Grief During the Holidays – Practical Survival Tips

You are already dealing with grief and loss and here come the holidays. All that cheer and joy in your face every day, and the increased social interaction of office parties, family gatherings and long-standing traditions. How can you function with your grief during the holidays?

My family suffered the devastating and unexpected loss of a loved one this year. I can’t even bear to write about it directly. Someday I will, but not now. I’m a writer, and I want to use that skill to help others who find themselves walking this particular detour through hell, but I can’t yet.

For now, I can use my years of experience and training as a Hospice volunteer along with my current situation to offer some general support to anyone trying to cope with a loss during the holidays.

Grief Has No Comparison

Admittedly, these days I have zero patience for stupidity or whiny drama over trivial matters and I get frustrated easily when things like my printer don’t work. What I also find is that I have an increased awareness of other’s pain and stress from loss.

I see you and I know your pain is real.

Real and tangible grief comes from many kinds of losses. Loss of health, a broken marriage, death of a companion animal, loss of trust after betrayal, loss of security or safety after a traumatic event…. It’s all real grief. It knocks you off your feet and changes everything.

Your loss and grief is yours. I will not tell you that you shouldn’t be hurting as much as I am or crying as often as I do. My loss is not worse than yours or better than another person’s. There is no comparison for despair or heartbreak.

So please do not say those things to yourself, either! You can’t scold yourself out of grief by telling yourself you are better off than others and have no right to be so upset. Your heartbreak is real.

Emotions and holidays go hand-in-hand under “normal” circumstances with all the family dynamics, and our traditions for gifts and food and decorating. There is the added emotional tug of songs and movies and the general theme of miracles and joy and happy endings.

It is hard to reconcile all those holiday expectations with the ups and downs of our grief.

What To Do For The Holidays?

Whatever you do is fine. Whatever you don’t do is fine. That is not meant in a feel-good pop psycho-babble way. It means you need to be honest with yourself and set limits for your holiday gifts, food, decorating and socializing.

If anyone doesn’t like it or tries to make you feel like you should “get over it” they can go jump in the lake. (Did I mention that I have no tolerance for stupidity these days?)

I am mentally and physically exhausted. If you are grieving, you know exactly what I mean. It takes a lot of energy to hold together the broken pieces, try to make sense out of events that will never make sense, and keep putting one foot in front of another.

Be careful of auto-pilot. Auto-pilot is a saving grace when you are numb with grief or having a day when the pain is overwhelming. Heck, that’s what got me back to my day job and a lot of my daily activities caring for my home and pets.

But with the holidays, I have to catch myself and turn off the auto-pilot. My normal holiday traditions are just too much this year, and that’s okay.

Keep It Simple

Thanksgiving was the first hurdle. I thought it would be good for me to keep busy, and good for my husband and me to be around family. It didn’t take long to realize I do not have it in me to do the full traditional family dinner from scratch with all the bells and whistles.

So I compromised. It was a small gathering. I bought frozen pies. I set the table with dishes that could go in the dishwasher instead of the china that required hand-washing. I had fewer side dishes, and those were easy. I used disposable baking pans.

And you know what? It was still too much. I was completely worn out for the next two days.

My husband and I enjoyed our family, and that was the best part. In retrospect, I put way too much on myself.

I could have asked family members to cook, and they would have been happy to help. It would have been perfectly fine to order the whole dinner from Cracker Barrel for pick-up and eat from disposable dishes. For that matter, we could have had frozen pizza and still would have had an uplifting time with loved ones.

In years past, I loved spending days cooking and preparing for a family feast. This year I did not fully appreciate how much my focus and energy levels have been compromised. Don’t make my mistake.

Our family celebrates Christmas. My husband and I agreed we will be very low-key this year. We don’t have little ones to consider so it is easier for us to skip most of the traditional stuff than it might be for you.

We are displaying a Nativity set and have a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree to set on a side table. The rest of the Christmas decorations will stay in storage this year.

We each have been doing little things to try and cheer up the other one. My husband bought me a couple snowman figures for the front porch that he remembered I wanted last year. I put those out and put a string of lights on the porch railing. My neighbor pulled in the driveway, made a cheerful remark about my decorating and I burst into tears.

As they say, it’s complicated.

That’s pretty much the limit of my energy or inclination for Christmas this year outside of attending our church services.

What You Can Say

Say “No, thank you”. Not this year. Thank you for asking.

You do not have to attend gatherings or events that will cause painful reminders, bittersweet reminders or are just too blasted festive for how you are feeling right now.

As noted above, if anyone tries to argue with you about something like a party or shopping, they can take a hike. You are not being mean or selfish!

I am not advocating hiding in a dark room for the season, but practicing self-protection is important. There is no need to add to your distress. If you know that certain places will be tough to take, don’t go there.

There are some relationships, like immediate family, we choose to maintain even when we are grieving. When it comes to extended family, friends and acquaintances, do not feel obligated to engage with people who are not supportive, who wear you out talking about themselves, or who have a unique talent for saying inappropriate things. It helps to screen your calls.

It is very helpful to have someone to talk to that is outside of your normal circle of family and friends. Even a few visits with a bereavement specialist, pastor or counselor can give you a place to vent and cry without any strings attached and will provide a safe outlet for some of your feelings.

Check out your local Hospice, community health center or the employee assistance program through your job to find counseling services. Your regular health care provider may offer some suggestions.

Depression and Complicated Grief

Normal grief includes sadness, crying and a variety of other emotions. Your life has been changed and there will be effects from that. As awful as it is, it is part of the normal grief process.

