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How to Choose a Professional Graphic Designer

Please welcome guest blogger, Melinda Martin, whom some of you know as Musings of a Minister’s Wife. Some of you know her as The Helpy Helper. Some of you don’t know her, but we should work on that.


In our fantastic Inspired Bloggers Network Facebook group, I often see posts concerning graphic design.  I am going to give you some pointers for how to choose a professional graphic designer.




As a self-taught graphic designer, I look back at how much I’ve grown in the last three years and stand amazed.  When I started out, all I had was my natural artistic talent, my ability to self-teach, and my desire to learn.  I think I have made every mistake that a self-taught graphic designer can make.  However, there were times during my growing that I thought I was doing it right, only to find out that I had it all wrong. We have all had those face-palm moments.  “It ain’t a mistake if you learn from it,” is the motto of many self-teachers.  And it’s how we learn the best.  Hands on, full on, and all in, which is also how are mistakes are.  (Go big or go home, lol.)

The Right Tool for the Job

Yes, there was a time when I used Microsoft Word to create a printable.  Then I graduated to Adobe Photoshop, thinking that was the right tool.  Finally, I found Adobe InDesign.  Your graphic designer should have an understanding of when to use Word, when to use Photoshop, when to use Illustrator, and when to use InDesign, which is specifically for desktop publishing.  If I were hiring an assistant (or another designer to do work for my own projects), I would not hire someone who does not work in the Adobe suite.  Picmonkey and Canva are not software options for professional graphic designers.  If your work ever needs to go to a publisher, they are going to expect to see it using industry standard design software.  If it’s not up to spec, then they will need to recreate the file, which will end up raising your costs.

I do invest $50 a month into using the Adobe Creative Cloud suite.  This ensures that I have access to all of the industry standard design software and that they are up to date, allowing me to easily transfer my design files to another professional designer if needed.

Portfolio Diversity

I often check up on other designers’ portfolios.  One thing that is a turn off for me is if every project in their portfolio looks the same.  A graphic designer should be an artist first.  An artist is able to tap into the feel of the project.  It’s for this reason that I don’t submit for work to sites that have the artists compete, especially for book cover design projects.  Sites like that usually don’t allow you to really get to know the client’s personality and vision.  When I do cover designs, I at least do a quick reading of the client’s book, browse their site, and have some direct conversation with the client about any preconceived ideas and figure out what they definitely like/don’t like.  I use Behance to showcase my own portfolio and love it.

Stock Photography

A professional graphic designer will have their own stock photography account and will download the images required for your project through their account.  All images used for your project should be legally obtained, have commercial-use rights, and should be used exclusively for your project.

Business is Business

I don’t take every project that comes my way.  I also don’t keep every project that I initially accept.  If the client does not value my opinion and my design experience, then that’s not a client that I want to work with.  It’s okay to part ways.  If you are not feeling a connection with your graphic designer, then be up front about it.  She may know of other designers who may be able to capture your vision or who may work better with your personality type.  It doesn’t have to be personal.

Project Wrap-Up

If the client works with Dropbox (my personal preference—free and easy) or Google Drive, then I will share a folder with that client and move all of her files over for her to have access to.  This includes the original design file (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator), any stock photo that I downloaded for use with their project, as well as various exports of her final image.  Since I work with bloggers, I know how they need to incorporate whole or partial elements of their design into other projects.  Make sure that your designer delivers you a high-resolution image of your final product on a transparent background.  This is essential and is required for any print project.

I also try to put together a cheat sheet (or email) that contains the names of the fonts and color codes that I used.

A Note About Fonts

While free commercial-fonts are great, they are very overused, which is the downfall of using free.  (Also, just because a font says it is free, doesn’t mean it is free for commercial use.) I invest into my business by purchasing commercial-use fonts.  Included in these fonts are characters that are only accessible through Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, or other similar software (not Photoshop).  I can’t share the font file with my client, and if the client purchases the same font, she may not be able to get it to do all the tricks if she doesn’t use the higher end software.

Always Learning

I’m sure there are still a few things that I am doing the hard way, maybe even the wrong way.  But I continue to invest my time and my money into my education and my business.  I can be both teacher and student.

Are you a graphic designer?  Please leave a comment below with a link to your portfolio.  I believe in networking and supporting each other.

Do you have any additional advice on how to choose a professional graphic designer?

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MailChimp Vs. Mad Mimi for Subscribers

If you haven’t set up a newsletter for your site then you need to read this. A newsletter should be your blog treasure, Facebook and Pinterest can change their algorithms and stop sending any traffic to your blog. You own your email list and those subscribers will be your most loyal readers, because they are allowing you into their inbox.

MailChimp vs. Mad Mimi... which e-mail service is right for you?

If you’d like to start growing your email list, a great way to do so is to provide an incentive for those who join up for your email newsletter. To deliver a freebie to your readers, the best way is to use a newsletter service like MailChimp or Mad Mimi.

With a substantial email list, you can use it to promote your blog posts, eblasts and any other sales/freebies from your affiliate.

If you’d like your readers to receive an email each time you post on your blog, you will need to set up an RSS feed campaign. You will need to enter your feed address from either Feedburner or if you’re on self-hosted WordPress as your feed address so that your readers will get your new posts.

