Category Archives: Work

How to contribute financially as a SAHM

Being a stay at home mum (or SAHM) can be extra stressful when between you and your partner you find that you’re not making ends meet, and that you’re struggling to pay the bills. As a stay at home mum you can do some additional things to contribute financially to the household pot. Raising a family is already a full-time job, so for many SAHM’s they have to get creative when it comes to making money.

Save Money with Vouchers

Benjamin Franklin once said “A penny saved, is a penny earned”, and I have to agree with him. Saving money is just as good and as important as making money. So one way you can contribute to your family’s finances, is by shopping around for bargains and discounts. There are useful websites such as VoucherBin which can be used to help save you money. On VoucherBin, you can select your category, and also your budget to find the right voucher for you. This online voucher portal is a very useful tool to find discount vouchers for you, but it also helps to find deals on your favourite websites. Saving that much on something you were already going to buy not only saves you money, but also gives you the satisfaction of finding a great deal and feeling like a champion bargain hunter!

Work from Home

Working from home is a great way to earn some extra money while you juggle childcare. If you do decide to try working from home, then it can be a tricky balancing act, lots of very hard work and a financial challenge. Nevertheless, working from home does have many advantages over an office based job, although it’s not for everyone. I’ve written about the challenges of working from home, it’s not an easy option but it is one which suits me and my lifestyle.

Avoid the Scams

Although Facebook posts like “make £4,000 a month from home!” may be tempting, it’s important to know when something is legitimate versus something that is unrealistically hopeful. Most of these scams need you to pay a start-up fee. This is where these companies make their money, not from their representatives and their consultants selling their products or services. Be careful when dealing with companies like these because they can be more of a money drain than a financial gain.

Contributing financially to your household income can be very rewarding, but it can also be exceptionally difficult. That’s why it’s so important to be organised and have structure. After all, there’s a reason most offices don’t have children running around asking to be fed or wanting to play. For most people, their first step into money making and saving is looking at current expenditure and seeing how that can be reduced, you might be surprised at how much you can save in this way.

making money

= This is a collaborative post =

Does Passive Aggressive behaviour really help?

Passive aggressive behaviour is essentially thinly veiled hostility, or snark. It’s not uncommon in the workplace for people to demonstrate some passive aggressive behaviours. I’m not proud to admit it, but I can be a bit passive aggressive at times.

One example from many years ago was I was temping for a company and the manager I was working for had been especially mean and dismissive of me because I was a ‘lowly administrator’. She give me a stack of letters and envelopes and told me to stuff them. While I was stuffing the envelopes I noticed several quite bad mistakes in the letter. Had she been a nicer human being I would have pointed the errors out, but I didn’t and she ended up getting called into HR for sending out these terrible letters. At the time it felt like something of a small victory for me, but in the grand scheme of things it was just a bit petty.

I have also been at the receiving end of passive aggression, the neighbour who was throwing a big party and left a note on the car asking us not to park outside her house so her party guests could park there (we didn’t have a drive). The snarky notes left on the fridge in shared kitchens at uni, or notes about milk use and fish storage in communal work kitchens. These days Twitter is a hotbed of passive aggression. Ever seen a subtweet and wondered who they were being snarky about? It’s all good clean passive aggressive fun! Honest.

Data Label have produced this tongue in cheek Infographic all about the art of leaving passive aggressive notes which I find quite funny

passive aggressive

Despite the fact that passive aggressive behaviour can be quite amusing, it’s probably not especially helpful. If you are tempted to be a bit passive aggressive at work, then maybe that’s not the thing which makes you promotion material. It’s so easy not to suffer fools gladly and to throw a bit of snark their way, but maybe going the extra mile to be actively helpful might win you more friends in the long run. Psychology Today have some helpful tips on dealing with passive aggressive people which might be quite useful if you’re on the wrong side of some snark.

Have you ever done anything passive aggressive? I’d love to hear your stories!

= This is a collaborative post =

Are you making Emoji Misunderstandings?

Since the advent of mobile phones and text messages people have been taking things the wrong way, reading tones of voice and attitudes into even the most innocuous communications. The written word is ripe for misunderstanding. These days many text messages and social media updates are filled with emoijis which are causing communication confusion across the board.

