Are you an independent-minded worker? Do you dream of taking control of your career and forging your own path? Working from home may be an ideal solution to your career goals. It’s not an easy path to follow if you lack the proper mindset for working from home. These basic notes will help you approach the challenges this sort of work presents.

Build A Wall Between Your Work And Home Life

One of the biggest attractions of working from home is the flexibility it gives you to switch from professional concerns to personal ones whenever you need to. This flexibility can be a double-edged sword! Mix up the balance and you could find yourself harried and exhausted at the end of a day that has included plenty of chores and distractions but no productive work.

When you work at home, you have to take full responsibility for putting in the hours your career demands. The best way to do this is to create habits and conditions that remind you to be professional when you are working. Setting aside a space exclusively dedicated to your job is a great idea, as well as scheduling your working hours in advance. Establish boundaries that protect your personal life, too. Set fixed hours when you are not going to work and not responding to calls and emails and be sure to stick with them.

Don’t Stay In A Shell

When your home is also your office, you lose out on the benefits of having co-workers. This might sound terrific if you found your last job full of distracting and irritating individuals, but the truth is a certain amount of professional stimulation and “buzz” from social interaction is an important part of your working life. You will need to take the initiative in finding that stimulation when you run a home business.

Reach out to other independent workers in your line of work or in your community. Join groups dedicated to the special concerns of those who work at home. This can be done both online and in person, and by pursuing both avenues, you can build up a terrific network of professional contacts to give you the feedback, advice, and sympathy you need to stay motivated and productive.

Keep Yourself Inspired

Another significant challenge of working from the home is keeping your skill set sharp. Once again, you have to exercise responsibility and carve out a dedicated portion of your schedule to nurturing your professional gifts. Keep in mind that motivating yourself is part of this effort!

Take full advantage of the many resources the internet provides for people with an entrepreneurial mindset. You’ll find plenty of motivational material, professional organizations, and skill-building seminars and courses online. Look for real-world opportunities as well and forge contacts with other local members of your industry. You never know where you are going to pick up the next bit of inspiration or the new skill you need to excel in your work.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to keeping your head in the right place for working from home. The general advice presented here should serve you well no matter what sort of work you’re doing, but you can easily dig further and find more specific help for your profession online. Maintaining a healthy mindset is vital if you wish to grasp all the opportunities available to you when you work out of your home.

Waverly J. Hanson is a licensed professional counselor, licensed marriage coach, military and family life consultant, professional trainer and author of How to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage. She has more than 25 years of experience helping individuals and couples improve their lives. To learn more about her effective methods, visit PersonalDevelopmentGoals.mywebpal.com.

organized-officeIf you currently work from home, then you’re already aware of the many benefits of not having to leave your house to go to work. You can sleep in a little later, work in a comfortable environment and not have to waste gas money to commute to the office. Life is great!

But then something horrible happens. You realize you aren’t productive when working in your home office.

Why could that be? The answer amounts to one word: distractions — and they are abundant at home. The TV might be blaring in the other room. The family might be around, and you might be one click away from wasting half of your day on Facebook. This is common since there is no one over your shoulder watching your every move.

Never fear, though. Distractions can be reduced. Here are five home hacks to increase your productivity:

1. Dress for Success

How many times have you rolled out of bed, made your coffee and “gone to work” without ever changing out of your pajamas?

One of the perks of working from home is you can dress however you like. However, working in your pajamas might make you less productive. Numerous studies have shown that people work more efficiently when they’re dressed professionally. This includes people who work from home.

So before you sit down at that desk, try changing out of your pajamas and into a nice dress shirt and pants!

2. Use a Timer

Listen up, procrastinators!

Use a timer at home to make sure you stay on track with whatever you’re working on. If you’re working in a space that’s close to the kitchen, use the microwave or kitchen timer. If you can’t hear the kitchen timer, then use the timer on your phone or go out and buy an old-fashioned stop watch.

Set the timer for thirty minutes, and don’t stop working until it goes off. Take a short break after it does go off, and then get right back to work.