There are numerous online resources to help you understand grief and loss and ways to take care of yourself during this difficult process.

Sometimes grief becomes so profound or prolonged that it requires professional intervention. If you or someone you know has become severely depressed, is abusing alcohol or drugs to numb the pain, or is unable to function at home or work, please get help.

Thoughts or talk of suicide is an emergency. Please seek immediate help, even if it means going to the nearest hospital emergency room.

What Now?

As for me, I will not be mailing cards, baking a zillion cookies or making cranberry breads for each of my neighbors this year. No big tree, and no big dinner. I might even talk to my husband about going away for Christmas.

I will be doing my best to be supportive of my friends and family that are grieving. I will try to let my close friends who have had suffered losses know that they can still talk to me. It’s okay if we both cry.

What about you? Are you dealing with grief? How are you coping with the holidays – or are you? Do you have a safe place to vent your feelings?

Please feel free to leave your questions or suggestions about grief during the holidays in the comments below.

Consider The Dark Side of Being A New Business Owner

Image of fountaijn pen and to do list illustating the dark side of being a new business ownerIs the Force With You in Your New Venture?

Do you see yourself as a business Jedi, ready to unleash your entrepreneurial force on the world? Are you prepared to encounter the dark side of being a new business owner?

As Yoda counsels, “Do… or do not. There is no try”. In other words, it will all be on you to successfully launch your new business and guide it through the virtual galaxy.

Search your feelings, Jedi. Have you been so excited you haven’t looked at all aspects of running your own business?

That’s no moon. It’s a Space Station!

There are plenty of online business coaches and communities that will exhort you to follow your dream, shoot for the moon, have faith in yourself and to go ahead and jump into your new business. They tell you not to get stuck on trying to make everything perfect and figure it out as you go. Sound familiar?

Usually these sites have testimonials about how they launched a successful business in weeks, and immediately began to multiply their income.

You are particularly vulnerable to the shiny lure of instant gratification business coaching if you are already restless or unhappy with your day job.

You are particularly vulnerable to the shiny lure of instant gratification business coaching if you are already restless or unhappy with your day job.

According to the Small Business Administration, the dark fact is, on average less than half of new business ventures survive to five years.

You ready to captain this ship? Start here! Take charge now and figure out your finances and business obligations before you jettison your day job so you will be one of the long-term winners!

Ready To Run A New Business Are You?

You need provisions for this trip, my Jedi friend. And there is no room for excess baggage.

Get out of debt

It you have consumer debts, car payments or other obligations outside your basic living expenses, try to get them paid off before you quit your 9-5 job. And for star’s sake, don’t add anymore! You will need the flexibility to handle unexpected business expenses or income dips.

Build an Emergency Fund

Have at least six months’ worth of your household living expenses in savings. A year’s worth is better. That’s household – not just your contribution if you have a spouse or partner that works. Stuff happens, and need to be able to cover your bills. Don’t plan to rely on credit cards.

Track Your New Business Income

Start your new business as a side hustle. Yes, you will basically be working two jobs until you get established. “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind!” Keep track of your net income. Set realistic goals and prove to yourself that your business income is sustainable. For example, set the goal that you can quit your day job (or cut back to part-time) after your net income stays above $xxxxx for six months. Make sure your target income will cover all your expenses.

Tell Jabba I’ve Got His Money

Are you disciplined and organized enough to keep up with the administrative side of running your own being a new business owner? Have you educated yourself and have a system in place? Or do you have some vague notion that you’ll hire someone to take care of the numbers stuff but have no idea who, or how much it will cost you?

This information is primarily for new business owners based in the United States, but the administrative categories apply to businesses anywhere.

As an entrepreneur in the United States, you are considered self-employed by the Internal Revenue Service. You will be responsible for paying your income taxes quarterly and will also be responsible for paying a Self-Employment tax that covers Social Security and Medicare. You must keep careful records and report your income accurately.

If your day job provided your health insurance coverage, when you are flying solo you will be responsible for acquiring a replacement policy and paying the monthly premiums without fail. In the U.S. you may be subject to penalties if you fail to arrange for qualified healthcare coverage.

A Tremor in the Force

Do you have a workflow in place for running your new business?

Hopefully you are serious enough about being a new business owner that your idea of being self-employed is not limited to wearing pajama pants and only working when inspiration hits you, but that doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself in to a standard 40 hour work week.

You will need a planned workflow and the discipline to execute it consistently.

To be a successful business that survives beyond the first year or two, plan specific blocks of time for marketing, administrative tasks, responding to client inquiries, creating and delivering your goods or services, and future product development.

Be prepared for social isolation. You may be looking forward to being able to work in peace and quiet without distractions. You may also be surprised how much you miss having real people to talk to, to complain to, and to share a laugh with. Don’t burn your bridges. Take steps to maintain your work network. Plan to meet folks for lunch occasionally.

Keep in mind that when you are self-employed if your computer crashes or your supply order doesn’t get delivered on time, you are the one who will have to identify the problem, get it fixed, and manage any repercussions. Are you mentally equipped for crisis management?

Your Shield Is Up

Now that you are aware of the dark side of being an entrepreneur, you won’t be fooled into blasting off before your ship is loaded and fully functional! You will be a successful business owner… and a positive force in the business community!

Are you launching a new business? What have you done to defeat the dark side? Are you a current business owner with suggestions for new entrepreneurs? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!

If you like this article, please share on social media!

 

New Business Overwhelm? You Need To Know This!

