Tips to Make It Work
After moving from Salt Lake to Superior, Wisconsin, I began life as a freelancer who worked at home. A dream for quite a while, working at home wasn't quite the easy transition I expected. It was so different from my "going to a workplace" life.
I mean, at home, I had free access to the fridge, books calling out to be read (of course, I worked in libraries before, and there were tons of books there as well), I had a lovely view of the woods and wild animals who visited. Who wouldn't be distracted?
Over time, I learned how to separate my work life from my personal life. Whether you're starting a freelance career, bring work home with you or engage in a creative hobby, here are a few tips I learned over the years to make getting it done at home work.
Separate Life, Separate Space
I discovered early on that working on the kitchen table wasn't exactly the best way to go about it. I sat in front of a huge window that looked right out into the woods. A bear here, a porcupine there - so much going on. It was also too close to our home's living areas where cooking, eating, watching TV and other activities took place.
Moving my office to one of the upstairs bedrooms changed that. I had a small window where I could look out and see the trees. I found I needed that respite. But that small window wasn't as distracting. This space became my work place.
You might not have an extra bedroom to convert into an office. That's OK. A corner of a room works, too. Move your working tools, desk and whatever else you need to a corner of a larger room. If possible, use a room divider to section the area off. Dedicate a space as a work area separate from the rest of the household.
Set Your Hours
Unless you're a plumber or someone who needs to be available in an emergency situation, designate office hours both for your own benefit and to control contact from clients. I found that clients attempted to contact me at all hours even though my attention was not generally an emergency.
My office hours begin in the early morning because that is when I am at my best. I begin work at a specific time each day and designate a closing hour as well. I often work beyond that, but it gives clients an idea about when I'm available and when I'm not.
During off hours, don't answer the phone, don't answer emails and don't connect any other way. I have made exceptions to this rule with clients I have a close working relationship with, and that is entirely up to you. But, keeping your personal and work life separate means designating specific hours to work with clients.
I really fight the tendency to sit down and get everything done before taking any kind of break. It turns out breaks are an important part of better productivity, though.
A ten-minute break away from intensive work every hour gives your mind and body a chance to recharge. Walk the dog, grab a cup of tea and sit on the deck or do whatever you need to do to get out of work mode for a few minutes.
And, don't forget to eat. Take a lunch break of at least a half-hour and enjoy it.
Of course, breaks are out the window when I'm on a creative roll or on a very tight deadline. That will happen to you, too. But most of the time, taking a quick break every hour makes you more productive, not less.
Home Is Where the Troubles Lie
Kids, partners and pets - home is where the heart is, and home is where all those other living beings are as well. And those living beings can be quite disruptive.
That's one reason designating work hours is a great idea. You have your "work" time the same way you did when you worked an outside job. You just don't have the commute.
Lay down some ground rules about how and when you can be interrupted during the course of your workday. It might take time before everyone complies, but your gentle or not-so-gentle reminders when you're interrupted for no good reason will get them into the habit.
Now about the pets - I love my pets and love having them around while I work. No question, they are distracting. Most of the time they let me work, but once in a while, a rowdy young cat wants to "help" me. So, out he goes as I shut the door after him.
It's Your Life
You'll likely be more productive working from home than you ever were in an office. Working at home gives you tremendous flexibility. And, that's the way you should look at the tips I just outlined. You will break every rule you make for work at home life at some point. Don't sweat it.
Working at home gives you the best of both worlds. You can be there when the kids get home from school. You can easily adjust your schedule for doctor appointments. You can work late to meet your deadlines without missing out on home life.
It's your working life, and it's your personal life. Use what works for you and adjust what doesn't. You'll find your own groove, and once you do, you'll never look back.
How about you? Do you have some tips about staying focused when you work at home? I'd love to hear your suggestions.
Do Your Product Descriptions Fall Flat?
#1: "Lamp is 12 inches high and has a warm glow."
#2: "Feel the warm glow as you sit beside this charming 12 inch antique style lamp. Curl up in your favorite chair and surround yourself with the lamp's soothing light. Leave the cares and stress of the day behind and soak in the gentle waves of comfort."
We're talking about the same lamp, but with different descriptions. Both descriptions tell you the lamp is 12 inches high. Both let you know the lamp has a warm glow. But, if you're like most people, the second description is a whole lot more appealing.