3. No Electronics in Your Office

If you work from home, you probably work on your computer, so no electronics is a little bit of a stretch. You can try to limit the number of electronics in your office, however.

There is absolutely no reason why you should have a TV in your office. It will only act as a distraction, and you won’t get anything done. Also make sure your phone isn’t in the office unless you absolutely need it for work or emergencies. Put it on airplane mode or turn it off if it becomes too distracting.

4. Organize Your Home Office

Your home office should be your sanctuary. Make sure it’s organized and conducive to a work environment.

For instance, there should be no clutter in your office. You can get overwhelmed by the amount of random things lying around, and you won’t be as concentrated on your work. Make sure there are cabinets and shelves you can store things in so your desk and floor are as clear as possible.

Your office should also look like an office — your desk should be an office desk and your chair should be comfortable. A quick search on Craigslist and eBay shows you can get these things for relatively cheap.

It’s important that your office feels like a distinct part of your home. You probably won’t get much accomplished if you’re working from your kitchen counter.

5. Prepare the Night Before

Use the night before to prepare for the following day.

The morning is typically the most productive time of the day. However, it’s easy to get distracted in the morning with annoying tasks like figuring out what to wear, what to eat for breakfast and how you’re going to spend your evening.

Use the night before to get ahead on all of these tasks so you can use the morning time to get to work. Pick out and iron your clothes, leave your breakfast out so you can easily make it and plan the rest of your day.

You’ll also sleep better when you aren’t worried about what you’re going to do the next day —and good sleep makes us all more productive.

Work Is Still Work

Working from home can be a great way to be employed, but it can be very easy to get distracted as well. Productivity is important to success, but it’s also important to keep balance at work as well. Just like any piece of equipment, if you overload yourself, you can end up setting yourself back and actually lose productivity if you push yourself beyond your limits.

Keep these tips in mind, though, and remember that work is still work. You’ll be able to increase your productivity — no matter where you’re working from.

Megan Wild honed her productivity skills at a young age and now wants to help people do more with less time. You can check out some of her tips on her blog, Your Wild Home.

coffee-mug-laptop-deskWorking from home can be a rewarding opportunity. That is, if you’ve already found a work-at-home job. If you haven’t, it can be a tricky, but worthwhile endeavor; finding the job can be a job in itself, especially if you don’t know where to look.

Don’t worry though. From setting up your personal office to acquiring a job, here are the basics of working from home, so you can get started toward a lucrative career all without having to commute to work every morning.

Step 1: Preparing For Your Search

Because there are a lot of online scams floating around that are related to working at home, it’s best that you first protect your computer before you set out on your job search. Besides an anti-virus program, I would suggest that you install a VPN. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and what it does is anonymize your internet traffic.

When your internet traffic is encrypted with a VPN, it’s highly unlikely that any scammers will get into your personal information. This is because an encryption is a tough code to crack, and it takes both a powerful machine and patience; cracking these codes doesn’t happen overnight. The average hacker isn’t going to bother going through all the trouble when they can just move on to the next person’s PC that’s likely to be unsecured.

Click here to read more about VPNs, as well as find out how to choose one.

Step 2: Find the Job(s)

Now that you have your PC protected, onto the job search! The easiest and most effective way to find an online job is to search freelance websites such as Upwork or Guru. Though there is lots of competition on freelance websites, you are sure to find a job eventually as long as you keep your profile updated and also search and apply to job listings regularly.

Though freelance work typically brings to mind the word “temporary,” some employers on freelance websites are actually interested in hiring long term. The key to being successful on these highly competitive websites is to stay motivated. Most importantly, search for and apply to multiple jobs, and pay attention to how old the job listing is; you have a better chance of being hired if you apply to the job within the first half hour of it being posted.

Besides staying on top of the job listings, remember to sync your email account with your smartphone, so you will know when potential employers message you about any jobs you might have applied to. If you set up your profile with information about your skills and experience, you might even find that an employer will send you an invitation to interview, even if you haven’t previously applied for their job listing; freelance websites make it easy for employers to search for candidates based on their skills, making it a worthwhile experience for those who are seeking work-at-home opportunities.