Image of fountain pen and to-do list pad, sympbolizing a way to overcome New Business Overwhelm Experienced By Entreprenuers
Your new business will prosper with manageable goals!

 

Nothing beats being an entrepreneur! Fueled with enthusiasm and amazing ideas for your new business, those first weeks and months when you decide to go for it are like a honeymoon in a luxury resort. Every day is a new treasure of exploration, and the mundane world seems very far away. We all start out with some dream of an overnight success story, because our products and services are completely awesome!

Until the overwhelm sets in.

In our rush to get our business launched we spent hours late into the night setting up the framework, domain names, web sites, and producing products for prospective clients. We are launching a new business with a single mindedness that makes it practically noble to ignore housework, yardwork, shopping, laundry, and a slew of other daily life-tasks.

Look At This Mess!!

Just as in a new relationship, reality eventually hits us hard – probably sooner for solopreneurs still working a full-time day job.

You can ignore the stats after you first go “live” convinced the public just needs to find you before your offering will be on fire! Then after Tweeting your heart out, adding more blog posts, or whatever you do for marketing ……. crickets.

It is awful to discover that you really did build a better mousetrap, but the world has not beaten a path to your door… or your website! Worse, you lift your red-rimmed eyes from the cruel statistical reports and look around your home at all the chores that have piled up in the meantime.

A Shakespearian Moment

You are discouraged and disillusioned, with a hefty dose of overwhelm thrown in. I know, I have been there (and go back to visit that place occasionally.)

“To be or not to be, that is the question”. Or, “What would Shrek and Fiona do?” if your frame of reference is a little more contemporary. It is a dramatic time of reckoning… with yourself.

Your first inclination may be to chuck the whole entrepreneur thing. It would be easier to hide in your swamp or tower and obsess about everything that went wrong.

Don’t give up. You are the star of this show! Your business success, like “true love”, is closer than you think. Just like any hero, you have to go through a few adventures before you can learn what your true love actually looks like.

And like any hero, you will need to make some sacrifices.

Changing Focus

What about your dreams, your vision of your new business? Your dream are great, that’s what got you started as an entrepreneur. But to keep going, you have to let go of a static image of your successful business. Be prepared to refine and re-define what success looks like to you.

This does not mean flying by the seat of your pants without a business plan that includes measurable goals, and a written calendar of progressive steps to get you there. It means giving up the notion that anyone is really an overnight success.

Make your business goals reasonable and your steps manageable. Track your progress, and celebrate the positive trends. Do you have fifty new followers? Is that twice what you had last month? You want a daydream? There’s one for you! If you double your stats each month, where will you be in a year?

What are you learning as you go? You may find that your first business vision was too small! Plan big for the future but keep your present planning steps small enough to be executed well.

Gathering the Clan

Every hero has helpers along the way and every hero stops along the way to lend a helping hand. By the climax of the story, everyone has played a part in the hero’s big success.

You will need to sacrifice the idea that you can do this all alone.

Joining a community of like-minded people will give you tools, tips, and encouragement. You will have a place to bounce ideas, get feedback and learn how others have dealt with problems you are having.

Tip: Identify your weaknesses and find experts in those areas for coaching.

Did your first launch flop? Do you need help with launching, branding, marketing or video production? There are established experts that offer free webinars, cheat sheets and paid courses in these and other key areas critical to online entrepreneurs. The added bonus is that the best experts have community forums that you can join!

Be the Boss of Your New Business!

Back to the annoying reality that there are only so many hours in a day, we are still faced with cooking, cleaning, laundry and other domestic details. Remember that sleep and exercise can be skimped on for only so long before your overall performance suffers.

You must allow adequate time for sleep and exercise. I have calendared an audible alert on my phone to remind me to Go To Bed!! My husband even recognizes the sound now, and it marks a shift in our evening activities. I start to get sleepy when I hear it. Pavlovian, but it works.

The more negotiable tasks can be delegated or skipped all together. You are the boss, so you get to decide: delegate or don’t do it!

You can hire a maid service to clean every other week. You can hire a teenager to mow the lawn and pull weeds. Do you really need to cover your house and yard with holiday decorations this year? Can you skip making 47 dozen cookies for the exchange?

Alternately, you may find it helpful to hire a Virtual Assistant to help with some business related tasks to free you up for content creation and personal care.

The bottom line is, every hero gets smacked down at least once before they triumph. They keep going, build community and adjust their strategy until finally, they find what they were looking for. Success!!

You are the hero of your business story! Has your vision changed? Are you building community? How’s that delegating thing going for you? Please share in the comments below!

What Freelancers Need to Know About Debt Collection

Image of pens, paper and reading glasses symbolizing What you need to know about debt collections.Have you done work for clients who haven’t paid? Here are important things you need to know about debt collection that will keep you from making costly mistakes.

The Legal Stuff

This article is not legal advice. Opinions offered by your family, friends or Facebook group are not legal advice. To obtain a reliable legal opinion you must consult an attorney in good standing admitted to practice in the state where you live and base your business. You can find information about law firms and attorneys in your area on the Martindale-Hubbell website.

You can save yourself a lot of money in the long run by getting good advice up front. A couple hours of consultation to help you avoid mistakes is a lot less expensive than defending yourself in a lawsuit and paying statutory penalties.

This article underscores why you may want to consult an attorney by providing general information about debt collection mistakes that can get you in trouble.

Federal and State Laws

There are consumer protection laws and guidelines on a Federal level and for each state. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission is the nation’s consumer protection agency that enforces the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act  which is the Federal law that protects consumers from being abused by debt collectors. This law is often referred to as the “FDCPA”.

