Saving money – online and off

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As a mother, I try to find any and every opportunity to make money and save money. Making money is pretty straightforward (though not necessarily easy, I admit). You have to either find someone to employ you, find someone to buy stuff from you, or invest your money so it can work for you.

But saving money is another way to “make” money, and couponing something a lot of my friends are doing. It’s not something I’m great at (yet), but I do try. You may have heard of “extreme couponing,” where people buy groceries worth hundreds of dollars and wind up paying a fraction of the cost. Some people even wind up getting money back when they go to the store. Extreme couponing usually means clipping coupons, stacking coupons, and buying items in bulk. Personally, I’m not the most organized person in the world, so adding lots of paper to my life isn’t the best idea.

What I am good at is using online coupons. Being a freelancer, I spend a lot of time online, so that’s also where I tend to do my shopping. Also, unlike the stereotype, I abhor going shopping in malls and such. Online coupons are usually in the form of coupon codes. So there’s no clipping involved. You just take note of the code, found on various coupon code websites. When you make your online payment, there is usually a spot for you to type in the code. It’s super easy. I use coupon codes for things like webhosting, clothing, toys, and more.

The thing about coupon codes is you have to find reputable sites, and you have to keep checking. Codes expire all the time, but there are also always new ones. Before you shop at any online store or buy any product or service online, check to see if you can find a code for that company.

Coupons are an excellent way to save money, both online and off. If you’re not using coupon codes online, you’re pretty much throwing money away.

5 Tips for an Extrovert Working Alone

Are you an extrovert working from home or in an introverted field? That’s exactly what I’m doing. I think out loud (really…I talk to myself if I have to). I feel sluggish when I’m alone too much. I’m a “people person” in general. As a writer, however, I spend a lot of time alone. And it’s not the easiest thing in the world for me to do. Lucikily, I’m more of an introverted extrovert, so I can take alone time in semi-long doses. But being alone daily tends to make me off-focus.

Do you consider yourself an extrovert? I’ve come to this conclusion about myself by taking several tests based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests, and I pretty consistently score as an ENFP (the “E” stands for extroversion).

I also really enjoyed this article about introverts, which really made it clear to me that I am, indeed, an extrovert.

So what’s an extrovert working in an introverted job to do? Here are some tips I’ve compiled from “expert” extroverts I know.

  1. Recharge your battery every couple of hours. Call a friend, go for a walk, or chat online with a friend.
  2. Find a buddy who has a similar need. Make time throughout the day or week to chat in person.
  3. Consider working in a new location with new people around. If you work from home, try working at a local coffee shop a few days a week.
  4. Go grocery shopping. You’ll be sure to find someone who can help recharge your battery.
  5. If you can’t find someone to talk with or hang out with, try listening to talk radio or watch a short clip of an action-packed movie.

What tips do you have for other extroverts who work alone?

Do You Need a Freelance Writer?

One of the hardest things about being a freelance writer is convincing businesses that yes, hiring a freelancer is a wise thing to do.

Are you a business owner? Let me guess some reasons you might not think a freelancer is for you.

1.You’re a pretty good writer, right? Why hire someone else to do what you can take care of on your own?

  • The simple answer to this is that your time is not unlimited. While you may write exceptionally well, if you have a million other tasks to complete, perhaps writing is something you should outsource.

2. You want control. You’d rather have someone in your office so you can look over his shoulder while he works. You want to see what you’re paying for, while it’s happening.

  • This makes sense. That’s why employees generally work in the office. But think about it. Do you really want to hire another employee? There are taxes to pay, paperwork to complete, desk space and computers to provide, paper and other supplies for printing and such, and the list can go on. If you have an employee on-site, you’re liable for workers’ compensation in some cases, and at least liable if they slip and fall in the office. Not to mention that employees converse with others, take bathroom/smoking/snack breaks, check their cellphones and make personal calls, and any other number of off-task activities. All of which you’re paying for…by the hour.
  • A freelancer charges only for time-on-task, especially if you pay them per project. If the cost of brochure copy is an agreed-upon $1000 (for instance), it doesn’t matter if the freelancer takes a shower while banging out your copy. You pay $1000 for the brochure. Period. No need to micromanage. No need to watch over his shoulder. When you purchase a car, you don’t watch each piece being manufactured. You don’t pay by the hour for its assembly. You just pay for the finished product.

3. You know someone who can do it for less. I’m guessing you might have a cousin or a brother-in-law who can write. Why not just give him a few dollars (or nothing at all) and have him write your copy?

  • This one isn’t one I’ll answer straight out. If you’ve ever worked with family, you already know this isn’t the best idea in the world. If you haven’t, and you want to give it a try…vaya con Dios. And then hire a professional freelance writer after the ordeal is over.

Are you a business owner? Have you ever hired a freelance writer? Why or why not? Tell us about your experience(s).

