Category: Resources

The Great Cloth Diaper Hunt 2012

A few years back I posted about the Great Cloth Diaper Hunt, an online scavenger hunt. Several small businesses, especially work-at-home-mom companies, sponsor the event by hiding a GCDH icon somewhere on their site. Thousands of hunters look for the hidden icons on the various sites, hoping to win the grand prize or even smaller daily prizes.

While the name of the hunt focuses on cloth diapering, many of the sponsors have other types of businesses. I’ve seen soap makers, knitters, jewelry designers, and more in the past.

Theda K. Communications, my writing company, is a sponsor this year! Please show your support by registering for the hunt, which starts May 1 and ends May 31, 2012. You can register anytime before it ends. Make sure you tell them that Theda K. Communications sent you (I might win free ad space if I refer lots of folks).

The hunt is really fun, and you learn a lot about cloth diapering and other small businesses. I remember fondly how much I learned while my daughter was still a baby (seems like a lifetime ago). I hope you register and enjoy the hunt! And if you have a small business, consider becoming a sponsor when the next hunt starts.

International Freelancers Day – Replays

If you missed out on International Freelancers Day in September, don’t fret. Until October 31, 2010, they have posted a few replays for free. If you like what you see, you can sign up to see the entire conference (also for free)! Just go to the International Freelancers Day replay page and get started. But hurry! It only lasts until October 31, 2010.

I did get a chance to see a few of the presentations, and they were simply wonderful. You certainly can’t beat the price. So what are you waiting for? Go check it out. But do let us know how you liked them. I can’t wait until next year!

Essential laptop accessories

Being a freelance writer, I love my laptop dearly. It’s like a second child. I can take it almost anywhere, even though I did opt for a pretty heavy laptop. I wanted a 17-inch screen and a keyboard complete with a numeric keypad. I also have a thing for playing computer games and running multiple applications.

With all that power comes heat, and I burned through one laptop (thank goodness it was still under warranty).

Lesson learned. I now own a cooling pad for the laptop, one of my essential can’t-live-without-it laptop accessories.

Cooling pads come in several types. Some have one or more moving fans that serve to suck the heat away from the computer. This is the kind I have. Other fan systems blow air onto the laptop. Fan-based cooling pads generally use USB cords, from the laptop, for their power source.

Other kinds of cooling pads are passive. They use chemicals that turn to gel when heated, which moves the heat to the pad and away from the laptop. Other passive pads are angled so that natural airflow is maximized.

Whatever kind of cooling pad you get, make sure you get one. It extends the life of your laptop and saves precious information. While I did get a replacement laptop, I lost all my files and documents.

Another really important accessory is a laptop sleeve. Obviously, this isn’t essential if you keep your laptop solely at home, but if you take it anywhere, your laptop needs some protection.

You can always get a regular laptop case, which has some type of handle for carrying. A laptop sleeve, however, is valuable because you can omit the (usually) bulky case. Sleeves have padding, but they aren’t suitable if you think you’re going to drop your laptop a lot (is that in anyone’s plans?)

A snug-fitting sleeve adds little weight to your laptop, so you can carry it in a regular bag with other things. Or you may just want to carry it in your arms while still getting some protection from scratches or light drops.

I haven’t gotten a sleeve yet, but that’s because I’m happy with just carrying a case. I’m not lugging around books for school, and I have to have a shoulder strap to keep my hands free.

What are your must-have laptop accessories? Which ones can you do without?

A little bird told me…

coloured chick

I started Tweeting almost one year ago. And boy, has it been an interesting journey! Twitter is a fascinating tool, and I’ve met cool people and learned new things. One of the things I love most about it is connecting with people in my local area. It’s also great for marketing your blog and, by default, your business.

There’s a lot of power to harness with Twitter, so if you haven’t yet given it a try, you’ve simply got to start! Here’s what you do. After you sign up, start following a few interesting people you know (like me), and take a look at who they’re following. Follow a few of them, and also start looking at some local people (like a local radio or news station). You’ll start getting followers as you start following. And be sure you actually Tweet too.

For more ideas, check out my first post on the subject of Twitter.

If you’re not already following me on Twitter, go ahead and do so. There’s a link to my CrayonWriter account under my picture.

Do you use Twitter a lot? How do you use it?

Google Voice for freelancers

Thanks to a good friend of mine I recently found out about Google Voice. And am I ever so glad I did!

Google Voice is a freelancer’s dream.

Here’s how it works. You choose a phone number you like. I chose one that’s local to my current home.

Say you don’t have long distance at home, like I don’t. But your cellphone reception is poor in your home, like mine is. If you’re online with your computer, type in the phone number you want to call. Like magic, your landline home phone rings! You pick it up, and your call is connected (for free) to the number you typed in.

Not in front of your computer? No problem. Pick up your landline and dial your Google Voice number. You’ll get an option to place a call. Anywhere in the U.S. and it’s free!

