for a long time and want to double-check to make sure you didn’t miss any posts about yourself. Just search for your username (in my case, momadvice) and it will pop up all of the conversations you have had or any tweets that were intended for you. You can also use the search to keep up with something/someone you are interested in. You can read what everyone is talking about in the current events, politics, fashion and find out what people are sharing on your favorite topics.

Twitter Feed: This service works with your blog’s feed and automatically sends out a message to let everyone know when your feed (blog) has been updated. This is a great way to automate the process to let your readers know when you have new and amazing stuff on your blog.

TweetDeck: This is great for people who like to micro-manage their micro-blogging tools. TweetDeck enables users to split their main feed (All Tweets) into topic or group specific columns allowing a broader overview of tweets. You can group people into groups (locals, PF Bloggers, Must Read Mommas) so you never miss an important tweet again. Once created these additional columns will automatically update allowing the user to keep track of a twitter threads far easier. Basically, it makes it so you can see exactly what you want to see and you are able to view up to 48 hours worth of the tweets that you have deemed the most important, without having to hunt.

Lifestyle Improvement Tools:

Tweet What You Eat: If you are working on improving your eating habits, then this tool should help you in tracking your caloric intact for the day. Tweetwhatyoueat (TWYE for short) is a Twitter-based food diary. Use Twitter to track what you eat, and now your weight, by ‘tweeting’ food items to your personal food diary on from your mobile phone, IM or through Twitter.

Qwitter: This tool can help you if you trying to quit smoking. As with most of these tools, you can add Qwitter as your friend and then let them know when you have had a cigarette and journal how you are feeling as you taper off the cigarettes. This tool was brought to you by the state of Florida and I just love anything that can help people make a positive lifestyle change!

This list only encompasses ten great tools, but if you are looking for even more great ways to use Twitter, check out this list of 140 great Twitter Tools from Mashable!

Do you use any tools for twittering? Let us know what tools you find most helpful!

Play It Again, Momma: Simplifying Your To Do List

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

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

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

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

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

Amy’s Monday To-Do List

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

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

Amy’s Tuesday To-Do List

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

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

Amy’s Wednesday To-Do List

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

Usually by Friday, my list looked something like this:

Amy’s Friday To-Do List

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

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

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

Make 3 Business Goals
Make 3 Personal Goals

Now my list looks something like this:

Amy’s Revamped Monday To-Do List

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

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

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

This is where this comes into play:

Giant Wish List

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

Amy’s Giant Wish List

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

7 Tips For Leading a Balanced Blogger Life

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
(Photo Credit: Criss Cross Circus)

I have been talking to a lot of bloggers recently that have been asking my advice on blogging and balance. It can be tough to come up with great content week after week and still maintain your home and family activities.

My life is very busy with two small children. We have family obligations, business obligations, church obligations, friend obligations, and volunteer obligations… as most families do. I am thankful for all of these things that shape my life!

On top of those obligations though are my work obligations. As my site grows, the obligations grow too and that is when your life and your blogging can easily become out of balance. In this last year, it is something I have been really working on improving because my family is so important to me.

I would love to share with you some of the tips and techniques I have been using this year to help me lead a balanced life. I hope that they will offer some inspiration to those of you who are feeling tapped out and tired.

(Photo Credit: Michael Sullivan)

1. Schedule Working Hours- Some people might be surprised to know that I rarely write during the week. I have regularly scheduled time on my calendar on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings where I complete 90% of the work that I need to get done for the week. There are times where time sensitive items have to be scheduled during the week, but for the most part I rarely am working on my blog during weekdays.

Anything that I can get done during working hours, I do my best to get it done. Even tiny detail items like choosing a picture and title for time-sensitive entries is done during my scheduled work hours. These tiny details can easily suck up an hour’s worth of time so I know that anything I can get done during my work sessions will free up more time for me with my children during our week.

You can also schedule everything to appear at the same time each day. On here, for example, each entry is typically scheduled for 7:00 AM and publishes as scheduled in the morning. Now you all know that I am actually still laying in bed while all of these entries are posting. Did I deceive you with my supposed morning productivity? I hope so!

The information that I write is not time-sensitive so freebies/deals/coupon sites could not adapt to this schedule, but you could try to supplement deal information with how-to information that could be set up within your own working schedule.

(Photo Credit: Mykl Roventine)

2. Cut Down on Distractions & Set Limits- It is very easy to become distracted when doing your work and these distractions can slow down your pace. When you schedule your time to work, shut down social networks and other websites and tackle that to-do list with as little interruption as possible.

