January 16, 2019

Tree.com Automotive

Note: This site has been closed down. When I can find the articles again, I will link them.

I served as the Channel Leader for the automotive blog at Tree.com, where I hired the writers, edited content, set the editorial calendar and managed the blogging budget for autos. I also wrote a couple of posts here and there (including one for the Finance Blog): http://www.tree.com/members/bscott/blogs/

New Car Seat Safety Recommendations for Children and Toddlers

How to Talk to Your Mechanic

Organizing your tax paperwork before April 15

We all dread tax time. There’s something about all of the paperwork, headaches, and hassles that make most of us inherently want to avoid anything to do with it the other 364 days of the year. But a little bit of planning can go a long way towards reducing your tax season stress. With a new tax season just months away (for most of us), maybe it’s time to get organized now. When you breeze through your tax preparation next year, you’ll be glad you did.

When organizing your paperwork, don’t overwhelm yourself by making it too complicated. Simple is easier to follow. And if your system is easy to follow, you’ll be more likely to stick to it. The simplest thing to do is take everything tax related and put it into one folder. Throughout the year, toss in everything you think you’ll need at tax time: pay stubs, un-reimbursed work expenses, medical receipts, charitable donation receipts, daycare expenses, and anything you think might be a write-off. Don’t wait until December to do it.

Every time you clean out your wallet or sit down to pay bills, toss the relevant paperwork in your tax file. When you get ready to do your taxes, you’ll still have to organize the types of expenses, but at least you’ll have everything in one place. That alone can save you hours of looking for things. And if you wait until April 15 to prepare and file, you’ll be glad to get done before midnight.

The next step is to use an accordion file to divide up your tax receipts by category. Put all of your work-related expenses in one section, medical and dental in another, and childcare in yet another. I organize mine by the categories in my tax software, since I use the same one each year. That way, all I have to do is total the receipts and enter the amount. When I sort up-front, it saves hours during data entry.

If you use an accountant, ask him or her what categories you should divide your receipts into. It will save them time when they are doing your taxes – which saves you money. But a big folder of receipts is better than nothing at all, so if you don’t have time to file in categories, at least designate a tax file and drop everything into it.

If you’re self-employed and filing taxes quarterly, it’s even more important that you stay organized and on top of your paperwork. You don’t want to miss a filing deadline because you were too busy to save your receipts in one place.

Whether you organize your receipts daily, weekly, or monthly, make sure you set aside time regularly. Don’t let the pile get so big that you get overwhelmed and decide not to do anything. And if you do let it get away from you, you can get back on track easily. Just take 5 or 10 minutes in the evening a few days a week, or a half hour on the weekend and get as much done as you can. In no time you’ll get through the paperwork piles and be ready to go for next year.

A little organizing now will help your paperwork headache later. It probably won’t do much for the aching in your wallet if you owe money. But at least you won’t be adding insult to injury.

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Blogging Platforms: Which One is Right for You?

Update: Since the original writing of this, Vox has closed its doors. You can now get a free, basic blog on the Typepad site.

The six most commonly used blogging services

If you’re just starting a web log, or thinking about it, you should know about the various types of blogging platforms, their levels of difficulty and their costs. Software starts at free, but limited, and goes up to business-level costs and support. Here’s a list of the six most common blogging platforms. There are many more blogging communities and software available, which we’ll cover at a later time.

1) Blogger (http://www.blogger.com)

Owned by Google, Blogger is one of the more popular free services. You can set up a blog on their site relatively easily. With Blogspot, they host your blog posts, template design, and software. You set up an account, choose a template, and start typing! Blogger also allows you to set up a blog using your own hosting space. For instance if your ISP (the company that provides your internet access) gives you free hosting space, you can use that instead of Blogger’s space. This is helpful if you want to post a lot of pictures and you exceed Blogger’s limit. If you’re brand new to blogging and don’t have your own hosting space or don’t know what it is, start with letting Blogger set up everything for you.

2) Vox (http://www.vox.com)

Owned by Six Apart, Vox is another free service. It’s incredibly easy to use and they have a lot of easy to install templates – just choose one and the look of your site changes immediately. They also make it easy to add pictures, books, and music. Vox is big on building community and encourages members to interact with each other and join discussion groups. Vox has varying levels of posts: public, friends only, and private, just to name a few. So you can decide who sees your entries and who doesn’t.

3) LiveJournal (http://www.livejournal.com)

LiveJournal is one of the original journal sites. Another free service, it’s also easy to set up and use. You can friend other people and participate in topic-based communities. Like Vox, LiveJournal allows you to restrict your posts to certain audiences.

