Work-At-Home School: Improvements Needed

Work-At-Home School: Improvements Needed

Caitlin Pyle launched her Work-At-Home School this week, a collection of online courses meant to give you the equivalent of a college degree in starting a business you can run from home. The launch was surrounded by an awesome five-day Work-At-Home Summit, which featured video sessions with the teachers of those courses. Chances are, if you’re on the email list of any of those teachers, you’ve heard about this. If not, you can find out more on the official site (not an affiliate link).

The School is available in three pay tiers, with most of the best and most in-depth courses being reserved for the highest tier (which is still a steal for the intro price of just under $500!). I’m actually already taking one of those courses, Gina Horkey’s 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success – which I plan to review in a later post!

But I really have a problem with SOOOO much info being dumped in the brains of those just getting started on their journeys of working from home. I’ve been there. It’s paralyzing. You can spend thousands on online courses, finish some, do 10% or less of others, and never make a penny with your business! Partly because you keep switching tactics as you follow all the different advice, partly because your imposter syndrome is urging you to “learn more” before you launch, and partly a few other things, like life, family, day job, finding your niche, coming up with a business name, building your website, getting a logo, etc.

So I’m wondering how many of these students are going to actually start a thriving business? How many more are going to start a course or two, get completely overwhelmed with all they have to learn before they can even start to make money, and end up abandoning the idea and maybe even blaming Work-At-Home School for their failure?

I don’t know how the course is set up on the inside, since I don’t plan to purchase it (I have too many other courses, travel plans, and a LinkedIn Learning subscription). The WAHS may have plenty of ways to help students stay focused and engaged, and actually build their businesses. But if I was bringing together a bunch of courses like this, I would do things differently:

I would charge a monthly fee (maybe $50 – just 10% of the highest tier) that includes:

  1. Access to the school’s Facebook group
  2. A couple of free short courses/ebooks, focused around deciding what your business will do, setting up a website, email opt-ins – basic stuff
  3. Insane discounts on all the other courses available
  4. A business mentor to contact either via email, Slack, or a 1/2 hour strategy video call each month to discuss how things are going and which course might be best for them to take next, depending on their personality, business, growth, past courses, and current struggles

 

Improvements for students:

  1. Less overwhelm – a few easy courses to start, and 1-2 at a time after that
  2. Lower cost barrier to entry
  3. Monetary investment in each paid course – yes, this will be an additional payment, but paying that will give you the motivation to make the investment worth it
  4. Personalized advice about where to go next, so your business can grow and thrive

 

Improvements for me/Caitlin if she used this method instead:

  1. More satisfied students
  2. Reoccurring monthly income, with the only added cost of the business mentor(s) for those students who specifically use that option
  3. Incentive for teachers to provide quality courses and updates as students choose which ones they’re taking (with advice if wanted)

 

Improvements for teachers/course creators:

  1. Reoccurring income as students take their courses when recommended
  2. Only engaged students joining their own groups and email lists

What are your thoughts? Do you like the all-you-can-eat option for a one-time fee that the Work-At-Home School offers, or would you prefer a monthly fee that gives you a monthly mentor session and a GroupOn-like discount on dozens of courses? And if you have signed up for WAHS, I’d love to hear what you think of it!

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31 Days of Blogging

31 Days of Blogging

Here it is – day 31! I reached my goal of blogging every day in the month of May!

What I learned:

Blogging isn’t easy. I mean, I know it wasn’t, but actually having to come up with new content every single day took a lot of energy and a lot of hours.

I have a lot to say about certain subjects. Some blog posts could have gone on much longer, but for sleepiness and the clock approaching midnight. Others I felt like the one blog post was enough for the decade for me.

I knew I write to discover. I didn’t think through how rambling that could make my blog posts, especially since I come up with the title first. I may try keeping a blogging journal offline, and reformatting sections of that into better-structured blog posts.

What I regret:

Spending so much time blogging. I figured out about 10 days in that daily blogging isn’t what I want to do – not when I’m also learning and trying to build a business. But I finished out the month out of stubbornness – and the victory feels a bit hollow. I could have finished the Design Skills course this month, but I’m only about halfway through. I could have been sending out proposals to perspective clients and creating beautiful items for my portfolio. Would I have if I hadn’t been blogging instead? Maybe.

Coming up with a solid list of topics before the month began. I knew I wanted to review Design Skills modules, but some were very in-depth, so for most of them there was no way I could watch the videos, complete the projects, and blog about the module in one day. Or even two days. Especially with a full-time job. So blogging about the modules and Bucketlist Bombshells in general only used up about a quarter of the days when I was expected it to be more like half. I ended up wracking my brain for ideas at 10pm some nights.