States have their own consumer protection laws. A state law is allowed to be more restrictive than the FDCPA, but it cannot be less strict in protecting consumers from debt collectors.

In other words, you run the risk of breaking both Federal and state laws by collecting debts before you know the rules!

Debt Collectors

You, as the freelance service provider, are not a debt collector, but you still should play by the rules.

The FDCPA defines a debt collector as anyone whose main business is collecting debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or claimed to be owed to someone else.

The rules are specific and the penalties are high when it comes to debt collectors. Before you hire a person or agency to collect debts owed to you, protect yourself by asking an attorney what your liability will be if any collection rules are broken.

Freelancers are a rapidly growing part the business world, including freelancers that provide services to other freelancers! One area of “services for freelancers” that I find very troubling are individuals who offer to collect your debts, at the same time emphasizing they are not debt collectors.

Paying someone a fee or commission to be your virtual “accounts receivable” employee for the specific purpose of contacting and collecting money from clients who have not paid you is not going to fool anyone, least of all a jury. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, the jury will call it a duck!

Debt Collection Mistakes

Collecting your own debt does not make you a debt collector under the FDCPA definition, but you will still want to play by the rules, including the rules for your state. These are some of the general areas that can get a bill collector in trouble.

Bankruptcy

If your client has filed bankruptcy, you cannot keep contacting them about the debt. You may file a “proof of claim” with the bankruptcy court but if the debt owed to you is unsecured (meaning no collateral) the chance that you will recover anything is slim.

Privacy

Legally, you can’t talk to anyone other than your client or their attorney about the debt. In some instances under federal law you can talk to a spouse, but you better make sure the state laws allow it.

You can also talk to a parent if the person who owes the debt is under eighteen.

You can’t publish the name of anyone who owes you money, leave messages or even send postcards. Basically you have to avoid shaming or embarrassing the person who owes you money.

Harassment

You will need to be careful when, where, and how often you call someone about the money they owe you. There are many rules that protect debtors from abuse or harassment by bill collectors. A few examples of things to keep in mind are:

  • A bill collector cannot call a debtor over and over, even if they are not answering the phone.
  • A collector cannot call the person at work the person is not allowed to get calls there.
  • The debtor cannot be called before 8:00 in the morning or after 9:00 at night without permission.
  • The collector cannot call the person names or use obscene language.
  • No legal action may be threatened unless the collector has the right to the legal action and actually intends to go through with it.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to debt collection and does not consider various state laws.

Summary

The best way to protect your personal and business interests is to invest in reliable legal advice from an attorney with experience in consumer issues or small business law.

Consider making a proactive investment in your business and consult an attorney before you have delinquent client accounts. Do you know if your service agreements or business contracts will help or hinder you if the client doesn’t pay as agreed?

Take advantage of good legal counsel to establish statutorily compliant business practices and collection procedures to keep your business profitable!

What is your experience with clients who don’t pay? Are you interested in more legal topics for freelancers and small business owners? Please contact me or leave your comments below.


[/right]

Smart Travel Tips for Entrepreneurs

These Won’t Bust Your Budget!

This is a guest post by freelance writer and aspiring businessman Michael Baker.

photo of coffee cup and glasses with scene of lovely beach symbolizing Smart Travel Tips for Entrepreneurs These Won't Bust Your Budget!Are you a new biz boss? An entrepreneur on a shoestring budget? Looking for the best travel options and locations within a strict budget can be overwhelming. But here are the latest smart travel tips to get the most out of your next vacation – without wrecking your budget!

Do you remember the line: “Ya gotta squeeze every penny” from the Simpsons? Even if you don’t, it still holds value in its straight forward message of being frugal where ever you can in order to save money.

Everyday there are numerous opportunities for us to save money in our busy lives, but what about when you travel?

Have you ever wondered, “What if I booked at this time,  or through this website? How much could I have saved?” Are the savings worth it compared to the amount of time you spend searching for the best deals?

Yes!

Timing is Everything

The timing of your trip can determine how much over or under budget you will be. Going somewhere during peak periods means you will pay the most for your accommodation, food, transport and any activities you want to enjoy while you are there. So if you can, travel in the off season. There will be a lot less crowding in tourist hot spots, too.

A great example of this is Myrtle Beach, one of the best coastal beach locations to visit on a tight budget. Myrtle Beach is particularly good in off season periods where there is still plenty to do in the area but without the summer crowds.

Also, if you can be flexible with travel dates and allow yourself plenty of time to book, you will be able to hunt down the best deal.

Getting There Is Part of the Fun!

All across America, and the world, there are always hidden gems between major cities and holiday locations. If you have the time and can plan accordingly, a cheaper way to travel is by car. Of course, taking your own car can turn out to be expensive, so why not someone else’s?

Auto Driveaway is a great money saving option when it comes to travelling. They are a car relocation company which allows people to transport cars all across the country. They’ll give you a car, your first tank of gas and a certain amount of time and miles to get from Point A to Point B, usually between two major cities. But, there are some requirements. To use Auto Driveway,  you must be at least 23 years old, hold a current driver’s license and a current motor vehicle driver’s record.

Road tripping is a great way to see parts of the country you haven’t experienced before. One of the best road trip experiences you could have is the trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. This is a trip everyone should embark on at least once during their lifetime.

Riding the Rails

Travelling by train is another great way to save a few dollars. Some rail packages include sleeping accommodations and meals. Group packages are usually available which can help keep costs down on a family vacation or group trip.  Check out the railway options for getting to your next vacation spot!