If you’d like to manually create your newsletter each week so that you can send them a summary of your posts for the week as well as other tips, sales, freebies or giveaways then you will need to go in a create a new campaign each time.

Both services allow your to design a color scheme and save it so that you can use it for each newsletter. I suggest going with the color scheme of your blog to keep your branding consistent.

One of the best ways to grow your email list is to offer an incentive for those who sign up for your newsletter. That can be a mini ebook, printable or list of tips or recipes, depending on your blog audience. It doesn’t have to be a huge freebie, but get something out there for your subscribers.

Once you have something to offer your readers, you can use one of the email services to deliver your freebie to them. They can be redirected to a page on your blog that has your freebie available for download. This page can be password protected to ensure it is not found. If you’re on the Pro plans, this allows you to use the auto responder option, and you can send them an email with your freebie included.

I also list my current freebie at the bottom of my newsletter just to make sure everyone has access to it if they’ve forgotten about it.


On their free plan, you’re allowed 2000 subscribers on your contact list, with 12,000 emails per month. This would influence the type of campaign you would set up based on the size of your list. If you have a larger list and do daily email updates, then you’ll run out of emails by the end of the month. This would be a great time to switch to a weekly or biweekly newsletter.

There are many options to design your newsletter template with the ability to add code and even a small sidebar area for your promotions. The stats are right there front and center as soon as you login so that you can check your open rates and click through rates as well.

Monthly Pro Plan includes unlimited number of emails per month

Based on the number of subscribers

  • up to 500 – $10/mth
  • up to 1,000 – $15/mth
  • up to 10,000 – $75/mth
  • up to 25,000 – $150/mth


  • More design and layout options
  • Integrates more easily with other plugins
  • Free plan includes 2000 subscribers


  • Bigger learning curve
  • Price once you get to the point of a paid subscription

Mad Mimi

I have tried both services for my personal blogs but I have opted for Mad Mimi because  of price and they have wonderful customer service, you can quickly speak to somebody on their live chat. I figured I didn’t want to have to deal with the hassle of moving my subscribers over from another platform. although it seems to be a painless process of downloading your list of subscribers via a csv file.

Monthly Pro Plan includes unlimited number of emails per month

Based on the number of subscribers

  • up to 500 – $10/mth
  • up to 1,000 – $12/mth
  • up to 10,000 – $42/mth
  • up to 25,000 – $89/mth


  • Easy to use and set up
  • Great customer service


  • Only allows 100 subscribers on their free plan
  • Less design options
  • Free plan includes only 100 subscribers

Be sure to sign up for your own newsletter to ensure that they are being sent out correctly and so that you can view your newsletter on your phone/tablet as well as your computer. This will give you an idea on what you need to tweak in terms of design for your next newletter.

Go ahead and create an account with both companies to see which one you like best and start growing your email list.

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How to Get the Most from Your Stock Photography Vector Downloads

Please welcome guest blogger, Melinda Martin, whom some of you know as Musings of a Minister’s Wife. Some of you know her as The Helpy Helper. Some of you don’t know her, but we should work on that.

Like me, many of you are self-taught. We are all learning as we go. I learn at least one new thing every day. Coupled with that “one new thing” is usually the forehead smack of, “Boy, I have been doing this the hard way! This is going to help me out so much!” Today’s “this” is a great bit of insight as to how to get the most of your vector stock photography vector downloads.

How to get the most from your vector stock photography vector downloads.

This article is going to focus on the vector images that you are able to purchase (the computer-drawn objects, not the photos).  You will need Adobe Illustrator or its rival, Corel.

As my indie publishing and design business has grown over the last two years, my clients have presented me with many different projects.  Together, we have taken their visions for journals, fiction novels, memoirs, devotionals, and curriculum and made them a reality—a beautiful and rewarding reality.  All with the help of stock photography.

When you are deciding which images to purchase, it will show you the file type that the image download is available in.  To make the most of your vector stock photography downloads, you want to make sure that the vector design file is included.  This will show up as an eps or .AI file.  WMF is also an acceptable file format.  You will be able to open the files from within Adobe Illustrator and make adjustments to ensure that your graphic is just right for your project.

I have several hours of my life invested in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign.  And, while I know my way around Illustrator and use it on a regular basis, I haven’t had an opportunity to delve into it like I would like.  There’s just so many hours in a day, you know? If any of you happen to be Illustrator gurus and have some additional pointers/techniques, please leave them in the comments below.

Export Image onto a Transparent Background

Hands down, the thing that most of y’all need to know is that you can easily (and I mean easily!) get your downloaded vector image to export out onto a transparent background.  It’s as simple as opening the file and then going to File, Export, select PNG file type from the export as field, and make sure that “transparent background” is selected.  The only other thing that may stand in your way is a background layer that is easily turned off from the layers panel.

The next part is easy, too, but requires a little bit more “doing”.

Adjust the Color of an Object

Like Photoshop (and PicMonkey), Illustrator is a layer-based program.  To adjust the color of an item within the graphic, you need to select it directly.  You can use the direct selection arrow provided for you in the toolbar, or you can locate it in the layers panel.  Once you have it selected, you can adjust the fill color by selecting the new color from the “fill color” square.  If you want to make the same color adjustment to several items at once, then you can use the ctrl+click method to make your various selections.

