Category Archives: Blotter

Nine WordPress plugins you can’t live without

Nine WordPress plugins you can’t live without

WordPress may be the standard in content management systems (CMS). But there are nine must-have plugins for WordPress to be effective. All have a free version and all provide solutions for expanding a website beyond the simple blogging and navigation functionality WordPress provides. Of course there are many more WordPress plugins that will be needed when a website manager expands the functionality of a given website, but let’s assume a standard set of functional elements will be needed when building and managing most websites: anayltics, communication, spam management, backups, form creation and imaging management:

  • WordPress SEO (By Yoast) – Although Google continually evolves how they evaluate and index websites, it is crucial for a website manager to actively organize content using a united strategy. More than anything else, Google respects organization and consistency where tags, key phrases and other optimization is involved. This plugin has been downloaded and integrated with WordPress sites more than 13 million times.
  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – Even if you’re not actively reviewing and devising strategy around how users are interacting with your website, the Google Analytics plugin provides easy-to-find reference data that can be digested with a glance. For those of us who feel overwhelmed by the confusing and feature-laden dashboard Google provides on its own interface, the Google Analytics plugin appears in your WordPress dashboard as something of a godsend in digestibility.
  • MailPoet Newsletters – While the way users interact and share content from a website changes, something that hasn’t changed is the fact every user has an email address. Sending content within email newsletters provides website managers with an opportunity to share and market website information that otherwise goes ignored. MailPoet allows for the management of targeted mailing lists and provides easy-to-use templates for generating email communications. Drag-and-drop posts and images, then click send. Furthermore, this awesome piece of software empowers users to subscribe and unsubscribe from mailing lists without hassle.
  • SendGrid – If you send your digital newsletters to more than 1000 email addresses it’s important to use a robust server delivery system that will help prevent communications from ending up in spam folders while taxing a servers resources. SendGrid easily integrates with most newsletter plugins to do the heavy lifting when it comes to blasting emails.
  • Akismet – If you deal with comments and users interacting on your WordPress site, then you need a strategy to deter unwanted spam. Akismet is gleefully easy to install and integrate, protecting a blog from comment and trackback spam.
  • UpdraftPlus – Scheduling and performing website backups is more important than any other task a website manager has. If you don’t have a backup strategy in place, then expect to lose your website and all its data. It happens to everyone eventually. UpdraftPlus is a free backup service that ingrates with Google Drive or DropBox to seamlessly backup and store your website in a safe place in the unlikely event you need it.
  • Gravity Forms – At some point most website managers will need to capture information from users who enter information into a form. Whether selling a product or merely registering users for a complex service, Gravity Forms provides an easy-to-use interface allowing for visual construction of forms in a jiffy. By integrating it with (additional plugin required) or other merchant accounts, eCommerce becomes a cinch. Advanced Image Styles
  • Advanced Image Styles – Ever have a problem with your pictures running too close to the text? Manipulating graphics within WordPress can be a challenge when website managers want to go beyond simple formatting. This simple plugin allows you to create image borders and margins, then manipulate image title attributes and the associated CSS Class.
  • NextGen Gallery – This popular WordPress plugin generates photo galleries while downsizing images so that users can easily navigate through your great pictures. Bulk uploads are easy and shortcodes are available in the tool bar when creating posts and pages.

WordPress maintains its integrity by allowing website managers access to a vast directory of plugins that are vetted within a community of users. As always, be sure to backup your website BEFORE installing any plugins, and participate in the forums where feedback can be seen and reviewed by developers and users alike.


Should I hire a contractor or employee?

Should I hire a contractor or employee?

The question whether to hire a part-time contractor or full-time employee depends on the length of the project and budget. Contractors are good for small jobs while an employee can go the long haul. Both employers and their potential hires should look at the benefits and pitfalls for each model.

Also consider the quality of work a part-time contractor puts in versus a full time employee. Typically, contractors prove adept at task oriented projects, for instance where checklists or repairs are needed. Anything with nuance, however, requires that someone be vested in the project for a longer period of time.

Consider office expenses
Should I hire a contractor or employee?Having a physical location where workers come and focus on projects has its benefits and detractions. Without having to pay for utilities or rent, an employer can better afford their workers. Nonetheless, telecommuting is rife with problems, not the least of which are those workers who claim to be putting in their hours but are not. The federal website offers helpful tips if you’re considering the telecomuting option, for instance the need for increased management, scheduling and training for workers who will work from afar.

What type of job are you hiring?
We’ve outlined a cheat-sheet for those types of hires, starting with the type of job and listing the ideal hire – either part-time contractor or full-time employee. There’s also an assignment for how difficult it is to find someone for each of these jobs.