Smart Travel Tips for Flying

If you want to fly, look for flights that land at regional airports. You’ll be surprised how much money you can save on ticket prices and sales taxes if your destination is near a regional airport.

Which Budget is a search engine that can help you find budget airlines and flights to regional airports. If you are planning to fly internationally, The Flight Deal, has great prices when travelling from the USA. It’s worth checking them out before you book your next trip

Get the Best Deals on Lodging

Where you choose to stay on your business trip or vacation can take a big chunk out of your travel budget. But you can easily offset this cost to being almost nothing. Here are a few ways how you can save on where you stay.

Feeling Adventurous?

Airbnb is a great way to save a lot of money on your accommodation. You have options for single rooms or shared spaces from about $30 – $40 per night. With this service, even a large group can stay together in one house. This is one of the best ways to save a bundle on group accommodation.

Couchsurfing is another great option for not just cheap, but free accommodations. Nope, I’m not suggesting crashing with your friends or family for a few nights. Couchsurfing is an online service similar to AirBnB that helps you connect with local folks willing to share their home at your destination. The added benefit is your new friends can offer great advice on finding those hidden gems mentioned earlier, like local night spots.

Tried and True

If you like sticking to what you know then last-minute deals on Priceline or Hotwire can get you rooms over 60% off the normal price. You are able to bid for rooms, but if you decide to do this, use the website Better Bidding to see how much others have paid for similar hotels and rooms.

Eating on The Cheap

Eating the local cuisine is a great way to experience the different cultures the world has to offer. But your food budget can easily blow out too much more than you would expect.  Paying for three meals a day adds up fast!  So, let’s take a look at how you can keep your food expenses down.

The easiest way to keep your food budget under control is to avoid eating out for every meal. The locals don’t so why should you? Don’t be afraid to visit the local supermarket and see what the area has to offer. Eating “in” for at least one or two meals each day will keep costs down.

When You Eat Out – Avoid the Madding Crowd

This may seem obvious enough when it comes to not spending too much, but it is something people often forget. Don’t stand in line at the top tourist eateries. Instead, try walking for a few blocks in any direction to try find where the locals eat. There is a good chance the food will be twice as good for a fraction of the price.

Follow your nose! In many places around the world, like Asian regions, you will come across side streets filled will food stalls. Usually, the cooking is done right in front of you and fills the surrounding area with some of the best aromas you will ever experience. You might need to be a little adventurous to try this, but low prices make it even more enticing.

More Smart Travel Tips

One of the best ways to save on business travel is to ask for corporate discounts. It doesn’t matter the size of your company, or your travel group. Most major airlines, hotels and car rental agencies have corporate discount programs. Some offer discounts as high as 25%.

A traditional travel agent can help you get corporate discounts, and may have their own incentive programs to save you even more.  If you are a frequent traveller, there are many opportunities to save a few dollars here and there through a good travel agent on each trip.

Another cost-saving method is to join frequent flyer miles programs and rewards clubs. Credit card companies usually have offers where you get points for every dollar you spend with one of their rewards partners. You will find many hotel and car rental companies participate in rewards programs.

To ensure you are able to save yourself the most money on your next trip – be flexible, allow plenty of time when booking your travel dates, and don’t be afraid to do a little homework yourself.

Have you used any of these smart travel tips? Do you have your own money-saving travel tips? Please share in the comments below!

Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay cc


Stress Free Holiday Shopping Tips You Can Use Now

planningCrush Debt With An Effective Financial Plan

Holiday spending is a notorious budget buster, but with Stress Free Holiday Shopping Tips You Can Use Now your fall and winter holidays can be affordable, satisfying and fun!

A Debt Free Holiday is a Stress Free Holiday

Holidays are stressful enough without the worry and regret of additional debt. Being in debt just plain sucks! Are you struggling with debt, and feel like you are getting deeper and deeper? Stop digging and start planning!

If you are dreaming about starting your own business but can’t afford to leave your day job, that’s another reason to stop the same spending pattern and start planning.

Cut the worry and guilt and avoid adding debt by starting your stress free holiday shopping now in the top three budget busting categories: travel, gifts and food.

It is all well and fine to tell yourself that this year you are going to be frugal, but let’s be real. Instead of giving out adorably boxed home-made cookies, are you likely to end  up in line at the mall in December with a big load of guilt and a smoking hot credit card in hand?

Plan your spending and shopping strategies now. Come the New Year, you can look back at a holiday season that did not leave you in more debt! You’ve got this!

Take Advantage of Tax Free Shopping

When football season is kicking off and every store is packed with back- to-school promotions. Keep an eye out for tax free shopping days in your region.

Each year, more and more states offer tax-free shopping days or weeks for consumer goods ranging from clothing to computers! It is perfectly legit to snag a few things off your holiday shopping list during the tax-free period.

The good news is, you do not have to have a third grader in tow to take advantage of the sales! Nor do you have to be a resident of the state. Take advantage of the sales and reduced taxes to score some planned for purchases for the coming holidays.

Start Now for Stress Free Shopping for Holiday Travel Deals

The United States Department of Transportation reports that the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s holiday periods are among the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year. With higher demand comes higher pricing.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to start shopping for holiday travel tickets for you or for family members. Especially if you are planning to fly, shopping now is a very good plan. Not only will you be able to get better prices, you are more likely to get the flight you want before it fills up.

