Brainstorming on the Beach: How Vacationing Leads to Breakthroughs

Guest Post by Allison RiceBrainstorming ideas

Did you know that you’re more likely to come up with breakthrough ideas if you’re on vacation than if you’re in your home office doing business as usual? Taking off time from your business and getting outside your daily routine is not only important for work/life balance, but it’s proven to be beneficial to innovation in your business.

Here are some tips on how to generate your best brainstorming, and what to do with those ideas once you’re back in your home office.

Choose a Setting That Inspires You.

Are you a mountain or a beach person? Choose a vacation spot that sparks your inner muse. You don’t have to take a whole week off or plan an expensive, exotic trip to get out of your comfort zone; consider a weekend getaway.

Keep a Notebook.

Studies have shown that writing down our ideas reduces stress and promotes well-being, in addition to being a fantastic way to come up with breakthrough ideas. Pick out a notebook that speaks to your personal style, and choose a high-quality pen. Even if you’re more comfortable with a tablet than an old-fashioned notebook, writing by hand might lead you to discover new ideas (plus, without the temptation to check email). If you get in the habit of spending ten or fifteen minutes writing down your uncensored thoughts every day (try right after you wake up, over coffee), chances are you’ll unleash some innovative ideas.

Pick up a Book.

Is there a leader in your field that you admire? Bring a biography to the mountains or the beach to learn what makes your personal hero tick. While you’re at it, consider picking up a book on the creative process; choreographer Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life contains over thirty practical exercises to help get your creative juices flowing, whatever your professional background may be. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s bestselling Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience is a fascinating glimpse into what makes highly productive individuals able to get into the “zone” of creativity.

Take a Hike.

Some of our best ideas happen while we’re in motion: walking, hiking, swimming, skiing. Exploring a new setting might even spark new ideas. And if you’re ever feeling stuck, the best thing to do is to take a walk.

Create a Mood Board.

When you get back to your home office, transform your bulletin board into a “mood board” with inspiring quotes and images that speak to your imagination. You can make the mood board specific to a particular project you’re working on, or it can just be a place to store ideas that resonate with your business philosophy.

Find a Brainstorming Buddy.

To ensure that your ideas become reality once you’re back in your office, entrust a fellow business owner with your new ideas. You could even form an informal group, or a personal learning network, to have regular lunch dates where you share ideas in an anything-goes, no holds barred fashion. If you create a safe environment where even the most outrageous ideas can be shared, you could be on the road to serious breakthroughs. Plus, studies show that collaborating makes good ideas even better.

Where’s your dream vacation spot? Is there an inspiring place nearby that you could visit to get your creativity flowing?

Allison Rice is the Marketing Director for Amsterdam Printing, one of the nation’s largest providers of promotional products for businesses large and small. Allison regularly contributes to the Small Business Know-How blog.

Ways To Stay Safe While Looking For Online Jobs

FlexJobsGoogle the words “legitimate work from home jobs” and you’ll find around 4 million listings. Some of the listings truly are legitimate, but others are clearly scams. Sara Sutton Fell’s business, FlexJobs, is one of the exceptions. FlexJobs offers legitimate work from home jobs — every company is screened carefully before any of its jobs are posted — that can be done from home.

FlexJobs has had to overcome a few misconceptions (I admit I had a few doubts), thanks to less-than-honest scam artists out there who are ready to cheat anyone. Fell offers a few questions to make it easier to tell whether an online placement company is legitimate or not.

  • How much information do they provide up-front? Any company that has you sign up or provide personal contact information before giving you comprehensive details on what you are actually signing up for is a big red flag.
  • Do the words “evasive” or “sketchy” come to mind when you look at their site and read the information? If there is anything that gives you a gut reaction causing you to wonder if it’s legitimate, that’s a red flag.
  • Does the site provide contact information, including an address? If there’s a contact form, use it to try to talk with someone to ask some questions before signing up, or if there’s a number, try calling it. If you can’t reach a company as a prospective client, you will NEVER be able to reach them as a dissatisfied one.
  • Check with the BBB, (the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership including the FBI), and even google. Google the company name with the word “scam” and see what comes up.

Not only does FlexJobs offer legitimate jobs, they have a blog filled with helpful articles including How to Find a Real Online Job (and avoid the scams!).