Extract Specific Items

Say the designer was trying to give you a good deal by providing you with multiple images in one file.  But you just want to extract out one of those images.  You can use your selection arrow to draw a box around the object that you want.  This will automatically select everything within that range.  (Another way is to find what you want in the layers panel and click on it there.)

Once your object is selected, you want to hide the other objects that you aren’t interested in, shrink your artboard down to just that one object, and then export it out as its own image file with a transparent background, if desired.

Change Full Color Objects to Black and White Line Art

I recently completed a curriculum project for  We needed coloring page objects (black and white line art).  I searched everywhere, trying to find just the right images for a pre-k/k curriculum.  Everything was in color or the line art I found was not the right style or quality.

It then dawned on me that there had to be a way to easily adjust the image from within Illustrator to make it line-art ready.  It’s such a powerful program—surely it could do this task!  I was not disappointed.  I was able to find all of the vector images that I needed on, change it to a black and white line art object in Illustrator, and export it out at the correct dimension and resolution for a print project.

Most of the images that I found were one of several images included in the graphic.  For instance, the designer included 10 animals and I just needed to adjust and extract one of them.

Need a great resource for stock photography?

Receive unlimited photographs, vectors, and other graphic designs at GraphicStock. Pay $99 for your first year when you sign up with GraphicStock today.

Get unlimited photos now.

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How to Make Printables on a PC

How to Make Printables on a PC I

Bloggers are always on the lookout for ways to bring more traffic to their site. One of my favorite ways to do this is to offer free printables! I use mostly free clipart and a standard program on my PC called Word.

Tools to make free printables

Word is a program included in Microsoft Office, but if you are on a tight budget or need a free version, check out OpenOffice. I used OpenOffice for years and it’s virtually identical to Word when it comes to features and things you can do with it. For purposes of this tutorial, I’ll be referencing Word.

Finding Images (free or low cost)

You can find clipart for free or low cost. With a quick google search for “free clipart” you’ll have loads of options to pick from! One of my go-to places for free images is MyCuteGraphics. They offer images by theme and seasons, plus they have some great background images too.  Another great site is 123RF. They sell images but also have free images available.

If you’re part of the Inspired Bloggers Network Facebook group, you can access a document under the files tab with a list of sites that offer free images.

**Be sure to check out the terms of use from any website you use images from. Make sure you can use the images in the way you intend to. Email customer service if you have any doubts!

How to make printables on a PC with Word

Below you’ll see a guide that will help you create printables in Word. It’s very easy and you can tweak the steps and items as needed for your creative ideas!

I eyeball the placement on all of my printables but I suggest using an invisible table to help you get the hang of it, or if you’re not good at visually lining things up.

Go to: Insert – Table – Highlight the boxes you want – Click Enter or the bottom right box. Now you have this:

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 1

Now we need to extend those boxes so they fill the page. Click on the bottom line, hold down the left mouse button and drag that bottom line to the end of the page. It will look like this:

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 2

Next, highlight the rows (minus the top row).

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 3

Right Click on the box at the top left of the table. Select Distribute Rows Evenly. The rows you selected will be distributed evenly like this:

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 5

Next, we’re going to remove the borders color. This way when we print the page we will only see the images. To remove the border colors, click on the square at the top left of the table so it selects the whole table. Then, go to Design – Borders – No Borders. This will change them all to dotted lines so that you can still see them, but they will not be there when printed.

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 6

Now, let’s insert some images. Click inside the box you wish to insert an image into. Go to: Insert – Picture – Select image from your desktop or the file you have it saved in. In my case, the image is huge and it’s aligned automatically in such a way that it distorts my table, like this:

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 8

To fix this you can do a few things, but I find this method the easiest. Click on the “Layout Options” box found floating at the top right of the image. Choose “In front of text”.

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 9

Now you will have this:

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 10

To reduce the size, grab the bottom right corner of the image and drag it to your desired size. Because the image is no “In front of text” you can manipulate it’s position anywhere. It will no longer automatically align to the table or page. Like this:

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 11

Once you insert your various images, add a title to the top box we left as the original size. You can also manipulate the width of the columns. Simply grab the vertical line you wish to move, hold down your mouse button, and drag to where you want it. I wanted more space between the left and right column so I move the vertical lines closer to the edge of the page.

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 12

Save the Word Doc file. Then go back to File – Save As – Select PDF. This will now save the file as a PDF File.

How to Make Printables on a PC Image 13

**Be sure to add your disclosures to your first page and give credit to the website you found the images from if needed.

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WordPress Plugins to Save You Time and Effort

Affiliate links are used in this post.

Bloggers have a lot to do each day. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could program your website to take care of some responsibilities for you? You can!

Clear your to-do list of mundane tasks by using WordPress plugins that save time and effort.

I know you are busy. So much to do and so little time. But you could shave your agenda each day by adding a few plugins to your WordPress blog.

Smart bloggers use these WordPress plugins that save time because they do the work for you.

Please note this disclaimer: The more WordPress plugins you have operating on a website:

  1. the slower your blog will load in a web browser and that means a higher bounce rate and lower SEO.
  2. the risk of a plugin conflicting with other plugins grows, which may result in one of more plugins not functioning as they should, or worse, even crashing your site.

Another important note: Before you add a plugin to your website, create a backup file of your site. An easy solutions is to backup your WordPress blog to Dropbox.