As with any work-at-home job listings, be on the lookout for scams. Not every job or site is legitimate; so keep that in mind when you’re on your job hunt, and never reveal your banking information to those you meet online.

If freelance sites aren’t your thing, this Forbes article should lead you in the right direction. Of course, there’s also the option of starting up a business of your own too!

Step 3: Setting Up a Home Office

cat-on-deskHave you ever tried to work from home with a cat around? If so, you know the importance of setting up a home office. Not only will it lessen any background noise, but it’ll also keep Fluffy from taking a paw to your keyboard.

Depending on the type of work you’ll be doing, I would recommend that you invest in an L-shaped desk. When you’re using an L-shaped desk, it’s easier to have all of your tools and devices in one place so you won’t have to wander around the room in order to complete different tasks. Since you’re most likely going to need a printer/scanner combo, computer, and possibly even a landline phone, you’ll find that the L-shaped desk is the best way to go.

Another important piece of furniture for your home office is the chair you’ll be sitting in. There are many different types of office chairs to choose from, and depending on your stature, you might prefer one type over the other. Whichever type of office chair you choose, check for the seal of approval from the American Chiropractic Association.

Some stores will have this information in clear view when you’re shopping for your office chair, and if they don’t, an employee should be able to tell you or check the box for you. It’s important that you purchase a chair that is approved by the ACA because it’s likely that you’ll be spending a lot of time in it if you plan to work from home.

Step 4: Take a Look at Your PC

You are going to want to check your computer to ensure that all of your software is up to date. This will prevent your device from being vulnerable to hackers because the older the software you are the using, the more likely it is that hackers have figured out a way to gain access to it and spread viruses to its users. Besides keeping your software updated, it’s also important that you keep your hardware updated as well.

You’re going to need a machine that will be able to keep up with your digital tasks. While it’s not always necessary to be running the latest operating system, it would be a good idea to have a computer that is no more than 5 years old, if possible. The main thing you want to ensure is that your computer can run at a speed that is necessary in order to complete your job(s).

For more help on this, check with your local computer repairman; any store that sells computers should be able to help as well, though this isn’t a guarantee! Stores that specialize in electronics, such as Best Buy, would be a good place to start if you cannot locate a dedicated computer store.

Another tip as far as computers go is to backup all of your data onto a flash drive or external hard drive. Even with them backed up on one of these devices, you should always keep a copy of your files on an extra computer as well. The reason for this is because external hard drives can sometimes become corrupted and fail, so make sure you have more than one copy of your files saved on multiple devices; if your computer ever crashes (though it shouldn’t if you stick to using a VPN), you’ll be happy that you do!

Step 5: Get To Work!

Now for the fun part: getting to work! If you haven’t picked up a job yet, finding a job will be your job for now. Stay motivated, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t get hired immediately. Working at home takes determination on your part in order to become successful.

Nothing gets a morning sickness-riddled tummy churning like a hot bus crowded with people–particularly the guy who’s breathing in your direction with garlic on his breath. As you fight back the urge to vomit, you can’t help but wonder what the heck he ate for breakfast.

The thought of enduring nine months of beastly bus rides is enough to dampen even the most soaring of spirits. But, you need the income and have no choice. Or do you? What if you could stay home and make money doing it?

pregnant-at-homeYes, you could kiss that cursed commute goodbye and launch your very own home-based business.

Find Your Fit

The first thing you will need to do is determine what type of home-based business fits your skill sets, your interests, and the amount of time that you wish to work each day. Do you want to continue in your current field or are you hoping to try something new? Once you have determined what skills, interests, or passions you’d like to use in your at-home career, you are ready to move on to the next step–finding an at-home business that will allow you to do exactly that.

Thankfully, there seems to be a home-based business idea to match practically every skill set or interest one could possibly imagine. Just a few of these potential paths include bookkeeping, daycare, medical billing, tech support, writing, direct sales, esthetics, teaching music, graphic or web design, data entry, or serving as a virtual assistant. You could even choose to start your own online business.

