Official Bootstrapper Announcement: Resource Guides for A Financially Better You

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 2:32am by Site Administrator

 

Hello Bootstrapper Followers!

Check out the newest addition to our site – a section devoted to educational resources that will help you lead a more financially secure life.  We’re proud to present the most recent addition, Money Matters: A Guide to Teaching Finances to Children.  It’s a five part resource that we recommend you start reading from the beginning, but feel free to jump to the section that speaks most to you. 

Part I: An Introduction to Teaching Financial Independence

Part II: Government-Sponsored Investment Programs

Part III: Actionable Ways to Teach Children Finances 

Part IV: Understanding Credit & Credit Cards for Young Adults

Part V: Trusted Financial Resources for Parents, Teachers and Young People

As always, let us know what you think in the comments or what kinds of resource guides you want to see!

A Guide To Building Your Business Through Social Networks

Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 6:21pm by Site Administrator

According to recent data in The Economist, nearly 80% of businesses in the U.S. are staffed by fewer than 10 people. Small business owners make up the bulk of entrepreneurship in America, and are tasked with finding cost-effective ways to grow their businesses. Social media outlets may formerly have been thought of as toys that twenty-somethings use to stay connected. But now applications like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are proving they give small business owners the unique opportunity to develop a sense of community within their customer base.

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a fairly simple concept that is often misunderstood. The use of certain keywords on your website and in your social media interactions drives your Google search ranking higher. Devoting the time to research and use these keywords pays off in brand awareness and sales. Like any marketing campaign, capitalizing on SEO and social media networks requires clear strategy; without it, your competitors may leave you in the dust.

Benefits to Small Businesses

Companies who have success with social media redefine the traditional approach to promotion. Paid media (advertising) and owned media (your website) should seamlessly converge with what is known as earned media: Facebook likes, tweets and retweets, customer commentary and SEO. To put it simply: today’s best small businesses maximize their advertising dollar by building a community of faithful customers – social media successes are a business’s best friend. Things that once seemed intangible, such as Facebook likes, Yelp reviews, and tweets, are now proof that customers respond to your brand. In turn, these same customers reward your business with public approval and open ended discussions of your business. Not only can you put this direct input into practice, your potential customers can turn to the resources and quickly get what your business is all about.

This doesn’t mean you just “flick on the social media light” and wait for results. You need to spend time developing a lasting online presence. This can mean directly responding to negative feedback, offering online-only perks, or just playfully updating your fans, keeping your business on their minds. Whatever your tailored approach is, you need to make sure it is consistent and engaging. Social media success will always depends upon your level of involvement.

Show Me the Metrics

Any marketer worth their salt knows that measurable results define a successful campaign. With these emerging technologies, it is sometimes difficult to establish useful metrics to justify your marketing budget. The use of social media challenges marketers to expand their definition of return on investment (ROI) to include the positive effects of brand awareness.

While they may find it confusing when Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and FourSquare continually tweak platforms and user interfaces, 72% of small business owners are aware of the need to grasp technologies. Now not all small businesses can directly benefit from the four major social media tools. Before you get really involved in media metrics, make sure you understand how your business operates, what makes it successful, etc. Only then can you understand which tools to approach and the best ways to benefit from them.

But for most models, the ability to establish community within a customer group helps refine customer service response and brand promotion, which ultimately converts to hard sales data. Low-cost social media efforts create an avenue to drive traffic to your website and allow you to offer incentives and promotions without direct marketing costs.

Getting Started

Boosting your social presence starts with simply using the right technology.  A thorough company will want to consider a Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn profile, Pinterest pages, a Google+ group, or even a blog. The best way to decide if a tool works for you is to look at the sorts of businesses using a given tool. Is their online presence successful? What is it about a particular tool that makes their business standout?

Consider the following scenario: a client approaches a social media consultant simply hoping to increase likes on their Facebook page. Further discussion reveals that, in fact, what the client really wants is to build out their mailing list in an effort to solidify public understanding of their product. While an admirable goal, the client’s fuzzy grasp of what Facebook likes actually do for their business shows that they have no clear vision of how to best accomplish goals through social media. Instead, the business should not have simply limited themselves to Facebook. Specific goals require specific social media solutions that can only be articulated after properly researching a number of distinct options.

Social Media Musts
 

  • Here are some invaluable lessons you need to know in order to truly capitalize on social media:

    • Add plug-ins to your website that encourage social media sharing. Facebook and Twitter share buttons not only allow your readers to communicate their responses to you, they also let you share your messages with potential customers.

    • When building business pages on Facebook or Google+, ask your family and friends to help with promotion. While this can further your social presence, make sure your business page always comes off as completely professional. Never treat it like your own personal profile!

    • Don’t forget that the vast majority of social media sites have specific rules you need to know and adhere to – if you don’t, you risk being suspended or banned from a given site. This could mean months of your time and expense down the drain!

    • Take notice of customers who faithfully interact and reward them. Consider a “Fan of the Week” promotion with a coupon for services.

    • Tweet regularly. Try posting blog announcements, special incentives to purchase, and useful information, such as a link to a relevant article published elsewhere. Strive to provide consistent content and respond directly to customers who address you on Twitter.

    • When your social media sources are activated, send out a newsletter to your customer base announcing the new contact channels. Include buttons to ensure one-click access to these sources.

    • Mention your social media sites in traditional advertising.

    • Attract new followers with incentives that make them feel special. A discount or free service can drive traffic to your product, and the feeling of inclusiveness can make a first-time customer a regular customer.

    • Directly address your public. Get patrons and potential patrons interested with polls or direct questions on the social media platform of your choosing. Such options work like free, highly specific market studies. No business can afford to pass up on such data opportunities.

    • Seriously consider investing in paid ad options on social media, such as Facebook Ads. Low-cost advertising can produce high traffic and provide excellent demographic metrics.