WordPress Security Plugins

Limit Attempts – The plugin Limit Attempts allows you to limit the rate of login attempts by any IP, and create whitelists and blacklists. Have you ever been locked out of your site? You can whitelist your own IP, so that can never happen again.

Wordfence Security – Wordfence Security is a free enterprise class security and performance plugin that makes your site up to 50 times faster and more secure. While free to download and use from the WordPress Plugin repository, you will need a premium API key to make use of certain additional features.

Comment Plugins

Akismet – Akismet checks new comments against the Akismet Web service to see if they look like spam or not.

Thank Me Later – If you want to deliver a personalized “thank you” note to those who comment on your blog, Thank Me Later allows you to write a simple message and choose when to deliver.

Analytics Plugins

Google Analytics – If you are afraid of code, this plugin enables Google Analytics on all of your pages.

Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – Displays Google Analytics Reports and Real-Time Statistics in your Dashboard. And automatically inserts the tracking code in every page of your website. This plugin is “lighter” than Jetpack Analytics and will not bog down your site as much.

Productivity Plugins

Editorial Calendar – See all your published and drafted posts at a glance, drag and drop to re-schedule on a different date. This is a wonderful tool!

NextScripts Social Networks Auto-Poster – Automatically publish social media updates from your blog to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, and more. An upgrade is required to access some social media networks.

VA Simple Expires – This plugin sets a post to expire at a defined time, so that you can edit and republish later (useful for a giveaway or sale that ends at a specific time/date.)

Pretty Links  – With this plugin you can create, manage and track out-bound URLs. Very handy for sponsored and affiliate campaigns.

ImageInject – Search the Creative Commons database at Flickr and find royalty-free images from your blog dashboard with ImageInject.

And don’t forget to browse the list of 80+ places you can find royalty-free images.

404 to Start – 404 errors are an indication of a broken link or the result of someone typing in the URL incorrectly. Instead of glaring error page, 404 to Start allows you to customize the user’s experience when they cannot find what they are looking for.

Genesis Simple Edits – Have you ever wondered how to change the copyright and theme and “powered by” information on the footer of your site? Genesis Simple Edits allows you to do that and more.

Table Press – Table Press is an easy way to create a photo gallery or display product links without having to manually align everything.

This is a screenshot of a product page created with TablePress.
This is a screenshot of a product page created with TablePress.


WP Date Remover – takes the date off of specified pages and posts. Great for an evergreen content, so that people don’t see a two year old date and immediately mark it off as non-relevant.

Broken Link Checker – This plugin will check your posts, comments and other content for broken links and missing images, and notify you if any are found. It does use a lot of juice though and can conflict with other plugins, so I would suggest to use it with caution, and then make note of the problems and promptly uninstall.

EWWW Image Optimizer – Automatically compress your images to avoid wasted space on your blog. Without changing your displayed images, EWWW Image Optimizer “…convert your images automatically to the file format that will produce the smallest image size…” resulting in less bandwidth required to host your blog, faster page load speed, and and several other benefits.

Easy Digital Downloads – The perfect solution for selling digital resources on your blog, Easy Digital Downloads will save you time organizing and delivering your products.

Advertising Plugins

AdSense Plugin WPQuads – A complete solution for everything AdSense-related, AdSense Plugin WPQuads allows you to embed ads using short codes, disable ads on some devices, and makes Adsense a lot easier.

Ultimate Nofollow – Any link that you have been paid to include or that could potentially earn you money must be classified as a “nofollow” link. Ultimate Nofollow adds a checkbox in the insert link popup box for including rel=”nofollow” in links as you create them. A HUGE time saver.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 5.22.02 PM

WordPress SEO Plugin

WordPress SEO by Yoast – This plugin does nothing to help you “get found” online. It does however give you a visual cue to check that the  keywords you have chosen to use are all in the “right” places to make sense to Google.

For a good introduction to SEO read What is SEO? Using Search Engines for Organic Blog Growth.

Which WordPress Plugins help you save time?

What are your favorite WordPress plugins for saving time and effort? Discuss your favorite, whether on this list or not, in the comments below.

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How to Start Building Your Email List (And Why You Should Start NOW!)

In an ideal business plan, every blogger would begin growing a list of email subscribers from the first day. Ms. Blogger publishes her first post and BOOM! Subscribers receive a lovely email notification and she sees an influx of traffic.

Unfortunately, we don’t step into the blogosphere with a ready-made list. And many more bloggers wait to start building an email list.

Big mistake.

Don't wait to start collecting email subscribers. Begin building an email list NOW with these amazing tips.

Get the Email Marketing Planner for Beginners for FREE when you subscribe:

Why You Need An Email List

Need convincing that you need to start building an email list today? Check out these reasons:

1) Email is personal.

As social as social media may be, it’s still hard to connect with readers in a personal way.

Email allows for a personal connection with your readers, giving you the opportunity to create a trustworthy relationship.

This format places your voice inside a reader’s inbox. Inside the place where they cultivate the offers and information they receive. Wow! What an amazing privilege to be given such remote access!

2) Email makes money.

Internet marketing gurus have been saying it for well over a decade now: “The money is in the list.”

What does that mean and WHY should you care?

It means that email marketing consistently converts sales. In many cases, email drives more conversions than social media marketing. If you’re selling your own product or using email for affiliate marketing and/or driving sales for sponsors, you need to be using email to your advantage.

