Business Resources that Simplify Your Workflow

Here’s another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homepreneurs a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home. 

Today’s Q:

What are some business resources you’ve used that has helped you run or launch projects for your internet home-based business? Which ones can you not do without?

Cindy Bidar from The Educated VA says:

homepreneur business toolsI don’t buy a lot of tools or other shiny objects, so my “must have” resources all revolve around people and connections. I’ve said many times that I would not be self-employed today if it weren’t for the friends and mentors I’ve met through various events and forums.

My go-to place for learning everything about online business, from shopping cart setup to email marketing is SoloMasterminds. I’ve been a member for years, visit the forums every single day, and just can’t say enough good things about Kelly and the rest of the man and women in that group. It’s truly a treasure trove of information and support I could not do without.

For networking, my favorite is live events, and among those, NAMS is at the top of my list. I try to go every year, and it’s been invaluable to me as my business grows. I’ve learned more than I’ll probably ever put into practice, and met some of my best friends, business colleagues, and clients there.

Finally, staying connected with my market is equally important, and for that I rely on WordPress (naturally) and Aweber for email management. It’s impossible to run a business online today without a website and an email marketing plan. These two resources make the task much easier.

Tishia Lee from Tishia Saves Time says:

homepreneur business toolsRight now, things in my business are probably as simple as can be. In other words, I’m not doing anything “fancy” when it comes to products. I have a couple for sale and I’ve kept it really simple – just using a PayPal button to sell them. Eventually I’d like to switch to Amember but I’m not ready to make that big of a switch…need to get more serious about creating products and creating an affiliate program first (that’s a whole other can of worms for a different time though).

So, to sum it up these are the tools I’m using:

  • My website – obviously 😉
  • PayPal
  • Aweber – to collect the names/emails of purchasers to get them into my mailing list funnel
  • 42 Day Launch Incubator
  • Solo Masterminds – a ‘safe’ place I can go to ask an amazing group of smart, savvy internet marketers for feedback, suggestions, help and more when it comes to my sales page, product, etc. for sale

Like I said, I’m doing things pretty simple right now so there aren’t a lot of tools I’m using.

Helena Bowers from Your Message Amplified says:

homepreneur business toolsI’ve used a lot of different tools and resources over the years. The first thing I absolutely can’t do without is a good HTML editor. The second would be a really good graphics program. I just recently took the plunge into the Adobe Creative Cloud so that I get the all in one package and can use it on whichever machine I happen to be working on. Right now my must-have pieces of that suite are Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Abobe Illustrator, but I’m looking forward to learning how to use all the other parts of it too.

Other tools and resources that are essential for keeping my business running are Evernote for keeping my notes and things organized, Dropbox for delivering files to clients, and Aweber for mailing list management.

The one piece of physical equipment I couldn’t do without now (besides my computer, of course) is my Wacom tablet. My son got it for me for Christmas last year, and I love it for creating hand-written graphics and indulging my doodling habit. :)

Stephanie Watson from Barry Publishing says:

homepreneur business toolsPeople — My most important resource to date is Solo Masterminds. Without this wonderful group I would not be as successful as I am. I would not be pushed to grow. I would not have the clients that I have. I feel that finding a group that will be honest with you, make you think, and share real knowledge with you is a true treasure. A good mastermind group will offer you challenge, potential for joint venture partnerships, and an honest mirror in which to view yourself. They’ll kick your butt when you need it, and even sop up you tears sometimes too. They offer that connection to others that solopreneurs so desperately need.

Backup & File Storage — I cannot live without Dropbox (or something like it). I’ve mentioned before that in April of 2011 we ended up without power for two weeks. My external drive was destroyed. We were all fortunate to be alive, and had I had Dropbox fully functional at that point, recovering from this situation would be been a breeze. It’s imperative that you have a cloud-based backup and file storage system. There are many out there, find one you like and use it, religiously.

Accounting, Bookkeeping & Invoicing — Currently I am using Go Daddy Bookkeeping along with Freshbooks to do my books and invoice my clients. They both work together and while I have a degree in business and know how to do bookkeeping the old fashioned way, my business is small enough that this works for me. If you have a bigger business and sell a lot of products though I would use something like QuickBooks Online instead.

Productivity & Project Management — I mostly use Dropbox but some of my clients use Basecamp and I love it. Anytime I am lucky enough to get a client who uses Basecamp I know it’s going to work out swimmingly because they are organized. I am very deadline driven so it’s important for me to have clear instructions, expectations of deliverables, and deadlines.

Simple Graphics — I am in love with Canva right now. I cannot live without. I use it for all kinds of things from social media memes to creating well laid out graphics for reports.  I also love ImageMonthly because I get tips on using images, fonts, and usable graphics too.

Aside from WordPress, Word & Adobe Pro I think I can run a complete business with just these things. I can’t pick one that I can live without. As my business grows though, I am starting to see the need for more integrated systems. I’m looking into Ontraport right now. I’m curious if anyone else is using it and how they feel about it?

Christa Jensen from says:

homepreneur business toolsThere are many great resources out there to help those who want to work from home or are working from home. I will share my favorites, which are the ones that I have seen be the most useful in my business over the years.

Could not do without:

I have also interned in a blogging course and have had a writing coach in the past, which proved very valuable for those who want to write well for the internet.

Samantha Pointer-Foxx from Get It Together says:

homepreneur business toolsTo run my business I rely on my iPad and a few favorite apps. The main one I use is Evernote to just brain dump into. I also use the Quickbooks Online app to keep up with accounting and to invoice my clients on the spot. I use the SproutSocial app to do all of my social media posting and to schedule posts. I use Google Drive, LiveDrive, Onedrive, MobilLogic and Dropbox to handle my files that I need on the go and for computer backup.