Set Your Schedule

The nice thing about working for yourself is that you have greater control over when you work, how long you work, and how much you work. Is morning sickness still causing you to spend most of your mornings praying to the gods of porcelain? No worries. You can conduct your business later in the day. As an added bonus, after your child is born, you can work around nap times and feedings, enabling you to better balance motherhood and your career.

Added Savings

If switching to a home-based business requires you to take a salary-cut, there are savings that you must bear in mind. Working from the comfort of your humble abode means you will no longer have to spend money on dressy clothing, commuting to and fro, and buying lunches out. Plus, you will likely also be eligible for tax deductions related to your home-based enterprise. And, as “Work At Home Opportunities When You’re Pregnant or a New Mom” offers, all you will require for most home businesses is a “halfway-decent computer, a smartphone, and a business-specific voicemail account.”

A Viable Solution

If you are a single mom who can’t afford daycare or you are struggling with your ability to financially provide for your child, working from home may prove a viable solution. As “Should I Keep My Baby?,” warns, financial difficulties are frequently temporary and if you are thinking of putting your baby up for adoption simply because of money issues right now, adoption may not be right for you. A work-at-home career may solve both your childcare and financial needs.

Watch Out for Scams

When looking for an at-home or telecommuting job, keep an eye out for scams. According to Forbes‘ “Become a Work-At-Home Mom,” avoid listings that promise easy money for easy work, don’t have the hiring company’s name identified, use public email domains such as hotmail, gmail, or anonymous Craig’s List accounts, or overuse exclamation marks or dollar signs. Don’t fall for any ad that promises you wads of cash or asks you to fork over money in exchange for a starter kit or marketing materials. And, if they don’t pay you on time, cut your losses and discontinue providing services for them.

200319596-001Yes, you can put an end to commutes from hell and remain in the comfort of your own home–while making money. By starting your own home-based business, you can take back control of your life and make Mr. Chronic Halitosis someone else’s problem.

Having difficulties deciding what at-home business best suits your personality type? Check out “How to Find the Best Opportunity for Your Personality” and begin a journey of self-exploration.

Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer, avid blogger and Certified Career Counselor who loves being her own boss as she is very easy to work for. You can follow her at The Embiggens Project.

Images courtesy of Thinkstock.com.

There is a huge market online for selling used equipment. The web offers many to-sell services tailored to various equipment types, from car and computer parts to used hardware tools. The wide assortment of websites offering to sell your used equipment make the selling-online waters a bit tricky to navigate, so it’s worth keeping in mind the five tips below that will help you sell your used equipment online quickly and securely:

Identify the Part as Specifically as Possible

It’s extremely important to identify the specific model and/or year of the used equipment part you’re trying to sell. Not only will it ensure the person who buys the equipment will not request a refund, but being as specific as possible when identifying the part can increase the chances a prospective buyer will stumble across it.

For example, if you’re selling used air compressors, you should identify the year and model in addition to niche-specific attributes – such as whether the air compressor is reciprocating, rotary screw, or rotary centrifugal. This means someone looking for a specific part, such as a year-old rotary screw air compressor, can find it easily. Selling used equipment is largely contingent on demand, so it’s important to target the small demographic of consumers searching for the precise equipment.

Consider Various Selling Sources

There are a wide variety of to-sell services online, so it’s best to find one that’s both well-regarded and specialized toward the niche of the equipment you’re selling. For example, if you’re selling used car equipment online, Partsme is a reliable source. Memorabilia items and computer parts are more appropriate to list on Craigslist or eBay. Niche-related communities, such as Tom’s Hardware forums for selling technology parts, are also recommended.

Take Clear Photos

Once you find the appropriate place to list your used equipment, it’s important to take clear photos that represent the equipment as accurately as possible. This means taking photos of:

  • Any label on the equipment clarifying year and/or model.
  • Any defects, so the buyer knows exactly what they’re receiving, reducing the potential of a refund.
  • Optionally, a piece of paper in the photo with your name or user name to prove it’s truly you selling the product.
  • A size comparison, such as by placing a soda can or coin next to the equipment or part.