And while everything online seems to change drastically from week to week, this cliche fact is still true!

3) Email gives you control.

When social media algorithms twitch, your subscriber list remains within your control. Facebook changes the game? Your Pinterest reach declines? No biggie. Use email marketing to generate blog traffic.

To be clear, what I’m talking about here is not an RSS-driven email list, although that is better than nothing.

What I’m talking about is creating a smart email marketing strategy. There’s so many more opportunities when you have subscribers who want to hear from you.

The email list is yours and it’s owned by you. These people have chosen to allow you into their inbox which means they must love what you do.

How to Start Building Your Email List

Starting to grow a list of email subscribers is not as complicated as it may seem. Let me walk you through the steps:

1) Choose an email service.

First, sign up with a list management service like MailChimp or Mad Mimi. These are both free to start out with, with paid options as your list grows.

(I personally use ConvertKit because it gives me more features for segmenting my list and creating sales funnels.)

RELATED: What’s the difference between MailChimp vs. Mad Mimi?

Inside your email service, you can set up different variations. For instance, you can create different email lists for those who want to subscribe daily or weekly. You can create an automatic RSS feed that is sent out each time you post, or you can write your own newsletter to feature a mix of old and new content.

But, when you are first starting, keep it simple.

2) Create an email opt-in form.

Next, install a form on your website to collect email addresses.

Most email services allow you to create custom forms. You can also use a third-party app like Hello Bar to create a sign up form that sticks to the top of your website. Or, you could do both!

Don't wait to start collecting email subscribers. Begin building an email list NOW with these amazing tips.Each option has a simple, easy-to-use “builder” that lets you customize the way your form looks and provides you with a snippet of code to add to your site wherever you want the form to appear.

But pay attention… Where you place your sign up form makes a huge difference to how many visitors you’ll convert to subscribers.

According to Derek Halpern of, the best performing places to include your sign up form are at the top of your sidebar and in a pop up. (PopupAlly is an easy-to-use free plugin for adding one to WordPress.)

Getting More Email Subscribers

After placing an email opt-in form in the strategic places, the subscribers start rolling in! Right? Wrong.

Remember, growing your email list is about relationships. You have to woo your readers to subscriber. And what better way is there to show your readers that you are invested in a relationship than by giving them a free gift?

Offer a subscriber incentive.

When you are thinking of an email freebie, you don’t have to give away anything huge.

RELATED: Step-By-Step Guide to Get Email Subscribers with Freebies

All you need is a simple offer to use as an incentive to collect email addresses.  It gives your readers a reason to subscribe.

You could create a small report, make a list of top 10 tips for something in your niche, or create a printable checklist that your readers can use. Think about your popular posts, what made them popular and expand from there.

Just be careful. Choose an email incentive that collects your target audience. Creating a general opt-in freebie will collect more addresses but they will not be worth the fee you pay for a huge list if they do not open your emails.

Seek quality over quantity.

And other ways to grow your email list…

If you are looking to brainstorm additional ways to boost your number of subscribers, get started with these ideas:

  • Host a giveaway. Give away a prize that your target audience would love, asking visitors to sign up for your email newsletter as an entry to the giveaway. Avoid cash and gift cards as these promotions can attract contest junkies.
  • Write a class or challenge. Consider a topic your ideal readers want to learn over the course of a few emails and create an autoresponder that sends those emails lesson by lesson when they sign up. You could even create a Facebook group for those who participate.
  • Offer discounts. If you sell a product, offer a promo code to visitors when they sign up for your newsletter! Tag each subscriber based on the type of product to keep them enticed when you have sales and other product promotions related to their interest.
  • Get personal. A simple way to encourage more sign ups is to simply let visitors know that you share personal stories and insights in email that you don’t share anywhere else – of course, you have to remember to deliver on this promise in your newsletters!

Ready to get started? Be sure to grab the Email Marketing Planner for Beginners and take these tips with you.

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What is Content Curation and How to Do It Well

There has been some confusion in recent weeks about content curation. Some even going so far as to say it should never be done. In this post I hope to show you what it is, what it is not, and how to do it well. For if there were no curators, the world would have no museums, no good way to share and experience the great art forms of another.


What is content curation? How can I do it well and correctly?

What is a “Curator”

An Art Curator

Think of a curator of a museum. What is his role or job?

  • He orchestrates collections of art created by others.
  • He cares for the art and displays it to it’s best advantage.
  • He arranges for collections or exhibitions of the art.
  • And he finds ways to help others appreciate and learn from the art.

Does he create the art? Does he claim it as his own? Certainly not. In most cases he is an art lover and simply facilitates the appreciation of the art by others. It is not normal for anyone who sees an art exhibit to even give a thought to the curator who put it together for their benefit.

A Content Curator

In the case of a content curator, the same should be true. A content curator facilitates the appreciation of the content by others, making much of the art and it’s qualities and making little of himself.

What Content Curation is not:

  • It is not stealing content.
  • It is not plagiarism.
  • It is not claiming others content or images as your own.

All of the above can get you into serious, even legal, trouble.

What Content Curation is:

  • It is appreciation of the content.
  • It is (sometimes) the organization of the content into categories or displays.
  • It is facilitating the appreciation of the content by others, who may or may not have a chance to experience it otherwise. (i.e. introducing your readers to bloggers/writers and/or topics they might not otherwise know about.)
  • It is giving due recognition to the creator (original artist/author).