This month University of Minnesota has published a study which explored how emojis look on different devices, from Android to iOS and whether the differences in emoji styling can lead to different interpretations. They looked in particular at the “grinning face” emoji which on some platforms looks like a genuine smile, on others an awkward grimace. 

Emoji usage has always fascinated me and I can spend ages examining the nuances of each smiley face to make sure I’m selecting the right one (sad but true), but the smiley face I send from my Apple iOS device may appear very differently on my friends Android phone. 

Earlier this week there was a murder in a town a couple of miles away from where I live. I was watching the tragic story unfold in a Facebook group and one commenter simply added three of these emojis to the post…Emoji MisunderstandingsI was naturally shocked at the Facebook users comment, which to me appeared that she’s found the fact that someone had just been stabbed to death in their own home amusing. It irks me that so many people use this emoji during sad circumstances and according to the University of Minnesota study, this is one of the most misunderstood emojis. I’ve looked at the chart showing all of the different versions of this emoji and it is clear on each device that this is a happy person crying with laughter. But maybe people can’t see beyond the tears.

Emoji Misunderstandings

Just to double check that it wasn’t just me who saw this as a crying with laughter emoji, I threw the question out to the crowd with a Twitter Poll.

Emoji MisunderstandingsI’m not sure how well my results would stack up against the University of Minnesota study, it was a Twitter Poll and I suspect Twitter users are slightly more emoji savvy than Facebook users, and have perfected the art of brevity in their tweets, with tweets being limited to just 140 characters.

Just 32 people responded with 94% agreeing with me that it means “haha so funny I’m crying” and the other 6% saying “Other” with suggestions including happy to be chopping onions and tears of mirth. It is clear from my less than scientific sample that 100% of respondents didn’t think it was the correct emoji to use as a response to a murder.

If a picture can say a thousand words, an emoji can be a handy shorthand to explain an emotion, a reaction or a feeling. If you’re using emojis it’s worth bearing in mind how they may be seen differently by others and and how getting the emoji wrong could make you look. Sometimes it’s easier just to type “that’s so sad”. 

Blogging: Taking part in the Q&A Panel at The Co-op #OnTheList Event

On Friday night I took part in the Blogger Q&A Panel at The Co-operative #OnTheList event in Manchester. I was, it’s fair to say, as nervous as hell. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking and all that. If you know me then you know that I have raging social anxiety. I remain perplexed as to why I was asked to be part of the panel, but now it’s over it was a great (confidence building) experience and it had made me reflect on what I do and how I do it.

I don’t present myself as any kind of blogging expert, it’s an ever evolving world and I think even the best of us struggle to keep up at times. I’m lucky to be part of the North West blogger community, an incredibly supportive and hilarious bunch of friends who would do anything for anyone. Anyway, I digress. 

blogging

Photo credit: Karen Hannah

The panel were sent most of the questions the day before so we could look things up and prepare ourselves a bit. I know on the night my answers were not as in-depth as they would be here, plus we didn’t manage to get through all the questions during the panel, so for those who may be interested here are my answers in full. Feel free to ask me anything, or almost anything…

Which social media channel is your best referrer, and why do you think that is?
I get a significant number of referrals from Twitter, then Facebook. I have a fairly respectable following on Twitter and I tweet and auto-tweet regularly. I could and should do more to promote my blog posts across the board, but I don’t have the time to do everything.

Do you vlog? If so, why, if not, why?
I don’t think I’d ever call myself a vlogger, I don’t think I’m very natural in front of the camera and I lack the technical skills to make decent vlogs, but brands want video content so I have done the occasional one. < Insert plug for YouTube channel here >

How do you prefer a brand to approach you, in order to work with you?
Preferably with a bottle of prosecco… A nice personalised email is always a good start, a PR or brand who are open to having a useful dialogue about what they want and what I can offer. I don’t mind if I get a “Hey Bloggers!” email, I do mind it when they get my name and the name of my blog wrong, which is either careless or rude.

I like to know specifics, what they want, when, how much etc, I don’t have the time, energy or patience to go back and forth for days, I don’t want vagaries, I want specific detail which I can work with.

