Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start writing!
As a freelancer or small business, your website is probably a huge part of your business. Before you work on designing it, or writing the copy for it, you need to choose where you’re going to host it. Choosing a web hosting company is a big decision. It’s hard to tell them apart as they all make similar claims. And there’s really no way to prove any of their claims are true without doing your homework.
Making the wrong decision for your web hosting company can cause you no end of frustration. To avoid that as much as possible, use this list of five things to research before choosing a company. Though they are numbered, they aren’t in any particular order.
1. Price and what’s included
Pricing is probably the first thing many freelancers or small businesses need to know. But keep in mind that price is just one of the many reasons to choose a web host. The cheapest hosting probably can’t deliver on many services to any degree of satisfaction. Still, the costs for decent hosting range from a reasonably low $3.99 per month to over a hundred per month. As you can guess, there’s a huge difference in the services you receive in that range.
2. Customer reviews / Reputation
Perform a Google search for each hosting company, or look them up in Facebook, Twitter or forums. You can always find someone talking about their hosting company. Thanks to social media it’s impossible to hide how a company treats its customers.
Use your head though, and don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Try to consider the balance of what you find reported about a company. If you visit three different sources and 90% of them complain about the company, then it’s a good deduction they may not be so good. If you notice though, that it seems to be just a few people with an axe to grind, then maybe they aren’t so bad. So take what you find with a grain of salt and look for information from sources you trust too.
3. Customer/Technical Support
Whatever your skill level, a company’s customer support should be one of your primary concerns. If your site is down, for whatever reason, can you call for help and talk to a genuine, live human on the phone? Can they find out why it happened and how to fix it, or at least tell you what to do? How about their billing practices? Are their policies clearly defined, and do they put the customer first or the bottom line?
4. Control Panel / User Interface
Whatever host you pick, you’ll need to access your account through their website or software. So find out if the web host provides cPanel or Plesk. These are fairly standard web programs that let you make modifications and updates to your account. They make working with your domain and hosting easier, require no programming knowledge and can be used for simple management by even the faint of the technology heart. If you’re not in a position to hire help to manage your website, then cPanel and Plesk are your friend.
5. Plan for the future
Think about your site’s future. If your site grows (ultimately leading to a lot of traffic on your side) can your provider’s servers handle the expansion? Do they have seamless upgrades in your hosting package (from shared to dedicated for instance) or will migrating your site me a nightmare? Ask about what procedures they have in place for upgrading (or downgrading) their hosting packages. Will they do it for you? How much would they charge to do it?
And those are my top five things to consider when choosing a web hosting company. There are other things too, that we’ll cover in future posts, but without researching the above first, the others won’t really matter. Do you have a different list you’d suggest?
Apple improved quite a lot in iOS 7. Safari now is more functional with full screen support for example. In part 1 of this iOS 7 tips series I showed you how to do some common tasks. In this article, I’m going to focus on the two features I think really are able to help you be more productive.
Siri gets better
Siri certainly isn’t new, but it (she/he – whatever persona you want to give it) is much improved. Previously I gave Siri a decent try. But in the end, it only ended up being useful to keep the kids entertained with the often humorous answers to really crazy questions.
Don’t get me wrong. I saw potential there, but for how I used my iPhone Siri wasn’t able to help much. For example text message I gave verbally were never delivered. I couldn’t launch the apps I wanted so I could be hands free, or have emails read to me while driving.
But in iOS 7 that isn’t the case anymore. Siri works much more seamlessly now with various applications, enough so she’s a bit more useful.
I’m able to send email or text messages now that actually get delivered. The voice recognition is pretty good too, as long as I’m in a quiet space. We’ll fairly quiet anyway. And as long as the contact information is correct (that wasn’t the issue before).
Siri will also read your most recent emails to you. She’ll tell you when they arrived, how many you have, who they are from, and the subject. If you want to read a specific email, you’ll have to tell her which one by saying “latest” or at a specific time. You’ll want to play around with it to get the feel of how it works. There are still plenty of people out there complaining that Siri works inconsistently. Also not every feature is available in every country. So really try it for yourself and see.
Simply hold down the home button until Siri appears (you’ll hear a “beep, beep”). Then say, “Read my email” or “Read my latest email”.
It’s handy when driving.