How to Curate Content Well

There is a right way and a wrong way to curate content. Basically, anything falling into the above categories of what curation is not would be doing it the wrong way.

To curate the right way you write original content that explains why the content you are sharing is important, why it is  relevant to the discussion, and some information about from whom and where it came. This can be done in several ways, the most popular of which are one-post focused and round-up posts.

So, how do you know if you are correctly curating content? Here are some simple rules to follow.

The Rules for Proper Content Curation:

  1. Always create your own original content describing the post(s) you are curating and telling why it is important/relevant and/or what you appreciated about the post or the author or the site.
  2. Always mention the blogger/author and brand by name.
  3. If you quote from the curated post to prove a point or further pique their interest, never use more than a sentence or short paragraph (not over 100 words), and be sure to correctly attribute the quote.
  4. Always link to the curated post (set to open in a new window) and encourage your readers to read the entire post there.
  5. NEVER use their photo in your post without prior written permission.
  6. When you can, leave a helpful comment on their post and mention that you will be sharing it with your people. Don’t be spammy or rude about it dropping links all over, but do say something that adds value to their space.

Need some Examples?

Curating in Round Up Posts by Meet Penny

Curating a Single Post by Cómo Blog

Other Posts of Interest:

Creator vs. Curator

The Top 5 Reasons You Should Curate Content

So now you know what content curation is, what it is not, and how to do it well. But maybe this discussion has raised some other questions for you? Leave them in the comments and we’ll be happy to answer.

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What Does VAT Mean for US Bloggers?

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about VAT, or the European Union’s Value Added Tax. Many bloggers in the United States are confused, so I want to explain exactly what VAT means for US bloggers and how it will change the way you sell digital goods and services online.

What you need to know about the European VAT and how to avoid charging/paying that tax as a US business selling online.

Although VAT was enacted in 2003, the changes effective January 1, 2015 have brought attention to the impact on all non-European residents who sell digital goods and services to consumers within the European Union. So, if you have an online store on your blog and have customers in Europe, this means you… regardless of where you live. [SOURCE: GOV.UK]

As of January 1, 2015, there will be significant changes to the European VAT rules on sales of digital goods and services to retail consumers in Europe.  These changes increase the VAT compliance burdens on all sellers, wherever those sellers are located.

Rick Minor, Forbes

Please note that the Value Added Tax is not based on the seller’s location but the rate is designated by the consumer’s country of residence and may vary greatly from country to country, reaching as much as 27% of the product’s value.

Being VAT Compliant

If you sell digital goods and services to consumers in Europe, you must follow the instructions for submitting the Value Added Tax.

  1. You must register as a non-resident seller for VAT prior to any sales to European customers.
  2. Even if the tax equates to only $0.01 USD, you must still submit payment.
  3. The VAT rate must be included in your retail price and not listed separately as a US state sales tax would be.
  4. Payments are submitted quarterly. To avoid having to pay each country individually, you can choose a simpler system for reporting with VAT MOSS. [SOURCE: VAT Mini One Stop Shop, UK.GOV]
  5. Information regarding the transaction must be kept on file for 10 years.

Many eCommerce plugins and websites are updating to include VAT compliance.

  • Woothemes has announced a Woocommerce VAT extension that will collect and validate the consumer’s IP address and their country of residence.
  • Shopify will be supplying you with the customer’s billing address and IP address for you to pursue VAT compliance. [SOURCE: Shopify]
  • Easy Digital Downloads offers an extension to make VAT compliance possible.
  • Ejunkie is trying to explain how to be VAT compliant while using their services.

How the tax is enforced upon US businesses

Several bloggers have touted that the European Union has no basis to command United States business owners to pay VAT. They have said that VAT will be impossible to enforce. Perhaps, but many analysts anticipate that other countries will enact a Value Added Tax as Europe’s model is receiving high praise.

  • Canadian legislature is consider its own VAT. [SOURCE: The Globe and Mail]
  • India plans to solidify changes to their VAT in April 2016. [SOURCE: Indian Express]
  • Senate Finance Committee member, Benjamin L. Cardin, plans to introduce legislation for a United States VAT. [SOURCE: Lexis Nexis]

Sellers of digital goods need to settle into the idea and stop claiming ignorance as the European Union plans to tighten the enforcement of VAT using web bots to find eMerchants in violation. [SOURCE: Taxamo] The United States has already pledged to cooperate in several treaties and documents including the Economic and Technical Cooperation agreement between the US and Bulgaria in 1998.

What we [HMRC] and other EU tax authorities are doing is if we found that one of these businesses is non-compliant then through treaties arrangements that we have with the jurisdictions, through information exchange or debt recovery, we would then approach the authorities in those other states to take action to help us to get the debt paid.

Those arrangements are going to be reinforced, and strengthened, effectively in the coming months and years to make sure that there aren’t jurisdictions out there where someone could effectively hide and make those supplies without properly declaring.

Andrew Webb, Taxamo

Limitations to Europe’s VAT

What is included under the VAT changes? View a comprehensive listing of digital services and goods by Taxamo.

But what is NOT included?

A video is embedded above.