You know what your distractions are and what can take you away from the task at hand. Make it a goal that when you are working that you will try to tune all of the distractions out until you have completed your tasks.

Likewise, set limits for yourself on how much time you spend on social networks as they can definitely suck up a great deal of your day if you allow them to. For me, I try to not spend time on Twitter or Facebook on the weekends. I use my weekends to work and spend time with my family so I try to sign off of these networks on Friday and return back to socializing on Monday.

If you are looking for more information on staying on task in business and in life, I encourage you to read “The Power of Less,” by Leo Babauta (founder of It is a very quick read, but has helped me greatly in increasing my productivity while leading a fuller life. I found this book at the library and my husband and I both read it and got some great tips from it.

3. Slow Down Your Blogging Schedule- For me, this is one of the most difficult challenges because I love sharing new information with my readers. What I don’t realize though, is how few of you have read me every single day since I began blogging.

Don’t be afraid to shake the dust off of those entries in your archives and use them during the week. I do my best to reuse one article each week to give me a day off from creating new content. You could also utilize guest bloggers once a week or even dedicate a post that will share with your readers things that other people are writing.

Whatever your blogging schedule, routine has been essential in keeping my creativity flowing and knowing what to tackle throughout the week. On our blog, we typically offer recipes on Monday, crafts/things to do on Tuesday, highlighting others in our Notebook entries & tackling a project highlighted in the notebook on Wednesday, a Play it Again, Momma entry on Thursday (where I revisit an old entry), and freebies on Friday. Of those items, I am actually coming up with truly new information two or three times a week.

If at anytime I feel that something is too much or not working with our family schedule, it is my blog schedule to tinker with. I shared with you that my podcast would not work with our summer schedule and I switched our notebook entry to a day that fit better with my family life.

Remember that it is your schedule to switch, but know that whatever you set up your readers will begin to expect from you. It used to bother me when people would email me because A, B, or C had not been posted during the week. I began to realize that even if it was my schedule to switch, it is also imperative to let them know when and why I make these changes. Communication and consistency is the best way to keep your readers coming back for more!

(Photo Credit: Jennifer Rensel)

4. Figure Out What You Are Worth- My business coach offered this sound advice to me when we first began our sessions together. She encouraged me to figure out what my time was worth and then choose what was the best use of my time based on that dollar figure. Now that I am able to grasp how much my time is worth, I am better able to say no to things that do not bring in the money or the website traffic that I need for the opportunity to be lucrative.

If I am not sure if an opportunity is worth my time, I try to give it a thirty day evaluation. Within 30 days, I am able to take a look at my past month of web traffic and it can showcase whether or not an opportunity has brought in the traffic needed for it to be lucrative.

How do you figure out what your time is worth? As someone who is self-employed my worth varies from month to month, but I do have a dollar figure in mind when I am approached for an opportunity. The best way to figure out what your time is worth is to start tracking your time for one month and figure out how many hours you are working during a 30 day period. Now evaluate all that your site is bringing in during the month (even a rough average is great). Now you can use those numbers to figure out what that hourly rate is. This should give you a rough idea of what your time is worth and if an opportunity is worth that amount of time.

5. Limit the Extras- Just recently it seems that I have gotten a lot of opportunities to travel for my work. It is a wonderful opportunity to get to go into a company and see how they work or sit in a round table discussion about their products and services.

The pitfall of traveling though is that I am away from my children and my life begins to feel out of balance because I am not able to keep up with my normal routines. Going away for even two days can put my household routines behind, my work schedule can become interrupted, and I become stressed.

I am now being more selective about those extra opportunities that come along and picking things that will benefit my readers the most, relationships that I would like to form with specific companies, and paid opportunities. I have also made the decision that one trip a month is all that I feel I can handle and it has to fit our criteria for that opportunity to come into fruition.

This doesn’t just apply to travel though, this also applies to all of those extras that can take me away from spending time with my family. Things like guest blogging for others, product reviews that are not a good fit for my audience, and many of the unpaid extras that I would have done before have been greatly reduced in efforts to remain balanced.

6. Develop Household Management Routines- What does household management have to do with blogging? In my opinion, it has everything to do with feeling balanced and running a successful business out of your home.

Just as I suggest scheduling working hours, developing a schedule for your home management will free up the time that you need to spend with your family. Don’t go overboard with your routines, but develop a rhythm that will make those day-to-day tasks more manageable.

Make sure that your work area is a pleasant place to be by tackling those piles of papers and creating a space that will allow you to be the most productive you can be. Add this time of clearing your desk as part of your weekly routine so that you can be the best blogger you can be in a distraction-free zone!