Happy (online) hunting!

Create the Perfect Team With Your Competitors

Guest Post by Lucinda Cross

Portrait of business people with their hands togetherA good way to increase profits, reduce risk and broaden your market is by joining forces with a competitor. Maybe not all of the time, but a project or two may be a good way for both of you to grow your businesses and to see if a long-term association is worthwhile.

If you have multiple businesses, the joint venture may be just one of those businesses, and the others you continue to run on your own. There are a few ways to work with your competitor.

  • Be creative. For example, if you’re both life coaches, you can offer more seminars in more places for mutual benefit.
  • Create a shared company name to help you brand your services.
  • Make sure the venture is on an equal footing. It’s probably a good idea to get a legal agreement that clarifies exactly what is shared, who is the boss, and other details. A legal document gives you the way in and the way out, if you need to end the venture.
  • Create a business plan for the venture. The plan should detail what the goals are and how you’re going to reach them together. You can’t work at cross-purposes if you want to succeed.

Of course, the most important factor in a joint venture, is trust. Without mutual trust and openness what could have been a successful venture (the usual result of a joint venture is success) will fall flat on its face.

Lucinda Cross, known as the Business Midwife, is the author and speaker of Corporate Mom DropOuts. The company provides signature online and offline educational marketing strategies and mentoring for mom entrepreneurs.

How to Become an Expert: 3 Easy Steps

how to become an expertIf you’re a physician, attorney, architect or other professional who has to pass a test to be certified, you’re considered an expert. If you’re not in a field with a standardized test to prove you’re an expert, you’ll need to prove your expertise in other ways.

After all, when the media, prospects or clients need insight or services from an expert in your field, you want to be the first one they call. So how do you make that happen? There are several ways.

1. Write, Write, Write.

Contribute articles to trade publications and websites that focus on your expertise. The more often your articles are published with your byline and a link to your site — consider the link your “payment” for the article — the more you’ll become a household name within your industry. Websites are begging for guest posts. Contact your favorite sites to find out their submission guidelines.

2. Create e-books, webinars and e-booklets in your field.

When someone is looking for an expert and does an online search, your name should show up on the first page of results. A good way to do that is by creating products and promoting them. Although it’s easier than ever to publish e-books or print books, being an author still provides credibility. Offering webinars is another way to increase your visibility, authority and bottom line. The more you promote your products, the more credibility you’ll gain.

3. Keep your name in front of the media.

A good way to get to the top of media contact lists is by distributing news releases with helpful information. One of the sites I’ve used for submitting news releases is PR Newswire. By providing advice, tips and strategies to help viewers, listeners, and readers, you’ll prove you know what you’re talking about. Don’t send fluff news releases. If there’s a major news event and you can offer insight, contact the media. You’ll make writers’ and producers’ lives easier by being an easy-to-find expert.

How have you established yourself as an expert?

Boost Your Business With E-Booklets

making money with e-bookletsLet’s say you’re an expert on SEO or public relations. Why not write a downloadable or electronically delivered tips e-booklet about it and make some dough along with it?

Long before any of us figured out what an easy and practical way e-booklets are to make money, Paulette Ensign, the Booklet Queen, was writing, selling and profiting from book sales. She’s sold well over a million copies of a tips booklet called “110 Ideas for Organizing Your Business Life.”

Ensign’s reasoning is simple: Everyone has something they want the world to know about. You can write a full-length e-book, but who has the time? Instead write one or a series of e-booklets that you can eventually turn into an e-book. That makes sense and eventually cents. Ensign offers 15 questions to instantly help you write a downloadable tips e-booklet.

1. What is the single most compelling subject from your experience or knowledge that you want the world to know about? If there are several topics, consider which one you are most passionate about.

2. Can you identify the single most outstanding thing you want people to know? Think about whether it is a new skill, perspective, attitude, or expansion of general knowledge.

3. Why do you want to write an e-booklet? It may be an altruistic gesture to spread the word about something. It might be a marketing tool for a business or a book you have or want to have. The e-booklet can be a profit center for you. It could also be both a marketing tool and a profit center.

4. How would you divide your subject into segments? Look at the possibility of those segments becoming additional e-booklets to develop into a series, or as mini-chapters of one e-booklet.

