Each year I am approached by companies wanting me to try their products & services and ultimately share them with all of you. Some have been great additions to my business others have left me disappointed and flummoxed. I thought I would share with you the best & the worst from the past year!
To begin with, I’m going to break it down into 4 categories.
Running your business
As you know (if you have a blog) there is always so much that needs to be done in a short amount of time so anything that I can find that will:
Improve My Skills
is a Godsend to me. Now, I want to share them with you!
I have my own hosting that I provide through Flywheel (owned by WPEngine) which runs $20 a month. We provide fast, secure hosting, free SSL’s, and amazing support. I only have three spots available.
For someone just starting out or on a tight budget I use **Bluehost. I have to say that I have set up hundreds of sites on Bluehost and not once have I ever had a problem. Once upon a time, Bluehost was considered the bottom of the barrel in terms of hosting, but a few years ago they turned it around and I have to say that I’ve been very impressed with how hard they have worked to improve every aspect of their service.
I have always been a Genesis girl and **Studio Press is the place to get the best themes. A few months ago I had the opportunity to work with **Divi by Elegant themes and I have to say that I absolutely love it! It’s so versatile and easy to use and saves me tons of time. There are so many things included that you hardly need any plugins at all!
Listen I know that those sneaky plugins get you where it hurts. I’m sure you have seen the notices in your dashboard ‘get this pro version’, ‘buy this’, ‘do that’. Nine times out of 10 you don’t need it. There are free plugins for just about anything. My go-to plugins are:
Hubspot created a blog post with 60 free online courses that you can take to improve your skills. If you don’t follow Hubspot’s blog you really should. There is always so much valuable information.
Would you like to learn more about Facebook ads? Here’s a great post by Insane Growth that explains it all.
Social media is the bane of my existence, but it’s also a necessary evil. I build websites and create content with business tips for bloggers, entrepreneurs & small businesses. I get asked to try a lot of different social media scheduling tool and here is my honest opinion.
**#1 For me is Sendible.com. I run three different websites and manage several clients’ social media accounts. Scheduling blog posts and monitoring keywords that I set up, even monitoring my competitor’s social media accounts. If you run multiple blogs or social media accounts
Sendible is the best.
Most places make you pay per account so for three sites I would have to have three different accounts. I would only be able to pick up one RSS feed unless I had three different accounts.
Sendible is different. I have a set number of services I can set up and it doesn’t matter how many RSS feeds you pick up and auto-posts new pieces. You can schedule them to repeat however many times it’s all completely up to you. I post to five different FB pages for various people and with Sendible I can do it automatically saving myself lots of time.
I know I’m not taking full advantage of the features but what I am using I love. BUT I don’t like them for Instagram. I tried it I really did, but it was just too confusing and I wasting to much time trying to figure it out.
A few years ago I bought a lifetime membership for Grum.co for only $39 and I love it for scheduling Instagram posts. That’s all it does Instagram, but it’s so easy to use. Unfortunately, they are no longer taking on new customers. If I didn’t have this I would make the time for Tailwind, but this one is just to easy and it’s a lifetime purchase.
I love Co-schedule I really do, but because of the limitations of only having one site on one account, I just can’t justify that expense when I have other options. It offers a boatload of features and it’s easy to use.
There is really no “free” service for scheduling your content. You can use “Publicize” inside your WordPress site and it will automatically post to FB, Twitter, & LinkedIn.
I know that Buffer offers a free version but I’m not sure of its limitations. I’ve always found it too confusing to use.
If you’re going to spend money this is one of the places where I say if you can pay for it then get it. A good social media scheduler can save you loads of time while helping you build your tribe.
In today’s 24/7, 100mph world if you’re not marketing through email then you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. You should absolutely be sending a welcome email sequence & sending out an RSS to your subscribers.
A few months ago, I was singing the praises of **Engagebay and I learned a very valuable lesson. Sometimes quick decisions can be the wrong decisions. It can send beautiful emails, there are tools for marketing, sales or service. I feel as if it is an excellent platform, but it just didn’t fit my needs. The main problem was the RSS emails. There just wasn’t enough flexibility and I actually sent out a few crazy emails before I gave up.
If you’re running a small business then I cannot recommend Engagebay enough. It’s beautiful, easy to use and handles so many tasks. It’s also affordable. Here is a link to their Youtube channel which has a lot of info about its features. It’s a great platform I just tend to have a problem with change I guess.