When it comes down to it, a small business in today’s climate needs to embrace  information-centric customers and the social media they love. Any business that can’t get with the program will end up in technology’s dustbin.

 

Voting for You: Are the Presidential Candidates Looking Out for Your Business?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 9:59pm by Site Administrator

It is inarguable that small businesses represent the American dream. The family-owned business is a direct reflection of the capitalist system that make it possible for anyone to establish trade of a product or service and to make a living doing so. The image of the little guy doing battle against corporate behemoths has become as much a part of our social fabric as Norman Rockwell’s paintings. As the 2012 Presidential election approaches, small businesses’ interests are high on the lists of both the Democrats and Republicans. 

Why are Small Businesses Important?

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business as one that is independently owned and operated, organized for profit and not dominant in its field. Depending on the economic sector a business operates in, this qualifies as a business concern for both the Mom & Pops and small corporation of less than 500 employees. While this is a broad range, the SBA estimates that nearly 80% of business concerns in the U.S. employ fewer than 10 people, and nearly 90% employ fewer than 20.

Small businesses are important to politics. During the last two years of record, the phrase "small business" was mentioned over 10,000 times in Congressional sessions, second only to discussions of taxes and more popular than the phrase "debt limit." Small businesses are important to Washington because they drive two-thirds of the nation’s job growth.

As members of this powerful voting bloc, small businesses have much at stake in the upcoming election. Entrepreneurs are under extremely heavy federal regulation; a recent Gallup poll listed governmental compliance as the most difficult problem these business owners face. They are also heavily taxed; the U.S. has a higher business tax than nearly any other country. Smaller firms bear the brunt of this burden because they lack the resources that let large corporations abuse many tax code loopholes.

Also of growing concern to small businesses is the power that large corporations have in Washington. Corporations may legally donate large amounts of money to campaign funds, which gives big business clout on Capitol Hill. While corporations finance the excessive amount of money spent on campaign funding, politicians will continue to drum up the concerns of small business owners because of their voting power.

Small business owners are very politically active. A survey by the National Small Business Association (NSBA) reports that 97% of these business owners vote in national elections and 94% vote in state elections. Economic and fiscal policy drives these voters, who are rarely known to vote along straight party lines. Both the Obama Administration and Republican Candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign have much to prove to this voting bloc, which amounts to a third of the electorate.

 

The Two Sides and What it Means for Small Businesses


Thus far, President Obama’s administration has attempted to assist job growth in small business with 18 tax cuts, some of which were temporary. The SBA has also set a record high for small business loans, of which more than 150,000 were made since 2008. While Obama has also increased the SBA’s funding by $2 billion, business owners are no longer allowed to borrow against personal property to fund their companies – a decidedly unpopular outcome

The incumbent Democrat’s campaign platform includes the Startup America initiative, a capital matching fund for investors. If re-elected Obama promises additional support to the SBA as it attempts to provide $26 billion in loans to the private sector. Additional proposed tax cuts are designed to reward new hiring and investment in these companies. "Small businesses create 2 out of every 3 jobs in this economy, so our recovery depends on them," said Obama on the campaign trail.

Romney’s governmental record in Massachusetts is less than stellar, as startup businesses dropped by 10% during his last year in office. However, his presidential campaign platform contains plenty of juicy incentives for business owners. Proposing enormous tax cuts for households earning over $250,000 per year, Romney claims that small businesses will be largely unaffected. The idea is that a relatively small number of profitable companies under the small business umbrella create the most new jobs, and so, small business as a whole will not feel the pain.

Romney plans to cut SBA funding by nearly 20%. However, he promises to repeal portions of the controversial Dodd-Frank Act that allows banks to tighten the reins on business loans. Another major talking point of his campaign, the promise to end Obamacare, directly affects these business owners. Under the provisions of Obamacare, federally mandated healthcare legislation has the potential to be very costly to business owners. Romney also promises to stop regulatory increases by capping that spending at zero. Business owners struggling under a heavy load of governmental compliance may find this appealing. Lastly, Romney is a believer in state’s rights and if elected, will give individual states the power to develop healthcare solutions.

A Manta survey in August 2012 among small business entrepreneurs revealed a definite swing toward the Romney campaign. Only 26% of survey respondents claimed they would re-elect President Obama, and 61% said they would definitely cast their vote for Romney. President Obama, in spite of the changes he has offered for entrepreneurs, is dropping in popularity among these voters. A prior Manta poll of the same group of voters in May 2012 showed 6% better numbers than in August. The National Federation of Independent Businesses conducts analysis and endorsements of candidates in all elections and offers detailed information for these entrepreneurs.

 

Business Credit Card Resources

Thursday, August 30, 2012 at 8:51pm by Site Administrator

Finding ideal rates and terms for a personal credit card can be hassle enough, but at the same time, looking for the perfect business credit card can feel like too much trouble for too few advantages. But a business card can be the perfect solution for short-term credit needs when you are starting a new venture and need access to extra funds from month to month to cover inventory or overhead costs. A wide variety of online resources from government branches and major organizations exist to help you make the choice, but they can be difficult to find without a handy guide that collects them all in one place. Thankfully you do.


Determine Your Eligibility

Credit Cards: Seven Things to Know About Business Credit Cards: This article answers questions about eligibility, long-term effects, and other key considerations that could make or break your business. While the list focuses on advantages, it is still a good starting place.

SBA.com: Small Business Credit Cards: This article provides solid information on the subject and helps you make up your mind about business cards and how they work. Follow the side links for more tips.

NFIB: Securing Credit When Self Employed: This National Federation of Independent Businesses offers this simple article to help you build your business the right way, so that if you ever need credit, you will stand a good chance of applying successfully.

Consider Your Situation: Do You Need a Card?

NFIB: What to Look for in a Company Credit Card: The National Federation of Independent Businesses is an excellent resources for all sorts of questions. This article lays out the basics of business cards and what makes for ideal terms.

