Best & Worst Tools For Running Your Online Business

Best & Worst Tools For Running Your Online Business

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.

  1. Blogging tools
  2. Social Media
  3. Email Marketing
  4. Running your business

Blogging Tools

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:

  • Save Time
  • Save Money
  • Improve My Skills

is a Godsend to me. Now, I want to share them with you!

Web Hosting  

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.

Themes

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!

Plugins

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:

  • Updraft Plus for backing up.
  • Wordfence for security.
  • Jetpack lots of things.
  • Akismet for spam.

If you’re using Genesis then I add:

  • Genesis Enews (optins)
  • Simple Social Icons
  • Simple Social Share

If you’re using Divi

  • Bloom (optins)

All of those are free & if there’s something you want just search the plugin repository.

Free Courses

From WordPress

WP Beginners
Neliossoftware

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

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.

I could not run my business without Sendible!

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.

Then there is **Tailwind

I love using it for Pinterest.

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.

CoSchedule

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.

Email Marketing

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.

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How To Set Attainable Goals In 2020

How To Set Attainable Goals In 2020

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:

  • income stream
  • outsourcing costs
  • time spent on certain projects
  • social media growth (each platform)
  • analytics
  • 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.

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Women In Biz #10 Barbara Harmon

Women In Biz #10 Barbara Harmon

Welcome to the tenth in our “Women In Biz All Around WordPress” feature that will run the 1st Sunday of every month. It’s a new series where we spotlight amazing women and the ways in which they have used WordPress to spread their message, sell their products, or provide valuable services.

The hope is to inspire other midlife women to build their online businesses and find what we’re all looking for; financial freedom, a lifestyle they love, and excitement they may have been missing! All of these women are current or former clients of mine who have inspired me over the years and I think they will inspire you as well.

Barbara Harmon or Barb as I call her is a lovely woman who never fails to bring a smile to my face. She has faced hardships that many of us couldn’t even imagine but has somehow remained a beautiful, positive woman who looks toward the future with curiosity and excitement.

She recently became an ex-pat when she and her husband decided to have the grandest of adventures by moving to Pézenas, a small village in the south of France.! I am so jealous I have to admit but one day I’m determined to sit under the Eiffel Tower with her having a coffee and some great conversations.

Tell us a little bit about you

I’m a wife, mother, gram, retired cosmetic exec, entrepreneur, blogger, and now a full-time expat in Pézenas, France.

What made you first decide to build a blog or website? How long have you had your site? 

I started my first blog (The French Elements) in 2007 to tie in with an online business. Within months it became more of a journal than a business blog. It was a place to share family life, travel, hopes, dreams, and of course, goals as well as product. When my youngest son passed in 2015, I closed my shop and put the blog to bed. The passion for both was gone. In 2016, Chasing The Next Chapter was birthed.

What is your niche?

I’m a Gemini which pretty much says it all. Niche?… Travel, fashion, food, fun: and now I can add writing about life in a small, medieval village in France.

Of all of your blog posts or pages on your site which is your favorite?

I’m partial, so it’s difficult to choose a favorite, but post wise it has to be the series of posts titled You Know It’s Hot When. These are annual posts that began when I was writing my first blog. The inspiration was summer in Arizona, hell on earth. My favorite page, hands down, is The Journey Begins. If I ever need encouragement, I re-visit this page as it illustrates how far we’ve come. With grit, determination, and a whole lot of prayer, we achieved a life-changing goal in a short period. We became truly serious about moving overseas in October 2018. In June 2019, we realized that dream/goal when we moved to France. It was an incredible amount of work (STRESS) but worth every gray hair.

What is your favorite social media platform and why?

Instagram! It’s so easy (almost too easy) to quickly reach a variety of people with just a picture, a few words, and of course, the famous hashtag. IG has broadened my horizon and provided the opportunity to connect with folks around the globe—people I would never have ‘met.’ I wish there were fewer sponsored ads, though!

Do you find WordPress easy to maneuver or do you avoid the back end like the plague?

I have a love/hate relationship with WordPress, Rena. I’m always excited when I can make a change to the site, but most of the time, I’m sending you an email titled ‘HELP’ because I’ve screwed something up trying to do it myself. All I can say is, “Thank God; you respond quickly and with a smile.”

Is your site a business that makes money or a passion that makes your heart sing?

It’s a passion that does make my heart sing, but I also use it as a ‘work’ tool. Several years ago, I re-visited freelance writing (I found my voice—once more) and added a section titled Articles with a variety of my published work. It’s easy for an editor to quickly get a feel for my style by reading through a few pieces. I’m pleased to say, I’ve built some strong relationships and traveled to some exciting locations via this page!

