Thursday, May 10, 2012

Beware of Avantlink's Inactive account policy

For several years along with my teaching, I did affiliate marketing. With backlinks being king at the search engines and economic downturn, I decided to take a break and go back to full time teaching however several affiliate marketing accounts are below the minimum payment so they are still there and well when demand for classes goes down I plan to try again.

Yesterday, I got a check in the mail from Avantlink for my remaining balance. Unfortunately I can't use it. It is very complicated to cash an international check written to a business name.  I quickly sent a message to them asking why they sent me a check since from the beginning I had my account set to pay me by  PayPal and they can see by my address that I don't live in the USA.

I got a friendly message telling me that it is their policy to send a check if an account is inactive.  Isn't that an interesting policy?  Lets ignore payment settings if an account is inactive!

I replied asking them to cancel the check and to correctly reissue payment as configured.

I was then told that they could charge me the stop-check fee and get the PayPal payment for the remainder. The fee is more than half of the value of the check.

I later replied that if they don't want to fix the problem to go ahead and close my account. I got a reply about an hour later that they'd do exactly that so I am no longer recommending Avantlink. I don't appreciate that treatment at all. I thought they'd care, but they obviously didn't in my case.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Beautiful Business Card with Vintage Pattern

Your Photograph with a Beautiful Border profilecard
Your Photograph with a Beautiful Border Browse more Fancy Business Cards

In addition with my busy work teaching English classes, I've been keeping busy at my Zazzle stores. I've spent most of the month on graphic design especially with vintage patterns and monograms. This business card uses one of my favorite backgrounds with a matching separator this berry or maroon tinted card is great for a woman, an antique shop, a jewelry store, or other formal situation. Just change the text to your information and replace my photo with your photo or logo. It is available in different colors and I have several other vintage backgrounds and font combinations in my store if you browse business cards.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Seven Reasons Why Many Writers and Visual Artists Make No Money

Writers and artists have several things in common. We like to create, we're sensitive, and we are mostly independent. We normally think in concepts instead of numbers so it isn't surprising that we often make the same mistakes that hold us back from success. Here are a few reasons why you might not be successful selling your writing or artwork online.

  1. You are not publishing in the right place for your type of work
  2. You are not doing enough promotion of your work
  3. You are not very patient
  4. You are not very productive
  5. Your prices are too high or too low
  6. Your finished works could use more finishing
  7. Your work's descriptions and keywords (tags) are not very good
You are not publishing in the right place for your type of work.

There are several different ways to publish both books and artwork online. There is print-on-demand like Lulu or Blurb for books and Imagekind, FineArtAmerica, Zazzle, CafePress, Redbubble, and many more sites for artwork.  For ebook sales there is the option to publish them for Kindle (at Amazon) and other sites using Smashwords.  Just because you don't get any sales on one site it doesn't mean you won't have better luck at another. It normally doesn't hurt to upload the same works to multiple sites so people have options when searching on those sites for your keywords

You are not doing enough promotion of your work

With so much competition, you have to work to get seen. Blog, create a website, use social bookmarking, Facebook, Twitter, and anything else that comes to mind to get your artwork in front of others without spamming. Do your best to establish friendly relationships with people who like your artwork or writing. If you are a writer offer a sample perhaps the first chapter of your book. Artists should include thumbnail images of their artwork.

You are not very patient

Sales take time and effort. Whoever told you that selling online was an easy road to riches was probably trying to sell you an expensive get-rich-quick e-book. There is no honest get rich quick. If it were so easy to make money online, everyone would do it.

You are not very productive

Did I mention the w-word? Yes, it takes work too. You must always be working on new books or artwork, post them for sale and promote them.  The moment you stop working you will start to lose future income. Also consider the more work you have available to the public, the more likely people will remember you and your personal brand.

Your prices are too high or too low

If you price too high you lose impulse purchases and bargain hunters. If you price too low, people will think your work isn't quality. Better yet offer different price points like e-books and hardcover books and postcards as well as canvas prints.

Your finished works could use more finishing

Always proofread and edit any book you plan to publish. Always post process your photos and other artwork even minimal editing and post processing makes a big difference. The image your work has will make a huge difference in sales. Would you buy a book without cover art or a photo where the subject is out of focus or with poor composition? As a general rule, only post for sale works that you are proud of. 

Your works' descriptions and keywords (tags) are not very good

Often people will find your work online because of keywords in your work's description and tags. If you don't write a complete description with good tags, your work might not appear in the results and you lose the sale.

Working from Home: Set Daily and Weekly Goals for Productivity

Working at home can be changing in terms of productivity due to distractions that exist however working at home has one challenge that is worse for many. You are not supervised.  If you require supervision to get work done, you won't be successful working at home because you have to be a self-starter.  If you don't regularly add content (sales and informative) to your website, blog, or print on demand (POD) site(s), you won't make any money and will have to get a job where you will have a set schedule and someone looking over your shoulder.