NFIB: Does Your Business Need a Line of Credit?: This article breaks down this simple question. After all, you may be able to survive without a credit card.

SBA: Do Credit Cards from Your Business Report to Your Personal Credit Reports?: The short answer is maybe, but either way this article provides some solid warnings and advice on keeping your personal loans separate from your business card.

Your Credit History

BBB: Managing Credit: FAQs: This list of FAQs from the Better Business Bureau answers a broad range of questions on business credit and how credit scores are used.

NFIB: How to Establish Solid Business Credit: This article provides a great list for starting your business credit and maintaining it properly as your company grows. Start here and learn key facts before it is too late.

SBA: Business Loan Checklist: If you are worried about your credit history or what lenders will be looking for, this Small Business Administration article is an excellent place to start. This useful lists end with a series of links to other SBA articles as well.

Different Types of Cards: Making a Decision

BBB: Choosing the Right Kind of Card for Your Business: The Better Business Bureau steps in with advice on good card features, and a very handy list of the major types of business cards you can apply for, arranged primarily based on their rewards and benefits.

NASDAQ: Small Business Credit Cards vs. Corporate Cards: Avoid confusion with this NASDAQ article on the differences between a card for your venture and a corporate card that large companies use.

Daily Markets: Business Credit Cards: Which Business Credit Card to Get?: This Daily Markets article lists some of the business cards offered by major players such as Chase and American Express. Read it carefully to find comparisons and tips on which card to choose.

Taking the Time: Creating Good Business Credit

Inc.: How to Responsibly Use Credit Cards for Your Business: This Inc. article gives you tips on your business credit score and how to keep your credit in good standing through wise business management. If you have a business card, it makes for invaluable reading.

NFIB: How to Fix Your Small Business Credit Score: Here are three simple steps to improve your credit score, but be sure to search the NFIB website for more information. The links on the side lead to stable online resources that offer ways to check or improve your score.

BBB: Need More Help? Good Ways to Get Help Now: This Better Business Bureau article goes through several ways you can salvage your business credit and turn a bad situation into something better. If you have made a few business mistakes with your card, this resource can help you stabilize.

Business Credit Card Exploration

The credit world constantly adapts to financial changes, so it is worth it to do some research of your own. Shop carefully and always compare rates or rewards with similar cards offered by other lenders. Explore sites like the FTC and SBA for more information on credit and business finances to find out if a card is right for you.

 Image via.

Piggy Bank Getting the Slops

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 1:48pm by Sandy Jones

The economy is shaking currency rates around like loose coins in a jar. With all the noise and fears in conjunction with market fluctuations and international relationships, the currency values are all over the charts. But which moneys are forecasted to do well in the future and which ones appear to be headed downhill for good?

 

Brazil and China

Although minor tensions exist between the two, Brazil has partnered with their biggest trading partner (China) in an agreement to conduct a currency swap. The deal gives their central banks the ability to exchange local currencies worth up to 60 billion reais or 190 billion yuan (equivalent to $30 billion and £19 billion). These funds can be used by the banks to boost bilateral trade, or to build up their reserves for a possible time of crisis.

China has transacted similar deals with Austraila (valued up to $31 billion), Honk Kong, and Japan. Beijing desires an altercated version of the deal, pushing for a settlement in yuan instead of US Dollars in an effort to reduce their dependency on the US dollar. This would actually benefit China’s attempt to make the yuan a global currency. However, as the BBC news reports, China’s slowing economy may be seen as a warning sign by some. According to Brazil’s Finance Minister though, China will continue to be their primary source of trading.

 

India

Financial activity in India has changed as well. Recently, the government increased by $5 billion the amount of their bonds that foreign investors can buy. Following the dramatic decline of the rupee’s value against the dollar, India has sought to increase demand for their currency. Given the 21% drop the rupee took against the dollar, the mere 0.2% increase coinciding with the announcement of higher bond availability was disappointing at best.

In the article released by Bloomberg, noted economists were complaining that the measures taken by the government were temporary and short-term. Sonal Varma, (Nomura Holdings Inc. Economist in Mumbai) put it this way: “The underlying issues of more economic reforms and cutting subsidies are still not being addressed. What has the government done to reduce the fiscal deficit and curb the current-account deficit?”

 

Australia

One of the few remaining AAA rated countries, Australia is gaining more attention for its currency value. China is also the biggest trading partner with Australia, yet even though there were worries over the slowed growth of that country, Aussie’s dollar remained steadfast. This drew the spotlight to the land down under and global banks have shown an increase in Australian dollar purchases.

Most recently, Russia’s central bank looked into the possibility of investing in the Aussie currency. They will allocate about $5 billion (equivalent to 1% of their foreign currency reserves) to Australia’s dollar-assets, including government bonds. In addition to the Russian interest, Germany also investigated the Australian monetary assets and has increased their meetings with Australia’s banks in discussing foreign-exchange strategies.

Even though it appears safer than most other currencies, Australia comes in second compared to the Japanese yen and the Swiss franc according to CNBC.com. Although it remains only a small part of the overall global forex reserves, the Aussie is capable of drawing in substantial capital inflows from portfolio and direct investment flow. While their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) remains relatively low, the economic growth appears quite positive compared to other countries.

 

Canada

Unfortunately, Canada is not doing quite as well as Australia or China, as pointed out by Bloomberg. In fact, the Canadian dollar dropped a total of 1.12% this month, the steepest decline since December. The decline is due in part to the decrease in retail sales – down 0.5%. Jim Flaherty, Canadian Finance Minister, made known his intentions of tightening mortgage terms to help avoid household debt crisis along with the other measures.

