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Entrepreneur Mom

with Aliza Sherman

If you own a business - home-based or otherwise - this is the blog where you'll find practical tips and smart ideas about entrepreneurship. I've started and run 4 different businesses so "been there, done that." I'll also invite successful entrepreneurs to share their best advice with you.

To learn more about Aliza, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! and her website, www.mediaegg.com.

When the internet goes down

Categories: Tech & Net

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Everything stops. An eerie silence ensues. My brain comes to a screeching halt. Fingers stop typing.

My Internet connection is down again. This happened for several hours a day for the last few days, and it has gone down this weekend, too.

Lack of connectivity to the Internet from home isn’t such a big deal to a lot of people. But my entire home-based business and livelihood depends on being connected at least 8 hours each day. Such is the mixed bag of having an Internet-based business.

Working from Rural Alaska

When we were preparing to move to Tok, Alaska, I did my homework to see how connected I’d be able to be from the crossroads of the Alaska Highway. In the beginning, my company was paying about $300 a month for the fastest DSL that Alaska Power & Telephone (AP&T) offered. It was a lucky day when fiber optic came to Tok last year, reducing Internet fees to about $79 a month. But when something goes down, entire swaths of the community’s Internet connects goes down with it.
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Our Biggest Business Fears

Categories: Startup Tips, Tech & Net

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There are always debates raging in social media channels about the dearth of women tech entrepreneurs and the lack of women-helmed companies getting funded and even the lack of representation of women as keynoters at top tech, business and venture events.

Some of the comments in the debate point a finger at women as standing in their own ways when it comes to starting high-growth tech businesses, going after venture capital, or putting themselves out there to speak. This line of conversation creates anger and defensiveness, especially among women.

But the truth is women do stand in their own way. Not every woman, not in every situation, but even I find myself doing this despite my business experience and successes.

As I start a new venture, I am battling tidal waves of fear and am practically paralyzed. Writing this post is one way I’m working to shake the negativity and push forward.

What are my fears?
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Mommy Brain Ticklers for the Working Woman

Categories: Business Essentials, Tech & Net, Work/Life

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Let’s face it. Once you give birth, your brain is never the same. If you’re like me, my memory is one step away from nonfunctioning. So I rely on technology and backup processes to get me through the day. Here is how I set up my tickler system to combat my mommybrain:

Remember the Milk - I have recently started using RTM for my moment by moment tasks. As long as I remember to enter the tasks into the application, I have a nice reminder list with deadlines, priorities and several ways to access it. I can go straight to their web site (rare). I’ve also integrated RTM into my Gmail accounts so my task lists show up on the right hand margin of my Web browser when I’m checking emails. I also have the iPhone app and can reach for my iPhone in the middle of the night and enter To Do’s easily. Yes, I actually do that and find it better than the old paper/pen on the nightstand method. I can also share specific To Do lists with my team using the premium level of RTM.

Google Calendar - I love my Google Apps and my calendar is shared with everyone who needs to get on my schedule. Then I’ve set it up so every calendar entry is emailed to me, sent to me via text and also shows up as a popup on my Web browser 10 minutes before I’m supposed to do something like get on a call. I have also learned to block off travel time on either end of a meeting instead of blocking off only the meeting time so that 10 minute warning is still padded if I have to get in my car to travel someplace.

iCal - I have iCal on my Mac and on my iPhone and for backup reminders when I really, truly cannot forget something, I add one more reminder in my iCal. A little popup comes onto my computer screen and an SMS pings me in addition to the Google Cal ticklers. Extra reenforcements are sometimes warranted, especially when you combine mommybrain with overloaded brain.

Humans - I know I said this was about technology, however, one of the best things I’ve done to help me remember things is to first confess to all my team members that remembering things is not my strong front. I’ve given them permission to nudge me, bug me, pester me and wave shiny objects in front of me in order to get me to do things and remember what I should be doing in the first place. I figured it was better to be honest and to enlist their help in sending me brain ticklers than to frustrate everyone around me because I forgot to do something. When you are mommybrained, you need all the help you can get including a human support network.

These methods may sound extreme, however, they are a reflection of how truly lacking my memory has become so rather than fight it, I have to acknowledge it and put solutions in place. The only thing I need now are reminders to remind me to enter my reminders!

What is your method for reminding yourself of important things? What technologies do you use?