Freelance Timekeeping

vintage parking meter

So you’re a freelancer. Maybe you write for businesses. Maybe you’re a graphic designer. Whatever kind of freelance work you do, it’s essential that you keep track of your time. You need to know how long it takes you to finish a 3-panel brochure. Otherwise, the next time you quote your project, you may estimate incorrectly. You might also need to work on an hourly basis from time-to-time, so of course you’ll need to know exactly how much you should charge the client.

The wonderful thing about freelancing, from your client’s perspective, is that they pay you only for time on task. You’re not paid for phone breaks, laundry time, or the 20 minutes it took you to wash your dishes. If you work from home, these little interruptions can add up. Unless you’re able to work for uninterrupted blocks of time, you need a system to keep track of your time.

Now, how fancy do you want to get? There are lots of cool tools you can use on your computer. Check out this list from Freelance Switch. Or you can use a stopwatch that allows you to stop it for breaks and restart it from the last time when you’re ready. You can download a stopwatch application for your smartphone also. Or you can just take note of the time on a piece of paper, and write down when you stop, and write down when you start again. Later, you just add up all the time.

After you’ve done timekeeping for several projects, you probably will need to have some system in place to keep a log of total time spent. This is great for future projects of a similar nature that you want to price, and it’s also a good idea for your tax records (in case anyone ever asks).

What methods for timekeeping do you use? Have you tried one method, only to realize it didn’t work? Share with us!

Circle Here – Google+ is a cool new addition

Young children have lots of worksheets that begin with, “Circle the ____.” So now we grown ups get our own version. Google+, also known as Googleplus. We get to find people, friends, colleagues, classmates, or just people we find fascinating, and add them to “circles.” How fun is that? And if you’re a nerdy type, you can visualize the Venn Diagrams as you add some people to more than one circle.

I was late to Facebook and Twitter, and dismally late to LinkedIn, so I decided I wouldn’t be left behind with this one. And so far, so good. Google+ reminds me of Twitter and Facebook rolled into one, with a hint of LinkedIn for good measure. It’s still in its testing phase, though. So if you’re not in yet, ask your friends for an invite.

What else am I liking about Google+? I like that the Stream (similar to the Newsfeed in Facebook) is easy to, well, streamline. You can look at everyone’s thoughts, or just one of your circles’ thoughts. You can post your own thoughts, but you have the option to turn off comments.

The +1 feature is also cool. It’s like a “like” on Facebook, only farther reaching. For instance, you can +1 this blog post, or +1 a website you find during a routine Google search. I’m not sure how this feature will start to affect pagerank, but it’ll be fun to see what it does. It’s also similar to Digg and others, but with the Google search engine behind it, I suspect it’ll be even more powerful. So +1 this and anything you like throughout the web if you’re on Google+.

I’ll be sure to post more about my Google+ experience. For now, I plan to use it as a business and networking tool. Most of my friends aren’t on it yet, so business is all that’s left. After that, if it does as well as I think it should, I’m sure I’ll use it more like I use Facebook.

And while I’m on the subject, circle me! The link to my Google+ profile is right below my picture in the sidebar.

Have you joined Google+? What do you think of it, or what are you waiting for?

Starting a business blog

Main Street Vs. Wall Street

As a writer and blogger, I’ve come to realize over the years that my passion is working with other small businesses. I enjoy helping them market their companies online, especially via blogging.

Blogging, to me, is as natural as speaking. And when small businesses speak to their potential and current customers, they build brand loyalty and increase sales.

Even if a business hasn’t made sales online in the past, marketing online makes a difference, even in the “face-to-face” world. Many customers research companies online before deciding to step into their store. I know I do.

Small businesses may not have huge marketing teams (obviously…they’re small businesses), but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to miss out on the online sales opportunities. If you have a small business, start a business blog. You’ll be amazed at the benefits it brings.

Grammar Adventures: Escape from Homophone Horror

Bottles of Beer 1

First, an introduction. Maria Rainier, a fellow blogger and writer, recently offered to write a guest post here on Crayon Writer. Having looked at some of her other work, I easily accepted. Maria chose the topic to write about, and I didn’t edit her work in any way (it was wonderful “as is.”) So take some time to read her informative and fun lesson about confusing homophones. And check out the blog about online degrees that Maria co-authors. Enjoy!

These aren’t your kindergartener’s homophones. You know the difference between “their” and “there” and you’ve even got “they’re” down as a contraction that shouldn’t be confusing at all. But there are some other homophones lurking in your vocabulary that just might trip you up if you’re not careful. I know one of these tricky word pairs caught me off-guard, and I like to think that I’m a decent writer. So even if you’re sure that you know your homophones, check out these definitions so you can avoid any potential mix-ups.

