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Six ways to market your business for free
Owning a business isn’t easy, and you might find yourself looking for new or better ways to stretch your dollars just a little bit further. You want people to know who you are, but you still have to make payroll, so how do you get your name out in the community without breaking the bank? We have six ideas that can get you started on the path to marketing your business for free.
1. Get on Social Media
The odds are high that you have a personal social media account. What about your business—does it have a social media account? More importantly, does it have the right social media accounts? Find out where your audience is most likely to be in the social media world and set up camp there for your company. This may mean you have to do a little research—tracking where your audience sees most of your posts will mean going through some trial and error. But putting in the work now can mean big payouts later.
2. Start a Blog
A blog is a great way for you to establish yourself and your business as an expert in your field. Create a blog that addresses industry updates, answers frequently asked questions, or shares important information with your audience. You can even reach out to colleagues to ask them to write a guest blog or offer to write one for them. There are also multiple reputable blogging sites have the tools you need to make your blog look professional without any additional costs.
3. Optimize Those Search Engines
Have you ever heard of SEO, or search engine optimization? It’s a way to identify and use specific words or phrases to ensure that if someone comes looking for a specific service, your website will show up at the top of the list. Do some research on this one, because it’s an art form—too few keywords or phrases won’t help enough, while using too many can actually cause your website to be lower in search results. But finding the magic formula for your website can go a long way in letting people know you’re there.
4. Send Some Emails
You might receive dozens of marketing emails a day, and you probably delete most of them. But, much like SEO, there is a technique to sending emails—and the best part is you can do it for free. Different companies will find success through different methods, so now is your chance to look up some ways to ensure that your next email blast will be opened by a significant percentage of the recipients. Once you find what works, you can use email to make a name for your business.
5. Make it Pretty
Do you have interesting industry info to share? Try putting it on an infographic to gain some follows and shares through social media and beyond. This is another area where you may need to go through some trial and error before finding out what works best for your company, but once you home in on the style that attracts the most viewers, you can begin to make all sorts of interesting images to share.
6. Say It In a Video
Similar to infographics, videos are paving the way to increasing engagement for many companies. While the elusive Facebook algorithm doesn’t follow a consistent pattern, videos are often given a little more airtime on Facebook news feeds. Videos are also a fun way to show others more about your business, while offering up some useful information at the same time. You can create a free YouTube account to share all the videos you make.
Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive—you just have to do the right research to learn what your target audience will respond to best. So join social platforms, search for tips on writing that email, ask a colleague for a book recommendation on best blog practices, and start letting everyone know why you’re the best at what you do!
American Rescue Plan Child Tax Credits: What to expect
The last 18 months have brought about a lot of financial changes, and almost as many financial aid programs as a result. Keeping up with them may seem overwhelming, but we have you covered. Keep reading below to learn more about the American Rescue Plan Child Tax Credit and what it means for you:
What is the American Rescue Plan?
Much like the stimulus funds that most Americans received over the last two years, the American Rescue Plan is a similar process of getting funds to people to aid in times of financial crisis. You can find all the details you want (and more!) at the Treasury website, which outlines answers to many frequently asked questions.
How much do I get?
It’s okay—you can ask! The American Rescue Plan clearly outlines the amount that will be distributed: up to $1,400 for individuals, $2,800 for couples, and an additional $1,400 for each dependent in the household. Unlike the previous stimulus payments, dependents are defined as anyone you claimed as a dependent on your tax returns, not just children 17 and under.
There is another change to this plan that distinguishes it from previous stimulus packages: the expansion of the Child Tax Credit. While this credit was not created for the American Rescue Plan, it was expanded under the plan. Now, the credit has been raised to $3,600 for children under age 6, and to $3,000 for children under the age of 18.
When will I get the money?
The IRS announced that they will begin sending monthly payments to disperse the funds beginning July 1, 2021, and lasting until December 31 of 2021. The IRS is creating an online portal to allow eligible people to make any necessary changes or updates, like adding a child who was recently born so the IRS knows to adjust their credit amount accordingly.