So, I’m back at MailChimp and that’s where I’m staying! I know my way around, it’s easy to use (most of the time) and it’s cheap. They have changed things and unless you have a paid account you are limited in what you can do. Such as only having one audience(list), limitations on automation, etc. I pay for The Blogging 911 account and use the free version for Wanding Web Designer & The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver my other two sites. The paid version runs me $9.63 a month.
Have you seen my the MAILCHIMP EXPLAINED ebook in the 911 Resource Library? It’s just one of the many free resources inside.
I’ve worked with ConvertKit before and it is easy to use. I didn’t like the design limitations and figure if I’m going to spend $30 a month it needs to have a lot more.
Running your Business
There are several tools that I use every single day to run my business. Some are free (well most are free) but they are still necessary. Tools such as:
17Hats – is an all-around scheduling tool, lead capture forms, templates such as contracts or estimates. It runs $39 a month for all of its features and there are many. I personally only use the free version because I use the templates & lead capture forms (those project inquiry forms you see around here).
Acuity Scheduling – If you need an easy way for people to schedule appointments I highly recommend Acuity. Their free version has always been more than enough for me.
Asana – This is my project management tool and it keeps me on track when I’m building out a new site, managing other projects or even just things I need to do. There is both a free and paid version and I’ve always found the free version more than enough for my needs.
Canva – There is a free version of Canva that works very well. I use Canva almost every single day and I love it for it’s easy to use dashboard, to the free and paid elements like stock photos, icons, frames, colors, and fonts. For this, I splurge and get the paid version so that I can store my own logos, my fonts (up to 25) and my brand colors for $12.95.
Google Drive – Also free. I use it to store all of my clients’ assets. I like how easy it is and it works great with Gmail which is another great free tool. I do use the paid version of this and it runs $6 a month and I have tons of storage and it’s easy to use.
One Drive – This is part of my Microsoft subscription which is about $7 a month. This is where I keep all of my assets. (Such as stock images, templates, or other graphics).
Dropbox – This is where I store all of the backups for my clients & my own personal websites. This costs around $10 but they’ve added a bunch of new features.
Screencast-o-matic – This another thing I purchased from Sumo. It was a lifetime subscription for only $39 and I use it whenever I need to make tutorials or other videos where I share my screen. It’s something I purchased on APPSUMO.
APPSUMO – is a great place to find great deals on products or services to run your business! They always have freebies or lifetime deals that will save you tons of time and money.
Know some great tools that I might not know about? Let me know in the comments below.
**Means that it is an affiliate link if you purchase a service, with the (**) beside it, means that I will earn a small commission that will in no way affect your cost.
It’s easy to set a goal. It can be as simple as I want to go XXX in 2020 or I want to improve my social media following, but goals like this are seldom successful. These goals are too broad. They’re undefined.
Wikipedia’s definition of a goal is:
A goal is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, plan and commit to achieving. People endeavor to reach goals within a finite time by setting deadlines.
A goal is something you work for. It’s not given to you.
A goal is a way of improving, of growing, of enhancing even.
A goal is a way of measuring the success of your business.
You have to drill down and get the answers to where you are right at this moment and where you want to be in a future moment.
It’s a specific growth in a specific time frame.
How often do you measure your business? Things like:
time spent on certain projects
social media growth (each platform)
ad sources & conversions
At the end of this year, 2019, I will have published 40 blog posts. I actually thought I had done a better job and was surprised the number was so low. I run three websites and write all of the content for two of them so maybe it’s not to bad.
Anyway, I wrote 40 posts. Next year, I would like to create a blog post every week. So I need to create 12 more than I did last. year. It’s specific and it is attainable if I work a little harder.
I try and concentrate on three social media platforms even though I’m on most of the big ones. I only want to put my best effort into proven strategies that I’ve used in the past.
Wandering Web Designer is a relatively new site, but right now I have 182 Likes which honestly sucks. The Blogging 911 has 531 Likes and The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver has 862 Likes. These numbers are nothing to write home about. Facebook is the least favorite of my top three but often it is highest in referrals.
I know that I need to increase these numbers but I’m not really sure how to accomplish this. I’m also not willing to put in a lot of effort because I just don’t care much for the platform. An important thing for us to remember though it shouldn’t matter which social platform we like it only matters what our readers, customers or clients prefer.
Still, if we’re not improving we’re growing stagnant. I would like to increase each of these accounts by at least 100 likes each. That’s a specific goal and that, with a little hard work, is attainable which leads to greater success by keeping a positive outlook. Let’s face it. If we don’t like it we really aren’t going to reach the ultimate success and maybe that’s okay for some things.