Even better, give your new Google Voice number to anyone, like clients. When they call you, you can set it up so that both your home and cellphone ring. So you’ll never miss an important client call, unless you want to. And they’ll have a professional, local number to call, and you can answer it wherever you are. If you’re staying out of town for a week, you can set it to ring the phone wherever you happen to be residing.

I also like that you can block certain numbers, and you can even set it to make the caller give their name first. If you want, you can send them to voicemail (and even listen to their voice message as they’re leaving it).

Anyway, I think it’s cool, and I like not having to give out my real number to people. Their caller ID shows my Google Voice number as well. And if I ever need to make a change then poof! No one has my real numbers anymore. But call blocking should take care of any annoyances too.

The only drawback is that you have to request an invitation from Google Voice, and then you have to wait patiently (I waited about a month) for your invitation. I have no idea how many they’re giving out, or if it’ll always be free. But for now it is, so head on over and put in your request. But choose your number wisely. It costs $10 to change it later. You can enter a word you’d like your number to correspond to, or search through for certain numbers in a sequence.

One more perk…If you have an Android cellphone (like I do), you can automatically make all of your outgoing cellphone calls using Google Voice. So your cellphone number is still protected from folks, and if you’re calling local clients they still get that local number.

Do you have Google Voice? Let us know if you do, or if you plan to get it soon.

Well-fed Writing

Now that I’ve decided to make my freelance writing business really work, I realize it’s time to make some serious moves.

First thing’s first. I need powerful ammunition to stay on-task and motivated. The first book I read on freelance commercial writing was The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman. His book laid out an easy-to-follow blueprint for success, and when I followed directions I really did make money. I had clients, a decent income, and I was on my way.

I do tend to get side-tracked (as you know), and Peter’s book was written mostly from his point-of-view. But he just published a new, updated, expanded edition. There are lots of anecdotes from other successful commercial writers, and I’m just so impressed with what he’s accomplished with this edition.

And his book came at just the right time. Right after I made my decision to get serious with my business, I got an email from him alerting me to his newest book. Serendipitous!

I’m also impressed with Peter’s willingness to answer questions. I’ve had several replies from him, though I’m careful not to overdo asking him stuff. Being personable has won me over as a fan. I’d buy and promote almost anything he writes since he takes the time to respond to inquiries.

Do you have dreams of becoming a successful commercial writer? Maybe we could start a writer’s group to motivate each other. Or if you already have a freelance writing business, maybe you need a good kick in the rear too.

Click on this link to check out the new edition of The Well-Fed Writer. You can buy it in ebook or hardcopy formats (or both), and there are a few other ebooks you should consider as well. I also got the Toolbox and Timeline, both of which are well-worth it.

When you buy it, let me know. I’d love to have others to discuss it with, and you can feel free to leave a mini-review in the comments.

What are you waiting for? Check out the 2009 The Well-Fed Writer and let me know if you’re as impressed with it as I am. His site also has a bunch of free things too, so if you’re even a little bit interested you should head over to The Well-Fed Writer.

Have you been bitten by the commercial writing bug?

Have you started Tweeting yet?

Colourful chicksPhoto by Elaine Tan

I joined Twitter a while back, but I didn’t really “get” it until recently. I just got a new job (the PERFECT job, I think), that will use my multi talents. I’ll be doing business writing, Tweets, Facebook, blogging, and more!

Being the diligent new employee, I quickly did a crash course on Twitter this weekend, and boy! There’s a lot to learn!

What’s amazing is how involved Twitter can get. I’ve subscribed to a great blog about it (ProBlogger’s TwiTips), and I’ve started following some of the top Twitterers.There’s so much to learn and read, and it’s all shared by fellow Twitterers.

So have you joined Twitter yet? Follow me @crayonwriter and be sure to let me know in the comments below that you’ve started following me. Twitter will be my microblog, so enjoy and join in the conversation(s)!

Maintaining Productivity in a Home Office


(Thank you to Jon for such a wonderful guest post!)

You’ve taken the plunge and decided to join the growing number of men and women who work at home. You’ve redesigned your work-space, updated your computer system, and put in a new phone line, and maybe a fax as well.

These are all important steps, but whether you’re a consultant, a freelancer, a student engaged in online education, or a contract worker doing something like medical billing, there are certain patterns you’ll need to set in order to remain productive when your commute is only a few feet, or a flight of stairs.