Now that you can get Microsoft products on the iPad, it is easy for me to work on documents. I use the Sunrise Calendar app to keep up with my appointments on all platforms. Because I do podcasting and blogging, my Samsung Note 3 is really indespensable when it comes to capturing audio, taking photos and jotting down quick ideas.

I use Soundcloud as well to give my audience quick organizing tips while on the go. These are just some of the apps and products I use on a daily basis to run my business.

Alicia Jay from New VA Advice says:

AliciaJay100x100There are a couple of online tools that make working online so much easier for me. I’ve made an effort to keep my business mostly paperless, so all of these tools help in that area, and they also allow me the freedom to work anywhere I want.

The first and most important for me is Dropbox. I run my entire business out of Dropbox so that I can access it from any device whether it’s my desktop, laptop or my phone. No matter where I am, I can access all of my information. It’s also super handy because I have private folders set up with my clients so that we can easily share information.

Next we have Aweber. List building is such an important business-building tool and Aweber helps me do that without the need to be a master techie. It’s easy to use and I can access it anywhere to schedule broadcast emails or set up autoresponders to help me work a little more passively in my business.

Then there is Evernote. It just has so many awesome uses. I have a folder for each of my businesses and then note sections underneath those filled with my to-do lists, things that I want to research and new product or course ideas. I can just open up Evernote to check my list for the day or grab ideas for a new project.

My Insights

home business resourcesStarting and running a business from home can invite some trials in setting up an infrastructure that systematizes your workflow. Lack of organization and distraction can easily penetrate the workday since there is a fine line between home and business life. At the end of the day, because you are running a real business, you’ll need some resources to help you manage through the day. But depending on your business model, market, and personality traits ‘must have’ tools vary from person to person.

Many of the Sparkplugging advisors mentioned cloud services as a top priority in home business management. You can’t beat being able to access all of your data online, no matter where you are. Long gone are the days you’ll have to carry around a hard drive in order to get some work done.

For me, some resources I can’t do without, are pretty much under the umbrella of Google. Tools like Gmail, Analytics, Adsense, You Tube and Web Search – who can live without using at least one of these right? From productivity to research tools and marketing, Google, more that likely, has a product for it. And the best part is that they are free to use.

Other must haves right now are things like Paypal for my payments, Rescue Time for productivity, Buzzsumo for social research, WordPress for website management and most recently I’m exploring the CamScanner app.

As technology evolves you will find yourself trying new things and adopting others. But in the grand scheme of things, as some of the Sparkplugging panel described, the ultimate resource is the people. Without them, on either side of the spectrum, you have no business. Shiny new toys will then become irrelevant.

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Homepreneurs Talk: Proudest Business Accomplishments

Here’s another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homepreneurs a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home. 

Today’s Q is:

What aspect of your business, products or services are you most proud of and why?

Stephanie Watson from Barry Publishing says:

Online BusinessOne of the things I pride myself on, is being on time. I’m not saying I am perfect, but 99 percent of the time, I am on time. If I am not, something horrible has happened. I believe that deadlines are very important to honor. If you find that half way through a project, that you cannot get something done, be sure and let your customer know immediately. Life happens, and most people are understanding about that, but it’s important to give your client a heads up when something might prevent you from meeting a deadline so that they can make other arrangements if needed.

I am also proud of helping new online business owners develop and implement their content plan. Content is arguably the most important aspect of building a business online outside of the actual product or service you are selling. Without content, no one can find you, and if they do find you, they won’t really get to know you, like you, and trust you enough to purchase from you. I’m super proud to work with people who have a dream and have the gumption to follow through on meeting their goals and realizing their dreams.

I’m also very proud that 90 percent of my clients have been my clients for several years. To me, having long-term clients is an essential component in being able to deliver the high caliber of work that I work so hard to achieve. The good thing about having long-term clients is the fact that they’re not as worried about giving me constructive feedback. The more feedback I can get the better job I can do. So, the longer I work with someone, the better everything gets. It becomes almost effortless.

I should mention that I’m not alone here. Without my current team of dedicated contractors who help me meet deadlines, no matter what, I couldn’t do this. Two of my team members happen to be my grown daughters — so that makes me super proud to know what an awesome work ethic they have. So often people around you might think you’re just sitting around at home doing nothing as a work at home entrepreneur, but I have children and a husband who get it, and are helpful to me. So, I’m proud of them too.

Alicia Jay from New VA Advice says:

Online BusinessThere are a lot of aspects of my businesses that I’m really proud of, but a couple of things stand out for me in particular.

The first is pride in my transcription business. That was the first business I ever had online. I started out 7 months pregnant and laid off with this little idea in my head of what I wanted my life to be like with my new baby. I had no prior experience running an online business and I had never even heard of WordPress. But I’m proud that I put in the time, effort and research, built my own website and figured out how to build a client list from zero, as well as starting out with zero online contacts. To go from that tiny idea of working for myself so that I could be home to raise my son to now having a full, regular client base that love my work still makes me really proud.

The other thing that I’m really proud of is the first training program that I ever created, General Transcription Bootcamp. I love that it came out of the real need of people coming to me to find a reliable way to learn transcription. I developed the course from concept to completion with input from mentors and a beta round. I have pride in knowing that I took a concept, created it into a reality and then shared it with others who really needed it.

Lastly, I think the most important thing to me is pride in knowing that both of my businesses benefit others, my honesty and integrity, reaching outside of my comfort zone and acknowledging that I can’t do it all alone.