Do you actively engage in SEO tactics, if so, which do you find the most useful?
My blog is self-hosted and is a WordPress blog. I have the Yoast plug-in which was recommended to me by nearly every blogger in the world and a whole bunch of SEO professionals. It’s really easy to use and it takes the thinking out of SEO, so I just follow the Yoast instructions and suggestions until it gives my blog post a green light. I get a lot of traffic from search engines, so I think I must be getting something right.

Do you have your own domain and if so, why, if not, why?
Yes, I’ve been self-hosted for about two years now, it doesn’t cost that much and it’s not that hard to go self-hosted. I blogged on the free WordPress for about 6 months before I made the leap and never looked back.

Do you think it’s acceptable to sometimes blog about something “off topic” or should we stick to what our readers are expecting from us?
My blog is HodgePodgeDays, hodge-podge literally means a jumble, so theoretically nothing is “off topic” for my blog. I think it’s your blog, your little corner of the internet, you can write what you damn well please; go off topic, what’s the worst that can happen? You might even get some new readers.

Do you stick to a regular post frequency and rhythm, or just blog spontaneously?
I used to try and blog regularly and did blog most days. These days I have less time due to work commitments and life so I blog less. I find I get a day or two every few weeks and I blog my socks off then, I try and schedule them out a bit. I think my lack of consistency in terms of frequency and content topic lets me down and is something I need to work on.

What opportunity do you see on networks like WhatsApp and SnapChat, if any?
I’m not on either. I’m a bit of an old skool Twitter junkie who is having a passionate affair with Instagram, as well as a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

Affiliate partnerships, do you partake and if so, are they worth the hassle?
I think I’ve been an Amazon affiliate for about two years and I’ve not earned a penny, so I’m obviously doing something very wrong. I know some people can earn good money from affiliate partnerships but I’ve yet to motivate myself to properly monetise my blog.

How is best to get to know new brands, to prospect opportunities?
Get to know brands via social media, be nice and chatty as well as open. I’m not a pushy person so I don’t often make the approach, I’d rather PRs and brands approach me, because then I don’t feel so much like a blagger. I sometimes cruise the #BloggersWanted and #BloggersRequest hashtags on Twitter, but some of the best relationships I’ve got with PRs and brands are where someone has recommended me to them and they like what I do and my helpful, professional attitude.

What’s the best opportunity you’ve had, because of your blog?
Three things really stand out for me. Earlier this year we went to Bluestone Wales and had a fabulous holiday we probably wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. I also got to be a judge at the International Cheese Awards, and in September I went to River Cottage with Foodies100 and a group of other food bloggers. There are no words to describe how amazing that experience was.

What’s the next step for you and your blog?
I don’t think there are enough hours in the day for me to be able to do what I really want with my blog. I know I need to re-balance the content and post more personal and family blog posts, because that’s what people really want to read about. I’d like to earn more money from my blog, not least to justify the time I spend on it.

So that was me and my answers. Any questions?

PS. Thank you to everyone who was lovely to me, you’re all so very kind xx

blogging

She thinks it’s all over…. it is now… phew!
Photo credit: Karen Hannah

Maintaining a good work/life balance

As a Mum and a Freelancer (in that order) I often struggle to balance the two competing worlds. Like most Freelancers I find that in terms of work it’s either feast or famine, and as a Mum the responsibilities are constant, as is the guilt, but that goes with the territory, whatever I did I’d feel bad, it’s a no win situation.

As a Freelancer I work from home, which means that technically I’m around whenever my family need me. I can do the school run, I can be there when my son is poorly to care for him, I can take time out during the school holidays to spend time with him. I do all of that and more, but it does mean that I also have to put in long hours in the evenings, early in the mornings, or my weekends are spent slaving over a hot laptop while my 9 – 5 husband spends time with our son.

Whilst I can see the benefits of working *for* someone else, for me the benefits of being a Freelancer far outweigh that. Although the work and the hours I put in are never constant, I am able to be more flexible with my time. This means I can create and maintain a good work/life balance, or at least strive to.