This credit is best thought of as an advance of sorts, because the 2021 tax filing season on which the credit is based will not occur until 2022. However, payments will continue from January through June of 2022 to ensure families receive a year’s worth of funds.
This amount will vary for each family—the monthly payments are meant to disburse the funds based on how much each child is eligible to receive. For instance, the benefit could be worth up to $300 per child per month if each child is under the age of six as of December 31, 2021. Again, each family’s amount will be different, but you can figure out your monthly payment based on the ages and number of your qualifying children.
How do I know if I’m eligible?
You probably are—an estimated 90% of Americans are eligible for the updated Child Tax Credit benefits. If you meet the following qualifications, you can receive the credit:
- An adjusted gross income of $75,000 for individual taxpayers
- An adjusted gross income of $112,500 for heads of household
- An adjusted gross income of $150,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, and widows/widowers
While no one is sure yet if the credit will be extended beyond its initial run, some have proposed that the credits continue until 2025, but nothing has been finalized in this regard. The IRS has stated that they plan to create a public campaign that will ensure that everyone understands any updates as they become available.
Do I have to pay back the money?
Like the previous stimulus funds, you will not have to pay back any money—unless your information is out of date. For instance, if you a child who aged out of the eligibility last year but have not filed your 2020 taxes to reflect that, you may be overpaid by the IRS, and you would be expected to repay the excess amount next year. Be sure to keep your tax returns updated with the latest information to avoid any confusion or overpayments.
No one could have predicted the events of the last couple of years, but it’s safe to say that there are some solutions to struggles on the horizon. If you’re still not sure whether you qualify for the Child Tax Credit or what it means for your family, we’re always here to help. Reach out with your questions and learn what this credit means for you.
Money advice for kids: What you need to be sharing and why
How do you decide if and when your kids are ready to talk about money? While there is no timeline that will look exactly the same for every family, you can still use some general guidance to help know when it’s time to have the money talk, and what you should say. Read on for some ideas on ways to start financial conversations with your kids.
Get everyone on board
If you and your spouse or partner are raising your kids together, you need to talk to each other first to make sure you both agree on what type of information to share and when. You might even want to write out a game plan or schedule to help you hit the points you want to emphasize to your kids. Having your thoughts written down will help you steer the conversation in the direction you want to go.
How young do I start?
For those with younger kids, you’re probably wondering if this even applies to you. Talking about finances can be useful for most ages, but it’s reasonable to wait until you feel your child has a better concept of supply and demand. This doesn’t mean they need a full understanding of global economics; rather, they just need to realize that there is a cost associated with things they want (i.e., if you want a snack at school, you have to sit down at the table first). As your child grows more familiar with these concepts, you can begin explaining that most things cost something, whether it’s money or time or something else.
What do I say?
Each family is different, but you can still work through some basic concepts that should apply across the board. Work on age-appropriate ways of introducing finances to your children when you feel they are ready. Here are some ideas on how to get started:
Young children: Begin the conversation by using an example they are familiar with, like the grocery store. They may have to choose between two items they want because you are only budgeted for one, or you might show them how you count out the money you use to pay for your grocery order. They don’t need to be able to add up the total, but seeing that money is exchanged for goods or services is a great first step to understanding a budget.
Older children: If your kids receive an allowance or earn screen time and other privileges through chores, this is an opportunity to help them understand the idea of budgeting and saving. You can show them how they have to think ahead – their allowance is only given at certain intervals and they need to make the money last until the next allowance payment if they want to continue to use their funds. That may mean waiting to buy a favorite toy or new item of clothing, or looking for less expensive alternatives. Either way, you can begin to show them how they have to use their money to pay for each item they wish to purchase.
Teenagers: Typically, even young teenagers have all of the cognitive resources to understand the concept of money only lasting so long and for certain items or services. Talk to them openly about why budgeting matters so much, and how they can create a budget that is specific to their needs. This is also a great time to shift some financial responsibility to them – they don’t need to take over your mortgage, but they can begin to fund small purchases, like their cell phone bill or going out for meals with friends. If your teenager has a job, it’s also a good idea to show them how saving now can make a big difference later.