Affect vs. Effect

Some people explain this one in terms of verbs and adjectives, but both of these words can be verbs. “Affect” is more commonly used as a verb than is “effect,” but the verb rule won’t always help you out. For example, the sentence “Global warming effected climate change” is correct in the sense that climate change was a product of global warming. When used as a verb, the word “effect” most often means “to produce as an effect,” which is a good way to remember this tricky homophone. Replacing the verb “effect” with this phrase will help you determine whether or not you’re using the correct word. The following example illustrates this trick:

“Her food allergies effected her performance.”

“Her food allergies produced her performance as an effect.”

In this case, it’s obvious that the correct word would be “affect” because the second sentence makes no sense.

Another helpful tip is to remember that “affect” is never an adjective, only a noun or verb. So if you need an adjective and you’re trying to decide between “affect” and “effect,” the latter is your answer.

Discrete vs. Discreet

These two adjectives can be confusing, but don’t let them fool you. “Discrete” refers to individual parts or something that has them. We also have “discrete” mathematics, but that’s enough confusion for a barrel of monkeys – suffice it to say that math is never “discreet” unless it somehow becomes a person or object. “Discreet” refers to someone who shows prudence or is judicious in conduct; a sensitive person with lots of tact would be “discreet.” When referring to an object, it means unobtrusive and typically describes something tasteful and understated.

Pour vs. Pore

To be honest, this one is a pet peeve because I noticed that the word “pour” was used in the capacity of “pore” in a textbook when I was in the sixth grade. I pointed it out to the teacher, who said it was correct. I argued and got out the dictionary, but I still took a trip to the principal’s office. So, to exonerate my sixth-grade self, here’s the breakdown:

You don’t “pour over” something – that particular usage is reserved for “pore,” which is also a component of our skin’s ventilation system. Rock surfaces can also have pores or be porous. And that’s the extent of the word “pore.” Unless you’re pondering, studying, reading attentively, or talking about skin or rock surfaces, you shouldn’t use the word “pore” (and “pour” should never creep into any of “pore’s” territory).

So, now that you’ve read about three sneaky sets of homophones, do you have any to share? Let us know in the comments.

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, where recently she’s been researching different online social work degrees and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Crayon Writer Facebook fan page

According to Facebook’s press room, Facebook is a superpower. Well, I’m paraphrasing, but that just about sums it up. Active users number over 500 million, the average user has 130 “friends,” more than 700 billion minutes are spent on Facebook (each month!), and users share more than 30 billion pieces of content with their friends. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So it makes perfect sense for businesses, especially small businesses who have a tougher time reaching their markets, to get very involved with this online powerhouse. I started out with just a personal page. At first, I used it for keeping in touch with friends and family across the country (and the world). Later I expanded into connecting my blogs to my page, so my friends get instant updates whenever I post content on them.

Recently I took the plunge and started fan pages for this blog and my other blog, Marana Unwrapped.

What is the benefit of a fan page? There can be several, actually.

For one, you have a quicker way to interact with your fans. A blog post is usually a few paragraphs, and for me, it takes a bit of thought. Twitter is a useful mini-blogging platform, but there are so many tweets from others that your users have to read. I have a Twitter account, and I follow around 500 people, so I get multiple tweets in just a few minutes. There’s no way I can keep up unless I’m constantly looking at my Twitter stream.

But with a fan page, I can write shorter posts than on my blog, but longer than via Twitter. And unless your fan’s friends post constantly, your post will actually be noticed and read.

Exposure to new people is another benefit. When your fan first “like”s your page, it is announced to all of their friends on that user’s feed. You now have instant exposure to lots of new potential fans. And if your fan comments on your page or, even better, decides to share a post, you’ll get added exposure.

Facebook also has a built-in analytics feature, so you can find out how many impressions each post has received.

And your page doesn’t have to look just like everyone else’s. With Facebook Markup Language (fbml), you can personalize your page and make it stand out. If you’re so inclined. You can add applications and tabs, and even have new users land on the tab you want them to. Building lists can be done also, because you can request that users fill out contact forms when, say, joining a contest you’re running on your page.

The possibilities are almost endless. Harnessing the power of this social media giant is still in its infancy – Facebook has only been around since 2004.

Look to the sidebar on your right. You may have to scroll a bit. You’ll notice a nifty little rectangle right under the Donate box that mentions my Facebook fan page. Just click “like.” Or, if you’d prefer, head over to the Crayon Writer Facebook fan page directly. I haven’t done much with it yet, but like I said, the possibilities are endless (almost).

Do you have a Facebook fan page? How has it worked for your business or blog?

Freelancer’s Guide to Finding Clients – Review


Being a successful freelancer of any type means that you have to have clients. Makes sense, right? Then why do so many of us have a hard time getting work? The problem might be that we don’t know how to find clients. Or we need a little shove to get out there and do it.