My tips for creating and maintaining a good work/life balance are…

  • Protect some time for family, for me 5 – 7pm are family time, where we eat together, talk about our days, have bath-time, read stories and snuggle.
  • Go for a walk. Being stuck at my desk all day is miserable and not why I became a freelancer. Go for a walk round the park, get some fresh air and exercise and take a brain-break. You’ll be more productive after.
  • Accept help – enlist family and friends who don’t mind entertaining your child for a few hours occasionally. My son loves his Grandad and spending time with him is a special thing for them both.
  • Don’t try and multi-task. If you’ve got a few hours of family time, focus on the family.
  • Work smarter, not harder. If you’ve magically got a spare hour to spend working, you can accomplish a lot in that hour, set time limits for tasks and see what you can achieve.
  • Be organised, even if that’s not in your nature. To do lists, a filing system, record keeping however simple will save you time. Having my own workspace has really helped with this.
  • Go to work – some people get dressed for work, or have a pre-work morning routine. I get myself a drink and plonk myself at my desk and get cracking.
  • Family comes first – for me at least. If I need to stay up and work until 3am to catch up then so be it. My son is only young for a finite amount of time and he comes first. Always.
  • Make friends. Freelancing can be a lonely life. Find and nurture a group of like minded fellow freelancers around you, they will save your sanity and sometimes your bacon!

I have found that by having a small circle of freelancing friends they can offer me advice, practical support, contacts and the feeling of having colleagues; we even go on “work nights out”, which is nice. 

I’ve recently discovered Hiive. Hiive is a creative network that offers users a portfolio platform, job opportunities and access to careers resources. Hiive is designed to encourage discussion and collaboration within the creative industries and is an incredibly useful network for freelancers. I have joined and think it’s well worth a look and can help you to balance your work and home life.

I love freelancing, it’s changed my life and my family life for the better. It’s not easy, in fact it’s bloody hard work. Finding the right work life balance is a constantly shifting task. Having an understanding husband is half the battle, but the rewards in terms of quality family time are worth the late nights and early mornings. 

What are your tips for creating a good work-life balance?

work life balance

In association with Hiive.

I had a Twitter copycat

A funny thing happened to me over the weekend. In an idle moment I went to search my Twitter username “HodgePodgeDays“, it’s something I do occasionally just to see if anything comes up that I haven’t been directly @’d in. As I got to the end of the username another account flashed up with  my logo, so I clicked on it and found my account had been cloned. They’d stolen my logo, the background which includes a picture of my four year old son and my bio which reads “Lifestyle & Parent Blogger, Copywriter, Writer for Hire & Occasional PR”, and my Twitter name was almost identical, with just a couple of the letters transposed – I was livid!

twitter copycat

Naturally I had a bit of a panic. Who would do this and why? For what nefarious reason have they done this? Some suggested it was to blag “free” things from PRs using a similar name, maybe it was to send spam to people, maybe there was another reason. I’ll never really find out. I’ve spent over two years building my Twitter profile, making friends and establishing myself as a blogger and they were attempting to capitalise on this. I was angry.

I checked out the Twitter support page and filled out a report, citing that someone was impersonating my account. They sent me back this email…

twitter copycat

Before Twitter would even look at my report they needed government issued photo ID and evidence that HodgePodgeDays was me. It seemed a bit of a faff, but I sent them a copy of my passport, a screenshot of my blog dashboard, a screenshot of my domain registration, a screenshot of the copycat account and a screenshot of my Twitter account. I sent this off on Sunday afternoon as requested.

I then spent several days checking occasionally to see if the copycat account was still there. It was. The bloggers in the North West Bloggers group were brilliant, some reported the account as spam, I think most checked to see if they’d been copied too, a few found that they had and reported it to Twitter too.

Twitter had given me a report number, but for the life of me I couldn’t find a way to check the status of my report – which I think is a bit of a flaw in the system. In the meantime friends continued to report the account on my behalf as spam and I began to lose what little faith I had in Twitter to do the right thing.

This afternoon I finally got an email from Twitter, they’d suspended the account, specifically for being a spam account, which seems a bit odd, but at least it’s been removed.

twitter copycat

Going forward I’m going to be more aware that this kind of thing happens, I never really expected it to happen to me. I think it’s made me more aware and I’ll be looking out for copycat accounts on behalf of my fellow bloggers from now on.

It was a faff and a worry, but hopefully that’s the last of it. Keep your eyes peeled folks – there’s a copycat about!

Is it worth paying to promote your posts on Facebook?

Back in March this year I conduced a little experiment with Facebook. Dear old Facebook had been imploring me for months to try paying to “boost my posts”. I have a little over 2000 people who like my Facebook page and routinely everything I post on these gets very little attention, this is largely due to the algorithms Facebook uses to limit the content people liking pages will see and also to encourage page owners to put their hand in their pocket.