Adult children: Every parent knows that just because the kids are out of the house doesn’t mean their job as parents is done. As your child leaves home for college or a job, offer to sit with them and help them budget for this new phase of their life. They may need to cover rent, utilities, groceries, and many other things they have not tackled alone before. Prepping them early will help, but it’s still a good idea to review their budget with them if they’re not confident in their spending habits.
Why does it matter?
Some of us had to learn about budgeting the hard way, because no one sat down and gave us the basics outside of a class at school. But budgeting is crucial for everyone, even if you are not currently worried about having the funds you need. Between emergency situations, market fluctuations, and the changing cost of living, the budget you make today may need a major overhaul in five years. Being prepared will make a big difference.
Since you’re responsible for covering the financial needs of your children until they are grown, it may seem silly to start these conversations so early. But getting your kids used to the idea of being smart with their money is a skill they will use for the rest of their life. Showing your young child why budgeting matters so much will mean they already have a firm grasp of important financial concepts when they are responsible for maintaining their own budget.
Money conversations can feel uncomfortable, but it’s true that practice makes perfect. Use the opportunities life gives you to help your children understand why it’s critical to learn about using their money well, and watch as they take those lessons with them to the next phase of their life.
Nine tips for making your WFH space more productive
If you’ve been working from home the last few months (or if you were working from home before it was cool), you have likely experienced the ups and downs that come with trying to incorporate your office life into your home life. This transition isn’t easy, but we have a few tips to make the process a little smoother.
1. Act Like You’re at Work
The key to working from home is to actually work from home. As much as possible, keep up with the same schedule, routine, weekly goals, and whatever else you would typically do if you were sitting in your actual office. For instance, if you would typically meet with your sales team on Mondays at 3:00 PM, try to keep that going through virtual meeting options.
2. Prepare to be Flexible
In a perfect world, working from home would be easy. But between finding childcare, managing schoolwork, and navigating every other aspect of pandemic life, there will have to be lots of changes. Mentally prepare yourself to go with the flow when it comes to rescheduling meetings and project deadlines. Always try to move forward as planned – and be prepared to adapt when the plan goes awry.
3. Find a Dedicated Space
Working from your laptop while wearing pajama pants is actually pretty cozy. But as much as we support that idea, it’s also imperative for you to have a dedicated space for your home office. Whether you transform your old guest room or set up shop in a corner of the kitchen, having a space to manage your work life will help you stay focused.
4. Incorporate Breaks
At the office, you probably find some time during the day to stretch your legs and step away from the computer. You need to do the same when working from home, especially during a pandemic that requires us to stay home a lot more often. Go outside, take a lap around the yard, check the mail – do something to break up your day.
5. Hit the Office Supply Store
Hopefully, your company is providing you with everything you need to get your job done. But since the name of this game is flexibility (see above), you may want to have some supplies of your own ready in case there is a delay in receiving them from your company. Get the basics – pens, notepads, printer paper, a stapler, and anything else you find yourself using daily.
6. Set Some Boundaries
If you want to work from home successfully, you have to use some theater of the mind and act like you are really at work. Aside from what we already mentioned for this topic, you need to extend this idea to things like your social life, doctor’s appointments, and other things that pop up in life. This means that you can’t go out for a two-hour lunch just because your office is in your bedroom.
7. Set the Scene
You know you need to have a dedicated office space with supplies, but now it’s time to optimize your office for productivity. If you can’t stop looking outside every time a car drives by, get some curtains you can close to help you stay on task. If your back hurts every day after work, find a comfier chair. You get the idea. Set yourself up for success with an office designed to help you focus.
8. Make a Schedule
One way you can maximize your time on the job is by making a daily schedule. Include time for breaks and lunch, as well as appointments and other daily tasks. Giving yourself a routine will make the day flow more easily for you.