8 Sites Every Small Business Owner Should Bookmark

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 2:32pm by Sandy Jones

A small business owner juggles many things a day, such as making sure the business is running smoothly, optimizing an online presence, redesigning a webpage, and making big decisions on the fly. Luckily, there are many invaluable resources out there for small businesses, which will guide you through anything from getting your business idea off the ground, to finding ways advertise for free, to designing a corporate website. Here are some websites that are great bookmarks for every small business owner, entrepreneur, or business professional.

  1. Entrepreneur.com

    Celebrating entrepreneurs since 1973, this online magazine is a great resource to consult to help build and grow your business. You’ll find topics on innovative business practices, tips on new tools and business technologies to optimize business procedures, and answers to any legal or financial questions. The site caters to entrepreneurs and small business owners who are trying to get their businesses to a new level. It’s a resource worth bookmarking when you need inspiration, how-to, or just want to read about creative business ideas.

  2. Smallbiztrends.com

    An award-winning online publication for small business owners, this resource provides business information, tips, and advice while also keeping you up-to-date on the latest trends and news for your business. With more than 200 freelance writers and guest experts, you’ll surely learn new ways to improve your business. Reaching four million readers annually, the site is quoted regularly in media and is a well-known entrepreneurship platform for discussion and curating new business ideas.

  3. StartupNation.com

    A free service founded by leading entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, this site is a leading online resource dedicated to helping small businesses grow and network. With expert blogs, member-to-member networking, helpful forums, and step-by-step advice, it seeks to be a comprehensive source for entrepreneurial success.

  4. Inc.com

    In 2012, Inc. Magazine won an ASME magazine award for General Excellence. It strives to provide everything you need to know to start and grow your business. Covering sales, marketing, technology, management, and financial advice, it pro provocative articles gathered from the web, as well as original content. You’ll find videos, hottest stories from LinkedIn, interviews with leading executives, and even in depth tutorials on writing a business plan and implementing new marketing strategies.

  5. Business.USA.gov

    On October 28, 2011, the President challenged government agencies to go beyond their organizational boundaries and help America’s business community in a new way: providing a "no wrong door" medium where small businesses and exporters could quickly connect to services and information relevant to them, regardless of where the information is located, anywhere in the world. Federal agencies added their resources onto BusinessUSA, consolidating information onto the site, which helps reduce confusion and simplifies the format. Put in simple terms, the website is a collection of inputs from federal agencies that are committed to helping business owners succeed. Though it is still in its beta format, in the coming weeks, it would be an invaluable resource for anyone looking for reliable business-related information.

  6. BusinessWeek

    News, data charts, advice, analytics, 24-hour support, and around the clock updates are all provided by BusinessWeek. The publication was awarded The Arts & Business Innovation Award and has nearly 310,000 professional service subscriptions. With a radio broadcast, in depth articles, stock market analysis, and even a live television channel, the company behind BusinessWeek, Bloomberg, is a great source for any business professional. You’ll find stories on politics and policy, global economic trends, and a special section dedicated to small businesses. Slideshows, multi-media channels, charts, and photo essays also help condense vast amounts of information into a better visual interpretation.

  7. Forbes

    One of the best business news sources in the world, the magazine and online publication is available in many countries, providing not only small businesses but large corporation business executives with real-time reporting, unbiased commentary, expert analysis, and investing advice.

  8. Fortune

    An affiliated publication of CNN Money, Fortune is the online home that serves as CNN’s exclusive business site. It covers personal finance, retirement advice, small business articles, and analysis of today’s most current markets and technologies. It also provides helpful market data alerts, widgets, calculators, and videos to help you grow your business in all aspects.

 

Music to Your Wallet: 50 Places to Find Free Music Lessons Online

Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 6:28pm by Site Administrator

Learning to play an instrument can be expensive. The instrument itself is likely going to put a dent in your budget. Luckily, you don’t have to spend tons of money to learn how to play that instrument. The Internet has many websites that offer free lessons for almost any instrument imaginable. For the sake of brevity, this list just focuses on the most popular music lessons available online. Piano So you’ve just inherited your great aunt’s piano and you don’t know how to play? No worries…here are some great places to get started tickling those ivories.

  1. GoPiano.com. Piano lessons for the beginner or someone who could use some review are available here. A handful of lessons are available online with more gradually being added. If you want to order their CD with even more lessons, they request that you provide a donation to cover the costs.
  2. Free Online Piano Lessons. For the beginning student, this site offers lessons to get you started. In addition to these lessons, this site offers suggestions for other places to go for more lessons (not all are free).
  3. Piano Clues. If you want to learn to play the piano, organ, or electric keyboard, visit this blog. You’ll get lessons and tips to get you started and keep you going.
  4. Hear and Play. Learn to play piano by ear with four easy steps. You will need to register to get the free lessons, and not all the lessons here are free.
  5. Pianologist. Devoted to innovative piano playing, this blog gives lessons on a variety of piano styles. Also check out the links to free piano lessons and activities available on the Internet.
  6. GetPianoLessons.com. These ten detailed lessons culminate with an examination to see how far you’ve come. Using a combination of video, text, and photos, these lessons will have you playing the piano in no time.
  7. Sonny’s Piano Blog. You’ll have to scroll through some For Sale posts, but this blog offers free tips and lessons for playing the piano. The video format of the lessons make it easy to understand the topic.
  8. PianoMinds. This blog offers tips and lessons on playing the piano. You will also enjoy the YouTube tutorials this young man offers. Be sure to use the search feature if you are looking for specific topics.
  9. Here’s a useful site–free piano lessons and piano information. Learn about PlayPiano.com’s free lessons on this blog post. Not only can you get information directly from the website, but you can receive lessons by email, too.
  10. Piano with Nicole. While this blog is specifically aimed at teaching youth, there are lots of lessons to be gained by adults too. Don’t forget to visit her links for piano students section for links to more information for both children and adult learners.

Guitar Probably the most popular instrument to learn is the guitar. Here is a sampling of the many websites that offer free guitar lessons. Some are for specific types of guitars while others are more general.