Be Patient

Face the reality and realize your used equipment may not be an immediate commodity. These types of sales require patience on the part of the seller. It may take one day, one week, one month or even more. However, once someone is seeking your specific equipment type, they are likely to find it very quickly, just as long as you list the part as specifically as possible and place it on trusted to-sell sites relevant to the equipment’s industry.

Ship Promptly and Follow Up

If any potential buyer emails you with a question about the equipment you’re selling, you should try to reply immediately – or at least within 24 hours. If you take longer to reply, their interest may wane. Once you have a buyer, ship the item promptly and securely by using the right amount of packing material. Use “stuffing” such as newspapers or bags to ensure the equipment will not break during the shipping process. Also, follow up with the buyer to confirm they received their product, especially if you wish to sell parts in the future on the same web site.

Selling equipment online requires patience, since used parts are typically not an immediate commodity. Regardless, one can quickly and securely sell their equipment online via accurate listings, clear photographs and prompt follow-up/shipping. Some can even make a career out of selling used equipment online, just as long as they abide by these standards.

Whether you are a small business, a mommy blogger, or a large corporation, chances are you will experience at least one website crash over your years of operation. Though there are many steps you should take to prevent such an occurrence, it is always good to prepare for the worst. Luckily, even if your site does go down, there are plenty of things you can to do stay productive and minimize the damaging effects.

1. Contact Your Website Host Provider

The first thing to do when you site crashes is contact your web host provider. Most small business website hosting services offer 24/7 tech support, so no matter when trouble comes your way, you can begin solving the problem immediately. Always keep the contact information, IDs and passwords for your webhost account on hand. That way you won’t have to hunt down old emails, receipts, or people to verify account information and security checks.

2. Queue Up Fresh Content

Waiting for your blog or website to reboot can be frustrating and stressful—especially if you have built up regular traffic and a consistent publication schedule. However, just because your site is down, doesn’t mean you can’t continue to be productive offline.

Use this time as an opportunity to focus on your content. If you have articles, infographics, photos, or contests to add to your blog, prepare them now. Write a week’s worth of blog posts; get ahead on your graphics designs; prepare the details for your contest or giveaway. The more you can accomplish offline, the more prepared you will be when you get back online.

3. Update Social Media Accounts

Ideally, you want to send your content primarily through your website. However, when this isn’t an option, social media networks are a good alternative. Use your downtime to update your various accounts. Depending on your website’s purpose, you can use accounts like Facebook and Twitter to publish content and news updates, communicate with your clients, and build your brand connections.

Additionally, sites like Pinterest use visual content to push traffic and sales, so you can always build up your pin history and network of followers. And finally, if necessary, Tumblr is a simple, free blogging platform that you can use to post content until your site comes back online. Don’t underestimate the power of social media and other online platforms to get your word across and stay connected during a site failure.

4. Rely on a Backup Site

Establishing a backup site is another effective way to stay productive and present online when your primary website crashes. Some website hosts provide this service option. If yours doesn’t, however, you can establish your own backup system independently or create a second, minimalist version of your current website that is hosted with a separate provider.

That way, if and when your site goes down, you can still redirect traffic to your emergency backup page. Just ask your hosting provider to set up a temporary domain name redirect to send your traffic to your backup site until you can get your main page back online.

Site downtime can be a real drag. But don’t let it get you down! Keep up with your competitors and stay on top of your game during a website crash by following the aforementioned tips and remaining calm. With some savvy legwork and a little foresight and preparation, you can stay productive and effective online and offline.

Jake Magleby has written extensively about effective marketing, sales, and financing strategies to help small business owners succeed in the fast-paced and ever-changing business world. For more information on small business website hosting, check out Midphase.

Mechanical Turk is an Amazon.com-owned property that allows users to make money by completing Human Intelligence Tasks, or HITs. These HITs are found over a variety of different categories and pay once you complete them. Before working on these projects with Mechanical Turk, it is a good idea to learn about how the entire process works and consider a few tips that will give you the best chance of maximizing your earning potential.