Samantha Pointer-Foxx from Get It Together says:

Online BusinessI am most proud of my Weekend Organizing course. In my business I find that most people have a hard time just getting started with organizing. I can’t possibly be everywhere at the same time physically to help everyone, but I can provide a step by step action plan to get them started on their organizing journey. That is why I made Weekend Organizing. It is a step-by-step course that helps people get their home organized one area at a time in small weekend projects. I love the fact that it takes the overwhelm out of getting organized and you have a plan for maintaining your new space as well. I love sharing and helping people to get organized and this is my way of doing that. You can find out more at

Helena Bowers from Your Message Amplified says:

business empowermentI’m not much of one for singing my own praises, but since you asked, the piece of my business I’m most proud of is my graphic creations. I was never very visually artistic when that meant drawing freehand – my father used to say I couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler — but turn me loose in Photoshop and I can get lost for days.

One of the things I love most about it is that I get to use my intuition and really create something that I think my clients will love. So many times people have said to me “I want something blue and pretty” or “just make it simple”. The real challenge comes when someone says “I’m not exactly sure what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.”  That one requires some serious meditation time to be able to visualize what I think they will want.

The thing that really fires me up is that first “I love it! You’ve nailed it!” from the client. I’ve always been more of a behind-the-scenes person, so knowing that I’ve created something that will help others achieve success makes me feel proud of myself and my business.

My Insights 

lyzqa.pngWhen it comes to accomplishing big things for your small home based business, nothing is too big or too small to toot your own horn for. Business is a big leap for most people. It’s an endeavor many don’t have the courage to proceed with. By itself, it’ s an accomplishment to be proud of. As you continue to evolve, you endure new courses.  You grow and progressively thrive.

proudEvery new win is an invitation for a new challenge. And every new challenge has a potential to make or break your business. The odds are against you. Your chances of making it are very slim. It’s why only a small group of people can say they are entrepreneurs even though those who have entrepreneurial spirits, the ones who only dream, far outnumber people who have already reached that status.

So, when you’ve achieved a certain milestone, there’s nothing wrong with patting yourself on the back. Heck, you’ve spent a good part of your journey doubting yourself, over-thinking and perhaps even missing out on opportunities for no real good reason.

The Sparkplugging homepreneur panel shared their proudest accomplishments, serving as a motivational kick, and maybe even offering a competitive inkling for those who aspire to be in the internet home business space.

I find pride in stretching my boundaries…In leaping as a budding internet home business owner and acquiring Sparkplugging despite my lack of experience and in spite of the robe of anxiety I wore (I still wear sometimes) as I run it live. It’s all-good.

Go on and indulge in your proudest business moments. You have permission. And don’t be afraid to embrace change. It may lead to your most successful undertaking.

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The Balancing Act Between Life and Business

Here’s another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homepreneurs a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home.

Q: How do you manage your personal and business life while working from home? What have you learned about the concept of work-life balance as it pertains to your business?

Samantha Pointer-Foxx from Get It Together says:

work-life balance in businessI must admit it gets hard sometimes to manage both my personal and business life while working from home. It is so easy to let things slide that you wouldn’t if you had a regular workplace job. It is so easy to sleep a little bit longer or to get caught up in watching a television show when there are calls to be made and work to be done. But how I have been battling this is that I have set work hours. I get up and get dressed like I’m going out of my home and then I get to work. I don’t have the television on while I work. I usually have music playing in the background. If there is something I want to see on TV at that time I just DVR it.

It can be a little trickier in the summertime when my oldest daughter is home, but in that case I work for a little bit then do something with her, and then a little more work. By breaking up my workday it is a lot less stressful and she doesn’t feel neglected. I also don’t do any more work after my designated work hours. I want to be fully present with my family.

You can have work-life balance if you just take the time and set up ground rules and boundaries. Also letting other members of your family know the boundaries and giving them your full attention when you are with them will help things to run much more smoothly when it comes to work-life balance.

Alicia Jay from New VA Advice says: business life balance

First, I learned that there is no such thing as the perfect work-life balance. It’s really different for everyone and where they are in business and in life. It took some time, but I figured out what works for me (for right now, anyway!)

Set A Schedule

It’s important to set a schedule for work time, however that works for you. It doesn’t have to be a stiff 9:00 to 5:00 arrangement. After all, we don’t work in the brick-and-mortar world. But it has to be something that works for you and your life specifically. Perhaps you do your best thinking in the morning and you like to get a lot done then. You might take a break in the early afternoon and come back to things in the late afternoon.

Think about what else you have going on in your personal life that you want to schedule your work around as well as when you do your best work. Here’s how this works for me. I have my 4 year-old son at home with me so I tailor my work day around him. I do most of my work when he’s napping and once he goes to bed at night. Since it’s summer and he doesn’t have morning pre-school, I’ve had to change some things around. I used to get a lot done in the mornings while he was gone. For the summer, I still come into my office a couple of mornings a week to work and set him up with an activity that he can do while I’m working. He’s finally old enough to do this (mostly)!

Treat Work Time Like Work Time—And Play Time Like Play Time

I’ve made sure that my family as well as my neighbors are aware of my schedule. It took everyone a little while to get on board, but we’re there now. Since I work from home, some of my neighbors thought I could sit and chat whenever I liked. They understand now that, just because I’m home, doesn’t mean I’m sitting around doing nothing.

When I’m working, I’m focused on my work. I don’t play computer games or check out Facebook. I also set a timer for my son so that he knows how long I’ll be working. He knows to give Mommy quiet time, but as soon as the timer goes off, it’s time to be with him. I try to really keep myself in the moment when I’m with family and friends. I don’t sit there checking my phone for client emails. I know that I’m truly blessed to have a schedule where I can do things with my family on my own terms. We can go to an amusement park on a Tuesday afternoon. And I can get my grocery shopping done on a morning weekday when there aren’t any crowds!