Why Product Descriptions Count
If you sell products online, you're one of the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people who sell the same or similar products. Even if you craft your own pieces for sale, it's likely someone else in the great big world of internet sales sells something along the same lines.
Well-written product descriptions do more than simply state the facts and price. A finely crafted product description moves people beyond browsing to purchasing. They make your products stand out. And, that's a big deal.
Effective product descriptions also give you an edge when it comes to search engine rankings. Incorporating keywords into descriptions counts.
The Tricky Ways of the Product Description
Writing effective product descriptions and incorporating keywords is a balancing act. A product description has to do a lot of things. It has to describe the product in an appealing way. It has to incorporate keywords without running afoul of Google's algorithms. And, it has to include accurate descriptions without going overboard. Sure, a little puffing is OK, but if you make wild claims, potential buyers run.
If you sell already produced products, the temptation to use the manufacturer's description is strong. It's also wrong. If you use the manufacturer description, your product is lost in the crowd both literally and in Google Land.
Tell Me a Story
Appealing product descriptions tell a story. They take the reader in and form a picture they can relate to. A great product description has the ability to make people want your product even if they weren't shopping for it in the first place.
Our second lamp description puts you in that chair sitting next to a beautiful lamp with a warm glow. Who wouldn't want to be there?
It's an Art AND a Science
Crafting words that create a picture is only part of the formula. Effective product descriptions include details, features, benefits and copy that appeals to your target buyer. And, sometimes you have very little space available to do all of that.
If word slaying isn't your thing and keeping up with Google and its constant changes gives you headaches, you're losing out on the advantages highly effective product descriptions bring.
Fear not! I can help. Contact me and let's get started.
Happy Labor Day!
By 1885, what began as a "workingmen's holiday" in New York became a nationwide celebration. On Monday, we celebrate the American worker. We celebrate ourselves.
Today Labor Day seems little more than a day off work, the unofficial end of summer as we transition into fall and lots of sales, sales and more sales. But, Labor Day began as a worker protest against a company that not only employed workers, but also controlled their lives.
The Pullman Company used the local Chicago South Side community as its worker pool and tightly controlled employee's living arrangements. Workers were banned from owning their own homes, were forced to rent living space from the company and rent, whatever amount the company demanded, was taken out of their paychecks.
The boiling point came when the company slashed employee wages without lowering rents. The newly formed American Railway Union (ARU) and its head, Eugene V. Debs, called for a series of wildcat strikes and boycotts against the Pullman Company that stopped railroad traffic going west of Detroit.
The company refused to give in to worker demands and a riot ensued that resulted in 37 deaths, 57 injured and $80 million in damages.
President Grover Cleveland signed a bill in June, 1894, that made Labor Day a national holiday. So, while you're eating burgers off the grill on Monday, thank those early union workers. The stand they took to improve the lives of workers across the country still resonates today.
I'm great at telling other people what to do. Just ask my siblings.
But, that's another story.
If we're talking about your business blog, my advice is that two posts a month is minimum. So, of course, the entire month's gone by without a post on my own.
In my defense, I've been busy. I landed a couple of new clients this month. I've been hard at work developing a blog site for a writer, too. And, I still have my regular clients to care for. Busy, busy...
I couldn't let the month go by without a single post on my blog, though. To make reading this post worthwhile, I offer an awesome and free invoicing app up for your perusal.
At heart, Harvest is a time tracking app that also has an invoicing option. You have to pay to get all the features, but it's free to sign up. Once you register for an account, you can create, track and send all the invoices you want absolutely free.
I used Fresh Books for many years. I still recommend Fresh Books to business owners who need the paid services they offer. But, the company changed its free plan and it no longer works for me. Harvest had me at "Free unlimited invoicing."
Next stop - August and the dog days of summer.
Where does the time go anyway?
What do you do if you've been busy with client work, spent most of one day this week in a doctor's office and haven't touched your own blog for a while? You write a blog post about how you haven't had time to write a blog post, that's what!
Paid work is great. In fact, if you're a freelancer, you have to have it. What it means for your own "house," though, is neglect. That's part of a freelancer's life. It's what happened with Dad. In an earlier post I wrote about how Dad painted houses for a living. Of course, ours was never completely painted. That's just how it works.
So, guess what? Today's post is a quick tip list for managing time better. Not that I think my time wasn't managed well this week. Or that I think yours wasn't. But a listicle is the standard when it comes to writing blog posts when you don't have a lot of time. And it sort of relates to my week. And probably yours, too.