Day in the life of a Springpad working mom

Categories: Tech & Net

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I’ve been looking more and more for a work/life organizational tool and may have recently found one in Springpad (http://springpadit.com) although I’m barely scratching the surface of the new and improved site.

Think of Springpad as a set of modules - or apps - that you can add and use to your liking to handle all sorts of tasks and the management of those tasks.

Here are just a few ideas how you could use Springpad for your work/life management system.

- The GTD Notbook - “GTD” is all about Getting Things Done. You can organize your tasks and ideas and drag tasks between tabs. Follow the GTD Principals: Collect, Process, Organize, Review, Do. You can also add the SpringApps Notebook app to other apps. Handy for making notes where notes are needed.
- Recipe Box or Favorite Recipes - These apps organize recipes you find all across the Web. Save receipes from any site into one neat app, see what your friends are saving and then access your recipes and shopping lists related to each recipe created by Springpad just for your convenience. And yes, you can access this information from your mobile phone while at the store doing your grocery shopping.
- Weekly Meal Planner - I’m learning the value of planning meals for the entire week - and even cooking and freeing meals over weekends for fast, handy, last-minute meals. You can automatically create shopping lists and even give access to any family member can access it through the mobile Web app when you send them to the store to pick up some items. No more shopping confusion. No more meal-time quandries.
- Wine Notebook - If you know me, you know I like my wine. And the incomparable @garyvee (Gary Vaynerchuk) from Winelibrary.tv has a branded, easy-to-use app on Springpad to help you keep track of wines you like and to discover new ones.

- Household Budget Plan - I admit freely that after five years of marriage, I’m still struggling with understanding how to jointly manage household expenditures. While my husband takes care of the bill paying, we both contribute income to our joint account. And I’m oblivious to the comings and goings of money. Therefore, is app will really come in handy so I have a nice visual of how we are spending our money on everyday things to keep our household running smoothly.

- Reusable Packing List - I’m doing more and more business travel but sometimes with my 3 year old daughter, sometimes with the whole family, and sometimes solo. Each type of travel requires entirely different items in tow. We also spend our summer months camping in the RV so that’s a fourth packing list we need at our fingertips. Definitely a handy app for road warriors and light travelers alike.

- Workout Tracker - I hate counting calories but my girlfriends and I are planning a springtime trip to someplace warm so are trying to reach our fitness goals by April. I’d rather track my exercise so am firing up this app to see how active I am getting in these cold, dark Alaska winters. Thank goodness for my new Wii!

- Daily Health Reminders - I forget everything, including taking vitamins, medicines, etc. - and when my daughter needs to take medicines, and I’m supposed to remember that, forget about it. I’m plugging in this app today to keep us all on track.

Other apps you might find handy as you manage the household and the work load include the Babysitter Handbook to keep your babysitter informed of all relevant family and contact information, and the Date Night Planner which I would use if I lived in a city where there were a variety of things to plan.

Apps categories include:

Have apps, will get organized!
What are YOUR favorite apps for staying organized for that intersection between life and work?

10 ways to use Twitter for your business and life

Categories: Tech & Net

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I recently attended the Blogalicious Weekend in Atlanta which was the first blogging conference for women of color. And as with any major conference in the last few years, Twitter is all the rage as the tool of choice to document an event and send and receive short messages from attendees.

It occurred to me while at a conference where the tech savvy ranged from expert to total newbie that those of us who use Twitter regularly take for granted that it is there and ready for us to use. Anyone who hasn’t yet tried Twitter often can’t get past the “what the heck is it?” question as well as “how in the world would I use it?”

So I wanted to compile a list of 10 tips for starting to use Twitter for your business and your life because Twitter is flexible that way. But until you can understand - and communicate - the benefits and best practices, it is hard to convince anyone (including yourself) that Twitter has any value at all.

On with the tips.

1. Get a smart Twitter handle. When it comes to business, the best Twitter handle you can get is your own name or maybe even your company name. But whatever name you choose, make sure you have a strategic reason for using it. How do you want to be recognized and remembered in business circles? If you’re thinking you’ll only use Twitter for personal reasons, think again. The lines continue to blur between anything you do in social networks professionally and personally so choose your Twitter handle with care.