One way to deal with this problem is of course to set regular days and hours for work so you get into a routine. I wrote about this in earlier articles.  Today, I want to emphasize the importance of setting (and writing down) your daily and/or weekly goals for your online business.

The importance of setting goals

Since you don't have a boss while working at your home or online business, you need more than just the need to eat to keep yourself working and keep your online business growing.  Your list of goals (or as I like to call it my to-do list) replaces the boss.  Instead of going to the boss to find out what to do today or this week, you check your list. You know that you have to do whatever is on the list or do what it takes to reach a certain statistic.

You could set a goal of writing 7 quality blog posts or articles each week. You could also say that you want to have the goal of an average of 10 more readers per day in your blog statistics (compared to the previous week or previous month. It is easy to compare by installing an Analytics like Google Analytics and then just comparing the statistics from one week or month to the next such as the number of visitors or repeat visitors.

Another good statistic to compare would be RSS or Newsletter subscribers.  Perhaps set a goal of 5 new subscribers for the week.
What do you have to do to earn the new subscribers?  You will of course be judged by the quality of your content. If they see value they'll eventually start to comment and subscribe.
By setting goals and checking your list, you'll never have the excuse of having nothing to do nor will you be playing video games during work hours until you have reached your goal.

Why you should write down your goals

It is important to write down your goals for working in your home office because we often forget what is important especially in the long term. Seeing that sale for a book you wrote about at Amazon might make you forget your plan.

Don't just write sales content! People are not going to come back to a website that just has advertisements. People want to learn and be entertained.  You have to add value to the products and services that you promote (even if they are your own products).

What kind of goals you should set

Any goals you set for your online business should be productivity related. Your focus should be on creating new content, new products, new services, improving existing products, improving existing services and promoting all of those.

Checking your blog statistics is not a goal and as a task, it is only beneficial at most once a day.  E-mail is not productive either. Checking e-mail is only important for replying to clients. Otherwise twice a day is more than adequate. Don't put statistics or e-mail on your to-do or goal list.

A goal of 5 new subscribers, 10 new articles, 20 new enriching blog comments, improved ranking for your most important keywords, 2 new finished artworks, etc are all great. Your goals should be to move you forward!

Weekly or daily goals

If you have trouble getting going, daily goals are probably the best. At or near the end of one day, make a short list of 3-5 things to do to meet your objectives and put it in your work area where you will see it right away.

Weekly goals are more objectives than tasks although they go together.  If you don't add new content and you don't promote your website or blog, or POD profile, how do you expect growth?  Weekly goals are best for self-starters who just need a push to do what is productive instead of what is unproductive.

After a few months of this routine, you might discover that you automatically start on productive tasks and checking your goals for continual improvement! Once you start seeing success the success will also start to motivate you to work smarter.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Do you Spin your Articles for Article Marketing?

Due to the recent Panda/Content Farm update at Google, the Article Marketing methods of recent years of writing a short article and submitting it to various article directories for backlinks and new exposure seems to be challenged.  While there are many websites accepting articles, most seem to be requesting articles that are ONLY for that site.

Web 2.0 Sites are getting strict

I noticed this message this morning in Hubpages:

  • Hubs with text that is substantially duplicated from other sites are now completely prohibited
  • Hubs must contain at least 50 words of original text for each Amazon or eBay product that is configured to be displayed
  • Hubs can no longer use an Amazon, eBay, Link, News, or RSS capsule as the first full width capsule in a hub
I really like the idea of requiring at least 50 words of original text per product displayed since I don't think social sites really should be use for in-your-face product promotion so if they can't say more than just a list of products the article should get rejected. I always thought that product lists that are just product lists should be on your own website or blog.

Notice how they are not allowing the same article to be used or an article only partially rewritten since the duplicated content will be substantial.  Although they don't mention percents, I'm sure this is to go against copied content and people who rewrite the title and first paragraph only before adding an article from another site (like their blog).

Squidoo also recently started reminding users about the need for original content. When I checked the blog for the article that was linked to the user dashboard, I found a link to this FAQ.

While the FAQ reminds people not to use content by others with out permission (you know not to steal photos and text right) and to not be excessive with quotes from Wikipedia and other creative commons websites question #7 addresses the article marketing issue.

Q: I write a lot of articles elsewhere, and I want to post them on Squidoo too. May I?