I was running a lovely little competition to win a limited edition print of a cartoon, it was a great prize but for some reason my competition wasn’t as popular as I hoped it would be. I looked at the stats on Facebook, it had been shared to only 67 people out of around 2000 followers. That’s pretty depressing. So I decided to see if paying for Facebook advertising was really worth it.

I paid £3 to boost my post over three days, ok so that is pretty cheap, but I didn’t want to go in high and waste my money.

Facebook advertising

The Facebook advertising ran for 3 days and apparently over those three days paying for it meant that it showed up a fairly impressive 1,152 times in peoples timelines. Am I impressed though? No. Why not? I hear you ask, well firstly it showed up in my own timeline several times each day, which just felt a little spammy for my liking, and it was my post!

Also, I’m not convinced by the accuracy of their stats which seemed to suddenly rocket in the final hours of day three, so I suspected a bit of creative accounting had taken  place to make the Facebook advertising seem more effectual than it actually was, though I can’t prove it, it’s just a hunch.

What else didn’t float my boat? Well my advert had 1,219 “impressions” in total and it only had 7 clicks. Firstly the idea of impressions makes me mad, I don’t really want Facebook to show the same thing to the same person 10 times, I want more people to see it once, twice tops. And 7 clicks? Really? I suspect at least half of those were before I’d boosted the post in the first place.

My rationale for boosting my post and buying some Facebook advertising was to generate additional clicks on the link and more entries into the competition I was hosting. I wasn’t looking to increase my page likes, but that would’ve been nice too. Generating just 7 clicks and no engagement or interaction was beyond disappointing.

My conclusion: I paid £3 for 7 clicks to my blog which seems pretty darn expensive. I also felt like Facebook had maybe spammed some people on my behalf, which could potentially lead them to unfollow or unlike my page, which is the very opposite of what you want to happen. Would I boost a post again? It’s unlikely. Unless they iron out the spaminess, sort out the accuracy of their statistics and do something to improve click throughs etc, it’s probably just a big old waste of my money.

Have you used Facebook advertising? Have you had great success and have I just been unlucky?

HodgePodgeDays is Two!

Well this is an anniversary which has just crept up on me, my blog, my little corner of the internet is two years old today. I can’t quite believe that I’ve got two years of blogging under my belt;  that’s 550 blog posts, 86,462 blog comments and 4 million (approx) cups of coffee (they haven’t yet invented a number big enough to represent the biscuits eaten).

It almost goes without saying that I’ve made so many excellent friends; blogging is a great community full of incredibly supportive, interesting, wise and funny people. Working as a blogger (and occasional writer for hire for a couple of magazines) I get to go to some wonderful places and experience exciting and interesting things, more often than not carting the boys along for the ride.

Despite being somewhat sceptical at first, they boys have come to embrace the blogging lifestyle, and understand that all the fun we have together also means me working pretty hard too (I really must work a bit harder on that whole work/life balance thing).

In the past 12 months we’ve done so many great things, tried lots of good stuff and cried, laughed and started school (small boy, not me), so I’ve picked my top 16 favourite blog posts from the last 12 months (top 16 is what all the cool kids are doing this year, top 10 is for losers, maybe)…

Those are some of my highlights, it’s been really interesting just looking back and reminding myself of all that we’ve done in the last year and all that I’ve learnt. I love blogging, though sometimes it can be hard to open up, but that’s what I do best. People ask me, as they ask all bloggers, what advice do you give to people wanting to start blogging, it’s simple, write from the heart and you can’t go wrong.

And just because I can…here is a reminder of my current giveaways…

  • Win £20 of Taste of Nature snack bars – ends 8th June 2015
  • Win £20 of gorgeous Urtekram skin and haircare products – ends 24th June 2015

Thanks for sticking with us, it means a lot, we love you!

blog birthday

Freelancers – value yourselves

Hello, my name is Jane and I’m a Freelance Copywriter (amongst other things); I write and people pay me. I use that money to go to shops and buy things like food and clothes, and sometimes bottles of gin. I also lavish my meagre funds on heating, electricity, water and the endless things school asks me for. I work hard each and every day to put food on the table. I pay my taxes (hello Starbucks, are you listening?) and my National Insurance and because I work for myself and don’t have access to a stationery cupboard, I have to buy my own paper-clips too. In short, my life isn’t given to me for free, nor will Mr Supermarket do me a deal for cash.