No time for design and promotion. Since I was spending my hours creating content for this blog, I had little free time to work on the design. I did do a few things here and there, but until I had a 4-day weekend over the holiday, the site didn’t look great. And I still have tons more to do. Not only that, I was embarrassed by the design and some of the shorter posts that didn’t provide much content for my readers, so I didn’t want to share posts via social media. Toward the end I shared about the site a bit in different groups, but I still felt embarrassed.

 

Have you ever reached a goal that probably wasn’t the ideal goal for you? What did you do about it?

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Financial Snapshot for Later Travel

Financial Snapshot for Later Travel

Both freelancing and travel drastically influence your finances. If you haven’t done much of either yet, it’s a good time to look at how you spend your money to help prevent issues in the future.

Start out by keeping a written record of your spending. I like using Excel for this, but you can easily use Google Sheets or some sort of money tracking app. Make sure you track all kinds of spending – bank transfers/withdrawals, credit cards, and cash.

Assign each purchase/bill to a category. Have as many or few as you like, but pick a system that works for you and is general enough to use around the world (for example, instead of “gas” or “car payment” use “transportation”). Also, make sure to include your new business expenses in their own category.

I generally like to add up expenses monthly so I can then do averages based on the last 3 months, 1 year, etc. This will give you a good ballpark figure of what you need to make working at home – of course if you spend a lot on gas for commuting, lunches out, or clothes you only wear at work, it may be a bit lower.

Now, go through each category and think hard about what you will need to keep paying for if you are traveling frequently. You may need to make two columns – one for part-time travel, one for full-time. It all depends on what you want. I know that even if I am able to live outside the US all year, I will still want to make long visits home to see my family. So I will probably want to work out a solution with my roommates where I pay rent year-round (instead of renting a storage unit and having to get a hotel or something when I visit), but only pay utilities if I’m actually living here during the month.

If I was traveling most of the year, but still spending a couple months here at home, I imagine my home country expenses would include:

  1. Rent (Storage)
  2. Car Insurance (I would see if I could subsidize this by having one of my siblings pay to borrow my car – otherwise I would change my policy to the bare minimum so it would be a lot cheaper)
  3. Health Insurance (currently paid by my employer, I would need to figure out the best option for the months I am home, as well as abroad)
  4. Phone/Internet/Subscriptions (I have a prepaid phone plan through Straight Talk, so I can just pay for it when I’m home and use a local SIM abroad. Internet would hopefully be treated like a utility with my rental, so I can just pay when I’m here. Entertainment subscriptions will depend on the country restrictions – I would like to keep using Netflix, Hulu, and Google Play Music when I can)

So I will then add that monthly total (aside from health insurance, since I don’t know what I’ll be able to get, it’s under $400 when I’m not in the US) to my monthly business expenses and my estimated cost of living in another country (I’ll use Nomad List to get a rough guess, but then put together some actual monthly expense scenarios based on researched costs).

I also want to set aside a healthy amount for big expenses (plane ticket, new laptop, etc.). That will be in addition to my “quit my day job” savings threshold – which is generally recommended to be 3 months of expenses.

What expenses will you still have in your home country if you become a digital nomad?

 

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Holidays Abroad

Holidays Abroad

As I celebrate Memorial Day here in the United States, I cannot help but wonder what American holidays will look like for me in other countries. I’ve seen posts about expats trying to recreate their favorite holiday foods (to varying degrees of success) and feeling homesick on those days.

I’ll be spending this Labor Day in Paris, France. It will also be my brother’s birthday this year, so I will miss out on that. Strangely enough, this past year he missed my birthday – because he was in Paris, France. For both occasions, it was/will be our first visit to France, and both times we were/will be missing out on the other’s 33rd birthday.

I won’t be too disappointed to miss Labor Day, as it’s basically a day off work with a picnic to celebrate the end of summer. In my family’s case, we usually celebrate my brother’s birthday around that day as well. In the past, we would also celebrate my grandma’s birthday since hers was 2 days after my brother’s, but this will be the second Labor Day without her.

Most Americans celebrate Memorial Day the same way they celebrate Labor Day – in this instance, kicking off summer instead of ending it. As they bookend the season and both fall on Mondays, it’s easy to lump them together. But Memorial Day has a far more significant background – it remembers the sacrifice of all of those who have laid down their lives for this country. While I don’t know of any relatives who have died in combat, many of my relatives served and have since passed away.

My 5th great-grandfather, George Hart, was born in Germany, immigrated to the colonies, and fought in the American Revolution for independence from England. Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II for the Allies in Europe. My grandma’s cousin actually bombed their grandfather’s hometown in Germany during the war.

So I’m sure if I’m staying in the UK during the 4th of July or in Germany during Memorial Day (or Veteran’s Day), it will feel very weird to celebrate. But generally those are more family holidays, so without them around, I would be less likely to celebrate anyway.