  1. FreeGuitarVideos.com. Over 90 video lessons are available at this site as well as even more text lessons. They also offer premium lessons for a small fee if you want something more than what is available for no cost.
  2. Free Guitar Video Lessons. This guitar lesson blog is updated daily with new lessons. Learn how to play the guitar with a wide range of videos from various sources.
  3. Guitar MX. Learn to play with this site that offers both text and video lessons. Also available is a selection of shareware or freeware software programs to help you learn to play.
  4. Beginner Guitar Lesson Archive. With these eleven text lessons, you will be on your way to learning to play the guitar. As an added feature, you can submit your email address and get each of the lessons emailed to you each week.
  5. Justinguitar.com. Using a combination of text, video, and MP3 files, you can learn the guitar here. In addition to the general lessons, you can also get lessons in blues, rock and metal, jazz, and songwriting. The lessons at this site are free, but donations are gladly accepted from those who can afford to make a contribution.
  6. Jack Grassel Jazz Guitar. Click on the Lessons menu to get a dropdown menu from which to choose your text lessons on playing jazz guitar. Most lessons also come with suggestions for further reading.
  7. Guitar Lessons. These lessons are designed for the beginner and are specifically for electric guitar. You can even sign up for email notifications when new lessons are posted.
  8. Cyberfret. This site offers links to various free guitar lessons on the Internet. Sign up with your email address to receive free lessons, tips, and site updates.
  9. WholeNote. This "guitar community" offers all things guitar and is run by the contributions of the members. Free registration is required to get the full benefits of this community. Without registering, you still have access to tons of lessons ranging from the absolute beginner to advanced or choose specific styles of playing such as rock, acoustic, and classical.
  10. GuitarNoise Blog. Learn a little something about playing the guitar every week with this blog. Podcasts are also available.

Violin, Viola, and Cello These three stringed instruments produce some of the most beautiful musical sounds. These instruments require a lot of practice, so get started on your lessons now with these resources.

  1. Violin Masterclass. With these Quicktime videos, you can learn all you need to know to get started playing the violin. There is also a section just for children learning to play. Lessons are free, but donations are accepted.
  2. Violin Online. Learn how to hold and play the violin with these text and photo lessons. If you are new to music altogether, you can also learn music basics at this site.
  3. Learningviolin.com. View these eight lessons to get started playing the violin. In addition to the elessons, this site also offers book recommendations for both beginners and intermediate players and a FAQ section.
  4. Folk of the Wood. This site is still uploading all their lessons. Eventually, they will offer lessons grouped by beginner, intermediate, and advanced. For now, beginners can learn how to play the violin with their text and photo lessons.
  5. StringSavvy.com. Get free violin lessons at this website. The lessons have both text and video. Each lesson has a nice follow-up with questions about the lesson and additional homework you can do to enhance the lesson.
  6. 8notes.com. Check this out for free lessons as well as free sheet music for violin. There’s even a beginner’s course in music theory if you need to start at the very beginning. And you can get viola lessons here.
  7. Cello Lessons and Resources. Learn the basics of playing the cello or read about an adult just starting on the journey of learning to play with these handy resources. Scroll to the bottom for links to even more cello resources.
  8. How to Play the Cello. These 19 steps will get you started with how to hold the cello and identify the parts. While this is a great place to start, you will likely need another source to get you very much further with your lessons.
  9. Cello Heaven. This forum offers answers to many questions on how to play the cello. You will also find posts with instructional videos as well.
  10. How to Play the Cello. These fifteen videos will help you with many aspects of playing the cello. There’s even a video on the proper way to clean your cello.

General Music Lessons From music theory to a wide range of different musical instruments, you will find all sorts of free music lessons among these sites. Many of these resources offer multiple types of lessons.

  1. Berklee Shares. This site offers lessons in songwriting, music business, performance, music production, and music education. The lessons are available in video, audio (MP3), and PDF text files. all lessons are designed by the Berklee College of Music faculty and alumni.
  2. Practicespot. In a slightly different approach, this website offers tools, articles, and more to enhance your playing. You can even look up musical terms in their online dictionary.
  3. Gary Ewer’s Easy Music Theory. Take advantage of these 26 free lessons on music theory. Each lesson comes with an instruction sheet, a quiz, and an answer sheet.
  4. Musictheory.net. Enjoy these interactive music theory lessons. You can also use trainers or take advantage of utilities such as a staff paper generator–and it’s all free.
  5. Capotasto Music. This blog features tips for voice, guitar, violin, and ukulele. Click on the links at the right for free lessons specific to guitar, piano, and ukulele and to get free sheet music.
  6. May Music Studio. Learn to play guitar, drums, or piano on this site with free lessons. You can also learn about music theory, songwriting, and download free music software.
  7. Free Music Lessons Online! For now… This blog post tells you how to get free music lessons from YouTube. These lessons are all video-based, so you can actually see how to play the instruments.
  8. Your Daily Music Lesson with Walt. Read this blog for news and music lessons. Also, Walt has a daily Ustream lesson from 6:00-8:00 pm EST. While Walt plays guitar, the Ustream lessons range beyond just guitar and include piano and general music lessons as well.
  9. Top 40 Music Sites. Click on Lesson Sites to find lots of free lessons for a wide range of musical instruments and voice. You can use the search box or browse by category to find what you need.
  10. Vocal Training Warrior. Learn about how to get the most from your voice. Posts on this blog include using differing styles, proper posture, and diction.

Sheet Music Once you start learning your new hobby, you will need sheet music to help you learn. It’s nice to have a variety, so all the following sites offer free sheet music ranging from classical to modern music.