Here are a few important notes recorded by My News Desk during a Twitter Q&A with HM Revenue and Customs that was mentioned in the video above:

A2  What constitutes an e-service? #VATMOSS

An e-service is one that is fully automated and involves no or minimal human intervention. #VATMOSS

A4  Does #VATMOSS apply to web hosting, SAAS, cloud storage, analytics, online accounting, remote maintenance and web advertising? #VATMOSS

Yes if those services are automated and involve no, or minimal, intervention. #VATMOSS

A5  Does this mean I need to be VAT registered to sell ebooks? #VATMOSS

If you sell ebooks to consumers in other member states through own fully automated website this will be an e-service, so yes.  #VATMOSS

A6  If I run a paid live webinar (human interaction) and have a free pdf download with it, is that liable under #VATMOSS?

No, the live webinar is not an e-service and the pdf download, provided it is genuinely free, will not be affected by new rules. #VATMOSS

A7  Is delivering part live, part downloadable content to customers around the EU exempt from #VATMOSS?

Live content not an e-service, downloadable content is. Depends on which part of transaction was principal element for customer. #VATMOSS

A8  If I have paid membership for my website and people can then get free online courses, is that a digital services under #VATMOSS?

If course is fully automated it’s an e service. If there is “human intervention” eg online tutors, live Q&As etc, it’s not. #VATMOSS

A9  What about virtual classrooms combining live webinars, videos, pdfs & human intervention? #VATMOSS

A virtual classroom combining all these elements would not be an e-service because of the amount of human intervention involved. #VATMOSS

A10  What if an e-course contains recorded videos & PDFs but is opened at specific times only + has live interaction? #VATMOSS

The inclusion of live interaction means that this is not an e-service. #VATMOSS

A11  If I offer coaching (human intervention) with an online course, how do I handle that to comply with #VATMOSS?

The inclusion of live coaching means that this is not an e service. #VATMOSS

You should read the complete Twitter Q&A transcript as it includes details on the VAT implications for Paypal, Etsy, Kickstarter, and more.

Follow VAT MOSS on Twitter for updates.

How to avoid paying VAT

Your options for #VATMOSS... according to a cartoonist.

graphic published with permission of Dave Walker. SOURCE

If you have an online store and want to avoid paying VAT completely, you have one option: Block sales to consumers living in Europe. Most eCommerce plugins have a way to limit the countries allowed to purchase through your store.

You can also use a 3rd party eMarketplace such as Amazon, Etsy, etc. who assume responsibility for being VAT compliant for you.


Wow. I feel like I need to take a deep breath because this is quite a lot of important information, and I probably should have divided it into multiple posts. However, I remain determined to educate you for your protection and thought one thorough piece would keep you from plundering around Google looking for help in decoding this complex piece of legislation that will impact so many of us.

I truly hope you are ending with a clear understanding of VAT and what it means to US bloggers. Now, go make sure your blog is VAT compliant.

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How to Download Your Facebook Page Status Updates Archive

I recently went on a journey to figure out how to download my facebook page’s status update archive.  Even though I do have a blog, I am more of a Facebooker than a blogger.  When I have something to say, I want to say it immediately without pomp and circumstance.  I want to get reactions immediately, too.  I want to communicate.  For me, Facebook is where it’s at.

Birdsong Analytics... I need a closer look at this!

When I started writing my own book, which is part memoir/part fiction, I wanted to go back and grab some of those life experiences that I had chronicled only on my Facebook page.  I tried the search function for what I knew were some of my much loved posts, but, alas, no results were found.  Regardless of the keyword, it knew nothing.  (Their search function is hit or miss.)

I was, however, able to use Facebook’s built in feature to retrieve my status updates from my personal profile, but I was unable to retrieve my status updates from my Facebook pages. I did try a few different times from within FB, and I was never given my file for my business page.  Maybe it was just an all-too-familiar FB glitch. (To retrieve your archive from your personal Facebook profile, go to Settings and click on “Download a copy of your Facebook data”.)

About Birdsong Analytics

I tried multiple searches on Google and tried several different sites that promised to deliver me my Facebook page status update archive, but nothing doin’.  Failed attempt after failed attempt.  Thankfully, Tiffany Wong’s (of Real Mom Talk) Google was able to help me out, and she quickly found Birdsong Analytics for me to peruse.

I clicked over and immediately liked their clean and easy-to-use website.  My favorite feature was the chat system which was set to engage me after a few minutes of being on the site.  I took the chat box  up on his offer.  I was now chatting with Jamie.

As it turns out, Jamie is the actual owner of this company.  He and his wife run it together.  As a business owner myself, I was very impressed that he had not outsourced this part of his business.  Customer service is key to any successful business but is unfortunately one of the lowest paid jobs within a company.  It’s best to handle this yourself if at all possible.

Jamie sent me a sample report of my Facebook page that showed me all kinds of numbers six ways to Sunday, and I kept him on chat for a good 20 minutes asking him all sorts of questions, to which he responded with wit and charm.  A bonus feature of any site.

You get lots of great information about your page (or you can download ANY page’s info, not just your own), but the thing that started it all was wanting my archive of status updates from my own Facebook page.

For easiest status updates extraction, you can download your status update file in the .CSV file format.  You will need to open this file in Excel to retrieve your status updates.  The status updates will all be in one column, so you can delete the columns that you don’t want or just work with the data that is there.