Throw Your Schedule a Curve Ball

Here’s the other thing about work-life balance. First of all, I really love what I do, so it doesn’t really feel like work for me. I get really involved during my work time so I will sometimes work late into the evening if I’m in a groove. But then I can take it easy the next morning because I don’t have to jump out of bed and go anywhere.

Secondly, sometimes that whole schedule goes right out the window because life happens. Sometimes your child gets sick and needs you or your husband has neck surgery and you have to care for him for 12 weeks. These things happen. And sometimes it’s really fun stuff, like this weekend, for example. I had planned on getting a lot of work done since my husband works this weekend. Then I could spend his days off with him during the upcoming week. But yesterday afternoon, a friend told me that a local park was hosting a movie and fireworks. I looked at my son’s face and realized that he’s only this little once. So, I did a little bit of work, reorganized my schedule and took my son to the park for an awesome night. It was worth it!

Tracy Roberts & Susanne Myers from Piggy Makes Bank say:

work-life balance in businesswork-life balance in businessFor both of us the reason to want to work from home was very much motivated by the want and need to be flexible with our time. We wanted to make sure we could go to school functions, take the day off when the kids got sick or just head down to the beach to create some family memories.

As time progressed, we also realized that things change and our work schedules changed along with it. When the kids were little, much of the work was done at night or during naptime. Now there’s often a big chunk of work time for both of us in the morning while the kids are busy with schoolwork. During the summer months the schedule has to change again as we travel and cut back on school work.

The big key for us was to realize that our work – life balance has to be fluid. It changes from day to day. Some days we just glance at emails to make sure things are running smoothly, while other days are almost completely spent working furiously on wrapping up a new project. The fun part is that it almost never feels like regular “work”.

It does however take effort to make sure you find the time to work while still keeping family your priority. Thankfully we both work well in the morning and are often up and about before the rest of our families, getting the day’s most important tasks out of the way before our loved ones are ready for breakfast.

Being able to work in chunks of time and taking plenty of days to tend to our families, wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t focus on creating passive streams of income. We do the work once and then reap the financial rewards over the months and years to come. We both spent a lot of time and effort in building up our blogs and email lists. There wasn’t a lot of money in it at first, but now these sites put food on the table and pay our mortgages.

For both of us, family comes first and work gets prioritized in the hours that are left in the day. Keeping in touch with each other daily and encouraging each other to finish projects (both the ones we’re working on jointly like and our own blogs) helps keep us productive.

My Insights

business life balanceIs there really a way to have it all and balance everything in a nice package where you are feeling fulfilled in all of your day-to-day roles? Some people don’t believe in work-life balance for today’s busy small business owners. They say it’s a myth.  I was one who thought I had to be“married” to my business in order to be successful. But then I realized that perhaps it’s more about making better choices on how to spend my time and choosing not to lose myself in the endless chase of success.

I’ve changed my mind about a few things. I’ve sacrificed health, family and time with friends because of an obsession with achievement. I did managed to get the prize but after years of being blinded by ambition, I quit and decided to take some time to research a business opportunity that will suit my newfound desire for flexibility and freedom. That’s when I found internet marketing.

bizbalance copyI jumped in fast but just as quickly I realized that when you run a business from home, you need at least an inch of discipline; otherwise, your life could become complicated and limits and boundaries blurred. How could it not? Your work commute is, well, maybe 2 steps sideways from where you’re standing now. It makes the thought of leaving work at “work” a tad bit challenging. But like the Sparkplugging panel mentioned, limits and structure prove to result in more productivity and more time to attend to other important life roles.

In the last year or so,  I’ve had grown used to dragging my laptop around the house. It got so bad that my husband started to move it for me (without me asking)  if he knew I was going to be in a certain part of the house for an extended period of time. He’s very routine oriented and I guess he’d gotten used to seeing me with a laptop attached to my hip. Not cool. So I chilled.

Busyness has become so pervasive in our culture that even when you decide to start a business from home because you want more flexibility, you may actually find yourself in a constant craze of overworking. At the end of the day however,  you make that choice and maybe the myth is really about rewriting your definition of balance.

For me, it’s about having emotional, physical and mental energy for both my business and my personal life. If I start to feel a bit drained or my personal and business life begin to crash, then it’s time to reboot and make some changes. Sometimes it’s just a matter of consciously choosing which one to pursue at any given time and to remind yourself of what matters most.

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What Is The Best Way to Get New Customers?

Yet another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homepreneurs a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home.

Today’s Q is:

Q: What medium has proven to be the most successful for attracting clients and customers for your home business?

Samantha Pointer-Foxx from Get It Together says:

sam pointerThe best medium for me over all of the years has been my website. I was one of the first in my industry to have a website in the beginning and so it has been a major contributor to how people find me. Through my blog posts and photo gallery, potential clients can experience what I have to offer and get to know me. It also eases the nerve of having to get on the phone with me first before really seeing if what I have is what they are looking for.

Stephanie Watson from Barry Publishing says:

steph123stephheadshot.jpgThe number one medium that has proven to be the most successful for attracting clients and customers to my home business is referrals from happy clients. It’s part of the reason I’m so bad at email marketing or any other type of marketing. Usually, when I have openings they get filled rather quickly due to word-of-mouth.

But, I feel like I must mention the 2nd, which is really also the first, and is my participation in Solo Smarts Solo Masterminds Group. That’s how I got my first writing client, (before that I only did VA work and worked as an affiliate marketer).  That’s how I ended up building my writing business to where it is now. I worked for one person, and she told the next, and so forth… and it keeps building from there.

If you want to have a successful word-of-mouth campaign, you can’t just expect it to happen organically. Instead, ensure that you let your clients know that you want referrals and that you’re open for new work. Give your current clients a discount or something in return for recommending you. I learned this from a wonderful Virtual Assistant named Staci Jansma.  Staci used to send out these beautiful coupons if you recommended her to someone. I don’t give coupons to everyone, but anyone who sends me a client who buys at least 150 dollars worth of work gets a 1,500 word article from me for free. I have some clients who never take advantage of the offer, but some who do.