If you’re interested in learning more about Siri, the good and the bad, here’s a great article on how it all works. http://www.macworld.com/article/2048736/get-to-know-ios-7-siri.html
The new control center
By far the best new feature is the quick access control center. One swipe and you can access the most common functions and apps for general use. Let’s take a look:
Here is what the control center looks like. Just swipe up from the very bottom of your device to see it.
Some of the options are obvious if you already know the symbols. But if you don’t know them, that’s ok. We’ll go over them here in order starting at the top left.
So Siri and the control center are the two handiest features and iOS7 tips that I’ve discovered. Let me know in the comments how they work for you, or if you have a different favorite feature.
I seems like everyone is searching for iOS 7 tips. As I’ve been out and about using my iPhone, people nearby ask, “Did you update?” And that is usually quickly followed by, “How do you…?”
Sometimes I can help, sometimes I can’t. Weird things happen in iOS7. And the most frustrating thing is they aren’t repeatable across devices. Something wrong on my iPhone isn’t happening to my Dad’s. Or one of those strangers has a problem on their iPhone I can’t repeat on mine. Just take a look at this screenshot I took a few days after updating to the initial release.
You see it right. I have over 2 BILLION emails. Only I don’t. In fact, I have zero unread emails on that account at the time I took this screenshot. The update that followed a few days later cleared up my enormous unread email bug. But Apple is still pushing updates to fix multitudes of other issues.
And while it is tempting to continue to complain about it all, what I really want to do is help you figure out what the biggest new features are, as well as how to do some common tasks that are now hard to find. In part one of this series we’ll cover the common tasks. So let’s get started.
Searching your device
It used to be that you’d hit the home button twice and the search screen would appear. It was handy for those of us with too many apps, or too lazy to look through all the pages. But on iOS7 that doesn’t work anymore.
This is one of the most annoying changes. I use the search function all the time (yes, I’m lazy – and it’s faster than swiping through all the pages), so when the old way didn’t work anymore I immediately tried to figure out how to do it. And I couldn’t. The new way isn’t obvious, and has one major issue (there I go ranting again!). I did what you’re doing now – I looked it up.
Here’s how to search:
On any page, swipe down. The search bar and keyboard appears.
Doh! How easy is that? They actually did improve the ability to search, because you can do it from anywhere on your device. But, if you don’t know how, it isn’t obvious.
And here’s the major issue: If you swipe down too close to the top, the notifications screen appears instead. Ok, so maybe it isn’t a “major” issue. But it is annoying.
Did you ever hit the home button twice to get a list of open apps to appear at the bottom of the device? It was a quick and easy way to change apps, and most of the time an app resumes right where you left off (depending on the app). Also if an app was giving you trouble, you could press down on it for a few seconds to get the “x” to appear so you could force the app closed. Sometimes that was enough to fix whatever went wrong with the app so it worked fine when you reopened it.
If you didn’t know you could do that, then you’ll probably want to start using it. It saves time and frustration.
And it is another handy feature Apple improved on in iOS 7. They did make it better, but like with the search function how it works isn’t obvious.
Here is how it works:
First, you still double click on the Home button.
You’ll see screenshots of each app appear along with the app icon below them.
To switch to a different app just click on the screenshot. The app will open, sometimes where you were in the app, sometimes it relaunches. It depends on the app and how the developer set it up.
To close an app, you need to swipe it up and off the screen. If you were having trouble with the app, it might be fixed when you click to reopen it. But it might not too. But this is the easiest thing to try before you move on to more drastic measures.
That’s it for part one. Come back for part two and find out about how changes in Safari and Siri can make your life a little easier. And we’ll look in-depth at the new quick control center feature and offer more iOS 7 tips.
Recently Hubspot sent out emails “introducing” Signals, an email tracking platform. They bill it as a time saver (certainly a potential stress saver). If you’ve ever spent any time waiting for a response to an email, you’ll probably end up agreeing with them.
Once installed, Signals will notify you when a recipient opens an email. But at the moment, the free version only works with emails sent from Outlook and Gmail.
Another limitation is it only works if you have Google Chrome. Why? The program is written as an extension to Chrome.
And wait a minute. Didn’t I just say Outlook?
Yes, but here’s the deal. They also have an add-on for Outlook that attaches the tracking code to outgoing emails, but you can’t get notifications unless Chrome is installed. So if you try to install Signals, you’ll be instructed to download Chrome first.