I’ve been concentrating on Instagram and Pinterest lately just because I like them over FB. I’m not a people person and I like that it takes less engagement, unlike FB. I’m shy and I constantly second guess myself on what I should be posting to FB and that in a nutshell is why I don’t like it. It overwhelms me.
I have two Instagram accounts. one for The Blogging 911 & the other Wandering Web Designer. On 911 I have 3,277 followers & on WWD I have about 3,133 followers. I’ve been putting so much hard work into these two accounts and I know that I can do even better by creating the weekly content.
I also have, you guessed it, two Pinterest accounts. The Blogging 911 has 399 followers which can definitely use some improvement, but it’s not enough to say I want to build my community larger on Pinterest. You need specifics & you need a plan. I would like to build my Pinterest account up to at least 1,000 by the end of 2020.
On Wandering Web Designer has 1.6 thousand followers and I’d like to improve it by 400. So by the end of 2020, I’d like to have 2,000 followers.
Once I’ve figured out my goals, the next thing I need to do is create a specific plan to attain it. Write it all out. There’s nothing like seeing statistics and plans on paper to make them real. Check your growth at set intervals. Maybe every month or every 3 months. It’s totally up to you.
Make a plan
Write it down
follow your growth
tweak your plan
If you drill down to the specifics and set attainable (while still pushing yourself) goals you will achieve success whatever your goals might be.
We’ve been talking about how society patronizes women when it comes to money quite a bit lately. But what, exactly, does that look like? Sallie has a few thoughts on this one.
By making us feel guilty.
By making us think that not buying a coffee from a coffee shop can help us become millionaires. By telling us that we have to save, and budget, and not talking to us about investing. Telling us that we’re risk-averse. All the messages we get, as women, about money, that are guilt-inducing and shame-inducing.
It starts in childhood when parents talk to their little girls about budgeting, and saving, and being careful, and little boys about making money, and being the CEO, and going to the top of the jungle gym. It continues as we become young adults and we are told to “take the money quiz” to find out our “money type,” while the guys are told about diversified investment portfolios.
The result of all of this is that the primary emotions so many women feel around money are shame, and loneliness, and isolation.
We need to break this down, get rid of the guilt. Don’t listen to the patronizing voices, and talk about money.
Are you ready to get started building your future?
*I’m excited to work with Ellevest to start conversations about women and money. If you become a client, I will be compensated.
Both investing and saving involve setting aside money today to prepare for the future. So it’s understandable that some people mix them up, or think of them as alternatives to one another. But they aren’t the same, and how you combine them can have a big effect on your money.
The real difference between saving and investing is where you’re putting your money — which, in turn, influences how much risk you’re taking, and how much your money could grow while it’s saved / invested.
How saving and investing work
Piggy banks and mattress hoards technically count, but when we talk about saving, we really mean putting your money in a savings account at a bank — one that’s insured by the FDIC. FDIC insurance guarantees that if something happens to the bank you’re using, you won’t lose any of your money (up to $250,000). That means when you save (up to that much), you’re taking zero risks.
When you put your money in a savings account, you earn a small amount of interest. The national average is 0.09%, and even “high yield” savings accounts only pay around 2%. That’s because technically, the bank is paying to borrow that money from you — they use cash flow from customer deposits to loan money to other people (and charge their own interest).
Still, you can withdraw your money any time you want. There’s a fee, though, if you make more than six withdrawals a month, which is meant to entice you to keep your savings in the bank. (There’s no penalty for taking money out of a checking account, like when you pay bills — but checking accounts don’t generally pay interest.)
Bottom line: Savings accounts are really safe, pay a small amount of interest, and allow you to get your money out quickly.
When you invest your money, you’re using your cash to buy investments. That might mean you own individual stocks, bonds, or alternative investments; or it might mean you own shares of a fund (aka a basket of individual investments), like you’ll have if you’re an online client of Ellevest.
As the values of your individual investments go up (or down), the value of your investment account will go up (or down). You might also earn payments called dividends from stocks, and interest from bonds. All that’s what makes it possible to earn (or lose) money by investing. The exact amount of risk involved depends on what kinds of investments you own.
So think of investing not as “spending” your money, but simply changing how it works. True, it’s not exactly the same as having cash (for one thing, you can’t pay rent with it). And as we mentioned, your investments might become worth substantially more or less than the cash you originally paid for them. But you can sell your investments to turn them back into cash any time you want — just give it a couple days to process. (You might also owe taxes if you sell investments that have gone up in value since you bought them.)