The other thing you can do is be a source of referrals for your clients when possible. In my business, as a ghostwriter, I cannot always be upfront about who I work for because, well, it’s ghostwriting and my identity and even existence is secret. But, if I know someone I work with is excellent at what they do, and then I meet someone who needs what they have, I always make sure to let them know. If you send someone else referrals, they’re that much more likely to send referrals to you in return, not really as a pay back but because they feel generous and happy about their relationship with you.

Alicia Jay from New VA Advice says:

AliciaJay100x100For me, it’s been all about social media, blogging and writing to my list. When I started my transcription business, I had zero clients and zero leads. I took the time to find out which social media platforms my target market used the most. Then I showed up there, had genuine conversations with them and shared their content.

That proved to be very successful, particularly with Twitter. Then people would come to my site to check me out. I made sure that I was helpful and had relevant blog content for them to read. They recognized that I knew what I was talking about and, in turn, shared my content.

The last piece of the puzzle for me has been connecting to my list. I know we talked about list building and email marketing before, but it’s important enough to repeat. I offer free reports on my websites that solve a problem that my target audience is experiencing. I mention my free reports on different social media platforms. Prospective clients sign up to my list to receive that free report. Then I’m sure to follow up with them, share industry news and more free content.

This three-pronged approach (social media, blogging and writing to my list) has turned followers into clients because I’m consistent and demonstrates my expertise.

Tishia Lee from Tishia Saves Time says:

Tishia-LeeFor me, this is an easy one to answer! The medium that has been the most successful for attracting clients has been word of mouth. I don’t do a lot of advertising or marketing of my business. New clients have always come from other clients telling others about me and my services. I have started sharing a bit more about what I do on social media (specifically Facebook) and so far that hasn’t landed me any new clients, but it has caught a few people’s attention. Let me explain. A few times I’ve shared a simple status update about how I had just finished a large writing project for a client, how I love writing. I add a link to my services page letting people know I have openings for new projects. Those few updates resulted in a couple people messaging me saying they didn’t even know I offered writing services and now that they know, they would keep me in mind for future reference. So, it’s still definitely word of mouth that is most successful in landing new clients. But, after those few people messaging me after those simple Facebook updates, maybe social media could be a new possibility for picking up a client or two.

Christa Jensen from says:

cjWhile I have used many mediums to attract clients, word of mouth has been the medium that has been the most successful for my home business. I think the key to having been successful, for me, is providing quality work and great communication – before, during and after client’s work. I say AND not OR because I believe that both are equally important to clients.

My Insights

lyzqa.pngI think it is safe to say that one of the best mediums for getting new clients and customers for your home-based business is word of mouth. That’s why the quality of the content and offerings you put out is of superb importance.

Many successful online businesses don’t even rely on any SEO efforts to get traffic to their websites. In fact, some big time bloggers and online business owners like Darren Rowse and Ali Brown have deferred from encouraging an emphasis on SEO, although they’ve both been online long enough to benefit from it.

When I was offering tutoring services and elderly concierge services back in 1999, all of my business came from word of mouth. I certainly can relate to many of the Sparkplugging advisors on the value of it. Back then, I didn’t even have business cards for the first few months of starting any business. It all started with one (referred) client who referred me to others and it expanded from there.

0001-4255947The marketing medium that works best may also depend on what type of internet home business you are embarking on or already have in place. For me, the best medium right now happens to be SEO and email marketing but I don’t plan on relying on search engine traffic for the the long haul.

SEO and social media are excellent mediums for bringing customers but it takes time and tactic. From what I’ve learned and seen, if you want to start making any significant money much quicker, having a service-based business along with referral marketing works really well. Then you can expand and reorganize once the money is rolling in.

Sometimes, it’s worth going back to basics.

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How The Pros Make Real Money Online (From Home)

Yet another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homepreneurs a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home.

Today’s Q:

Can you describe your business model and income streams? How has it evolved since you started?

Stephanie Watson from Barry Publishing says:

steph123stephheadshot.jpgAs long as I can remember, I’ve relied on multiple streams of income to live. From the time I worked two jobs, one as a waitress and one as a bartender in the mid 80’s, or had a child care business plus a weekend flea marketing business in the late 80’s and early 90’s, until the time I started working from home using the Internet as my main means of making a living in the mid 1990’s. From my experience, it is dangerous to rely on one source of income. A really good example is how my own business has evolved.

From performing administrative tasks for local small nonprofits from my then living room office, to making HTML brochure websites, to making mini affiliate focused websites, to flipping websites, to now when my main source of income comes from ghost writing online content and helping online and offline business owners choose what type of content they need. I also get paid as an expert writer for online sites such as and, among others. The point is, how I earn the bulk of my income has changed over time as the need and technology changes.

But, even with all the change it hasn’t affected me much as far as having a monthly income coming in at all times, because it’s diversified. It has ebbed and flowed and there have been rich times and lean times, but overall it’s always been there. Today, I accept orders of up to 450 articles per month and 4 eBooks, approximately 250,000 to 450,000 words. That translates into about 15 to 30 clients a month most of whom are retainer clients, plus a couple one-off clients who just need an eBook. That means no one client is the bulk of my income. That qualifies, in my mind, as multiple streams of income. I do have one client currently, who comprises what would normally be taken by five clients which is the highest amount any one client has ever ordered from me on a regular, ongoing basis.