  1. Jaybuckey.com. Get free tablature and sheet music here as well as some free lessons. The focus of this website is on violin, guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, dobro, cello, and viola.
  2. Violinandviola Free Sheet Music. Download PDF files to get free sheet music for violin and viola. Teaching resources are also available for downloading.
  3. The Mutopia Project. Browse by instrument or composer or perform a search to find printable sheet music. With over 1300 pieces of music, you are sure to find something to make you happy.
  4. Werner Icking Music Archive. Find scores for a wide variety of instruments and voice at this site. It’s helpful to read the Introduction to the sheet music archive section before you begin downloading.
  5. The Stringstuff Page. Download free sheet music for stringed instruments at this site. There are also lesson sheets for violin and viola as well as exercise sheets for violin, viola, and cello.
  6. Calm-Down-Corner. This site offers intentionally short piano sheet music. In addition to the free music, you can also receive premium sheet music for a fee that will be emailed to you upon receipt of payment (in Euros).
  7. Piano Passion’s Guide. Take advantage of this comprehensive listing of free sheet music available on the Internet. Just in case you don’t have the correct software to view and print the music, there are links to those as well.
  8. Words and Music. Get free popular sheet music at this site. Download both music and lyrics from artists that range from the Beatles to Bon Jovi.
  9. AllPianoSheetMusic.com. Download free piano sheet music from classical composers. You must be a paid subscriber to access all sheet music, but many are available for free.
  10. PlayPianoTips.com. Get MIDI format hymn sheet music from this site. The files are provided by a company selling music lesson DVDs, but this music is available for free.
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Review of “Escape from Corporate America”

Friday, May 27, 2011 at 5:20pm by Site Administrator

Pamela Skillings has produced the “how-to” book for anyone who dreads going to their miserable job. Escape from Corporate America outlines what the downtrodden toiler needs to do to actually get up out of his or her cubicle and chase down his or her dreams. Everyone has been there before; you hate your job but you feel like you’ll stuck there forever. Skillings has verbalized our collective feelings in her easy-to-read guide.

Outlining the reasons that we feel helpless and powerless when we toil away in cubicle land, Skillings has provided the kick in the pants many of us need to regain control over our work life. She doesn’t leave you feeling worse about yourself, which is what many of these types of books wind up doing. On the contrary, she addresses our feelings and then makes us realize that we have the capability to actually make the life changing move.

Immediately, Skillings connects with her readers as she says, “I wrote this book because I know exactly how you feel.” We learn that she was a high-powered mover and shaker in the corporate world but felt that her creativity was being sapped on a daily basis. Tired of just thinking about changing careers and idly threatening to do so, she talked to the right people that could help her go through with it. She is not trying to act like she’s better than us because she actually did the make the big move, rather she keeps her humility in tact as she continually sympathizes with our situation. Over and over, she asks why else would we be reading this book if we weren’t ready to grab hold of our lives and leave Corporate America behind us?

Escape from Corporate America is not a rant about what’s wrong with big business. She doesn’t trash capitalism or anything like that. She even cites some great companies to work for. The essence of her message is that as individuals we have to make changes to better suit ourselves. The message is clear that Corporate America isn’t going to look out for the little guy and take care of us through all our travails. Only we can provide the sense of fulfillment that we crave. Beautifully juxtaposing the corporate world and the salvation that awaits us when we do leave adds the extra incentive we need to make our move.

 

Skillings would be better suited make a more stark contrast between the two worlds presented in her offering. Sometimes, the reader feels unsure about how bad Corporate America really is. Nobody wants to sit and read outright bashing of establishment, but sometimes it helps to keep the blood flowing if there are two sides. It also helps when one side is so atrocious that we loathe their existence. Skillings lacks this clarity at times.

Escape from Corporate America is a must-read if you’re considering changing careers and working for yourself. At times, this book can be your best friend when everyone else is telling you that you’re crazy for going down this road. Skillings has come up with a homerun.

To buy the book and read more words of wisdom from Skillings, check out her motivational blog.

 

 

50 Awesome Tools for Researching Your Family’s History

Saturday, April 30, 2011 at 5:56pm by Site Administrator

By Eliza Morgan

Researching family history used to mean spending hours pouring through archives in libraries and public records. With the growing power of the Internet, however, now you may not even have to leave your home to find the information you need about your family. There are loads of sites dedicated to helping people build their family histories, find records and even learn the origins of their family names. Here are a few sites where you can start your search to build a bigger, better family tree.

Websites

These major sites can be a great starting points for your genealogical research.

  1. Ancestry.com: Ancestry.com is one of the largest genealogy sites on the Web, with billions of names that you can search through to find your relatives as well as gain access to historical records, genealogy communities, family tree makers and much more.
  2. RootsWeb: Unlike many of the online genealogy sites, RootsWeb is free to use, and you do not need to pay a monthly or yearly fee for access. Users can browse through searchable databases of historical and genealogical information as well as create online family trees to display their findings.
  3. Geneaology.com: This membership-based site will allow you to search through information, build online family trees, subscribe to certain types of information, and even look at celebrity family trees.
  4. SurnameWeb: This online genealogy project is based solely on the history of your surname. Simply enter in your last name and you’ll get access to loads of resources that can help you trace your name’s history and find others with the same name.
  5. Family Tree Maker Online: Get access to more features online with the website for this popular software choice. Owners of Family Tree Maker can meet and talk to others with the program, read a blog about new features and learn more about genealogy.
  6. US GenWeb Project: This project is dedicated to keeping genealogy research free of charge. It compiles loads of free resources and archives by state as well as providing access to special projects the group works on.
  7. Cyndi’s List: Don’t waste your time scouring the Web looking for genealogy resources. This site organizes just about anything you could need into one large comprehensive guide to the best of genealogy on the Web.
  8. Lost Cousins: Find your long lost cousins with this site. Enter in your family history and the program will put you in touch with anyone else out there who shares the same ancestors.
  9. WeRelate: This wiki project is sponsored by the Foundation for On-Line Genealogy and has grown to become the largest genealogy wiki out there. You can add your own family history to the site and look at the information provided by millions of others.
  10. FamilySearch: This site is home to one of the largest collections of genealogical research tools available. Even better, it’s free, so you don’t have to pay to look through their records.
  11. GeneaNet: Go international with this multi-lingual genealogy site. You’ll be able to search through information, chat with others and build your own family tree online.
  12. Genealogy Today: Here, researchers will find both pay and free databases for their use as well as access to loads of informative articles, guides and helpful information.