Don’t Get Scammed

Since Amazon does not regulate Mechanical Turk, you could come across some scams. In the worse-case scenario, you could even become a victim of fraud, so use your common sense on every HIT you come across. Never give out your real name, your email address or your home address to anyone. In addition, there is no reason for a requester to ever need your credit card information, so ignore any requests that ask for this.

Complete Tasks Quickly

The faster you can complete a topic, the more money you can make. This means that it is smart to avoid topics that will require you to do a fair amount of research before you can begin. If you can complete the task right away without having to read up on it beforehand, you can complete it and then start your next task immediately, allowing you to make more money throughout the day.

Avoid Low-Paying Tasks

Even if you can complete a task in just a few minutes, your overall pay will stay at a low level if you take poor-paying tasks. For example, if a task only pays you about 50 cents, you would have to complete 16 of them in an hour to average $8 per hour. These low-paying tasks are not worth your time, unless you can complete them in just a few seconds, and even then you can probably find better options by searching the site more thoroughly.

Consider Taking Tests

In some cases, you will have to take a test to become eligible for a certain assignment. While this might seem like a waste of time, it can actually open up the door to a number of new assignments, with many of them paying well. The people who set up these tests want to ensure that they are getting high-quality applicants, and are usually willing to pay for this quality.

Be Patient

Just because you do not see anything worthwhile the first time you visit Mechanical Turk does not mean that these assignments do not exist. Hit the refresh button a few times to see what comes up before giving up completely. You can also return later on in the day or week, as this can prevent you from getting frustrated. The more desirable jobs are taken immediately, but persistence will allow you to earn some of these jobs if you stay on the site.

Read the Instructions Carefully

One of the easiest ways to have your work rejected is by not following the directions. Always read what the requester wants and return every item to these exact specifications. Failure to read these instructions usually wastes your time, as it is highly unlikely that you will ever be paid for this work. In addition, regularly having work rejected limits the number of assignments that you can accept in the future.

Look for Reputable Requests

Look at each job and consider how realistic the request is. When a request seems like it is too good to be true, it probably is and you are unlikely to receive payment. Surveys are often requested by reputable organizations like universities, hospitals and drug rehabs, so you are much more likely to have a positive experience when you go with one of these requests.

By following this advice, you can make the most of your time and maximize your earnings on Mechanical Turk.

Never before have three innocent little letters collaborated together to form a more dreaded word than the day that “T” and “X” surrounded “A” to come with “TAX.” Yes, few words stir up more negative emotions –unless, of course, the word “tax” is immediately followed by “refund.”

tax-refund-sign

If you’d like to ensure that you become greater acquainted with the “tax refund” in your life, here are some tax deductions that freelancers can often claim.

Your Professional Space

Most people are aware of the fact that they can claim the rent paid on an office space, but freelancers who work at home can often claim a deduction for a home office. Yes, by calculating the percentage of your home’s square footage that is dedicated solely to your freelancing business, you should be able to claim the corresponding portion of your household expenses such as your property taxes, your rent or mortgage payment, and certain utilities. This is an excellent way to significantly grow your tax refund.

Expanding Your Brain

As a consummate professional in your field, you have likely engaged in updating your skills. Thankfully, many expenses related to training or certification are tax deductible. Make sure you hold on to any receipts for tuition, course costs, textbooks, and requisite learning materials. Yes, you can expand both your mind and your tax refund.

Tools of the Trade

Are you a pack-rat who never parts with a single scrap of paper? Well, your hoarding skills are about to be rewarded. The receipts for your business equipment and office supplies will help enlarge your refund as well. Yes, computer hardware and software, stationary, and other tools of the trade are often tax deductible.

Tools of Reference

Are you a freelance writer? Well, here’s some good news. In most cases, you can claim reference materials such as subscriptions to writing magazines like Writers’ Digest, style guides, dictionaries and thesauruses, fees for online databases, research materials for freelance assignments, and, of course, The Writer’s Market. Yes, a trip to Barnes & Noble could help elevate your tax refund.