I also earn affiliate income from one blog, which has really suffered lately, to be honest. It’s gone from making about $750 a month to about $50, if I’m lucky. It’s my fault because all I have to do is blog regularly and the income automatically goes up. My heart just hasn’t been in it though as my writing business has increased. I’m like the mechanic whose customers have smooth running vehicles but who has none of their own working even though they have five cars in the drive way (true story).

I’m also working on a membership website, which I believe will bring in additional income. I have two Kindle books so far, which bring in about $50.00 a month. I had plans to write one a month, but have failed miserably on that task. I also have a few other side things that I do to earn income that have nothing to do with writing. I love writing, but I am always ready for the next big thing ever since the first big Google algorithm change and my income from Google AdSense went from $1500 a month from several mini sites to literally nothing overnight back in, I think 2005.

The point is, you have to be ready for change when working from home via the Internet. Technology moves super-fast and if you’re not paying attention it could cripple your business. If you have any type of business from passive income to service based, keep your eyes open and start learning and working on the next big thing. That’s the only way to stay alive and frankly, at least for me, to stay interested in your career over a long period of time and to ensure any type of future. Of course, it’s not just the Internet, in 2006 my husband was laid off from his job, so working at a regular job doesn’t insulate anyone from income fluctuations or issues with cash flow. Diversifying your income is important to do no matter how you earn the bulk of your income. My feeling is if I am not working 40 to 50 hours a week for my clients, then I need to be filling that time working for me.

Helena Bowers from Your Message Amplified says:

headshot-dec-2012-100My business model has always been based on providing services. I’ve been building websites since 1997 and have added other associated services such as graphic design and ghostwriting over the years. My other income streams include affiliate marketing, infoproducts, and some network marketing. Up until this year my business model hadn’t really changed all that much. The balance between streams might change, and the products might change, but otherwise it’s been the same model.

This year I took the plunge to add coaching and teaching into the mix. Even though I’ve always been open to teaching my clients how to do things, I’ve never considered myself a coach. It’s been an interesting journey making the switch and one that still pulls me out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. I’ve always been one to say “Why don’t I do that for you,” and now I’m having to reframe and say “Let me show you how to do that.” I still catch myself wanting to be the doer instead of the teacher,  but it’s getting easier.

The other way my business is changing this year is I’m moving even more away from one-on-one graphic work and opening a graphics site. I will always do some custom work because it’s one of my favorite things to do, but I’m learning the power of leveraging and passive income and working at getting more of that into the mix too.

Alicia Jay from New VA Advice says:

AliciaJay100x100When I first started online in 2009, I had one business model and one income stream. It was simply to provide virtual assistant services and get paid for said services. I’ve learned so much since starting online. The first time that I heard about creating more passive income streams and affiliate marketing, I was on board!

I started out by making sure that I had email lists set up for clients and potential clients. I kept in touch with my lists and recommended some products as an affiliate that they would find helpful. The first time I made an affiliate sale, it was so exciting! It drove me to do more research and learn how to tap into these other income streams.

Now, I have two online businesses that both have different business models. I still have my service-based business where I sell my services but also make affiliate recommendations.

I also have another business with a business model that has many branches so that I’m not trading dollars for hours. In that business, I use affiliate marketing, coaching and selling my own products. This allows me to spend less time working but still bring in money for my businesses.

Cindy Bidar from The Educated VA says:

cindybidar-100x100My primary income is from a service-based business. As a virtual assistant, I manage websites, email marketing plans, shopping carts, and a host of other solutions my clients use in their businesses. With several clients and lots of projects, I make sure I have plenty of separate income streams so that I’m not dependent on any one person or projects for a paycheck. I also coach other VAs to help them build a stronger business.

My current business does not at all resemble where I started though! Back in 2008 when I first started thinking about working online, I had it in mind to earn a living as a blogger. That didn’t quite work out as planned (mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing!) so in an effort to earn a little cash to help pay for my hosting/autoresponder accounts, I started to take on writing gigs. Not long after that I was earning $500 to $1000 per month writing articles, blog posts and sales pages for other online business owners. Pretty soon I discovered these business owners also had a real need for technical support. Since tech comes easy for me, it was a natural progression in my business.

Today the majority of my work is in the technical arena, but I do still take on a few writing jobs as well. Being flexible and embracing the evolving nature of business keeps things interesting!

My Insights

lyzqa.pngWhen I first started researching starting a business online, I thought the only way people made money online was by selling physical products. So, I thought about the possibility of designing and selling socks for women. I even went as far as finding a manufacturer overseas who would produce the socks at a very reasonable price. Then I realized I had no clue on how to get people to the website to actually make sales. I purchased a domain name and worked out some of the other logistics but I needed to learn more.

As I was researching and learning about promoting my new site, I was opened up to a world of possibilities beyond physical products. First, I learned about advertising with Google AdSense.  I thought all I had to do was get as many people as possible to my site and boom – people would click and I make money. At the time Pat Flynn from The Smart Passive Income Blog was building out a niche website. I followed. But at the end of the day, I still couldn’t grasp the mechanism for getting traffic to a website. The SEO stuff just wasn’t meshing well with my tech adverse brain cells. Adsense was out – for that time period anyway.

0001-3518491As I was trying to maneuver my way around the web in a quest for more learning resources, I came across the immense promises about starting a business online and the financial lifestyle that goes along with it. I was never sold into the bigness of the financial super rewards but the idea of doing what I love, on my terms and living out my dreams in a way that can be helpful to other people sounded like my kind of thing. I knew I wasn’t ready to give up on starting an internet home business.

The Sparkplugging panel shares so nicely their experience on selling services, products and beyond. Ironically, despite shutting out Google Adsense in the past, right now, it’s actually one of my revenue streams along with affiliate sales. As I iron out the plan for Sparkplugging, I do see myself offering coaching in some capacity in the future .