The columns are post id, date, status update text, number of likes, number of comments, and number of shares.  These are great columns for me, because I know that the content that I want to share in my novel is going to be what my audience was most responsive to.  The content has already been vetted, so I know it’s good and strikes a chord in my audience.


Birdsong Analytics Results 1


One of the free features that I love about Birdsong Analytics is that I can quickly and easily access some statistical data on ANY page, not just my own page.  This will come in most handy when I am working with clients on preparing their media kits.  I don’t even offer advertising on my own site, but after seeing my 13% engagement rate, I’m thinking about it.

I can also order the detailed reports on ANY page, not just my own.  

What BirdSong can offer is an insight on how your competitors are using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can use it to identify their performance, best time to tweet, most popular tweets and the ability to export their followers. On Facebook and Instagtram you can identify the best performing content and posting times. “–Jamie Riddell

When I told him that I was actually doing research for an article, he sent me my full data.  But, being a small business owner myself, I’m not looking for handouts.  Investing in each other is critical, and we shouldn’t always be looking for a “gimme gimme gimme”.  I went through the process as a paying customer to retrieve my information.  They are in the UK, so the UK price is 19.99 pounds, which translates to $30 US dollars.  (Write-offs are an important part of business, too.)

If you know that you will be needing more than one report (say you want to do one each month with updated statistics), then you can buy a pack of 6 for $120, saving you $60.

To see a sample of the reports, click here.

In my opinion, my $30 was well spent.  I got 3 years’ worth of my life story in a simple to use format.  Even if I wasn’t writing a book, this is information that I can compile for journaling or whatever I want to use it for.  It’s mine.  Facebook shouldn’t own it and be able to keep it from us.  Hopefully they will make this information easier to retrieve at some point in the near future.

Although the report was supposed to have been delivered to my email in approximately 15 minutes, I know from talking with Jamie the other day that sometimes getting information from Facebook doesn’t go as quickly as planned.  And we all know from the hours that we’ve invested into Facebook that they don’t always play nice.  I mean, I can’t even get their own search engine to work correctly all of the time.  So even though the report took longer to retrieve than 15 minutes, that was not Birdsong Analytics’ fault.

I have worked in the customer service industry for over 20 years, and I am very impressed by Birdsong Analytics services and their customer support.  And I’m impressed with some of my writing, too.  It was great to easily go back through my status updates and see what my former self had been up to over the last three years.

Posted on 1 Comment

Get More Traffic with 301 Redirects

So you’ve just created a product or post that’s awesome, but you want to send people there without having a huge URL (http://yoursitename/store/category/incredibleproduct). You’d also like the URL to be short and catchy and easy to remember for advertising purposes. What do you do?

Harness more traffic and make life easier by setting up 301 redirects

There are two options:

1. Redirect with Bitly

You can create a free account on and then enter any URL you want and it will shorten it for you. For example, if I enter it would give me

When someone types in the bitly link, it redirects to the original url. This solves the first problem of needing a shorter link (especially good when sharing on social media where characters are limited). But it doesn’t solve the other problem of being easy to remember.

I can also customize it to be This is a little easier to remember, but still through someone else and not optimal.

2. Use a 301 redirect

You’ve checked and there is a domain name available for your product ( don’t want it to be it’s own site, however, so you purchase the domain and create a 301 redirect, directing the product’s domain name ( to the product page ( Short and easy to remember = problem solved.

What is a 301 Redirect?

A 301 redirect tells search engines that the site has been permanently moved to the new location and will tell search engines to treat the new site as a replacement of the old site. For our purposes, we have purchased a new domain name for a specific product, we want to permanently send people there. We’ll use a 301. (This also works well if you are rebranding your blog and want to permanently stop using the old domain name and want search engines to only “know about” the new site.)

A 302 redirect tells search engines and visitors that the redirect is only temporary. You should use a 302 redirect if you intend to remove the redirect in the future.

How do you create a 301 redirect?

  1. Login to your GoDaddy account.
  2. Go to your list of domain names, and find the domain you wish to redirect.
  3. Depending on how GoDaddy shows you the list, either click “launch” or click the hyperlinked domain name to open the details view.
  4. Go to Forwarding and click on “manage” under “domain”.
  5. In the pop up box, click “add one now”
  6. Add the URL you want it to redirect/forward to.
  7. Select 301 permanent or 302 temporary.
  8. Check the box to update my nameservers and DNS settings to support this change”.
  9. Click “Add”.

You should receive an email from GoDaddy, usually within a couple of hours telling you that the information has been updated. And then the redirect should be working. If you type in the new URL and it does not redirect properly, you may have to clear your browser history (or cache) and restart the internet browser.

Now you have a short and memborable url to share in marketing and an easier way to drive more traffic to that product or post.

Need another example?

I recently created the product Melk, the Christmas Monkey, an advent book of activities for families. I wanted to host and sell it on my main blog, Paradise Praises. So, for advertising purposes, I bought the domain and redirected it to Much catchier and easier to brand the product with.

Note, experience says it would NOT be a good idea to redirect the main domain of the website ( for example) to a different page on that site, unless you have advanced technical experience, because redirecting the main domain that the whole site is created on can take your site down temporarily. If rebranding your site, you should have it all set up on the new domain and functioning as you wish it to before redirecting the old domain. If in doubt get help from a professional.