4) WordPress (http://www.wordpress.com)

WordPress is yet one more free service. You can find free templates, set passwords on posts, and even set posts to show up on a future date. It’s a powerful and versatile hosting service. While similar to Blogger, it appears to have a lot more available options and customization. Also like Blogger, you can use your own web space to host a WordPress blog. But with WordPress, you install the software on your server and tailor everything to suit your needs there. WordPress (http://wordpress.org) is open source software. That means the background source code is available to anyone. This allows developers to improve the software and to more easily make plug-ins that work along with it. With plug-ins, you can use spam blockers to help prevent spam comments (one of the occasional annoyances of having a blog) or install fun things that help your readers interact with you more. WordPress, when installed on your own site, is a lot more versatile and powerful but also requires some technical knowledge (or hiring someone with that technical knowledge to install and customize it for you).

5) Movable Type (http://movabletype.com)

Movable Type, owned by the same company as Vox and LiveJournal, is free software for personal use. It is not hosted for you, however, so you must have your own hosting space. It also requires some technical knowledge to install and set up a template. There are many design companies, though, that will install the software and a template for you. Movable Type also has commercial versions available for businesses wanting a robust blogging platform that allows multiple blogs.

6) TypePad (http://typepad.com)

TypePad is another hosted service, saving you the hassle of setting up your own hosting space. However, TypePad is not free after the 14-day trial. Monthly fees start as low as $4.95 per month, which includes support, and goes up to business level. Many free platforms don’t include technical support. Instead, they rely on community message boards where users post problems and other users answer the questions. TypePad users can also choose various templates, which are easy to select and customize.

There you have it – six of the most popular blogging services available. Each has its own pros and cons, so read the sites carefully before deciding which platform you want to use. If you know other bloggers, look at their sites and see what platform they use. Then ask them, based on your level of knowledge, how easy it is to set up and use. With the free services, though, it’s easy to give them a trial run and see if you like it. We’ll have more in-depth articles about the platforms and offer more alternatives at a later date.

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Small biz marketing resources

For a time, I wrote marketing articles for b5media’s Bizzia site. It has since been rolled into Every Joe and some of my posts are still there (unfortunately, you can’t just pull them up by my name – hey, it looks like you can get them by my name again!).

Here are some links to the articles as they now stand. (Due to my contract, I can’t reproduce them here, but I can link them.)

Simple Marketing Steps: Email Signatures

Levi’s “Go Forth” Campaign

Nestle Ad Campaign Incorporates Twitter

Your Product Packaging Sends a Message

Sell More, Just Don’t Nickel and Dime Us

Transparency in Social Media Marketing

Marketing to Children?

Book Review: Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps

The Great Facebook Land Grab

How to Monitor What People Say About You

Use Reviews to Improve Your Product

Could Facebook Limit Your Marketing?

FedEx to Fight UPS Support of Labor Bill

New Mars Candy – First in 20 Years

Word of Mouth – Another Reason It’s Crucial

Why Features Are As Important as Benefits

Set SMART Marketing Goals

Using Twitter in Ads

It’s All About Respect

Marketing Hit or Miss – Healthy Choice

Why You Should Have a Marketing Plan

Writing a Creative Brief

Your Phone Service Can Lose You Customers

American Airlines Targets Hispanic Customers

Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Moving Beyond Old Marketing Techniques

Marketing Paradigm Shifts

New FTC Guidelines Can Affect Your Marketing

Marketing to a Receptive Audience

Why Opt-Out Marketing Can Hurt You

Using Marketing Tie-Ins

Too-Long Surveys Hurt Good Will

Triggering a Referral

Shady PR Can Hurt Your Marketing

Twitter Marketing

Google or Facebook? You May Need Both.

Yelp Can Help You Market Your Business

Conference Marketing: Know Your Audience

Creating Loyal Customers

Too Little, Too Late?

Creativity Isn’t Everything

Google Wave Gets a Developer Preview

Free Press Release Sites – Worth It?

Can Employees Damage Your Reputation Online?

Customer Service Can Make or Break Your Biz

UN Launches ‘Hopenhagen’ Campaign

TSA Uses Blog and Twitter to Defend Itself

New Bing Ad Spots – Hit or Miss?

Do You Want to be Clever or Memorable

When Subtlety is not Your Strong Point

Are You Offending Potential Customers?

The Importance of You as Your Brand

Social Media Can Come Back to Bite You

Social Media Myths More Like Misconceptions

Social Media Misconceptions, Pt. 2

Social Media Misconceptions, Pt. 3

Using Giveaway Contact Info

Affiliates Can Help You Market

Conference Marketing: Be Professional

Word of Mouth – Helping or Hurting Your Biz

Marketing with Paper or Electronic Newsletters

Why You Should Have a Marketing Plan

You Started a Biz Blog, Now What?

Ideas That Spread

A Missed Opportunity is a Missed Sale

5 Ways To Get More From LinkedIn

Stand Out, Push Your Product to the Edge

Nonverbal Marketing

Marketing Missteps: Cereal Killer

Adapt or Become Useless

Has Blogger Outreach Hit Its Tipping Point?

Bloggers and PR Blackouts

Image vs. Audience

Annoying Infomercial Practices

Six Steps to a Better Giveaway, Pt. 1

Six Steps to a Better Giveaway, Pt. 2

Making Benefits All About the Customer