If you are newish or maybe want some ideas you may not have considered, and since I am shamefully an information hoarder (no pun intended), I figured I’d share some revenue stream ideas I’ve learned along the way (beyond these internet home-based business ideas):

  1. Hosting seminars and workshops in person and online like Dan Morris & Rachel Martin’s Blogging Concentrated and David Perdew’s NAMS.
  2. Hosting retreats and bootcamps like Kelly McCausey & Nicole Dean’s Beachprenuers Retreat and Johnathan Fields Summer Camp.
  3. Podcasting sponsorships like John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneur on Fire.
  4. Ghost writing services like Alice Seba & Annette Elton’s All Custom Content.
  5. Private Label Products like Nicole Dean’s Easy PLR and Justin Papovic’s Best Quality PLR.
  6. Membership trade association sites like Sheree Keys teaches at Network Building Academy.
  7. Ecomerce and dropshipping stores like Steve Chou teaches at My Wife Quit Her Job.
  8.  Digital products and software discounted promotions like Noah Kagan’s AppSumo.

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How to Clarify Your Business Direction

As I was combing through older content on the blog, I came across this blog post, Three Business Lessons Learned from a Robot. The analogy is funny but the tips where full of insight. It made me think about how important it is to have a sense of direction when it comes to your business.

I think it goes a little beyond steps to setting goals, especially for a small internet home business run by solopreneurs. Sometimes  fear, lack of clarity, limited support and having no sense of direction gets the better of us.

See, you and I were trained to fail in entrepreneurship because we weren’t given the tools to manage through the hardships, fight through the struggles and withstand the unpredictability that frequently comes with running a business.

When we were younger, we followed house rules and directives from our parents. In school, we were guided by lesson plans facilitated by our teachers. At a job, we were given a set of tasks based on a job description. So when it comes to taking risks in entrepreneurship, resistance sets in because we’re not given a “guide” to follow. Take a look at this inspirational yet informational video featuring Seth Godin – Failing Until You Succeed.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs: Who’s In Charge?

Many people I’ve come across have fantasized about starting a business at one point or another. My sister, who has a business degree, has specifically admitted she is afraid of failing. My best friend has had a longtime dream of opening up a childcare center. She quit her job last December and got very close to closing a deal on a property several months ago. The deal folded and she became paralyzed by disappointment. She is she now back to working a job. Another one of my friends grew up with an entrepreneurial father. She has dreams of starting a horticulture therapeutic center but feels she is not “organized” enough to even know where to begin.

There’s nothing worse than the hopeless feeling of jumping around aimlessly and later rationalizing your “failure” to a set of circumstances you created a belief around. You either have an internal or external locus of control, meaning things happen because of you or to you. Your viewpoint can affect your success.

I’ve always been passionate about facing fears and making breakthroughs. I encourage my clients and patients to give themselves permission to be bold – it’s cliché but true. But if you don’t know where you are going, it’s much more difficult to stay focused and grounded.

Visualizing what you want

There’s a lot of research done about visualization. Some people swear by vision boards. I, for one, believe that it definitely helps to envision and image  and actually feeling what it’s like to get there. It creates this energy and momentum and keeps you zoned in, even when you are not consciously thinking about it. I use something similar where I place a description of my ultimate business vision on my bedroom night table that way I see it as soon as I wake up. Not in a Law of Attraction kind of way but I feel it helps to remind me while my brain cells are fresh of what I need to do to get one step closer.  Check out these tips I found on how to use visualization to achieve your goals.

Setting Intentions

Goals are very individualistic. There is a reason why you want to accomplish “that thing”. The tangible outcome is rarely what you are after. Not to get touchy-feely but normally it’s a search for a feeling (accomplished, loved, smart, sexy, free, etc.). Get to know yourself. Self-awareness can be fun. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together.

Heighten up your senses to what stands out for you during the course of a day. It helps you identify what’s important to you so you can factor those into your business journey. For me, it’s noticing children, happy couples, and people’s moods. I love to people watch and notice when a person looks sad. I take note of businesses that go out of business and speculate on the circumstances. I wonder, did the owners give up? You can almost always find something that will satisfy you and the needs of the people you serve.

A Measurable Contract With Yourself

0001-2066833In business, setting measurable goals can help your business direction and ultimately its success. Most people find business success using a combination of their interests, values, passions and skills. Write down the actions you will take and what behaviors will you change in order to get there. Make your it specific enough where you can see progress and allow you the opportunity to praise yourself for small wins that will eventually turn into larger ones. Writing it down also makes things more concrete and establishes a contract with yourself. You’ll keep growing, refining and expanding as you move along.

The Power of Masterminding

This point was brought up in Lynette Chandler’s post. She says, “Now to figure out, what or who can be the GPS for your business? I think the answer is fairly obvious. It is a good business coach or a group of like minded people like a mastermind group made up of people you can trust.” Think about the power of gaining the insights of an expert or group of experts brainstorming and networking together and gaining perspective at a much quicker pace. Plus, it’ll help you stay accountable. Here are a few I belong to Blogging Concentrated, Solo Masterminds, Lynn Terry’s Private Brainstorming Group, MyNams (some of these have free and paid memberships).

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When (and how) to Hire Virtual Staff Or Services

Yet another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homepreneurs a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home.

Today’s Q is:

Have you hired any virtual experts or assistants to help you run your business? What should a person consider when hiring help?

Stephanie Watson from Barry Publishing says:

steph123stephheadshot.jpgTwo years ago I grew faster than I could keep up with and attempted to outsource work. But I found that the people I outsourced to 99 percent of the time were late, or could not be counted on. Plus, I had issues with clients paying me on time. Unfortunately, since I live a credit free life, this meant my contractors were paid late too. Due to this, I stepped back and looked at my business and decided that I would do all the writing myself and not try to grow so big. I fired everyone. Writers, VAs and clients.