My take on Signals
I’ve been using Signals for a couple of weeks to track emails in Outlook. So far I’ve had some mixed results. I sent a few test emails and it worked fine. Here’s a screenshot of the notifications I received:
As you can see, some notifications are specific. Others not so much. So the tracking isn’t perfect, but for these emails at least I can tell they were opened.
But on other emails I actually got a mail delivery error. I made several attempts to send the same email with the tracking turned on, but I continued to get the delivery errors. Finally I turned off the tracking and was able to send the email successfully.
On the top notification you’ll see it told me that someone clicked a link in my email. This is interesting because I never received a notification that the email was received, but now I know one of the three people I sent it to at least viewed the link.
Also, over the last week I’ve been stuck in an update loop for Signals. I honestly don’t know exactly what the issue was but the update program would not work. It continued to download another one each time I turned on my computer. I went and read their knowledge base articles but found nothing about issues updating the software. Now, it seems to have resolved itself and the last update stuck. So it could have been just me…
Overall though, I say it’s worth trying out. When it works I know my clients have at least opened my emails. That gives me more information on when to follow up with them rather than taking a shot in the dark. If you want to download it and try it out yourself start here: http://www.getsignals.com. Come back and let me know in the comments how it works for you.
WordPress Plugins are small programs you can install to add functionality to your website. Some common examples are:
- Text editors – improvements to the one included with WordPress
- Backups – to automate the backup process
- Security – to protect your site from hackers
- Social media – adding “Like” or tweet buttons to posts and pages
WordPress is so prolific there are thousands of plugins (over 17% of the millions of websites on the Internet use WordPress, making it the most popular website software in the world). If you want WordPress to do something it doesn’t, there will be a plugin to do it! Just like anything though, some plugins are good and some aren’t. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a plugin:
- Don’t trust the name – Or at least don’t assume anything based on the name. A plugin with the word “backup” probably means it will back up WordPress, but don’t assume it will do it on a schedule, email the backup to you, or backup everything that needs backing up, which leads to…
- Read the description – Not every description is great, but it’ll give you more of a clue about what the plugin will actually do.
- Check the rating – The five star system is used to rate plugins. If something has 3-5 stars it’s probably worth taking a look – but only if it has at least 10 reviews. Less reviews doesn’t mean it’s bad, but the more reviews the better chance the star rating is “accurate” because of averaging of all the responses.
- Look at the plugin page – It’s no good to find a plugin that’s just what you need, then discover it hasn’t been updated for three years, or isn’t actively supported by the developer. So check the last update date. WordPress is always updating to add features and fix security issues. An out of date plugin is always bad news – it can break your website or make it vulnerable to hackers.
- See if there is a free version – Many developers offer free versions of plugins with limited features, but they are otherwise the same as the full blown version (they’re actively supported, same code base, etc.). The free version might have all the functions you need right now though – and you can always upgrade later to a paid version if you need to.
- When in doubt ask – I’ve found most developers welcome questions. It doesn’t hurt to email or post to their support forum. And their response will also tell you about how they are with customer service. If they’re a snob, or don’t reply at all, then maybe a different plugin from another developer is a good idea. If they are great, answer your questions well, then you know investing your money or time is worth it.
And that’s it for an introduction to WordPress Plugins. Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? Share with everyone in the comments.
You’ve made the decision to use WordPress for your website or blog.
Well, you need to pick a theme (the Smurf’s theme song plays in my head – probably yours too now that I’ve mentioned it! But it isn’t that kind of theme I’m talking about).
A WordPress theme is simply an add-in that lets you choose the look and feel (and sometimes functionality) of your website. They save you time and get you up and running quickly.
The “Twenty” theme is provided with WordPress. They create a new one each year so the names are “Twenty Ten”, “Twenty Eleven”, and so on. With this theme you can get running right out of the box, but chances are you’ll want something different eventually.
Fortunately there are over 10,000 themes to choose from. Daunting isn’t it?
Here’s some of the information you’ll need to choose which ones might suit you.
Types of Themes
There are two basic categories:
- Premium (i.e. ones you pay for)
And within those two there are special purpose themes. These might be:
- Ecommerce –designed for online stores
- Photography- for displaying photos for the professional or hobbyist
- Music artists – for any band or musician looking to connect with fans or sell their music
- Publishing – a platform for sharing content – blogs, newsletters, “About” pages, etc.
- And even one for just married couples
So depending on your business you can narrow down your choices based on what the theme is intended to do. Once you do that, here’s a list of what to look for next:
1. How customizable is the theme? Can you change any of the visual options? What about the layout? Can you change the columns? The colors and the fonts? Generally these can be easy to do using menus or buttons, but not every theme does this well. Some don’t do it at all.