Bottom line: Like saving, investing is a way to put aside money for the future, while still giving you pretty quick access to that money if you need it. But unlike with a savings account, investing involves risk.
So if investing involves risk, why not just save all your money instead?
We’ll tell you why: Historically, over the long term, investing has been a lot more powerful than saving. This is true because investing involves risk — people demand to be compensated for taking on the extra risk of investing their money.
Does taking a risk feel uncomfortable? We get it. But when you’re talking about your biggest money goals, like retiring, you can’t really afford not to invest. That’s because — even though some individual years were up and some years were down — over the past 91 years, the stock market has returned an annual average of 9.5%. (Timely reminder: Savings accounts = 0.09% interest. For context, inflation has historically hovered around 2%.)
To put that into context, here’s what we project could happen if someone were to save / invest $25 a month for 40 years.*
Here’s why this matters: Research shows that women keep 71% of their assets in cash, compared with 60% for men — so they could be missing out on potential investing returns. Add in things like the gender pay gap, and it’s no wonder that generally, women retire with two-thirds as much money (and worse for women of color), even though they live an average of six to eight years longer. In fact, this gender investing gap could cost women hundreds of thousands — for some women, millions — of dollars over the course of their lives.
When you should save and when you should invest
So yes, we believe you should invest. But that doesn’t mean saving isn’t sometimes the right choice. There’s a time and place for both.
Whether you save or invest has to do with two things: time and risk. If you’re planning to need your money in the next year or two, then it might make sense to save. That’s because if the investing markets took a tumble, you wouldn’t have much time to give it a chance to recover. You should also use a savings account for the money in your emergency fund — if (when) you need that money for financial emergencies, it has to be there, 100% safe and sound.
On the other hand, if you have three-plus years until you’re going to need your money, then investing can make sense instead. And the longer your timeline, the more important it is to consider investing over saving. You also might choose to invest any money that you don’t need — aka money that you just want to grow as quickly as possible (and aren’t afraid to take risk with).
Moral of the story: Put both saving and investing on your money checklist. They aren’t the same, but they’re both useful. And they’re both part of a smart, future-focused financial plan. Get started today.
Every blogger knows just how difficult it is to build a successful blog. There are so many things that you have to learn about that most people don’t even consider. Things like:
Understanding email marketing
and that list goes on and on and on. You know the old joke:
How many hats does an entrepreneur where? ANSWER: All of them!
One thing that isn’t often talked about but is definitely a necessity is analytics. If you do affiliate marketing, sponsored posts or make money off of your site in any way you need to know the stats behind it.
Things like pageviews, unique visitors, bounce rates. Terms like this usually invoke either 1. Your eyes glaze over and you skim the rest of the article or 2. Confusion about what it all means.
Today, I’m going to show you two Google Analytic filters that every blogger should be using as well.
Filters are a way of weeding out the events that you don’t want in your final counts. The first of which is the IP filter. What does this mean? You need to be filtering out your own IP address so that you are not counted along with your other stats. Why you ask? Because without this particular filter you won’t get an accurate picture of how your site is doing.
So, together we’re going to set up an IP filter. It’s really simple so don’t panic!
The next filter we’re going to set up is to keep your analytics from being hijacked. In the video below I show you exactly how to set up both filters.
How can someone hijack your analytics? Well, there’s a little known way of finding out anyone’s GA code. It’s very simple.
Go to your website.
Right-click your mouse.
Choose “Page Source”.
Hit CTRL + F for the find command and type in GA.
Scroll down and you’ll see your own GA code.
There isn’t a way to hide them from this view so the only thing you can do is to add a filter that will keep your GA code safe from hijacking.
Go into your GA account, click on ADMIN>>Filters. Add a new filter and then choose “CREATE NEW FILTER” and give it a name that you will remember.
Scroll down and hit “CUSTOM” and then check the “Include” button. In the dropdown choose HOSTNAME and in the box below type in YOURDOMAINNAME.COM & click save! It’s that easy.
Need a little more help? Try this video I made to show you how to quickly filter out your IP address and including only your own hostname.
Have questions? Let me know in the comments below!
If summer’s self-care mood is “treat yourself,” then fall’s self-care mood is “let’s do the damn thing.” Enter: financial self-care. Because a) summer was expensive (lookin’ at you, Charleston vacation), b) September is Self-Care Month anyway and it’s better late than never (it’s a thing, I promise) and c) getting your money stuff in order feels A-Maz-ing.