If you are looking for home management inspiration, my weekly routine can be found here. There will always be things that can get in the way of those tasks, but I do my best to stay within this routine so that my home life can remain balanced.

(Photo Credit: Peacock Modern)

7. Allow Room for Creativity in Your Schedule- The best thing that I have started doing for myself is giving myself an hour to do whatever I want with absolutely no guilt whatsoever. I use this time to knit, read, craft, or listen to music.

Before I was doing this, I would go to bed with my stomach in a ball and my head swirling with all the things I needed to get done the next day.

Do something that is creative or calming to you that hour before you head to bed and see how much balance it can bring back into your life. I feel no guilt about it because the more creative I am the more inspiration I can offer to others.

Out of all of these tips though, the one thing I can tell you is that if you are not living a great life offline, it will be difficult to live a full life online. You have to be living, loving, and engaging with your friends and family in order to feel completely balanced.

If your well is tapped dry, sit down with a notebook and jot down ways that you can bring balance back into your life. It will be the best thing that you can do for yourself and everyone will benefit from it- your readers, your family… but most of all, YOURSELF!

Are you struggling with balance? What helps bring balance to your life? Do you have any questions on my blogging routine? Please share or ask away!

Play It Again, Momma: The Player Scores & Silence

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
Photo Credit: Stu Steeger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Play It Again, Momma: Five Commandments for Blogging

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Starting this website has been a lesson in success and failure for me. When we started doing this site, I would have never dreamed that I would become so devoted towards something like this or lovingly refer to the site as “my other child,” but something about writing and sharing in this way has really clicked with my life right now.

When you enter the world of blogging, people can start their blog with several different ideas for what they hope to gain from the experience. Some use their blogs to share about something they are passionate about (photography, sewing, politics, cooking) and use their blogs to vocalize their passions. Some bloggers are parents who use their blog as a way to keep family up-to-date on everything that their children are up to. Still other bloggers enter the blogging arena as storytellers and they share their beautiful prose or funny stories with the world.

What you shouldn’t enter into this equation with is the hopes of earning wild and crazy money. I will be honest with you and say for the first year or so, I had little more than $20 a month to show for my efforts. If I was doing it for the money, I think I would have abandoned this gig a long time ago. No, money shouldn’t be a powerful motivator for blogging because few actually bring home enough to even cover a trip to McDonald’s…and yet, we continue to blog. We blog for burgers, we blog for pennies, and some of us blog for not a single dime. I respect all of those scenarios.

This year has been a bit of a new experience for me because new opportunities have come my way and I have been trying to keep the careful and beautiful balance that I am desperately trying to create here. Regardless of what has been thrown our way, I have tried to not compromise my content or to lose focus on why I started blogging in the first place.

Some things that I have discovered about myself….

Thou shalt not exploit thy children for money.

I love my kids so much and I would never ever want to exploit them in any way. Our family is the most precious thing in the world to me and I will never use them negatively in my writing. I try to be a positive parent even when stuff gets tough and I don’t want them looking back on things I have written and be mortified that their mom shared the stuff that I did. Gosh, if my mom wrote about some of the stuff I did when I was a kid, I would have been so hurt by that. I have even tried doing funny mommy stories and it just didn’t work for me because I am a private person and it didn’t feel comfortable for me. Blogging about parenting solutions or ways that we save our family money felt like a more comfortable platform for me and that is why I leaned towards it. It felt true to me and true to what I try to share with people. My mommy stories are better shared around a cup of coffee with my girlfriends than through the internet.

I recently was approached by a bigwig site to write a guest post and complain or rant about my kids and I know it would have boosted my traffic considerably. I turned that opportunity down and have had no regrets. I hope people see that writing in a positive way can be just as wonderful as writing negatively. In fact, I would much rather read someone who gave me solutions rather than to focus more negative attention on the problems I have. My life is not all rainbows and sunshine, but I hope to create a little piece of that for our readers. It makes me feel better about myself if I can be a positive person and surround myself with this positive community. I have had slow growth because of some of these decisions, but I would rather have ten really amazing people read my work than fifty who come to hear me rant and complain daily.

This is not to discredit all of the people out there who do that, but I knew I had to be true to myself and true to my kids to create the type of environment that I wanted in my life.

Thou shalt not worship the loot or the people who give it to you.