9. Include Your Family
If your kids were at school but are now learning digitally or through homeschooling, it can be difficult to stop the many interruptions that are likely to come your way. When possible, include your family in your schedule. Show them when they come in and ask questions, and try to remember their school needs in your schedule if they need your help to log onto and manage their digital platform each day.
Working from is a big adjustment, especially if your calm, quiet office downtown is calling your name. Take some time to prep your home office and daily routine to give yourself the best chance of success – and maybe include a calendar that counts down to when your office opens again.
How to make your Zoom set-up rock
Before March of this year, you may have never used Zoom in your life. By now, you have probably logged quite a few hours on this service or other video conferencing services, as it has become the communication tool of choice for many during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As many employees are still working from home, now is the perfect time to brush up on some basics to make your Zoom set-up fit your needs. Not working from home? These tips can still go a long way making every video call a little bit better.
Lose the Silly Backgrounds
You have probably spent time playing with the different background options Zoom offers, ranging from a lovely mountain scene to a still from a recent Godzilla flick. While these certainly add some fun to your conference call, they aren’t always the best choice. For starters, they are distracting: It’s difficult to discuss a budget report while you are watching a coworker sitting in Jurassic Park. The backgrounds also cause visual glitches on the screen, meaning that if you are using visual aids, they may not come across to those watching your screen if you are also using one of the fake backgrounds.
Find the Right Background
So if you can’t use the fun backgrounds, what should you use? This really depends on the purpose of your call, but for professional calls, try to find the least distracting background in your house or office. A blank, light-colored wall looks best, but if your desk is in front of an organized bookshelf or decorative wall hanging, that works, too. The key is to keep your background space as clean and organized as possible, both to minimize distractions and present a professional image during your call.
This may seem obvious, but if you are on a professional call – or even if you are chatting with a buddy – what you wear is more obvious than you think. Even if only your top half is visible, you will inevitably get up to grab a file, or to refresh your drink, and wind up sharing a lot more personal information than you intended, like your love for Ninja Turtles pajama pants. It’s just for an hour, so put on your slacks and look the part for the job.
Go Towards the Light
Good lighting is a key part of a successful Zoom call. For the best lighting, use a light source that is close to your face, like a lamp. You can also use natural light from a window, and even increase your screen brightness to add to the visible light around you. Avoid sitting with your back to a window or any other light source, unless you are trying to conceal your identity and only show your silhouette.
Dress for a Meeting
Sure, you may be at home, but if you are jumping on a Zoom call for your job, act like the meeting is in person. This means combing your hair, dressing as you would for the office, and double-checking to make sure you haven’t buttoned your shirt incorrectly. Dressing in a solid color is your best bet, though it’s better to stay away from solid white or solid black shirts, because they can cause you to look distorted on the camera.
Find Your Sound
A Zoom call only works if you can communicate, which usually means you have to hear everyone clearly. Invest in some headphones or earbuds that will allow you to hear the other people on your call. Make sure your computer has a reliable microphone, or use an external microphone so your words aren’t cut off. While you’re at it, eliminate other sounds as much as possible – silence your phone, turn off any alarms, and kick your pets out of the room so your sound will not be interrupted.
Set the Stage
Before you even join your call, take some time to prep the area in which you will be working. This means having supplies, like a pen and paper for notes, as well as any materials you are supposed to have available for the meeting. Consider keeping a water bottle nearby if you will have to do a lot of talking, so you don’t have to get up and leave during the call if you need something to drink.
Test it Out
Even though your laptop has been reliable for the last seven Zoom calls you made, it’s still a good idea to double check that your headphones and microphone are working, as well as your Internet connection, before each meeting. Each device has a different way to test the volume and sound, but if you’re not sure what to do, you can always have a quick Zoom call with a friend or colleague to make sure they can see and hear you well.