Martha Retallick, a freelance graphic designer and photographer, has written a wonderful e-book that tackles the subject of how freelancers can find clients. She does a great job of making it relevant, by including examples from her own career (blunders and successes alike). She writes like she’s talking with you, so it’s an easy, comfortable read. And the tips and techniques are solid. Some of them I already use, and some I learned while reading.

As an added bonus (for me, especially), Martha includes a reference to an article I wrote a few years ago about how to use cold emailing as a marketing technique. It’s nice seeing my name in print.

In her own words:

The Freelancer’s Guide to Finding Clients is about being proactive. It’s about finding clients instead of waiting for them to come to you.

In addition to offering a detailed how-to guide to making cold calls, it covers:

  1. Warm calling and e-mails to people with whom you’ve had some previous connection.
  2. Follow-up calls and e-mails to people you’ve just contacted.
  3. Keep-in-touch calling and e-mails to people you contacted a while ago.
  4. Market research calls and e-mails.
  5. Outreach via cold, warm, follow-up, and keep-in-touch e-mails.

Head over to Envato Tuts+ Marketplace to get your very own copy of the book. It’s definitely worth it! And be sure to tell Martha where you heard about her new book.

How do you find new clients for your freelancing business? When you get Martha’s book, tell us what your favorite parts are!

What if the Internet went down?

Golden Gate crisis phone

Have you ever thought about what life will be like if we suffer some horrible calamity like a huge earthquake, meteor, or volcano? You’ve probably made lists of things you’d need in order to survive such a catastrophe.

But what about the unnatural disaster of the end of the Internet? Don’t ask me how it could happen. I’m not that well-informed when it comes to how the Internet actually works (though I have heard there is such a thing as a “kill-switch.” But I do know how much we depend on it.

So how would you survive if the Internet were to suddenly disappear? Here’s my top six list of things to do and things you might need. Just in case.

1. Telephone – If there were no Internet, we’d have to resort to using the telephone again. Luckily conference calls can still be arranged via telephone, so the Internet isn’t a total requirement for communicating. But then there’s keeping up with the stock market and local news. How would we know what’s going on on the east coast when we’re on the west? The telephone can convey a lot, but people sometimes talk without thinking. Email or Tweets can be written precisely, using the exact wording necessary. News dissemination would slow down to a crawl. People would have to call their brokers to make trades, and the stock market would have to go back to older methods to keep people up-to-date with the changes.

2. Telegraph – Maybe this won’t be necessary, but it can’t hurt. So go grab a telegraph machine from Ebay (before the Internet goes down, of course), and take an online class to learn how to send and interpret Morse Code.

3. Entertainment – Gone are online video games, watching online movies, and the like. So you’ve got to find some other source of entertainment. Maybe people-watching, or computer games on CDs, or charades with your friends, or even board games with your family. Be creative. Buy a real live deck of cards or chess set and have some fun.

4. Get out of the house – This may be a novel idea, but without the Internet, you may actually have to venture outside of your office or your house. You might consider going for a walk (or a drive) and visit friends you haven’t had to see in real life for a long time. Go see a movie in the theater, order pizza in-person and eat it in the restaurant. Go shopping in an actual store, and pay with actual cash (I think the credit card machines are connected to the Internet…I’m not sure, though…they do make that modem connection sound though).

5. Laugh out loud, for real – How often do you type “LOL” when you’re not really doing it? So get to it! Watch a funny movie, hang out with your friends (the ones you haven’t seen in years though you talk to them all the time on Facebook), and experience the joy. Then be sure to tell everyone, “LOL! In fact, I’m ROTFLOL!” And everyone will be able to witness this miraculous event.

6. Sunglasses/umbrella – These kinds of weather accessories are for your protection when you venture outside.

All jokes aside, I got to thinking about all this because I sat down with my laptop in a place with no wireless Internet. I sat there in front of my open computer, staring at the screen, trying to figure out what in the world I could do with no Internet. I couldn’t update my blogs, check my email, check my Facebook, play an online video game, watch an online movie, surf the Net, check on my grades for my class, read articles, check the weather, or read the news. I realized I really couldn’t do anything. Except open up a word processing program (Notepad seemed like a safe option), and write this blog post to be posted later.

We really do depend on the Internet. People send emails, use social networks, and talk “face-to-face” with webinars and Skype. This is how many of us stay in touch with friends, family, colleagues, bosses, and clients.

But imagine the thousands of people (or more) who rely on the Internet to make a living. (I actually hope to be one of those people.) Without the Internet, a lot of people would be out of work. People wouldn’t be able to move money around in their bank accounts (unless they called the bank or actually (*gasp*) went into the branch. Internet marketers, those who make a living from blog posts, Adsense, and affiliate sales, would quickly lose their source of income . People who have Ebay stores would suffer a similar fate.

What would you do if there were no Internet? How would your life change?