Getting from Point A to Point B

Whether you are driving across town or flying across the country to meet a client, you may be able to write off your travel expenses. Yes, in many cases, you can claim mileage, parking expenses, air fare, hotel costs, and some meals–so watch your odometer closely and hang on to those receipts. Legitimate business travel can substantially add to your tax refund.

Professional Affiliations

Consummate professionals, like yourself, often belong to organizations related to their field of work. These, after all, are a great way to network, keep abreast of developments in your industry, and win new clientele. Thankfully, these membership dues are often tax deductible–meaning that you can rub shoulders with the movers and shakers in your field and puff up your tax refund.

Self Promotion

Advertising your freelance business is a wise investment. Not only does advertising earn you new clientele, but it can also provide you with a handsome stash of write-offs. Whether you opt to splash your smiling face across a billboard, let their fingers do the walking to your Yellow Pages listing, ensconce your vehicle in colorful decals, bombard the radio-listening public with your catchy jingle, or present a glossy business card to everyone you meet, these documented expenses have the potential to increase both your business and your tax refund.

Number Crunching

In case you are a fan of irony, you can also claim the expenses associated with hiring an accountant to file your income tax return. Yes, the money you invest towards securing a sizeable tax refund can actually increase the size of said tax refund. Cool, huh?

You may be tempted to use your huge tax refund on a Caribbean cruise, but there are smart ways to use your tax refund that will grow your business–and pay for many vacations to come. Some will even earn you further deductions for next year’s tax refund.

While the word “tax” will always be greeted with snarls and expletives–and snarled expletives–you can take some of the pain out of tax “time.” Hold on to those receipts, keep accurate records, and hire a professional to crunch your numbers and you will be rewarded with a hefty tax return. And tax time could become your favorite time.

What is your best freelancing tax tip?

Kimberley Laws is a freelance writer, avid blogger, and admirer of huge tax refunds. You can follow her neurotic and OCD ramblings at The Embiggens Project and Searching for Barry Weiss.

When it comes to selling items on eBay, you want to take advantage of any opportunity to get a wider audience of buyers. Selling items on eBay is getting progressively more competitive. If you haven’t taken the time to create a twitter account or Facebook page for your eBay account, you should do that right away.

There are so many different ways you can use social media to help promote your eBay items. You may want to check out these typical methods for integrated social media marketing strategies which involve reaching out to your audience and getting them actively engaged with the product — in this case, your eBay items.

Post Pictures of the Items

The biggest thing people want when they’re looking at items on eBay are images. These pictures show what the item looks like and the sort of quality it is in. Additionally, pictures give potential customers more of an inclination to buy the item.

Instagram and Pinterest are both image-based websites that you can use for your social media needs. The added bonus of hashtags allows you to tag the items and make them more searchable. For example, if you use the hashtag #vintagedress for a 1970s dress that you’re currently selling, anyone who browses that hashtag can find your item.

Facebook has an option that allows you to link up your eBay account with your Facebook page. This will let your viewers see the items you have to offer and link them to your eBay webpage. It’s very easy to do and is a great feature to add to your Facebook page.

Post Updates Often

The biggest thing to remember about social media is its fast-paced nature. If you want your updates to be seen, you will have to post often. You should post at least one Facebook update every day and send tweets a number of times throughout the day.

While it might be hard to find ways to update your social media pages, there are actually a few different ways to create that content. The best way to create a status is by listing some of your new items that you’ve put on the market — you can easily post a picture and a description of a new item. You can also inform your followers about recent specials or promotions that you’re offering by sending a tweet about either the free shipping you are providing for a limited time or the bonus item that your buyers are now eligible to get with their purchases.

Be sure to post your updates throughout the day. You don’t want to send 10 tweets at once — that will just overwhelm your followers and turn them away from your twitter page. Instead, spread those 10 tweets out over the span of eight hours. Figure out when you get the most activity from your followers and post accordingly.

Focus on More Than the Items

You may feel inclined to post updates only about the items you are selling. Try to add more to your social media than just that. You may be incredibly informative with your Facebook posts and stay up-to-date with all of your sales but you’ll also have a very dull Facebook page.