Don’t forget to look for hotel deals if you will not be bunking at Grandma’s or if the family is driving over a period of days. Remember a heated indoor pool is a great way to wear out kids who have been stuck in the back seat all day, especially if you can book that room at a reduced rate!

We Love Lay-Away for Holiday Gift Shopping

Thank goodness for the reappearance of the “Lay Away” plan at so many large retailers!  This old-fashioned payment method is a great way to avoid going into debt for holiday spending.

The revival of the Lay Away payment plan lets you buy your gifts now and divide up the payments between now and the holiday. You get to do your shopping early enough to avoid the rush and avoid any debt!

Since the gifts stay at the store until they are paid for, you don’t have to worry about hiding toys and bicycles from curious kids!

Most Law Away plans require 10 to 20% down with the remaining amount paid over a six to eight week period.

How it works: Say you have $300 worth of presents to lay-away. Most stores have a small lay-away fee of around $5. If you then put down 20% that would be $60 for a total to start of $65. You will then pay $30 each week for eight weeks.

Shop and lay-away now. You will have all your gifts paid off and ready to wrap the first half of December. Free and clear, with no January credit card hangover! How cool is that?

Rock Your Holiday Food Shopping

How many big meals and traditional recipes do you prepare every year? Are you expecting house guests in coming months? Do you tend to run to the store for your cooking and baking supplies a few days before the big event?

The grocery stores tend to offer attractive holiday specials or loss-leaders during the week or two before major holidays. Those bargains are designed get you in the store with the expectation that you will buy all the things you need while you are there. Yup,  even if the rest of the items on your list are not on sale.

Spread It Out

You don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to find rock-bottom prices on every item.

Control your spending and give yourself a little breathing room. Instead of stressing, plan your major holiday meals now! Include a complete “master list” of ingredients for all your special meals, treats and party foods.

Want a little extra help with planning holiday cooking? I really like the free meal planner sheets from the Organized Home site.

Look over your master list for items that may be safely stored for longer periods. Long shelf-life items are canned goods, frozen foods and baking supplies. Remember non-food items that run out faster during holidays. Stock up on toilet paper, napkins and paper plates!

Start now to pick up a few things from your list every time you go grocery shopping. You can spread the cost over several weeks. Bonus: You won’t be dragging it in the house and putting it all away at the same time. Win-Win!

Remember to mark the items off your Master List. Look at what you have accomplished!

Planning now for your holiday travel, gift giving and special meals will keep you out of debt and give you more time to enjoy your holidays.

Do you have some budget areas that are a problem? Would you like more tips for Stress Free Holiday Shopping? Leave your questions and comments below!


More Helpful Tips For Brand New Freelance Writers

More Tips for New Freelance Writers Essentials and Extras I Used to Launch My Freelance Writing Biz

In my last post we covered how I chose my domain name, WordPress theme and selected a website host. This time around, in More Tips for New Freelance Writers we’ll talk about some of the “extras” and resource materials that I purchased for launching writing business.

Freelance Writers Need a Bio!

So what is a biography for anyway? What should a freelance writer’s bio include?  If you are an experienced writer with published works that you can point to, that’s fine and dandy. If you are a newcomer to the freelance writing world, you can fill the bill by writing a kick-ass bio that showcases your knowledge and experience.

Writing your writer’s bio is probably one of the very first tasks that you will do as a freelancer that’ll have you staring at a blank page with high anxiety. At least that’s how it was for me! I felt like my biography was going to be a deal breaker. After all, my bio was as my introduction to the online world!

If you’re stuck in panic mode when it come to your bio, take a deep breath. Remember, the beauty of being an entrepreneur, especially an entrepreneur who is a freelance writer, is that you are the boss! The boss gets to change things!  So get on with it. You won’t be stuck with your bio.  The worst that can happen is … meh.

Trust me, no bio police will come knocking on your door.

Identify Your Freelance Writing Clients

A great place to start is visualizing your perfect client.  Who are you selling your services to? How old is your target client? What stage of life or business are they in?

Most importantly, what problem do they have that you will solve? Keep that in mind while you are drafting your bio. Describe affirmatively what you have to offer prospective clients.

Don’t try to be all things to all people, or you’ll end up with a very generic bio that will not catch anyone’s attention.

Your Headshot – A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Have you quest posted yet? Bet they asked for a headshot to go with your bio!

Choosing a photograph to grace the home page of your website and use as a headshot is a big deal. Think about it. How many times have you made a choice between service providers based on a picture? Some business coaches, like Melinda Emerson, recommend updating your business photos each year!

Before you snap a quick selfie to send as your headshot, consider your target client. What characteristics do you think will attract your client? For example, if my ideal clients are 20-something fitness freaks, a studio photo in a suit and pearls just doesn’t jive.

My freelance writing niche is in the legal field and business management, where a more formal photograph works.

I admit, this is where I spent a chunk of money.

I invested in having a professional photo shoot, including professional hair and makeup for my business headshot. Lucky for me, I happen to know an amazing celebrity photographer, Virginia Rose Hodges, a passionate artist and businesswoman.

Presentation does matter! But, it doesn’t have to break your budget. Don’t go into debt to have professional photos! Use the best camera you have (or can borrow) and just be mindful of your setting.

Your picture is an important part of your brand, so do the best you can with what you have, and plan for the professional shots later.

Useful Resources for Writers

I’m a writer! Of course I love books. I’ve have a particular penchant for resource materials.

In addition to a couple journalism textbooks from college, back when print newspapers still flourished, here’s a short list of my bookshelf favorites for freelance writers:

Yahoo Style Guide –  The last version published was 2010, but this book is still recommended for information on writing for the Internet!