Your Time Management Tip List:
Do you have time management tips not listed? Let me know in the comments.
I lost my "sister of the heart" to cancer just over a week ago.
It wasn't a surprise. My friend, who was not a biological sister but just as close, had gotten the word from her doctor in January that she had months, not years, left. When she told me what the doctor said, another friend and I immediately made plans to visit her. We were spread out across the country and it took some planning to coordinate flights. We managed.
We found her much changed. We expected that, of course. Bittersweet as it was, the time we spent together was precious. We all knew it was a goodbye.
Still, when she died on June 1, 2018, it was a blow. We'd been together just six weeks before, crying and laughing. It didn't seem real. And it still doesn't.
But, life goes on for the rest of us. And back to work we have to go. I confess, I am not doing either living or working well yet. I can't seem to focus on anything.
What follows is advice from others about how to work while we're still deep in grief.
1. Give Yourself a Break
Paolina Milana lost her sister unexpectedly in 2014. She remembers being in "robot mode" as she hurried home to make arrangements for the funeral. The real grief set in when she was back at work sitting at her desk.
Her advice? Give yourself a break. Be kind to yourself. Don't expect your work performance to be the same or even consistent for some time to come. Ask for help to carry your workload. This is not the time to take on additional projects or add unnecessary stress.
2. Take Things Slow for A While But Do Something
It's easy to shut down and do absolutely nothing when we grieve. I did that for the first two days. And that's OK.
But doing something at work, even if it's not the usual go-get-it-done project we usually take on, takes our mind to a place away from grief. We focus on something else for a time. In other words, we get a short reprieve from the sadness.
If you don't feel like working on a project or task by yourself, ask your boss or a coworker if you can help with something else until you feel more grounded.
Achieving goals, even if the achievements are small, gives us a sense of satisfaction.
3. Take Walks
Taking a walk during break or lunch hour gets us outside of ourselves and reduces stress. Even if you only have time for a short walk around the parking lot, do it.
4. Recognize that You'll Change
There's no doubt that grief changes you. The world looks different. Maybe it doesn't feel like a safe happy place anymore. It's normal to feel unsettled and afraid.
But grief can also bring about positive changes. Losing someone close makes us look at life in a different way. That irritating little habit your co-worker has doesn't seem as bothersome. Every day annoyances are insignificant in the greater scheme of our lives.
5. Honor the Memory
My sister-of-the-heart and I met many years ago when we both worked at the Marriott Library in Salt Lake City. We both loved to read, write and watch British films. She adored Benedict Cumberbatch.
Even after I moved away, we were in touch every single day through email. We shared family pictures, told each other what was happening in our lives, vented our frustrations and voiced our hopes for the future.
I so miss hearing from her every day. There is a hole in my heart that won't ever heal. But, she'd want me to go on with life. And I will. I'll never forget you, my sister. Rest easy.
Blog at Least Twice a Month? Yeah, Right!
You've heard me say it over and over again. A blog is a small business "must-have." An active blog builds your online reputation. It's a powerful and cost-effective tool that improves search engine rankings. But a small business blog has to be active, with a new post at least twice a month, or it won't do any of those things.
Twice a month? Yikes! That's a lot of blog posts. You already know your blog post can't be a sales pitch. You understand that each blog post has to be informative, engaging and offer useful information to its reader. And, you wonder, "How in the world can I come up with a different blog post topic twice a month?"
Worry not! It's not as difficult as you think. Here's a handy-dandy list of blog post ideas you can use right now:
Tip 1: Remember to add an authoritative link or two to each post.
Tip 2: Write in a conversational tone - pretend you're talking to a friend.
Tip 3: If you need help with your blog, contact me. That's why I'm here.
Additional Resource: Entrepreneur Magazine has more great blog post topic ideas here.
Business is people. Don't ever forget.
OK, I'm going to get serious today. Yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of my dad's death. I have a dear friend who is ill and not likely to recover. Monday is Memorial Day in the U.S. It's May, flowers are blooming and spring is in full swing. It's also a time of reflection.
What does this have to do with business? Quite a bit, actually.
It Can't Be 10 Years, Can It?
Dad was raised in a family with an abusive father. When Dad was a kid in gym class one day, a phys ed teacher saw welts on his back from the whip his father regularly used on Dad and his sisters.