2. Choose a clear icon. Most people use a photo of themselves as their Twitter icon or avatar and that’s great because people want to interact with people. However, there it is also acceptable to use your company logo as your Twitter icon if you are speaking “as the brand” instead of more personally as yourself. In many small businesses, you the business owner are the brand. Choosing the right image to use is important to make a good first impression and to build a recognizable Twitter presence.

3. Brand your page. You have the ability to change the background on your Twitter page. Take advantage of that otherwise blank space to better brand your page with your logo, relevant photos, and even additional text and links. While the background image is not “clickable,” just spelling out your web site URL or including graphics to show you are also on Facebook can give your followers more information than the 160 character bio and single link Twitter offers you.

4. Follow selectively. While it may be tempting to follow as many people as you can in hopes that they follow you back, you should really have strategic reasons for following other people. Some good business reasons to follow someone include: they are a luminary in your industry; they act as a human filter and post links to relevant articles often; you do business with them; or they are someone you’d like to network with such as a member of the media. Follow a few people at a time, then listen and engage them in dialogue or retweet them. Then add a few more. Keep your following to follower ratio in balance, that is, you want to make sure you have more followers than the number of people you are following. Otherwise, you look like a Twitter spammer or at the very least, desperate.

5. Listen before you tweet. Like with any community, listen first by following along the conversations you see in your Twitterstream based on who you are following. Don’t pipe up until you know you have something of value to share. Value can range from a link to an interesting and relevant article to a useful tip to someone who is asking for advice to a retweet of someone’s great quote or giving kudos to someone you follow on Twitter for something they’ve done.

6. Pick your tool. There are many desktop-based, Web-based and mobile-device based applications to post to Twitter. Pick the mode that is most comfortable for you and the tool that makes the most sense to you. For desktop, many people love TweetDeck or Seesmic Desktop. For the Web, I still use my Twitter home page but also use Splitweet to post to different Twitter accounts. For my iPhone, I love Tweetie but have also tried Twittelator and TweetDeck. And there’s Twitterberry for the Blackberry among others. Most of these tools are free or cheap so don’t be afraid to try out a few until you find the right one.

7. Pay attention to what matters. It is easy to get swept up into the Twitterstream and get off topic. Keep your goals in mind when you are using Twitter. Are you ultimately trying to sell product? Don’t get so caught up in the tweet flurry that you forget to occasionally tweet links to your products. Are you looking for clients? Use Twitter to network and then be careful how else you Tweet because people are watching including potential clients.

8. Tweet regularly. While you can blog once a week at the very minimum and still keep some momentum going with your blog, Twitter is a much more immediate and constant stream of interaction. Expect to tweet at least daily, but you’ll be much more effective if you tweet several times a day. Don’t plan out every single tweet - spontaneity is a good thing on Twitter.

9. Reference and retweet. Be generous on Twitter and you will be rewarded. While it may be tempting to use Twitter to broadcast about yourself and your company all the time, you should balance self-referencial tweets with those that give kudos to others. Retweets are always appreciated by others - just make sure they are on message for your own followers.

10. Step away. It is easy to get sucked into Twitter for hours, but it really only takes 15 minutes a day to do good things on Twitter. Spend more time only if you have strategic business reasons to do so, otherwise, you can find yourself wasting time instead.

Overall, be yourself, be real, be engaged in your tweet community. The value of Twitter comes from the value you put into it.

What are some tips you’ve learned as you’ve incorporated Twitter into your communications tool kit?

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Upgrading to an Epson WorkForce 600

Categories: Tech & Net

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Obligatory disclaimer: I have been given an Epson WorkForce 600 all-in-one device to review but also to keep. If you know me at all, you will know that this in no way compromises the following review.

One thing I know about myself, and I will be the first to admit it: I cannot follow instructions. I even struggle to follow recipes when cookie and inevitably mess the entire dish up because I misread something. So I tend to use recipes as vague guidelines to creating my own dishes. But technical instructions for tech devices? My eyes just glaze over, and I just take a deep breath and try to figure out each device by intuition.

That said, when the Epson WorkForce 600 arrived, I knew that it would never be as simple as plugging it into the wall and into my MacBook.

So truth be told, I turned to my husband to help me set things up even though I’m considered to be far more “techy” than he. My husband compensates for his Luddite tendencies by reading instructions cover to cover, often highlighting important passages. He follows instructions step-by-step, page-by-page. His meticulousness with direction following is a marvel to behold. While he set up my new printer, I sat back and sipped my coffee, careful not to be a backseat driver during the process. My major contribution was handing him some printer paper. I participated.