Strunk & White’s Elements of Style – I consider this a must read for any aspiring writer. This short and sweet little book discusses the importance of cutting out the fluff from your writing.

AP Style Guide – I will always keep the most recent edition of this guide on my shelf. In my very brief stint as an author for a content mill, this book was indispensable. It is the often the used as gold standard for accurate, technically correct writing.

Planning and Calendaring Your Content

So, you picked your name for your business, develop your brand, and customized your WordPress theme. Time to get busy writing and posting your blog articles.

Conventional wisdom says that it is optimal to publish new blog content 3 to 5 times a week. That’s terrific, if you can do it consistently.  The trick is to consistently produce quality content on a regular schedule, whether it is every day or once a week. Because I have a full-time schedule already, I was careful not to bite off more than I could chew in my editorial schedule.

Plan ahead for your editorial calendar! If you have an idea, or a series of ideas for your blog, using your calendar will maximize the effectiveness of your content.

Your calendar will keep you accountable, whether it is an electronic version or a paper planner. Get in the habit of writing your blog articles in advance. You can make sure that you always have great content available for publication. No scrambling when the holidays roll around, the baby is sick, or you will be on vacation!

What are your essential resources for freelance writers? How often do you publish new blog posts? Would you like to see more tips for new freelance writers? Please leave your questions and comments below!


Timely Tips for Every New Freelance Writer

Timely Tips for Brand New Freelance Writers What You Need to Know About Launching a Blog!What You Need to Know About Launching a Writer’s Website! 

Once upon a time, I was a brand new freelance writer. With years of ghostwriting under my belt, energized by a great freelance writing course, I was ready to put my writing out in the world under my own name. Time to launch a blog!

With a little help, it isn’t difficult for new freelance entrepreneurs to set up a website and a blog.  I will tell you how I did it!

Pick Your New Freelance Name

Let me tell you the first mistake I made when it came to launching a blog. I went out and found the least expensive place to register a name without realizing the relationship between your web host and your domain name.

Take it from me – while you’re busy dreaming up the perfect name for your website, don’t actually go to register it until you’ve settled on a web host. It took hours on the phone over two days to get my domain released from the cheap site when I picked a web host.

Branding Your Writing Business

Give some serious thought to the name you will choose for your new freelance business. Select a web site name that would be easy for people to find, and tell folks something about your business. Your website domain name should be descriptive, distinct, and intuitive for someone looking for your writing skills.

Your website domain name should be descriptive, distinct, and intuitive for someone looking for your writing skills.

Do you normally remember the exact URL for any given site? I sure don’t.

Someday, everyone will know your name, just like hanging out at Cheers. In the meantime, your website domain name should not have a complicated spelling but it should not be too common, either.

You want folks to be able to remember your site name well enough to find you, even if they don’t remember the exact URL.

For my business, I went with Artfully Chosen Words because it is descriptive and easy to remember. My first name is too common (Debbie Does Writing? Uh, NO!!)  But, my last name is a little too complicated for folks to find unless they are already familiar with it.

Domain Designations

Once you’ve selected your domain name, you still have to decide on your domain designations.  The most recognizable are .com and .net, but there are lots to choose from.

I strongly recommend that you purchase more than one domain extension for your domain name, assuming it is still available. Fees for domain names run about $10-$12 a year.

My biggest concern with my domain name was someone hijacking my domain name with a different extension and diverting customers that were looking for me. Those customers could be hijacked for products and services, or exposed to content that I would find morally or ethically contrary to my business practices. In other words, I don’t want someone searching for my domain name to end up on a porn site!

To protect the exclusivity and integrity of my brand, I invested the funds to be able to purchase my domain name with both.com and .org extensions.

With the same concerns in mind, I did go ahead and purchase domains using my first and lastname. I am protecting my name for personal and business reasons. When I am the next Nora Roberts, everyone will know my name!

If someone uses your business or personal name and registers it as their domain, you are out of luck unless you want to spend big bucks to purchase it from them!

The Bottom Line  – Your Freelance Business Budget

When I decided to pursue a freelance writing career, I made the choice to go at it full steam ahead. My mantra is pretty much Go Big or Go Home! So, I was prepared to make a financial investment to set my website up as efficiently and professionally as possible.

I am blessed with a supportive husband and the financial resources to invest in my business up front. If you are not in a situation where you can afford to fund your business up front, that’s okay! There are plenty of successful online business successes, like freelance biz guru Gina Horkey, who started off with a teeny-tiny budget and built a thriving business.

Web Hosting – Are You Being Served?

There are many web hosting platforms available, and all the big ones have mixed reviews, some more predominantly negative than others.

I was determined my website would be a professional looking showcase for my blog, in order to highlight my writing skills. I added cool pages for readers and clients to contact me.

Careful research indicated that the best platform for a blog is WordPress. I chose the premium version of WordPress and the WordPress recommended web host, Bluhost.

Building Your Freelance Website on a Budget

Don’t Worry if you’re strapped for cash when you start out! Just make careful choices with the end in mind of upgrading and enhancing your business tools and platform as your success grows.

Do your homework, and select platforms and applications that will be easier to upgrade, rather than requiring a complete migration of information to a newer, better platform later on when you have a lot more content and client information to deal with.

In other words, keep your eye on the prize! Look into the future and see what your totally successful freelance writing business will look like, and work back from there.

If you have a smaller budget, check out free version of WordPress. The free version has limitations, but it will be easier to upgrade.  Check out the link here for a comparison of the different WordPress options.