Archives and Records

Get access to all kinds of historical records through these online archives.

  1. Library of Congress Local History and Genealogy Reading Room: Take advantage of one of the largest libraries in the United States through this website. You’ll gain access to any genealogical resources the library has and learn a little more about researching family histories.
  2. National Archives and Records Administration: While not always the easiest information to peruse, the National Archives are full of records that can be a big help in your quest for information about relatives.
  3. Social Security Death Index: If you’re looking for more recent relatives, the Social Security Death Index can be a great way to find them. Records go back to 1937 and cover any relatives who were given a Social Security number.
  4. Internment.net: Search through thousands of cemeteries nationwide for the graves of your relatives. You can find out birth and death information as well as additional information about family connections through this site.
  5. Access Genealogy: This free online resource is full of archives you can use. It covers everything from Census records to genealogical records for African Americans.
  6. Footnote: Footnote is an original and innovative site that lets users from all over the world upload original documents and photographs. You may even be able to find some that belonged to your relatives. It’s a great way to learn about your own history as well as that of others.
  7. Genealogy Bank: You’ll be able to search through the archives on this site to find information on your family history. Perhaps one of the best features, however, is the timeline creator which lets you build a timeline of important events in a family member’s life.
  8. Find a Grave: Learn where even your most distant relatives were laid to rest with this tool. If you have photographs you can upload them to the site as well as obituaries and other death information.
  9. DocumentsOnline: Those doing research on relatives from the UK can take advantage of this large archive of records that has been digitized and is available through the website for researchers.
  10. JewishGen: If you are of Jewish heritage you may be able to find information about your ancestors through this site. You can search through records from a number of countries and get in touch with others keeping records of their family history.
  11. Global Gazetteer: Find the homes and resting places of your family members using this site. It has satellite images of locations all over the world to give you an idea of where you’re from.
  12. Census Links: Census records can be tedious to go through, but this site combines many links to sites all over the world to make it just a little less painful to research.
  13. The Records Room: This site combines links to records like birth certificates, census reports, marriage and divorce papers, and much more to make finding the information you need easier.
  14. Vital Rec: Here you’ll find vital records on births, deaths and marriages across the US as well as information on how you can request copies of this information.

Crests and Coats of Arms

Find out what coat of arms represents your family name with these helpful resources.

  1. House of Names: Memorialize your family crest with merchandise from this site. You can get high quality print outs or even mouse pads with your family logo.
  2. All Family Crests: Here you’ll find a simple search tool to help you find a crest, if there is one, that matches up with your family name and you can print it out for free.
  3. Coats of Arms and Family Crests: Find simple renditions of your coat of arms with this easy-to-use site.

Charts and Forms

Keep your family tree information organized and accessible with these tools for charting relationships online and off.

  1. OurTimeLines.com: Here you’ll be able to generate interesting webpages that can give you some insight to the lives of your ancestors. It shows how your life or the lives of anyone in your family fits into major events in history.
  2. Online Family Tree Maker: This free software allows you to connect with others who may already have parts of your family tree online or to start your own. People can then search through your tree for information and you can do the same with theirs.
  3. Geni.com: This sleek and easy-to-use site gives you access to an online family tree maker. It’s private, so only people in your family will have access to the information.
  4. Genealogy Forms and Charts: Get all the charts and forms that professional genealogists use through this site. They’re free to download, print and use at your discretion.
  5. My Family Health Portrait: Chart your family’s medical history with this site. You’ll be able to see where certain risks for illnesses may have come from and create a more comprehensive family health history.
  6. SharedTree: This open source site allows users to create free online family trees and to share their information with other researchers.

Networking

Meet others looking to find out more about their family histories on these sites. Who knows, you might even find a distant relative!

  1. CousinConnect: On this site you’ll be able to submit questions about family members you’re looking for or search through other peoples’ queries to see if you can answer any of their questions.
  2. GenCircles: Here you’ll be able to upload your family tree and share it over the Web. You’ll also be able to talk with others using the program and exchange information and ask questions.
  3. Past Connect: Looking for long lost family heirlooms, photos and documents? You may be able to find them on this site, which collects and lists loads of information floating around out there and can put you in touch with the current owners.
  4. National Genealogical Society: Meet and greet thousands of people nationwide who are into researching family histories with this site.
  5. GenSwap: This feature of Family Reunion.com allows users to exchange their information for help or information from other users out there.
  6. Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness: This organization is dedicated to helping members get the information they need through exchange. One member will do work in their neck of the woods in exchange for help doing research for another member.

Web Tools

These tools can help inform you and make your research a little easier.

  1. Diigo: This Web highlighter and sticky notes app can help you keep track of all the information you’re finding on different websites all over and keep it organized and easier to reference.
  2. Roots Television: This site is entirely dedicated to genealogy and features a number of informative videos that can help educate you on how to improve your search techniques.
  3. One Step Webpages: Steve Morse has taken the work out of accessing loads of online records. Here you’ll find records like those from Ellis Island broken down and ordered so that they’re much easier to look through.
  4. WorldCat: This resource will make it easy to find books, movies, articles and more at a library near you, or let you know where the nearest location of these items is. There is a Firefox plug-in for this site as well.
  5. Family Tree DNA: Take genealogy to the next level by tracking not only records but the actual DNA of your family as well. This site provides the largest resource of DNA records to date.
  6. PAF 5.2: The Church of Latter Day Saints has put together this great research tool. It’s free to download and use, and can help you organize and find loads of information.
  7. Pedigree Soft: Organize your family history with this free software. You can also share it with the world by uploading it to the web.
  8. Clooz: This database program makes it much easier to keep track of all your genealogical information with loads of templates for storing records as well as convenient reports you can print out.
  9. Bygones: Take advantage of this freeware program which is designed to help researchers take and keep together their notes from genealogical research.