2. Is the theme frequently updated? Out of the thousands of themes, many are old or abandoned by the developers. Checking when the last update was lets you know if it is being actively supported. It’s not a good day when the theme you worked so hard to find breaks at the next WordPress update and there’s no one on the development team working to fix it.
3. Are there extensions available? Often developers will create extensions to their themes. These are basically plugins created to work with the theme that provide additional functionality. It could be something as simple as the ability to add a slide show or as complicated as a custom membership site. These are frequently paid upgrades to free or even premium themes.
Choosing a WordPress theme can be a difficult thing the first time you do it. But don’t agonize over it too much. It’s extremely simple to change to another one whenever you feel like it, even just to test and see if you like it better.
Do you have a favorite theme already? Have some hints for someone new looking for one? Share your comments below.
You’ve seen the commercials, heard the buzz, and now you’re wondering if you really need a tablet? And which do you choose? We’ll cover the different types of tablets in a future post but first let’s consider an important question:
Can you justify the purchase as a business expense? (assuming you’re still on the fence)
The short and long answer is “Yes”.
Here are some reasons why:
- Work anywhere – Tablets are small and light. They easily fit into a purse, bag, or briefcase. One company SCOTTEVEST, actually makes jackets with built-in pockets perfect for carrying your iPad (and other tablets would fit as well) for those who don’t carry a bag of any kind (that’s for you men, no fear of man-bags anymore – though they sell women’s versions too). So whether you’re at the coffee shop, the mall, the car or the beach, you can meet those tight deadlines or stay up-to-date on email and social networking.
- Work any time – When you have a tablet you’re able to maximize your time. Activities that often waste time like waiting at the doctor’s office, at the airport, or for a late appointment to show up can be spent working on documents. You might say that you have a laptop for those situations, but how often do you run out of battery at the worst time? Jockeying for wall outlets can be a competitive sport. Most tablets have significantly longer battery life than a laptop, plus they are much easier to carry around.
- Respond to clients quickly – You can type a quick email on your phone, but you don’t want to type proposals or do revisions on that tiny screen. A tablet’s larger screen size gives you much more space to work on and makes writing, editing, or designing while on the go possible.
- Apps. There are apps for everything, as you’ve probably heard (“There’s an app for that” campaign by Apple really is true!) But the beauty of the tablet is that it can mimic some activities that are often better done by hand – but they are captured electronically so you can save them easily. In particular think of mind mapping. Personally I find mind mapping most effective when I do it on a white board or large piece of paper – there’s just something about doing it that way that makes it feel more powerful. I’ve used mind mapping software and it is good, but lacks the spontaneity of doing it by hand. But with a tablet you get the best of both worlds. Mind mapping is again a kinesthetic experience. With apps you’ll find many things are much easier using your touchscreen.
- Easy diversions – Ok so this one may not technically be a reason you could justify it as a business expense, but it is certainly one that can boost your creativity and productivity. Sometimes we just need to get out of the head space we’re in, and let the work sit for awhile. With a tablet there are so many things you can do to take a few minutes off, but still be poised for work when you’re ready to go back. A few rounds of Angry Birds on the large screen of a tablet really is so much more satisfying than on your phone. Not an Angry Bird fan (or have no idea what I’m talking about) then there are literally hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from. You could watch a bit of a movie, play a hidden object game, or a word game and build your vocabulary, take and edit some pictures – the list goes on. Sometimes just 5 minutes of NOT thinking about the topic your working on is enough to get unstuck or find new inspiration. Also if you have kids and a tablet can also be a great educational tool, or at least a better babysitter than the TV (No, please don’t think I’m suggesting leaving your kids home alone with an iPad. I mean to keep them busy while you work!)
Here’s the second half of the 5 free time saving websites for writers list – making a total of 10!
The Business Dictionary – If you do a lot of business writing this dictionary has all the terms, phrases, and explanations you’ll need to understand what your clients are talking about, and what you need to convey to your readers. It has business subcategories for easy navigation and a more extensive business focused dictionary than others I’ve found.