Most of the countries I would want to visit for an extended period do celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, so while I am sure the traditions are different, I will still be able to celebrate them easily within a different country. And I didn’t grow up celebrating Halloween, so I won’t miss it.

Thanksgiving will be a big one, and from what I’ve read, this is the one that often hits expats the hardest. It’s not only the homesickness and missing the great food – it’s also because this is the start of the Christmas season, and if they have no plans to go home for Christmas, the sadness spreads to this holiday as well.

Have you ever spent a holiday outside the country of your birth? How did you celebrate it?

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Brand Consistency

Brand Consistency

Brand consistency is a topic I’ve been reading about a lot lately. Basically, when a business (or even a blog) keeps certain elements the same across their site and various platforms, people are more able to recognize the business, become familiar with it, and eventually start a relationship with the business by following them via social media or email, and by buying their product or service.

There are three aspects of brand consistency that businesses can use in varying degrees.

Visual Consistency

This is what most people think of when you talk about branding, and it’s the easiest one for potential clients and customers to spot. It’s also where my focus has been for the past month or so as I build my own brand’s visual components and study how to create them for others.

Every business should have the basics, such as a consistent logo, fonts, and colors. Photos are one area that can get tricky, since new ones may need to be added constantly for some businesses. I know some businesses use the same photographer for all of their main photos. Others use the same Adobe Lightroom preset or the same Instagram filter to achieve a cohesive look.

When I was selecting my new header image to go along with my new logo (please, leave a comment letting me know what you think of it!), I bookmarked the page with all of that model’s other images so I could have some variety while maintaining a very consistent look.

Also, in my blog’s theme, Divi you can set up every single blog post to have a different look, if you want. But that doesn’t make a site look like it belongs together. Instead, I set up a global header that I can add to every post, and if I decided I need to change it as I refine my brand, I can go to one place and it will be updated everywhere.

Tone Consistency

Not only should the visual elements of a business be consistent, the tone of the business should be as well. This applies to not only the written words, but spoken, if a business is holding webinars, doing a podcast, or even has a simple welcome video on their site. Writers talk about “finding their voice” and a business should have a distinctive voice as well, especially if they produce a lot of words – like bloggers, content writers, podcast hosts, and online learning instructors.

If you are blogging or wanting to start a solo business, the advice is often to “just be yourself”. While I agree that authenticity is key (and you may be found out quickly if you add in audio or video and who you are doesn’t match your writing), being yourself could meanĀ about 50 different things for one person. We are all a bundle of contradictory traits.

A lot of branding says to “pick three words” but doesn’t give you much help as to deciding which three are best out of the dozens you could use to describe yourself or your business. So let’s try it this way:

 

What are 5 things you like about yourself? Think of things that would make you happy if people complimented you about them. Make sure that the compliment would feel genuine and make you think, “Yes, I am stylish”, or organized, or creative.

 

Now think of your potential audience, or customers, or clients. Which three of those five words would make them more prone to trust you, or like you, or consider your work high quality, if they knew that about you? If you need to, you can add one word that is more related to the business instead of to you specifically, or something you aspire to – but make sure at least 2 of the 3 words are firmly grounded in who you are.

 

Keep those three words in mind as you produce any content for your brand. Try to bring out those aspects of your personality a bit more, in a way that feels genuine. If you do that, you’ll be well on your way to having a consistent voice!

Content Consistency

This covers three areas – frequency, format, and subject matter.

Frequency is pretty basic – find your sweet spot for how often you can create excellent new content. As I’ve discovered, posting once a day with my current schedule leads to posts that only scratch the surface of topics I want to explore further, and takes away too much time I should be investing in other areas to build my business. So I’ll be trimming things back to around once a week in June, and see how that goes. Bottom line, people should know when to expect new content from you, not matter how frequently you decide to share.

Format can tie into some visual components, and it’s best to not have every type of content have the exact same format (all top ten posts, all video how-to posts, all review posts) unless the premise of your business relies solely on that format of content. But each similar format should have the same structure – not having some top ten lists in a slideshow and some in a list, for example.

Subject matter will depend on how narrow the focus of your content. Lifestyle bloggers can have a very broad area of subject matter, while a camera review site would have a more specific area.

 

Those are a lot of areas to consider when trying to build brand consistency (though I have seen FAR more extensive lists). One important thing to remember is not every business will focus the same amount on each of those areas. You can have a little leeway in one area if you make sure the others are strong. Some examples:

A lifestyle blog can talk about everything under the sun, as long as it has a very strong tone and good visual consistency.

A model train company can hire a few different hobbyists with very different tones to blog on their site, since the subject matter is so narrow, and can use formatting and visually to maintain consistency.

A designer can let the visual component of her business speak for itself, and focus less on her words.

 

Which area of brand consistency is most important for your business? In which area does it need the most help?

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