If you use your site for business what do you sell or what service do you provide?

Well, my site isn’t monetized (those ads/pop-ups drive me crazy), but a freelance writer usually receives some type of compensation for articles written, so I ‘sell’ my voice.

 

What is one thing you’d like people to know about you?

I can spot a fantastic bargain a mile away.

Would you like a little more of Barbara? Find her here:

FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | PINTEREST | WEBSITE

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How Does Society Patronize Women When it Comes to Money? Ask Sally!

How Does Society Patronize Women When it Comes to Money? Ask Sally!

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.

 

Sallie’s answer:

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.

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The Seven Deadly Sins Of Web Design

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Web Design

Designing a well-built website is more than just pretty colors & fonts. There are do’s and don’ts that you need to be aware of. If you spot these don’ts on your own website I’m hoping you will recognize and fix immediately. It will benefit you, your readers, your pageviews and your followers.

#1 FONTS

Fonts that are too small or too light are a pain. I wear glasses and there are times that I can’t even read a piece of content because I literally can not see the font. Compose great headlines, write interesting content and use headline fonts that can grab attention. Also, line-height is an important factor. Give your text room! Big sections on content can overwhelm. Keep sentences & paragraphs short,

Think about it as an elevator. What do you do when the elevator door opens and it’s packed

#2 MOVING SLIDERS

A year or two moving sliders were all the rage, but as with everything else we began to see the drawbacks immediately. Slower sites, annoying movement or site bloat. Today moving sliders are so 2018 and if you’re still using them stop it!

#3 TOO MANY ADS

Listen, you’re never going to get rich running ads on your website BUT they can cost you big time. Site speed is so important these days and ads slow your site WAY DOWN! Not only that they’re annoying when there are so many you can hardly find the content. I assure you, your readers won’t. They will click off faster than you can say WAIT What?

#4 CONTENT OVERLOAD

I know it’s hard to create compelling content consistently (that’s a lot of c’s), but when you use long sentences and even longer paragraphs I can guarantee nobody is going to be reading it. People skim, they no longer read.

The best way to get more eyes on your content and lower that bounce rate is to write short complete sentences. Small paragraphs (no more than five sentences but even better three). Use your headlines correctly and space out your content so that it is easy to read quickly.

#5 BAD IMAGERY

As a designer, I think that imagery is so underrated. In my opinion, it’s the most important part of your content. Finding the right images isn’t easy but with loads of free stock photo sites, it’s a lot easier than before.

Think about your piece of content and find images that say what you mean. By that I mean if you write a post about blogging don’t use an image of a national park or if you’re a food blogger don’t use images that are money-related. I wrote the Essential Stock Image Guide that will show you what to use and where to find them.

#6 CONFUSING CONTENT

This is a little harder to explain, but what I mean is stay within your niche. If you’re a food blogger don’t suddenly throw in a travel piece. Or if you’re a travel blogger don’t suddenly start writing about crafting. It confuses your readers and a confused reader won’t be engaged.

I get it writing about the same things day after day gets boring and there are ways to incorporate different aspects. Maybe as a food blogger, you could write about the food in a city you just visited. Recreate the recipes or even build on it. If you’re a travel blogger write about the culture and display items of local color.

#7 COLOR & FONT HOARDING

This one is a constant fight. I get bored easily and changing things up keeps your site fresh and interesting BUT you can overdo it. Believe me, I can be the Queen of overdoing it. Using the wrong fonts in the wrong places or using too many different font types. Never use cursive in your main content. I seldom use serifs either just because it’s harder to read. A good crisp sans-serif is a great idea for your main font.

Limit yourself to no more than two different ones. You can always use different weights to help your content stand out. The more fonts the slower your site and the more confusing it can be to your reader. #thestruggleisreal

The same thing with color. Limits people! I never use more than three colors and seldom use that many. A good accent color and another to stand out against the rest. Any more can be confusing and choosing your color combinations is important.

It should be based on research for your niche and of course something that you AND your readers will relate to. Color psychology is real and it’s a very important step in the design process. For more information check out this post.

 

BONUS TIP

You should treat your website like the piece of prime real estate that it is. What I mean about is this;

When Google reads a website it goes from left to right just as you would read a book. So it stands to reason that the top left part of your website will be the most important space on the whole site. I’ve made a little illustration to show you exactly what I mean.

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Should You Save Your Money Or Invest It?

Should You Save Your Money Or Invest It?

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

Saving

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.

Investing

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.*

InvestingvsSavingComparison

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.

Are you ready to invest 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.”

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