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14 Tips for Really Rural Businesses

Categories: Business Essentials, Tech & Net, Uncategorized

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view from the house in Lander, WYI’ve worked in many rural areas including Lander, Wyoming (Pop: 7800) where if the wind blew just a little too hard, my Internet connection went down - and you know how the wind blows in Wyoming! I’ve even worked from an old RV on the road, in state parks and at other campgrounds. And soon, I’ll be working from my new home in Tok, Alaska (Pop: 1800) along the Alaska Highway.

Here are some of my tips for working from remote and rural areas. I also turned to a Twitterfriend, Becky McCray, who provides some additional tips. I’ll introduce her after the jump.

Doing Business in Rural Places

1. Invest in fast Internet access. Sometimes it has to be satellite which can be pricey, but you can write it off your taxes as a valid and essential business expense.

2. Identify wifi hotspots - or Internet-enabled locations - in your area. If my Internet connection went down, I’d drive into town to connect at a cafe or restaurant or even a hotel or campground. Some McDonalds and Wendys even offer wifi so find out which businesses are wired and use them as backup when your access goes down.

3. Stock up on car chargers. Even when house power went out - particularly in my RV - I could rev up the engine and power up my essential tools and gadgets including computer and mobile devices. Invest in a USB car charger to charge your handhelds such as the SynCh from Malleable Devices.*


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5 Things You Need to Know About Social Media for Business

Categories: Tech & Net, Uncategorized

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Facebook, Inc.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been making more and more presentations about social media and because it is all still so new to everyone - including the “experts” - I’m refining my spiel as I go along. Here are some topics that are trending as some of the most important points I try to make about social media along with what I hope are concise, clear explanations about the technical stuff.

1. A Blog is Your Social Media Hub
When I say this, many people gasp, especially those who finally got a web site up after all these years or just spent a bucketload of money to redesign their existing web site. I’m not saying that a web site is now obsolete because of social media and Web 2.0 tools, however, blog publishing tools tend to integrate these tools so that embedding social functionality is incredibly easy. Many web sites and custom or older web site content management systems don’t even support javascript code, literally stripping out widgets and embedded social features. Blogs, by the nature of comments, encourage social interaction from the get go. Web sites struggle to be interactive and these days are turned to by consumers more for evergreen or background information or an online store, not the most current news or conversation.
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Good Uses for Conference Call Applications

Categories: Books & Articles, Business Essentials, Startup Tips, Tech & Net

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phoneI haven’t participated in a lot of conference calls, mostly because I do a lot of my communications via email. Also, more recently, I use Skype to make free long distance calls and for conferencing people from California to Australia. But lately, I have been checking out a number of free conference call applicationsĀ  on the Web (that do require calling a TOLL number) and thinking about how they might help me in my business. Those apps include FreeConference.com, Rondee, and I’m also going to check out Palbee and DimDim.

In the last few weeks, I’ve actually been putting one of the applications - Calliflower - to use. I’ve been corresponding with several other women and doing some brainstorming and mutual pep talks as each of us try to take our careers and businesses to the next level. We have a lot of ideas for ways we can help one another as well as work together.

Email was just not sufficient for our “talks.” So we’ve set up a regular weekly conference call with the four of us. And if one of us can’t make it? Calliflower lets us record the call and save it as an MP3 file that we can access later if we missed the call.

How else can you take advantage of the free conferencing apps out there? Let me count the ways…


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Web-Based Conveniences for the Small Business Owner

Categories: Business Essentials, Tech & Net, Uncategorized

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Dec...Image via Wikipedia

I’m all for anything that makes my life and work easier, and I still believe - after over 20 years online - that Internet access to information and applications truly provides convenience to help cut down on all that busy work, wasted time and superfluous spending.

Here are some online services that can help you perform business tasks more cheaply, more easily, or both.

Stamps.com - I did a review of Stamps.com on the CBS Morning Show in the 90s, and their service is still solid today. The Web-based service let’s you calculate and print postage directly from your computer and printer. Since they work in conjunctino with the Unites States Postal Service, the postage labels you print are official. For small businesses that need to track their expenditures, Stamps.com offers a detailed record down to client codes.
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