In my line of work I frequently get offered “amazing” opportunities to work for free or for buttons (quite literally) to apparently “help raise my profile”. It’s exciting to be asked to write for a magazine and to see your name in print, it’s a great feeling, but do you know what’s a better feeling? Being PAID to write and then seeing your name in print. I understand there is a whole chicken/egg scenario here, but I’ve never written for a publication for free in my life and I often see my name in print. If you don’t value your work, the words you sweat over, the research you have done, then no one else will.

Everyone has to start somewhere you say. I agree. But if you write for free now, you can’t turn round in six months and say “now I’m a proper published writer you have to pay me now”, because they won’t. They’ll just move on and find someone else who will write for free, because we’ve all been new and we’ve all been tempted. Not only are you devaluing yourself and your product, you’re making it harder for other writers (including you) to make a living.

But what if they want to pay you? Fabulous news, but what do they want to pay you? What’s your rate? You have two options, a notional hourly rate (I reckon that’ll take me two hours so if I work for £10 and hour that’s £20*) or a pay-per-word arrangement (for example, 800 words for £15*). I hear of writers (usually ones dabbling on the side of a “proper” job) who agree to ridiculous things, like 2000 words for £15. I saw one today which was 750 words for £8. If you’re working and writing for that amount of money, you’re pretty much giving it away for free. Your hourly rate probably isn’t even half that of the minimum wage.

It’s hard to know what to charge when people ask you to write for them. I’m as guilty as the next person for undervaluing my work, but I will charge the going rate based on my notional hourly rate. The best advice I can give is make friends with other copywriters and bounce ideas off them. If you have a gang of copywriters (I’m going to call a group of copywriters a scribble, a scribble of copywriters) then you’ll soon find they pass work onto each other, have each others back, even blacklist really shoddy clients; but it’s good to have “colleagues” in the same boat as you.

If you’ve got what it takes, you can and will earn a good living from being a Freelance Copywriter, it can be a lot of hard work, but if you devalue yourself, give your hard work away for free, then why would people pay you well, let alone pay you at all? Know your own worth and respect yourself enough to be paid for what you do. That’s what any other profession and professional demands. Don’t devalue your worth.

*Not my rate, please contact me if you wish to hire me and we can discuss pounds, shillings and pence.

freelance

Top Tips for packaging Christmas parcels

I run a small business from home; I eBay an awful lot; I’ve got family scattered across the four corners of the world, I therefore spend an awful lot of time carefully bubble wrapping things, parcelling them up and sending them off into the big wide world via TNT Direct.

Christmas is coming and I’ve already got a small pile of gifts ready to be packaged up and sent to Scotland, Devon, America, Belgium and Argentina (I did say the four corners of the world, that’s close enough surely). Sending parcels is for me at times a fairly nerve-racking business, will they arrive in good condition, will they arrive at all, will it cost three times as much as the value of what’s inside the parcel to send it?

When you send as many parcels as I do, it’s pretty essential to have a courier you can trust. How many times have you sent something and it’s disappeared forever, been dumped near someone’s bins while they were out, or arrived looking like it’s been stamped on and it’s cost you the earth for that second class service.

Here are some of my tips for wrapping a parcel for posting or sending by courier:

  • Padded envelopes are great for flat-ish, non-fragile items such as books, games and puzzles, as well as smaller items.
  • Wrap items in bubble wrap, even if they’re not especially fragile, they might get bumped during transit. Better to be over-cautious just in case.
  • Fragile things should be really carefully wrapped and placed in a sturdy box or package, use a “fragile” label too.
  • Clearly label your parcel to the addressee and don’t forget your return address just in case.
  • Tape down any edges that might catch or fray in transit, you can never use too much tape, bubble wrap or those polystyrene quaver things.

These days I tend to use a respected courier like TNT Direct, I know I’ll get the service that I pay for, my parcel will get the respect it deserves and it’ll arrive on time. Their website is really simple to use and their prices are competitive. It’s always best to use someone you can trust, especially at this time of year.