Here are some tips for staying in “work mode” during the work day, and maintaining your focus as well:

  • Keep Regular Hours: “Regular” in this case does not necessarily mean 8:00 – 5:00, unless you have a spouse or child who needs to follow that sort of schedule, in which case doing so may be easier for you. It does mean keep your hours consistent. You can work from 6:00 AM – 3:00 PM or 10:30 AM – 7:30 PM, or any other set of hours that works for you, but you’ll be most productive if you figure out a schedule that works for you, and stick to it.
  • Get Dressed: There’s no doubt that one of the more attractive elements of working from home is the ability to work in your pajamas, but you’ll be far better off if you actually get dressed every morning. Unless you’re meeting with clients or colleagues, you don’t have to dress in corporate drag, but you should make the effort to put on real clothing – it puts you in a “working” state of mind.
  • Make Lists: Whether you keep a simple list of goals for the month, week and/or day, or plan each hour of your day, keeping a list will help you stay on task, and account for your time, which is especially necessary if you bill per hour. If you forget to make a list in the morning, do it before you stop work for the day, and include things you already accomplished, then cross them off. It will help keep you feeling productive.
  • Close the Door: Even if you live alone, closing your office door when you’re working can help reinforce that “work mode” mind set, by preventing you from seeing the living room rug that needs to be vacuumed, or the big screen television that is calling you name. If you do have a spouse or children hovering, it reminds them – and you – that you mustn’t be disturbed. At the end of the day, closing your office door behind you also helps signal that you are “leaving” work, and reinforces the necessary separation we must all learn to make.
  • Turn Off the Phone and Instant Messaging: Text, Twitter, IM, and even normal phone calls are all time-eaters. If you routinely have calls to return, designate “call back” hours, during which you return messages, and list those hours on your outgoing voicemail messages, so you’re not constantly answering the phone. Keeping the text and internet messaging/social messaging tools turned off also keeps you focused on work. Give yourself a limited amount of time to interact online during the work day, rather than having things open all the time.
  • Music Helps: When you’re working without the buzz of water cooler chatter and other people’s conversations in your ear, the quiet can feel oppressive at times. Pop a CD in, or fire up iTunes and set it to shuffle, or even just turn on a radio. It will help you stay motivated, and also help make you feel less isolated. If music doesn’t do it for you, consider listening to podcasts, or talk radio.
  • Keep things Tidy: We may joke that clean desk is the sign of a sick mind, but the reality is that tidying your workspace at the end of the day, makes things seem much less overwhelming the next morning. Coming into your office to a clear desk allows you to get right into your work each day. Make end-of-day clean-up a habit. You’ll thank yourself later.
  • Exercise: A little bit of physical activity during the day helps boost energy. Whether you go to the gym before you begin working, or take your dog for a walk around the block during lunch, be sure to get some exercise in every day. This will also help you feel less antsy about being inside the rest of the time.

As we adjust to this economic downturn, many of us will be working from home, either to form our own niches, or to add secondary income streams to our existing jobs. Remembering that it’s still a job, even if the boss is you, and setting schedules and limits, will help you maximize your work hours, and minimize any stress.

Link love

rusty chain

Subscribing to others’ blogs is a great way to keep up with your interests, make new online friends, and learn new things. I’m subscribed to several, but hadn’t made the time (until today) to read through them.

As I peruse my feeds, I’ll let you know when I find some interesting articles.

There’s a wonderful list of resources, for any type of entrepreneur, over at Cath Lawson’s Tips for Success in Business & Life. I’ll be regularly checking her blog, since I seem to need lots of motivation to get my business(es) off the ground.

Stay tuned for more!

Dreams can come true

Barack Obama

“I’m Barack Obama. I’m the President!” said my three-year-old daughter yesterday. Isn’t it wonderful that we can finally say that one day she actually could be president?

I was born in the early 70’s, and didn’t experience as much of the blatant racism my parents and others have, but I’ve seen my share.

My mother remembers traveling down south from Michigan when she was a teen, and having to eat unrefrigerated food because restaurants didn’t serve Blacks.

My grandmother, who looked white, was able to eat in a restaurant once, while her husband had to wait outside. I’m guessing he felt it more important that his wife be able to eat even if he couldn’t.

My mother also remembers not knowing the rules in the south, and having strangers (Black) pull her off the sidewalk when a white person approached. She and her sisters also had to use disgustingly dirty restrooms because, of course, they couldn’t use the white restrooms on their trip down south.

And for me, I remember being spit on by a white man when my parents pulled up next to his truck at a stoplight. That was in the 80s, in Michigan, when I was just a kid.

Just 2 years ago a stranger, a white man, asked me if my daughter’s father was Black too. When I told him Yes, he was so happy! He said something like, “Good! Too many people try to mix the races.” A complete stranger!

I say all this to say that I’m still in awe that this country will have a Black president in a very short time. It’s finally sinking in that this is real. That people were tortured and killed for this to happen. And amazed and humbled that my daughter will grow up in this (hopefully) new age.

I know that racism isn’t gone. Far from it. I live in a pretty racist town, which is part of the reason I believe I haven’t been able to find a decent job (along with this being a bad economy…it’s not all about race, I know). We still have work to do, and hopefully people won’t think this wipes the slate clean.

But for now I’m just so humbled and almost speechless at what his election has accomplished. I just wish Dr. King and others were here to witness this miracle. What a great time to be an American!