So here’s your fall financial self-care checklist. Grab your calculator & not the one on your phone because it’s probably right next to the FB button. Nope, grab a real-life 1980’s style calculator! What? You don’t have one of those? #geeksneedlovetoo Grab a calendar, a notebook, and sharp pencil or whatever it is you use to “do the damn thing” and let’s get down to it!
1. Track down your most recent pay stubs
Start by getting an understanding of how much money you have coming in each month. Grab your paycheck stubs from the past month and give them a look.
First, calculate how much you’re making after taxes — aka your take-home pay. This may or may not be equal to the final amount of your check: If you have money withheld for 401(k) contributions, insurance premiums, or other employee benefits like that, then those will come into play later. For now, just look at your gross pay minus taxes. How much take-home pay do you earn in one month?
If you get paid irregularly, like if you rely on freelance income, then this might be a bit trickier. We recommend calculating your take-home pay from the last few months and then taking an average.
2. Get to know your current spending habits
Next, pull up your debit and credit card statements and look through your past few months of purchases. Categorize them into three buckets: needs (groceries, rent, etc), fun (eating out, buying things you wanted, etc), and “Future You” (saving, investing, and debt payments beyond the minimums).
This is where those paycheck withholdings we mentioned above come in. Any 401(k) contributions you’re making go in the “Future You” bucket, and insurance premiums go in the needs bucket. You can categorize any other withholdings however makes sense — for example, a public transit benefit might go in needs, and a gym membership might go in fun.
Finally, add them all up. How much are you spending on each bucket per month? There are no wrong answers — this exercise isn’t meant to make you feel guilty, it’s just to see where you’re starting from today.
3. Set a goal for your future spending habits
Now it’s time to make a plan. We like the 50/30/20 rule, which is a high-level framework for organizing your spending. It uses the same buckets we mentioned above. Traditionally, following the 50/30/20 rule means 50% of your take-home pay will go to needs, 30% will go to fun, and 20% will to Future You.
But those percentages might not be realistic for you — which is why step two on this list was so important. Based on your spending habits today, set yourself a realistic goal for tomorrow. Maybe it’s 70/20/10, or 60/20/20, or 80/15/5. It’s flexible.
Even if you can only put 1% to Future You, start there. Over time, you can work on trimming expenses or boosting your income so that you can increase that percentage over time.
4. Take the next step with your 401(k)
Two things, specifically. First, if your employer offers a 401(k) employer match but you aren’t taking full advantage of it, then sign up and start contributing enough to get the full match. That’s free money, y’all.
Second, if you have an old 401(k) or two (or however many) from a previous employer just chillin’ out there, think about rolling it over. You could roll it over into your new employer’s plan if they let you, or an IRA. Either way, it can be super helpful to get everything in one place. (PS: This isn’t as much of a process as it might seem. When you start a rollover with Ellevest, we’ll guide you through the steps.)
5. Prioritize your debt payments
Being in debt — credit cards, student loans, personal loans, etc — doesn’t feel good. But paying your debt off does. The fastest way to do it is to pay more than the minimum required payments if you can. That will also save you money because the longer you take to pay debt off, the more interest you’ll owe.
So if you have debt and can make extra payments, the next step is to figure out which debt you want to focus on first. There are two popular strategies: To start with the balance that has the highest interest rate, or to start with the balance that has the smallest outstanding balance. Here’s some more info on those two methods and how to put them into practice.
6. Set an emergency fund target
Financial emergencies are a fact of life. Cars need repairs. People (and pets) get sick. Phones and computers break. This is why building an emergency fund is a big part of getting your financial life in a stable place.
We typically recommend saving between three and six months’ worth of your take-home pay. (Here’s how to decide exactly how much is right for you.) That might sound like a lot, but it’s totally OK to start small and work your way up over time. But today, your goal is just to figure out how much you want to aim for. Maybe, if you don’t have high-interest debt, you even open an account and make your first deposit.
7. Start investing toward your goals
If you’ve finished the first six steps of this checklist — first of all, you’re crushing it. Keep the momentum going by starting to prioritize and invest toward your long-term money goals. Goals like ramping up your retirement contributions, or like buying a home or starting a business.
Financial self-care checklist complete. Now light an apple-scented candle, put some chili on the stove, and enjoy the fall vibes.
Are you ready to start investing in yourself? Start here!
“I’m excited to work with Ellevest to start conversations about women and money. If you become a client, I will be compensated.”