We realize this sounds harsh, but it’s for the good of the group. If you are on a Zoom call with multiple people, go ahead and mute your microphone until it is your turn to speak. Zoom will automatically give the spotlight to the person making the most noise, and that construction going on next door is louder than you think, so do everyone a favor and mute yourself until you are speaking. If you are the meeting host, consider muting everyone at the beginning and instructing them to stay muted until you call on them.
Keep it Steady
Make sure your device is set up in a place where it will not wobble or tilt at an awkward angle. Use a stand for your phone, or find a good place to set your laptop for the duration of the call. Don’t carry the phone around with you, or even hold it up – no matter how steady your hand is, your phone is heavier than it looks, and the other people on the call will be treated to a roller-coaster effect as your screen begins to shake and move.
It may sound like a lot of rules, but for services like Zoom, a few details make a big difference. Take some time to prep your meeting spot, gather what you will need, and iron your best button-down to create a Zoom experience that will be successful for everyone involved.
Where to learn if you have time on your hands
You’re stuck at home with nothing to do, and you’ve watched every season of The Crown on Netflix twice already. How you will pass the rest of your free time without going absolutely insane? This could be just the opportunity you have been looking for to learn a new skill – and we have ideas on where to get started.
Learn to code with Treehouse
Coding is a useful skill, even if you don’t have to use it for your job. Knowing a little bit about coding can you take you far in both hobbies and your professional life alike. So why not try out Treehouse? You can sign up for a week’s worth of classes to see if it suits you, and go from there. Do it alone or try it with a friend to encourage each other as you both learn a new skill.
Fine tune your fine motor skills with crocheting or knitting
A lot of people enjoy crocheting or knitting, both as a stress reliever and as a way to occupy their time. If this is a skill you are interested in honing, there are plenty of tutorials on YouTube – and you can even watch Emily Blunt teach you how to make snakes from finger weaving. This is an activity that even young kids can learn, and it’s a great way to keep those fine motor skills fresh.
Learn some new lingo
Have you always dreamed of being bilingual? This is the perfect time to get a head start. Sign up with a program like Duolingo to begin learning Spanish, or to tune up that rusty French you remember from high school. Or check out this list from Mashable that gives you great tips and resources for learning American Sign Language. By the time life goes back to normal, you will be a true expert.
Start a project – and finish it
Organize your pantry. Clean out your linen closet. Get rid of the pile of clothes that you have been meaning to throw out for months. You can even take it a step further and repaint an old room, or spice up your décor with some new pillows. You have been given a unique opportunity to devote extra time to all of the house projects you started and never completed, so make a list and get moving.
Become a famous chef… or at least learn to make dessert
If you’re going to have to cook at home all the time, why not branch out and try some new dishes? This tutorial features over 40 recipes that take only three ingredients to make – sounds doable, right? Take a look and then see if you can recreate some of these delicious snacks for your family. Don’t worry – they’ll let you know if you get it wrong.
At many workplaces, employees are required to complete continuing education credits, or to take courses that allow them to be certified in a skill or become licensed through a manufacturer. Even if it isn’t a requirement, this is an ideal circumstance for you to seek out information on how to get certified, and to complete the steps necessary.
You can even ask your HR department for ideas, and once you’ve done the work, you will have gained some knowledge and will be in a great position to find a new job later down the road.
Go back to school
You probably can’t complete an entire semester before things begin to go back to normal, but you can certainly get a head start on working towards a new degree. Do some research on online schooling options and figure out how you could continue your education once everything is back in full swing. This is your chance to get that degree that no one said you would ever use but that you always wished you had.
Improve your mile time
Running isn’t everyone’s favorite pastime, but why not see how fast you can go? You can try out apps like Couch to 5K to ease yourself into a new running routine, and, before you know it, you’ll be unstoppable. Even if you don’t want to enter a marathon anytime soon, getting outside and taking a brisk walk will do wonders for your body and your mind.
You may be ready to rejoin the world, but it’s important to take advantage of the extra time on our hands. You’re stuck at home, so you may as well make the most of it and come out on the other side with a brand new skill to brag about. Happy learning!