When I first started getting products, it felt like Christmas. I would fall over myself thanking people for the things they sent and making sure that they really loved my review. “Does this sound okay to you, PR person? I hope you love the review I wrote! XOXO, Amy” This was wrong of me and wrong to do to my readers. I would take anything that anyone wanted to give me, and I would write a glowing review. Hindsight is always 20/20 and now I look back and know that it didn’t feel right and wasn’t cohesive with the parenting site I was trying to build.

I am now very hesitant to take any loot because 1) I don’t want the PR people writing me over and over again to see if I wrote what I was supposed to as soon as I received it. 2) I don’t want so much stuff in my house.

I have learned to request only the things that our readers will really and truly love and I took it a step further…I give you guys as much loot as I can. If a company sends me a product now, I ask how we can benefit our readers. To me, this feels like a win-win solution and it makes me a lot happier to hear how much you are enjoying the stuff than to write about how much I am enjoying my stuff that you can’t have. If the reviews all seem glowing now, it is because I only pick things that I know I will like. For every ten things that come our way, we pick two of the best ones and feature those. Since we are more choosy, it results in fewer opportunities and sometimes fewer reviews to read, but I would rather preserve the quality of the things I can share on and give them away to others. If the company doesn’t do a giveaway with us, most of the products do end up getting donated to charity. I will admit that I have kept products too that our family would use, but we try to review items in all age ranges and if my kids are too old for a product or we are out of those stages (or not in those stages) we share them with others in the community. It feels good to do that and I hope to be able to do more of that.

Thou shalt not allow the blog to rule thy life.

It is hard to not let the blog rule your life…or reading other people’s blogs, or reading blogs about blogging, or listening to podcasts about blogs, or reading books on blogs. Basically, blogging can be a giant hole that can suck up your time and it can be easy to forget why you blogged in the first place. Let’s use my blog, for example, because I am narcissistic like that and love to talk about myself. I started blogging because I wanted to share ways that we save our family money and to show inexpensive solutions for homemakers. I also knew that I wanted to be a better mother and to be a “fun mommy” and share our ideas for things I do with my children. Now if I am on the computer all day and blogging all day, I end up doing none of those things. I am not being a fun mom, I am not saving money for our family, and I bet I can’t get dinner on the table because I was too busy on the computer all day.

I have learned to take advantage of nap time and after the kids go to bed to do my work. The majority of the rest of the day has to be focused on my family life. I try to jot down ideas or even start drafts of things that I want to write about, but those posts might be weeks or months down the road before I get the time to do them. I do the best I can and I am realizing that our readers will still be there if I write three times a day or three times a week.

Thou shalt not hog the spotlight or forget to network.

I have discovered that a big part of whether or not a blog is successful is really based upon the network and the community that they build. Even though I think really good writing and a good design are the most important things, the networking comes in a close third. You can have a fabulous blog, but if you have no one reading it, then it is just a private show for you. Where do you start? Start commenting on other people’s blogs and networking within a community of people who will find your stuff interesting. If you blog is about photography, for example, start commenting and linking to the people that you admire most. Do a round-up of great stuff about photography. Highlight blogs that illustrate points you are making in your own entries and email the people that have enjoyed reading to tell them what a big fan you are. Don’t spam them, but tell them what their work means to you. Offer feedback, share questions you have (which they could use for future material and even link back to you) and just be a groupie to the people you really love. In turn, they may link to you or might highlight you in an entry.

Thou shalt be open-minded towards things other than blogging.

Once you have built your community and have a great blog, other opportunities might start coming your way. Some of these might be paid gigs (speaking engagements, spokesperson opportunities) and others might not be paid gigs (television and print interviews, providing quotes for articles, reviewing products). Realize that whatever you do, you will be representing your blog/site and you will want the things that you say and the things that you do to reflect what you are doing in these other opportunities. For example, if I am a blogger who shares about cleaning & caring for your home, I wouldn’t want to go on the news and discuss the pros and cons of fast food. It just wouldn’t work together! When these opportunities come your way, make sure they are a good fit for you and what you hope to convey to others. Be open to those great paid opportunities, but understand that many opportunities don’t pay out. I look at the unpaid jobs as opportunities to prepare myself and practice for the paid opportunities. If you do something for your local news, save it and when a paid opportunity comes along you can say, “You can view my segment here and see how I do on camera.” That opportunity might not have paid anything, but it gives those paid gigs a better chance of happening because they can see exactly how great you are. Once that happens, you might start realizing that you get paid… just in a more roundabout kind of way. (image source: nbklx17)

What is one of your commandments for blogging?