Readability Index calculator – If you write for a living you probably know about Flesch-Kincaid (FK) scores. FK scores relate the readability of your writing based on a calculation of the complexity of the language used, sentence and paragraph length, etc. If you use Word it has a built in FK calculation when you select to show readability statistics (see this post for more info). But if you use Word, you probably know it goes a bit wonky sometimes and the FK scores don’t calculate correctly or just don’t show up. So if you’re frustrated with those results, or prefer not to use Word based on principle (I’m writing this with Google Docs as we speak) then there are several websites that let you cut and paste your text and then calculate your FK score. The one listed here I’ve used a bit, but mostly chose it because of the URL name: http://www.standards-schmandards.com/. I like it.
Google Docs – Yes you’ve heard of it but are you really using it? Google docs is a great way to create files, share and edit them without the hassle of emailing them back and forth. Not to mention that the simpler interface means you don’t have all those headaches and quirks that come with Microsoft office. Google’s free apps are limited feature wise compared to office but if you think about the ones you actually use, Google has them covered. For basic documents you really can’t go wrong. And now with “Google Drive” all your documents can be synced across all your devices seamlessly. No more having to download or upload in order to keep versions consistent – or the need to use a third party app.
Dumb Little Man – Perhaps not the best name for a website, but this collection of articles has suggestions and tips to save you time and improve productivity in many different areas including business, motivation, health and fitness. For example see this article that gives a quick review of how to use delimiters to make your Google searches more effective.
Paypal – Ok, so it isn’t just for writers, and if you’re a business it technically isn’t free (whose quibbling?). But it is one of the fastest and easiest ways to send invoices that clients can just click to pay. You get your money (minus their small transaction fees) quicker than waiting for the “check in the mail”. The invoices are customizable with your name and logo and do look professional – without having to purchase a full accounting program.
What are some of your favorite websites you use to save you time?
As freelancers we’re all about finding ways to save time or to make our lives a little bit easier. Here are five free time saving websites for writers that can easily help you get more from your time. Also these sites can make some of your mundane tasks easier to manage.
Focus Booster – Here you’ll find a productivity and focus booster based on the the pomodoro technique. Basically it is a timer that gives you audio and visual clues about your time without being obnoxious about it. It is a subtle reminder to keep working, and that a break is just a few minutes away. I’ve heard many people – including very successful business people – say they used this technique or a variant. Honestly I’ve tried it on my own and had little success. With this handy website (or a downloadable app) though, I managed to improve my productivity significantly in short bursts of time. Give it a try and see if it might just be what you need to push through that next task.
Citation builder– If you doing any B2B, academic, or technical writing then you know about citation hell. Or at least that is how I think of it. I can never remember the right format for all of today’s varied references and style guides. In comes Citation Builder to the rescue. Simply choose the type of document or resource you used (traditional print or online digital files and formats) then fill in the information you have on the resource. Voila! Out pops the citation in the correct format. Just cut and paste into your document. This doesn’t free you from keeping good records of your sources, but it saves a lot of time typing up your notes, bibliography or references pages.
LLBest Utility – In case you haven’t realized it by now, I’m not a huge grammar fan. I rely (probably too much) on my software and editors to help me along with all the detailed rules that need following. But of course I still want to hand in quality work. This website ensures that all the words in a title have the appropriate case. Simply cut and paste your title in and click “Title Case”. It isn’t the prettiest website, and even the button for “Title Case” is mixed in with other buttons, but it works and ensures that the headline or title of your work is correct (capitalization wise at least).
The Free Dictionary – You probably know and use dictionary.com. Great name isn’t it? They probably get a lot of traffic for being the most obvious choice for a website. But if you look up words frequently, have specific terminology or usage in your writing then you’ve probably found dictionary.com a bit lacking (and it’s partners thesaurus.com, etc.). A free alternative is… The Free Dictionary. I’ve found I’ve gotten better results in terms of the definitions provided (not just the most common usages) when compared to dictionary.com. The site also features a ton of extras if you happen to be a word fan. It also has links to other language dictionaries, but I haven’t tried those.
Acronyms.com – It doesn’t matter what industry or niche you write for, there are always acronyms. And often they overlap and mean different things depending on the company, industry, sub-niche, or other context. Acronyms.com is the most complete listing of acronyms I’ve found. It is fairly easily searched and then narrowed by industry or topic so you don’t get confused or overwhelmed by the choices. You still need to use judgement and your own context to figure out the right one, but if you’re in a pinch and can’t confirm with a client (or don’t want to look bad) then this website is for you.
Check back for Part 2 of our free time saving, productivity boosting website list.