5. What are you often surprised by that people do not know about your subject area? There could be something that seems so “common sense” to you, while being highly helpful or enlightening to others.

6. Does your information need to be presented sequentially or can it be random? Notice if specific entries stand alone or if they need whatever came before to cause the entry to make sense to the reader.

7. What do you want people to do and not to do, be or not be as a result of your e-booklet? Think about how this information will benefit the reader.

8. Who, aside from the reader, can benefit from this material? There may be manufacturers, suppliers, or distributors whose business activities can profit by distributing your contents. Those will be large-quantity buyers of your e-booklet.

9. Is there jargon or language that is peculiar to your topic? Consider how you will monitor and treat that in your content.

10. What surprised you most when you learned about your topic? That is probably useful to pass along to your readers in some way.

11. Which resources are needed to implement any of your suggestions? Look for the easiest ways to accomplish what you are recommending to your reader.

12. What is it that people need to know about you? Tell what gives you the credentials to write about this topic.

13. What other products and/or services would also make sense to develop to assist the reader in this topic? Decide whether it is important for those to be products and services of your own, of someone else’s, or both.

14. How would short anecdotes be useful in supporting your materials? The anecdotes could get in the way or enhance your content.

15. Do your tips need visual support with graphics to allow them to be more fully understood? Decide which type of illustrations or photographs you want to use.

6 Tips for Staying Safe While Searching for Virtual Jobs

One of the questions people ask me often is whether or not to trust online job listings. My usual answer is to research any company before you respond to an ad. I know there are even more points to consider, so I asked Sara Sutton Fell, founder of FlexJobs, to share her advice.

Guest Post by Sara Sutton Fell

Almost 3 million Americans work from home (or telecommute) full-time, and another 15 to 20 million work from home at least one to two days each week, so it’s no surprise that interest in telecommuting jobs is growing. And with that growth comes an increasing number of work-from-home job scams prowling the Internet every day. It’s estimated that only one out of every 60-70 work-from-home jobs is legitimate and the remaining listings are scams.

But there is good news – you can find legitimate, professional-level telecommuting jobs if you know what to look for, and what to avoid. Here are 6 tips for what to look for when searching for telecommuting jobs and how to spot red flags and avoid scams.

[Read more…]

Use the Pumpkin Plan to Grow Your Business

If you haven’t heard of Mike Michalowicz, creator of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, then you may be taking your business too seriously. Mike’s in-your-face style of writing, and his funny, yet there’s-a-point videos, break small business issues and challenges into manageable, bite-size pieces.

In his new book, The Pumpkin Plan, Mike takes the same approach. He shares a simple, step-by-step plan for growing a business from the ground up. If you already own a business, you can use the same strategies to change what isn’t working.

Mike’s Pumpkin Plan is easy to follow, and is the same plan he used to grow and ultimately sell two, million-dollar businesses. [Read more…]

10 Actions You Can Take in 10 Minutes or Less to Move Your Business Forward

Guest post by Michelle Shaeffer

Sometimes we’ve only got a few minutes here and there to work on our home-based businesses.  Don’t let this stop you from marketing and building your business network!

If you’ve got just 10 minutes, you can take positive actions that will help you move forward.

If I had to write a 50-page marketing plan and spend 4 hours a day implementing it… well, either it’d never happen… or I’d never get anything else done and never have time to complete the services I need to for my clients and create the products I offer. Or, I’d never get to play with my kiddos and my house would look like a hurricane hit it. There just aren’t that many hours in the day. [Read more…]

Need to Move Your Business Forward? Take a Look Back

When I drive with my sons and sing along to the radio, it really annoys them. It’s not only because they think I’m a bad singer (although I am). The reason is that I know the words to some of the new songs.

No, I don’t spend all day driving or listening to the radio. I know the words because so many of the songs are remakes or they include samples from old songs. I think that falls under the category of “everything old is new again.”

The same applies to your business. There really aren’t any new ideas out there…just new ways to put ideas into action.

Your business may be growing faster than you thought it would and if so, there’s probably no reason to change what you’re doing.  On the other hand, you may have reached a point in your business where you have fewer clients than you did a year ago and you want to kick your business up a few notches. [Read more…]