Type of Job to Hire Ideal Hire Difficulty
Website Designer Part-Time Easy to Find
Programmer Full-Time Hard to Find
Website Manager Full-Time Easy to Find
Sales Manager Full-Time Easy to Find
Data Entry Part-Time Easy to Find
Customer Support Full-Time Easy to Find
Content Strategist Full-Time Hard to Find
Text Editor Part-Time Easy to Find
SEO Manager Part-Time Easy to Find
Server Manager Part-Time Easy to Find
Secretarial Full-Time Easy to Find

Considering your budget
There’s also the issue of budget when considering whether to hire a contractor or employee. There are many online employee calculators to approximate what your up against when hiring an employee. Jolanders has a free version of its downloadable “How much an employee really costs” spreadsheet for figuring out payroll. Employees cost more than most people think. For example, paying someone a $70,000/year in salary could mean you’ll be paying them for vacation days, too. There are also legal obligations to consider when hiring full time employees, including maternity leave and unemployment benefits that will have a financial impact on the employer.

Most companies give employees time off for various holidays, so that should really be included in the calculation. The problem is that different countries can vary in their national holidays, and your company may give certain days off but not others. On average, in the U.S. there are 7 major holidays: New Years Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving (since this is always a Friday), and Christmas. Many businesses also have an additional floating holiday that is sometimes used for Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, or one of the days near July 4th.

Do the math
Setting a budget and understanding how much a salary costs means doing a little math. As a baseline calculation, let’s say you are one of those employees who won’t pay for vacation, but will offer 2 weeks off each year as unpaid vacation time.

Total time worked = 50 weeks (2,000 hours)

$70,000 salary = $35 per hour

There are many ways to slice the bread when considering the question whether to hire a contractor or employee. Something gained is also something loss when choosing a part-time contractor versus a full-time employee. It’s best to consider all factors before deciding which type of hire is right for you.

Should I charge an hourly rate or a fixed price?

Should I charge an hourly rate or a fixed price?

Charging clients an hourly rate versus a fixed price depends on experience with the project. Predictability goes hand in hand with a flat rate. In a nutshell – if you’ve done it before with confidence, a flat rate means you know how much time the project takes and any foreseeable costs involved. A flat rate means you’ll finish it in a flash.

On the other hand, hourly rates can protect a website manager from finicky clients and feature creep. A project with the potential for never quite getting finished should be billed hourly. (Flat rate custom website design is a no-no, for instance.) If there’s a chance your client might come back and say Do It Again, then keep them on the clock. Otherwise, clients have little incentive to stop when the project is complete.

When to charge a fixed price:

  • Where a project does not include creative design and engineering
  • When you’ve successfully completed a similar project more than three times
  • When the project has written specifications and defined terms

Sample Fixed Price Projects
Website managers familiar with standard Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Joomla or WordPress know that existing plugins make it easy to get a basic website up and running in no time. Be careful of hidden fees for “premium” plugins that go beyond basic services. But all the below items are repeatable and easy-to-replicate projects that should not necessitate a lot of extra hours. Turn-key software is available for all of the below:

  • CMS Setup
  • Turn-key templates with CMS backends
  • Newsletter integration
  • Google Analytics
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • Webinars and Live chat Events
  • Photo galleries
  • News feeds
  • Social media setup
  • Website hosting
  • Email management
  • eCommerce

When to charge an hourly rate:

  • When the client doesn’t understand the technology
  • If you are dependent on a subcontractor
  • If you don’t have experience with the task at hand

Sample hourly rate projects
Time management is crucial for website managers who stand to lose the most when work drags on and revisions are necessary. Subjective projects where the work is likely to have complications or changes along the way include:

  • Website and graphic design
  • Database integration
  • Writing and creating copy
  • Improvements on existing websites
  • Flash or video projects
  • Responsive website adaptation
  • Marketing strategy implementation
  • Employee training
  • Mail merges for email blasts
  • Editing grammar
  • Scheduling and Storyboarding

Caveats to these guidelines

Time management for website managers means predicting efficiency for delivering technology and content, but also how a client will respond when a project is complete. Finally, keep in mind these rules we suggest go to the waste basket where experience with a client dictates how to charge. The question for whether to charge an hourly rate or a fixed price often comes down to understanding expectations and the resources. Experience with the client and the project should dictate which rate system to use.

In conclusion, the difference between charging clients a fixed price versus an hourly rate is no small matter for website managers looking to increase their bottom lines. Charging an hourly rate or a fixed price is something that can and should be discussed with your client, so don’t be afraid to negotiate a fixed price up front, for instance, with a caveat that any work done beyond the terms of an agreed upon project will be billed additional rates. Always deliver a contract spelling out expectations – this crucial planning point cannot go ignored.

How to start an online teaching business

How to start an online teaching business

To start an online teaching business a website manager should plan the five basic components used to administer academic seminars via the Internet. Most website managers are familiar with content management systems (CMS) such as Joomla and WordPress to manage their websites, so it should be refreshing to know there are online teaching tools modeled after the same plug and play simplicity we already know.

Here are the five ingredients for starting an online teaching business:

  • 1. Online Course Management Software
  • 2. Naming Conventions for Marketing your Business
  • 3. Social Media Aggregation
  • 4. Website
  • 5. Generated Marketing Content

Online Course Management Software is unique for most website managers not accustomed to starting their own teaching business. Online education is something that has been around for at least 10 years and has matured beyond the original Blackboard model for delivering online education. For instance, Pathwright software provides online courses with all the mobile and social media features today’s students and teachers want. But more importantly, the interfaces doesn’t feel cumbersome or foreign to those already accustomed to managing WordPress sites.