A: Careful here. Squidoo is a place for original content. That means it's not recycled in several places, verbatim, around the web. Surely since it's your content you can link it all together, but please remember to excerpt yourself. Don't post an entire article of yours here AND somewhere else. Rather, use your lens to excerpt your favorite parts of your own article, maybe share a little more background behind it, add something that is truly unique to the lens only, and have fun.
Again we have the push for minimal content duplication just like Hubpages and I wouldn't be surprised if article directories start to follow this and require original articles too.  Ezinearticles which greatly affected by the search engine changes now requires 400 words or more and twice as many quality checks as before with an emphasis on good language use. Which probably means that many articles that they have been getting have been "spun". 

What is article spinning?
From what I understand, Spinning articles is the process of using software to rewrite article content quickly mostly through replacing words and phrases with similar words and phrases.  I assume people started to use article spinning software because they saw the writing on the wall with similar updates at Google last year which dropped website rankings for sites that include affiliate datafeeds using content from the datafeed instead of rewritten content and similar cases with unchanged product descriptions and little original text.  I know and I agree. How much can you really say about a product that really is helpful and useful to a visitor to your website?  Unless it is your own product there really is very little you can add that can help the decision to click a product or not, but the search engine doesn't see it that way.  That's also probably why there are so many review and fake review websites today since the BS about products got better ranking even before those changes in the last couple years.

Those very problems made article marketing more popular since people needed more backlinks to get their sites back up in search results and since by nature we are lazy and because we need to compete with the real content farms where there are hundreds of writers writing nonsense (yet original) articles every day, people started using Article Spinning software. 

I have been tempted to try to use them but so far I've only rewritten my articles starting by thinking of the topic and what I wrote before. I make a point of changing the title and while I'll occasionally keep the main points, the text is different.  Often by the second writing of a topic the content is better than the original on my blog or website since I had more time to think about it and I can add any new ideas that come to mind.  

Pros and Cons of article re-writting by hand vs. using an article spinner

The Pros for rewriting by hand and mind is that it is truly your work and it will be just as understandable as your normal writing. It will be original work even if you keep the same main points.  

The cons are the time it takes and the boredom that occurs by having to write the same topic over and over just to get your work seen and to have a backlink on another site.  Article spinning software can let you rewrite an article in a few minutes even if it is still confusing.  I'm sure if you just pasted an article directly from software, it would be almost impossible to understand since we know that most synonyms are not 100% the same and therefore multiple work changes will cause confusion as someone tries to read it.

What is the future of Article marketing?

I almost wonder if article marketing is dying, since it is no longer as easy as reposing your content to other sites as links and the same work will be needed as posting to your own websites. Perhaps people will finally just focus on writing great content for their own web properties and social bookmarking?  I'm sure web 2.0 websites will still be around for people who don't want to have their own website or blog, but I wonder how much value there will be in using them for traffic generation and backlinks after the next few search engine updates.

What do you think?  Do you spin or have you spun your articles? Do you do article marketing today?

Friday, March 11, 2011

14 Things to Do When You're Having a Bad Day (in your home office)

Sometimes you have the best of intentions, but no matter what you try you just can't seem to concentrate and that great post that should have taken you thirty minutes to write has already taken an hour and it still isn't complete. Admit it, you're having a bad day.

Here are some things to do when you are having a bad day when working at home. A few are just temporary things to do and then you try to go back to your productive tasks while others will take the entire day. In any case don't feel frustrated. We all need some time off and away from the computer.

  1. Have a coffee
  2. Take a nap (set your alarm for 1-2 hours)
  3. Go for an inspiration walk with your camera
  4. Lift weights
  5. Cook your favorite meal
  6. Daydream or meditate
  7. Read a book (especially one about one of your blog/website topics)
  8. Clean your office
  9. Paint or decorate your home office
  10. Do laundry
  11. Take the day off
  12. Do yoga
  13. Take care of your garden
  14. Call Mom or your best friend
Take care of your body and spirit

When you are having trouble concentrating your body is probably not in its best condition. How have you been taking care of your body recently? Have you been averaging less than 6.5 hours of sleep per night? Perhaps you need to take a nap. Maybe the neighbor's party just kept you up so try a strong coffee now and a nap after lunch.

Perhaps you haven't been getting enough exercise. Lift some weights and take a walk or go jogging. Do some yoga or gardening. Your body was designed to move. It was not designed to sit in a chair in front of a computer every day and all day long!  Work up a good sweat, take a shower and try to spend the next hour working on something productive.  Yoga and gardening are great because they are not only exercise but also spiritual and relaxing. 

Feeling isolated from the world? When was the last time you took the day off or went out. We all need some social time too. Call Mom and say hello. Send your best friend or your significant other a quick text message to see if they have a moment for a quick call. Take no more than 5 minutes for the call and get back to work! :-)

Finally consider your diet. If you are eating mostly junk food you will be lethargic and have trouble concentrating. If so, make a fresh vegetable salad or cook a vegetable soup (no I don't mean anything that comes in a can!). You need vegetables to be healthy. A hamburger and fries may taste great, but if that's all you eat you'll just get fat and you'll be missing what you also need: vitamins, calcium, fiber, etc. that fresh vegetables can give you.