The phys ed teacher reported the welts to authorities. Apparently a school official visited dad's father to talk to him about the way he "disciplined" his kids. Dad never knew for sure what was said but his father met him at the door when he came home from school that day, whipped him and said, "Show that to your g** d***** teacher."
Things were different then. Nothing more was ever said about the welts. Dad thought everyone grew up the way he did.
We now know that kids who are physically abused often abuse their families as well. Not my dad. He rarely laid a hand on us and when he did, it was at Mom's urging. That's a different story, though.
Dad did have one person on his side when he grew up and that was his stepmom. She'd raised him from babyhood. She was his strength and guiding light. If he hadn't had her on his side who knows what might have happened to him. He might never have been the loving father with a heart of gold that I knew.
Ten years ago I lost my biggest supporter.
Life & Death & Business
I hardly ever thought about death when I was in my 20s. Who does? But life takes its toll. My dad's been gone for 10 years. I am soon going to lose someone I love dearly. I know I am not alone. To be alive is to experience loss. It happens to all of us.
What does this have to do with your business? You're in business to make money, right? Sure, you need people to buy your services or products. Life and business are completely separate entities, right?
Nope, they're not. Business means people. Business owners are people. Customers are people. As a business owner you can't lose track of that fact.
What's It Mean?
You've read it before, folks — businesses that promote charitable causes do better financially. And often the bottom line is pointed to as the main reason to participate in community service. But, what we do in our lives and our businesses has to mean more than a dollar sign.
Let's turn it around. Let's plan charitable events and help the people in our local communities because it's the right thing to do. Let's offer superior customer service, not because it means more money, but because our customers are fellow life travelers dealing with issues we can't imagine.
Let's care about one another no matter what we're doing, whether it's business or holding a door open for someone at the grocery store. Let's treat our customers like family. Because really, that's exactly what we all are.
But you don't need the monster website of old
Websites used to be the standard bearer - the one chance you had online to make your small business stand out. A website had to do it all - from giving online users the basics as well as include the awesome descriptions of your services or products.
With social media you have an online arsenal where the basics are still important, but also where you can you can engage one-on-one with customers and prospects in ways you couldn't before. Add the meteoric rise of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets and it's clear that the effective website of today is vastly different from the website of yesterday.
You & Your New Website
Did you know always-on-the-go schedules and the use of mobile devices has left most of us with a shortened attention span? It's true. A charming little goldfish in a tank has a longer attention span than most of us do.
What do social media and short attention spans mean for small websites in 2018?
Here's what today's websites need:
But, What About That Change Thing Google Likes?
It's the one website rule that hasn't changed since the beginning. Even though websites still rank high with Google, static websites, or sites that don't change or update, do not. That's why a small business website, along with a redesign for today's users, needs a blog. Active blogs meet Google's update requirement and improve search engine rankings over time.
And while we're talking about Google's likes and dislikes, let's not forget to mention that Google penalizes websites that don't work on mobile devices. We don't want to be penalized now, do we?
BONUS TIP: One trend gaining in popularity is the one-page small business site. The one-page site typically uses links at the top for users to click through to the information they need. You can't get much simpler than that.
And, in case you forgot, I offer affordable, simple and effective small business web design services, too. But, enough about me...
If you came in on the second half of the discussion, you can find Part I here.
Small business websites designed with simplicity in mind...
For those of you who don't know my story, I began my professional online career as a web designer. I loved everything about creating websites, from the graphics to the content wordplay. As time went on, however, the technologies required for many websites became too great for a freelancer like me to keep up with.
That's when I decided to focus on writing content and blog posts, which is still my main focus. However, I can't seem to let go of web design. The fact is that most small businesses don't need a huge site with lots of bells & whistles. Simplicity is key. I am great at designing simple yet attractive websites. So, I'm once again adding web design to my service list.
Today I launched my revamped web design site. TTR Design was started in 1999. The name came about because when I first began designing websites, I offered free designs to animal rescue sites.* "To The Rescue" (TTR) was my motto and TTR Design was born.
I am excited about adding something I love to my services and look forward to working with small business clients. Together we can create a website that is affordable and simple that attracts new customers, informs current customers, enhances your business's online presence and improves search engine rankings.
Your new site will look great on mobile devices, too.
* I still offer discounted services to animal rescue organizations. Please contact me for more information.