With Pathwright you can create learning paths that guide students, employees, or anyone in the world to a new level of skill.

For a less polished but more business-oriented solution, EduTone software also provides reseller and white label partner programs so clients can access web-enabled educational software in one place. There are others offering similar services, and the point here is that you should do your homework and find a turn-key solution that’s right for you.

Naming Conventions for Marketing Your Business should start with searches using services such as They offer domain registration for around $10.00/year. Choose a domain name based on the key phrase one might use to find an online course like the one you’ll be administering. For instance, “Photography for Homeschoolers” ( is affective because it literally leads someone from a search on Google to the online teaching tools they’re selling. Simple is better when it comes to good SEO.

how to start an online teaching businessSocial Media Aggregation starts on Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. These accounts are the windows to your customers, so try to register the literal names exactly as the domain name reads for each one. Social media is often more important than a website itself, so don’t underestimate its potential to drive traffic to your services.

Create your website by starting with an education-themed template. (Be sure you are using a content management system (CMS) back-end such as WordPress.) Most companies – present company not excluded – will customize templates to your liking for a little money.

Generate marketing copy regularly means writing fresh content and publishing relevant images to demonstrate your online teaching courses are leaders in the field. Generate a marketing video so to build followers and explain your mission. A viral video can boom a business overnight.

StudentsThese are very brief overviews for how to start an online teaching business. Once plugged in, these components can be leveraged to differentiate your teaching business from the others. So, you’re logging in every day to flesh out your website with information and a daily blog post that is also being pushed to all social media outlets. Disseminating information in parallel is good for Search Engine Optimization, too. Remember that you will likely get more interest, more reads and more action on your Facebook page than on your website.

Providing free webinars can also be a good way to hook potential customers into your teaching services. In some cases it might make more sense to utilize a YouTube channel where the lectures are given away for free. Such an offering can provide a stage for teaching but does not include the features of an online classroom education. The option will be much cheaper and more familiar to those who stumble on it for the first time, funneling them to your business in the long run.

Because there are so many “White Label” platforms providing solutions for an online teaching business, it may behoove the beginner to call and get involved with these companies’ own educational programs for using their software.

The fact of the matter is that online courses are now so standardized and readily available that the software companies providing these solutions are “cookie cutting” the sites and will practically hold your hand through each of these steps. Knowing these five steps for how to start an online teaching business is a good start, but getting involved with the software providers who know the business will take you further – and keep you going.

How to get an Internet phone for free

How to get an Internet phone for free

While we’ve got little to gain by revealing how easy it is to get a free Internet phone, here’s hoping the monopolistic phone carriers find an early grave.

Obihai Free Service

The Obihai phone adapter

There’s little doubt that Google is on target to innovate how we communicate. Rather than forsaking the consumer market who makes phone calls, Google is innovating the way we connect and pay for these phone services. Google Voice calls are free anywhere within North America and costing just a few cents more internationally. But while Google has accommodated the phone lines for these calls, they’ve been remiss in providing hardware to plug into our computers to take advantage of existing hand sets. Speakers and microphones be damned!

Google Voice

Nonetheless, there is new plug-and-play hardware for legacy handsets, hardware that provides the traditional ease and smart ergonomics that (most of us) grew up with. Devices such as MajicJack charge $59.95 up front and yearly fees, but other hardware does better. The Obihai phone adapter, available for $29.99 from (Use Promo Code: EMCPAWW99) allows direct access to Google Voice and functions the same way AT&T or Verizon land lines work in homes and offices. The only exception – and perhaps one that should be considered – is that 911 calls won’t work. But these devices will offer dedicated E911 VoIP service (for a fee, of course).

5 Steps for How to get an Internet phone for free:

  • 1. Purchase Hardware Phone Adapter
  • 2. Sign-Up for Google Voice Account
  • 3. If calling internationally, add credit to Google Voice
  • 4. Plug Hardware Phone Adapter into existing Internet Router
  • 5. Use handset to receive and make calls using the Google-assigned phone number

Voicemail, call waiting, caller ID and two-way calls are included in your Google Voice Account. And don’t forget the Visual Voicemail function Google voice is innovating. Now, you don’t have to wade through long pauses while the person on the other end decides what to say on the message. Just read the text:


Google Voice Transcript


The OBi device is similar to other adapters which connect to Google Voice.

Obihai is making a marketing push with relentless scorn against phone companies: “With a Google Voice account configured on an OBi device, users will not only get all the great collaboration tools and app integration with Google Voice, they will also be able to enjoy many premium calling features, free calling within the U.S. and Canada and super-low cost international calling – all from the comfort of their home phone,” said Jan Fandrianto, President and CEO of Obihai.

How to get an Internet phone for freeCalling from a mobile phone doesn’t need to be the default anymore. Sure, an additional piece of hardware has to be purchased and added to your router – but free calls forever on Google Voice is something that we can all celebrate for years to come.

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