Play It Again, Momma: Gaining a Readership the Frugal Way

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Q: How do you establish a reader base?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My signature line could be:

“Helpful financial advice for every mother!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiring Moms: Alli from Mrs. Fussypants Guide to Life

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Thank you all for entering our contest! I had to do the random number generator to choose our winner this time because all of the entries were so worthy. I would like to congratulate our winner, Andrea from Mommy Snacks, and we hope that this little gift will make her family’s holiday a little brighter. Andrea said this:

“I would give this to my mom. My father passed 3 years ago and there is a beautiful pic of the two of them that she keeps around – you can immediately sense his personality when you see that picture. Mom hasn’t taken off her wedding ring, not sure she will, not sure that’s easy to do. But, with this necklace, this pic will be close to her heart everyday and she’ll know – ring or not – he is with her :-)”

Thank you again to everyone who entered and check back each week for new giveaways!

I am such a fan of you, Alli, why did you decide to start blogging over at Mrs. Fussypants Guide to Life?

Thank you, Amy. And I, of you. I discovered blogs about a year and a half ago when I researching homeschool resources. I fell in love with blogs instantly. I wanted a site that would reflect me and be a collection of little bits of my personality. What I didn’t know is how blogging would change my life through all the amazing women I have met and grown to love through their words.

I try to keep in mind that my site is my time capsule. My sons, my grandchildren, and 25 generations to come will know of me through what I write. Hopefully someone will say, “Ol’ Great Granny Alli, she sure was a funny lady back then.” I love that thought.

I am the editor for your Family Bliss Channel for Blissfully Domestic so you know I am already a super fan. Can you tell our readers a little bit about what Blissfully Domestic is and what you hope to provide with your site?

Blissfully Domestic is an wonderful group of talented women who have joined together as the ‘Domestic Divas’. There are 14 channels and over 250 women who contribute.

My vision for Blissfully Domestic was to provide a platform for women to show off their wisdom. As a mother of little kids, I used to get lost in that role. It wasn’t until I discovered blogging and began sharing my thoughts with the world, that I realized I had more and more wisdom to share. I believe every woman has knowledge to share with the world!

Blissfully Domestic is different than most online magazines because we are 100% real women. I founded the site with $27 and a few friends sharing their wisdom in weekly articles. The success has been humbling and I am very honored to be at the helm of a magazine that is packed with meaningful, useful articles. I hope we are a blessing to all who write for the site and who read.

You threw your first blogger bash, Blissdom ’08 recently and are planning another event in February. What are you hoping to offer with this event and what makes it unique?

BlissDom was a celebration of the power and wonderful voice of female bloggers. We shared our secrets, our tips and our motivation. It was an amazing experience.

In February, I hope to bring more aspects of Blissfully Domestic in to BlissDom. My vision is a retreat weekend for women. I hope to incorporate Blissful Style, Blissful Home, Inspired Bliss, Family Bliss and more.

You know, I hear Family Bliss is a huge hit. {winks}

As a mother of a zillion children (just kidding), how do you balance motherhood with running your site?

I do have a whole bunch of boys! I have 5 sons, the youngest is 5 months and the oldest is 10. Balancing motherhood and my sites is a constant challenge. This year, after homeschooling my sons for years, I enrolled them in a small church school. I knew it was time to focus on my sites as a business and make sure the boys were getting what they needed. Now I work with a two year old playing cars around me and nursing the baby. Thank goodness for my wireless laptop.

Can you share one tip for a blogger who is just getting started?

Join Twitter and meet new friends. Keep your writing pithy, your pictures pretty and never use auto music.

Blogging, just like life is not a zero-sum game. Supporting the successes of others is very important. It is important to treat others in a respectful way and never be underhanded or cruel online. Online reputations are of utmost importance. Our circles are small and every single thing we do is public.

When building a blog, a brand or a large network- you will get back what you give. When you work with a passion and make it your goal to support others as well as yourself, others will be drawn for the right reasons.

In her free time, Alli works very hard at Fussypants Designs creating beautiful photo heirloom jewelry. Browse around her site and look at all of the beautiful choices and find out how to order them here for the holidays. Remember, it is always good to support our fabulous work-at-home mommas!

Alli has generously offered our readers the chance to win one of her amazing pieces of work. We will be giving one winner one of these beautiful necklaces. To enter, please leave a comment here by Wednesday (11/26) at 8PM (EST) and tell me who you would give this necklace to and why. The best answer to this question will win so please be creative with your responses. Be sure to sign in to your Blogger account so your name is clickable or leave your email address in the comments if you are signing in anonymously. I will need to be able to contact you if you win! Good luck, everyone!