Engage with your audience. People love it when they get responses to their comments or replies to their tweets. Ask questions such as: “What have you recently bought from us?” or “If you had $100 to spend on our store, what would you get?” You can also invite your customers to tweet photos of them with the items they bought — just make sure you acknowledge with a like, retweet or response that you have seen the picture.

If you only sell certain types of items, you can post links to similar articles. For example, if you sell video games and related items, you can post an article about the top 100 games of all-time. You can also tie these articles with items you are selling — if you have a lot of music-related items, when you post a link to the greatest songs of the 1990s you can include the CDs you sell that contain many of these songs.

See Results With Social Media

Using social media can be a great way to reach out to your customers and get more people interested in your eBay store. By posting numerous updates to your social media profiles, you can alert potential buyers about your items and give them the opportunity to be more engaged in the process.

hand-holding-plantGoing green can seem like an overwhelming project for smaller businesses without a lot of capital or infrastructure. But just because you work out of your house, whether in a spare room, on your laptop at your kitchen table, or even in a hammock out in your backyard, it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to making our world more environmentally friendly by thinking about energy efficiency. In fact, you can kill two birds with one stone by improving your living space and workspace at the same time!

One good place to look for tips on saving energy is your local power company. The U.S. Department of Energy also offers a variety of hints as to how to cut down on waste, from the obvious, like turning off machines when they are not in use, to the more technical, including what types of electronics to buy and how to avoid “vampire” power drains.

Here are some particularly popular tips for creating savings, both personally and for the environment:

Turn Things Off When You’re Not Using Them!

There are a few popular misconceptions that make it harder for people to save energy in their home offices. For example, it is actually not true that screensavers reduce energy usage or that it is better to leave equipment running than to keep turning it on and off. The simplest way to reduce energy costs and waste is simply to turn things off when you aren’t using them, especially computers, televisions, stereos and DVD players, not to mention overhead lights and table or counter lamps!

Avoid Vampire Drain!

However, with some appliances, even turning them off when not in use is not necessarily enough. Many people are unaware that even when electronics are switched off, they can continue to use energy – this is known as a “vampire” power drain. Chris Stewart, the Senior Communicator for the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory points out here that appliances “using phantom loads” include many that most of us might not consider, from coffee makers to rechargeable toothbrushes!

There are a few ways to avoid this. The simplest is to actually unplug appliances from the wall instead of merely turning them off, especially chargers for other devices. Another is to plug all such equipment into power strips and then to turn off the power strip in order to truly cut off the power when the equipment is not in use. This is especially helpful when it comes to larger devices like computers and televisions, but also applies to smaller ones like kitchen appliances.

Make Good Choices When Making Purchases

In addition, to reduce your overall energy usage, make good environmentally conscious choices when making purchases in the first place. For example, laptops use less energy than desktop computers. In addition, when buying smaller products that use battery power, look for those that will take rechargeable batteries, so that you don’t have to keep buying and disposing of regular batteries.

Additionally, look for the ENERGY STAR label, especially when buying computers, in order to create great savings on your power bill. This label is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and means that the products both save energy and money. An index of Energy Star products can be found here (for homes) and here (for businesses).

Use Good Common Sense

There are so many small steps it is possible to take in order to be energy-efficient. For example, lighting is a huge expense in most homes, especially when the owner works there as well. Buy energy-efficient light bulbs and place directional lamps where they are needed, instead of keeping the overhead lights burning morning, noon and night.

You can also weatherize your home office, getting an inspection by your local power company and adding insulation where needed, in order to keep energy from escaping. Being conscientious about maintenance can also help you avoid costly repairs to heating or cooling equipment. Even something as small as turning down the heat by a couple of degrees in the winter and turning down the air by a couple of degrees in summer can result in big savings.

What steps do you plan to take to improve your home office’s energy efficiency?

Garret Stembridge is part of the team at Extra Space Storage, a leading provider of self-storage facilities. Garret often writes about sustainable practices for homes and for businesses. Many Extra Space Storage locations, including several in Chicago, have been retrofitted to reduce energy consumption.