The Theme Is The Thing

WordPress sites need a theme. You c an choose from plenty of free and attractive WordPress themes suitable for sale sites and blogs. I tried that route!

I needed to be able to customize the theme to incorporate elements integral to my personal business brand. Colors, fonts, and layouts can make or break the presentation of your business.

I admit to spending too many frustrating hours trying to customize free word press themes with no satisfactory end in sight. Why was I wasting my valuable time going crazy when there was another option?

I finally bit the bullet, and invested the $79 to purchase a Bluchic WordPress theme. What a difference! Within an hour or two, I had a totally customized, beautiful and responsive website!

Widgets and Plug-ins, Oh My!

The premium version of WordPress has loads of widgets and plug-ins that even a newbie to website design can use!

There are widgets for creating contact forms, calendars, author information and all kinds of other little goodies that are easy to drag and drop into your WordPress theme.

I started with a handy plug-in called Under Construction. As the name implies, this plug-in tells visitors to your site that something good is coming soon. It allows you to work on your website design without anyone else able to see until you’re ready to unveil your fabulous new site!

Are you an aspiring freelance writer? Are you in the process of setting up a website or blog? Do you have recommendations?  Please leave your questions and comments below!


Avoid Obstacles To Your Freelance Success

Remove Obstacles to Freelance Success Are you ready to for freelance success right now? Are you tired of schlepping to a day job? Are you underpaid, overworked, or burned out? Remove those obstacles to your freelance success!

The thing is, most new business owners or entrepreneurs fail. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows us that only about half of new establishments that make it through the first year are still in business by year five.

The statistics do not take into account all the failed freelancers out there. The ones who never registered as a business or lost steam after the first few months and gave up.  How sad, to not even be a blip on the business radar screen.

It is fun and easy to dream of big freelance success, but unless you take action, you will never get past the daydream stage.

It is fun and easy to dream of big freelance success, but unless you take action, you will never get past the daydream stage.

There is something for everyone out there in the realm of business opportunities and freelance options, but you have to do the work, and you, only you, have to be able to overcome common obstacles to freelance success.

Lack of Vision for Your Freelance Success

Sure, you have imagined for years how it will feel to be your own boss. You see yourself working anywhere and anytime you feel like it. No more time clock for you!

That is not a vision, it’s a daydream.

Define your mission statement, your vision and your values. Why are you stepping out as a freelancer? What is the service or product you will provide? How will you deliver your product? What are your core values? What is your commitment to your customers?

To be a freelance success, you gotta get real. You have to set realistic, measurable goals.  You have to work your tail off, consistently. There are no shortcuts to freelance success.

You can take advantage of courses and coaches that give you knowledge and a framework to launch from, but it will be up to you to create a great service or product and market it effectively. Create and market. Then do it again.

Know Your Customer

You have heard by now that you have to find a niche.  That means you have to be specific about the type of customer who will buy your product. Can you define what they need? Now you have to be able to describe how you can meet that need.

It is too broad to say that your market is fitness freaks, and you will teach them a workout program for peak performance.  Failing to narrow your target customer is an obstacle to freelance success.

A successful freelance niche is much more specific. For example, your ideal customer may be millennial female runners in executive positions who have difficulty finding a regimen that works with frequent business travel.  You have just the answer they need!

Perfection Hinders Progress Towards Freelance Success

A huge obstacle for many is just getting started. Have you kept buying self-improvement books and joining Facebook groups in your chosen field but haven’t even really gotten your business off the ground? The first hurdle is planning and decision making.

The saying is true, even in business that progress is better than perfection. You still need to have a decent business plan, but stop thinking you need to wait until you have everything perfect before you actually start selling you product or services.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone. You will always be looking for new ways to improve your business, your product, your marketing strategy and yourself. If you don’t, your business will fizzle.

Make a plan, set deadlines. Designate specific times to be working on your business tasks. Not just setting up a web page, or tinkering with your WordPress theme, but also designate time for creating a business plan and measurable goals.

Don’t just set deadlines to accomplish certain tasks, but make deadlines for decision making. Are you paralyzed with indecision about choosing a web host? WordPress theme? Picking a domain name? Gather some options and then set a hard deadline for making that choice! Then go with it. Don’t waffle. You need forward progress here and if you can’t trust your own gut, you are lost.

Be realistic about your abilities. Nothing is a faster business killer than constant frustration and hitting roadblocks. You have to be prepared to change course if your initial plan is hitting a brick wall.

Doing It All

If you are trying to save money by creating your own web site and customizing a free theme, that’s fine if you have the skills for it. Nothing is more frustrating than spending hours on a task that turns into days and you feel you are worse off then when you started.

I actually have skill and experience with databases and customizing online applications, but trying to set up and customize a free WordPress theme was making me totally crazy. After several late nights, I realized that setting up my own web page was taking way too long to be productive. I finally purchased a responsive theme package and had my website up and customized in a few hours – easy peezy!!

I can’t believe I wasted so much time and energy before spending a few measly dollars to get something workable and attractive. So don’t make yourself crazy! Remember, your time is worth money, too.

Still Need More Support to Reach Freelance Success? 

Business programs that I can personally recommend to help you get your business off the ground are Empire Building with Alexis Giostra for starting your own business, and Fearless Launching with Anne Samoilov to show you exactly how to effectively get that new service or product out to your customers.

As for that interactive theme I bought – it came from BluChic!

Are you dreaming of freelance success? Do you have a side hustle? Please share your questions and comments!


1 2 3 5