50 Fun Ways to Use the Wayback Machine

Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 7:55pm by Site Administrator

Even in its short history, the Internet has gone through serious growth, often shedding old content for new developments. The Wayback Machine offers an archive of what used to be, and the results of searches on the machine are often quite fun. Here are our suggestions for amusing and useful ways to use the machine for yourself.

  1. Find old friends: Reconnect with old chat buddies from your early days online.
  2. Find a manual for your obsolete product: Have you bought a discontinued item on eBay? Get the manual from the manufacturer’s old website.
  3. Take a look at your own site’s growth: Enjoy a trip down memory lane as you track how your site has grown over time.
  4. Create a scavenger hunt: Design a fun hunting game that uses the Wayback Machine to find quirky bits from yesterday’s Internet.
  5. Track the commercialization of the Internet: Marvel at how the Internet has become a great tool for marketing and sales.
  6. Check out your site’s history: If you bought your domain name from someone, see what it looked like before you got your hands on it.
  7. Research a website you’d like to buy: The Wayback Machine is an excellent domainer research tool. Find out if a seller is yanking your chain about any statistics and history by plugging it into the archive.
  8. Find old school photos: Check out your old school’s online newsletter to find dorky photos of yourself.
  9. Save a lost site: If your hosting company dropped off the face of the earth, use the Wayback Machine to recover some of your work.
  10. Reminisce about your old resume: Find your old online resume and enjoy a look back at old jobs.
  11. Create an Internet timeline: Track the Internet’s history, or your own, complete with screenshots.
  12. Review the history of Internet porn: Take a look at how online porn has evolved over the years.
  13. Research conspiracy theories: Sites may be taken down, but with the archive, you can still see what others may not have wanted you to find.
  14. Clear your name: If someone accuses you of stealing information, prove to them you had it online first.
  15. Find old crappy GIFs: Remember when the Internet was full of stupid smiley animations? Check out the Wayback Machine to snag a few and harass people with them.
  16. View a suspended site: Did you go to check out a cool site, only to find out the owner didn’t pay their bill, or overloaded the server? Use the Wayback Machine to pull it up.
  17. Show punk kids how cool you used to be: Know a kid who thinks MySpace is about the coolest thing the Internet has ever done? Let them take a look at some of your old favorite sites.
  18. Settle a bet about who’s been online longer: Show your buddy that you found the Internet 4 months before he did by finding old forum posts.
  19. Create a PDF copy of an old ezine: Retrieve old issues, and preserve them for later reading.
  20. Learn from bad design: Take a look at sites from the early Internet to learn about what not to do.
  21. Reminisce about your old dotcom job: Visit your dot-com’s defunct site and think about the way things used to be.
  22. Compare historical prices: Find out how much a seller paid for the item you’re buying today.
  23. Compare page versions: Analyze how a page has changed by comparing two versions side by side.
  24. Retrive lost content: Find your old resume, papers, and more.
  25. Check out stock prices: See how stock prices have risen and fallen in the past decade or so.
  26. Nail a content thief: Prove that you published content before a thief did, and you’ve got a rock solid case against them.
  27. Make fun of old predictions that never came true: Find sites that predicted the sky would fall on a certain day, and laugh when you realize that day was 5 years ago.
  28. Enjoy pre-coverage of Y2K: Read press releases and worried postings about how Y2K was supposed to screw everything up.
  29. Figure out why you dropped in search engine rankings: Take a look at old stuff that used to work to your advantage, and figure out what you need to bring back.
  30. Take a look at past elections: Revisit the hype of now-forgotten candidates of elections past.
  31. Marvel at the early years of the Internet: In the Web Pioneers collection, you can see some of the sites that shaped the Internet.
  32. Blackmail: This one’s easy. Just find something embarassing on your friend, and screenshot it for future blackmailing.
  33. Check out old promotional sites: See how sites like McDonald’s and Pepsi jumped on the Internet in the early years.
  34. See how generic domain names have evolved: Take a look at the way sites like Porn.com and Milk.com have changed over the years.
  35. Find embarassing old photos: Get photos that have been long taken down, and use them to torture friends and family.
  36. See ads for old cars: Remember what your car looked like when it was brand new.
  37. Research historical prices: See how the cost of software and more has gone up through the years.
  38. Research potential employees: Before you hire someone, see if you can dig up any dirt on them with the machine.
  39. Find deleted LiveJournal entries: Did someone delete a particularly juicy entry? Find it with the Wayback Machine.
  40. Check out pre-"404" pages: Satisfy your curiosity and find out what existed before a page went bad.
  41. Laugh at failed business plans: Check out past business plans of corporations that failed.
  42. Find the goofy website your boss built: Discover your boss’ old crappy website devoted to cats.
  43. Research the past of political candidates: See what political candidates were saying a few years ago.
  44. Check out wedding websites of divorced couples: See the calm before the storm, and look for signs of impending doom.
  45. Research religious wackos: Find out what crazy ideas cults and other strange religious groups have published in the past.
  46. Find out how long your competitor has been established: Figure out whether or not your "first on the web" claim stands up.
  47. Preserve old sites for nostalgia’s sake: If you miss old communities, save your own copy of them with the machine.
  48. Find old news stories: Check out breaking news coverage now that it’s not so "breaking" anymore.
  49. See how big name web sites used to look amateur: Check out sites that have become large, but started out very small.
  50. Check out dot-com casualties in their heyday: See what failed sites like Pets.com used to look like.
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