Take care of your home office and home in general

We are often distracted or depressed by our home office and home in general. Perhaps your mind is reminding you that you have nothing to wear tomorrow. If so go take care of that quickly and try to get back to work. 

Is your home office a mess or dirty? Take an hour (set an alarm) and pick it up and organize it a little. Empty the waste basket and wipe off all the desk surfaces with a damp soapy wash cloth and mop the floor by the desk.  Don't forget the dust and stuff under and behind the computer desk.  Yes, you can do it in one hour if you work quickly.  This is important because you'll also be getting anything that might be causing you allergies in your immediate work area and an organized clean office makes you feel good.
If you are in a cleaning mood spend thirty minutes on any other close by room like the bathroom or kitchen and then try to work on something productive in your home office for the next hour.

If you office is already clean, consider painting it. While walls turn depressing gray and light blue walls are depressing too. Beige is a little boring. Consider painting it white (for a dark room), yellow (always cheerful), or a bold green (if you have good light a bold color can be great).  Do you have any plants? Get one or two.  Put them where they get light and water them at least once a week. They'll make you feel good for that little effort it takes to take care of them. There are some plants that will tolerate low light, but don't expect them to survive or grow if you stick them in the dark corner of your room. Put the file cabinet and storage boxes over there instead!

Even if today you weren't able to be as productive as you'd like, by taking care of your body, spirit, and home, you'll be more prepared for a more productive day tomorrow!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Six Tips for any Business Person Who Wants to Hire a Freelancer (Outsource)

In, my previous entry I described for freelancers some common problems now this post includes some tips for businesses who want to hire a freelancer or in other words want to outsource common tasks like accounting, graphic design, website development, or coding.

If you follow these tips you will have a better experience working with freelancers for any project. Good planning and communication will avoid most problems.

  1. Be realistic
  2. Know exactly what you want before you contact a freelancer or before posting an advertisement.
  3. Be willing to listen to the expert's point of view. If they give you advice, it is probably for a reason.
  4. Plan a timeline for different tasks and verify that the timeline is realistic with the freelancer you hire.
  5. Take responsibility for you part of the project.
  6. Pay a good price for good work or expect less.
Be realistic

You wanted it yesterday and you want all the bells and whistles, but don't expect everything unless you are willing to pay $$$ and wait a long time. A complicated dynamic website or computer software program is best done in functional parts starting with the most essential features and adding on to it as you go keeping in mind what you later want it to do.

Know exactly what you want before you contact a freelancer or before posting an advertisement.

Planning is essential. If you don't clearly know what you want, how will you be able to explain to a freelancer your needs? Brainstorm and mindmap your project. Meet with whoever in your company will be working with you on the project and get their feedback before you contact someone.
No freelancer will want the extra work of doing something over because you forced them to guess at what you wanted. Likewise you won't want delays in completing your project.

Be willing to listen to the expert's point of view. If they give you advice, it is probably for a reason.

Most likely you want to hire a freelancer because he is an expert in his area whereas you probably have a limited knowledge in that area. After discussing the project and goals, be able to accept feedback from your freelancer. You are in control, but those suggestions might make the project even better or run more smoothly. There might be technical reasons why something might need to be done a little differently.

Plan a timeline for different tasks and verify that the timeline is realistic with the freelancer you hire.

You might have wanted this yesterday, but the freelancer might be finishing up another projects while starting yours. The freelancer might have a part time job or a family to take care of (just like you!).  Make a realistic deadline and set a done by date for each separate step that you both agree on. By agreeing on completion of steps on certain days, you'll feel better seeing each step done and you'll know to be more concerned if your freelancer doesn't report it complete on time.

Take responsibility for you part of the project.

Don't forget that if the freelancer needs your feedback or information, you need to give it in a timely manner or the project will lose momentum. Don't sabotage your own progress. If your subordinate has to send information or give feedback, make sure he or she does as well. It isn't the freelancer's fault if he or she has been waiting for you.

Pay a good price for good work or expect less.

You really do get what you pay for.  Don't expect encyclopedia quality articles for five dollars each and don't expect a short article with poor grammar for twenty dollars. You should expect a quality that corresponds to the price.  If you want quality work offer a quality price and most freelancers who want repeat business will try to match the fair offer with good quality work.  Also consider if someone only makes 5 dollars each per unit, he'll have to spend less time on it to include other projects. Everyone has to eat!


Working with a freelancer can be a great experience. By showing basic respect, clearly stating your goals, and agreeing on a plan and timeline from the start, you will avoid conflict and hopefully lead to working together on many projects.