I needed a steady income, and not a big business. So, I eliminated half my client base by resigning anyone who had topics I could not write on my own, or involved VA work that I did not want to do. I eliminated anyone who had unreasonable expectations of my time, or sucked up a lot unpaid time from me with phone calls they did not want to be billed for, and/or clients who did not pay me on time regularly. I was relentless. I kept only clients whom I love, who loved me, and who respected my time and paid me on time.

What should a person consider when hiring help?

Fast-forward to today. I have built my business past the level I was when I stepped back. I still do 80 percent of the writing myself. I have found a great writer who happens to be my daughter, and a terrific VA who is my other wonderful daughter (I have four,  I could run an empire, if they’d all get in on it). I outsource graphics to an outside firm, and she’s great. I regularly turn down work that’s not right for me, and do not work with the wrong people anymore. Or, if I find myself with the wrong person, I end the contract sooner now. During this process, I have learned that some of the issues with outsourcing have to do with several factors and half the time it’s the person doing the outsourcing who is the problem, and I include myself in this equation.

When outsourcing ask yourself these questions

  1. Do you have a reasonable system in place?
  2. Do you know what you want the contractor to do?
  3. Are you willing to pay a reasonable rate for the work and skill level required?
  4. Do you pay on time?
  5. Do you understand the person you’re outsourcing to is not your employee, but is a business owner with other clients and a life?
  6. Do you expect last moment work, without paying extra for the privilege? (Tip: If you need last moment work you  need to hire a full time employee.)
  7. Do you have policies and procedures in place that the VA or other contractor can look to when there are issues?

The largest issues on this list are the first two. With three not far behind. If you don’t have a system in place and you are not clear on what you want the contractor to do, then they cannot do their job reasonably.

For example, my job is supplying content, but so often someone will sign a contract with me and have no idea what they want me to write. I do offer a service where I also decide what to write, but they typically do not pick that service. As a contractor, I can’t do my job if the client doesn’t know what it is that they want me to do. And, if they have no system in place, or a really difficult time sucking system, and aren’t willing to use mine, it will make it hard too.

Plus, pay on time. Your contractor might not admit it, but if you don’t pay them on time they might not be able to buy milk. I have been very guilty of also wanting to hire contractors, but have no idea what I want them to do. I have also paid contractors late, due to my clients paying me late, and it was just not a good system at all.  It’s not a good way to run a business.

It’s really not the contractor’s job to wait for you to get your money before you pay them. If you don’t pay fair rates, and you don’t have a system in place, and regular work, the contractor is naturally going to move on to greener pastures and put you on the back burner. It may not seem right or fair, but that’s how it works. People need to do the work they do in order to earn a living to take care of their family. Before contracting with anyone consider that they are a human being first, contractor second. Treat them how you wish to be treated. If you wouldn’t put up with it, don’t ask them to.

Cindy Bidar from The Educated VA says:

cindybidar-100x100As a virtual assistant myself, I’m a huge fan of bringing in experts to help your business grow. I have hired writers, graphics people and developers in the past, and I also hire and manage team members for some of my clients.

The best tips I have when it comes to hiring a virtual service provider

  • Be very clear about what you need. If you’re not sure what you need or what can be outsourced, it might be helpful to work with a consultant to make those decisions first. Then you’ll be better able to find the right virtual assistant for you.
  • Ask for referrals. Colleagues and fellow business owners are a great resource for finding top-notch service providers.
  • Start with a trial project. Don’t just jump right in for 20 hours per month and access to your entire business without a test run first. A small project will give you a good idea about whether you’ll be a good fit to work together long-term.
  • Schedule a short phone interview. For project-based work this probably isn’t so important, but if you intend to work with someone long-term, it’s very helpful to chat by phone or Skype for 15 minutes or so, just to get to know each other a little better.

Should I Hire A Virtual Assistant?

My Insights

lyzqa.pngI remember feeling way in over my head (although excited) about the task of running Sparkplugging. From managing all the blogs on the network to the learning curve and my expanding ‘to dos,’ I frequently thought about what it would be like if I could just hire a team to help me. In fact, as I am writing this I can think of 25 things I have to do or could be working on to run my business.

When I first started researching and settled on an online marketing business, I offered to pay my sister to help me iron out my content plan, proofread and promote on social media. She agreed but shortly after, was offered another opportunity from her old job that she just couldn’t pass up. I was crushed but understood. I didn’t trust any of the outsourcing sites to make an attempt to hire someone else. So, I continued to work on my launch. Then, Sparkplugging became available. I felt that because it was already up and running, it could buy me some time.

0001-1693615Buying time, I feel, is the essence of hiring assistance. There is only so much you can do if you plan on growing your business and if you just don’t have the necessary skills to attend to certain tasks. For me, technology is that skill I am just not good at. Therfore, I did hire someone for tech support to help me maintain my sites. The peace of mind and time I would have spent figuring things out is just priceless.

But hiring virtual staff or outsourcing contractually can also pose some challenges. Things like unreliability, less than ideal quality of work, turnover, legal aspects (depending on where you live) and beyond – You might find yourself treating more headaches than getting real work done. It’s no wonder why the Sparkplugging panel offered some solid and concrete tips for hiring a virtual service. Planning carefully can ease the process although it’ll still take some fine tuning when you are just starting out.

When you think of the grand scheme business tasks needed to keep your business running and your sanity intact, it’s well worth looking into. I think circumstances and priorities are different for you and me. But, I also think sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing you can ‘move the needle’ if you could focus more time on the things you’re good at and love to do so that you can actually have a home-based business you enjoy running.

Related Reads:
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Outsourcing
Ten Tips for Hiring a Virtual Assistant

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