Fancy Hands Review

When you’re starting up a business, there are a million things that you need to get done, and there’s never enough time in the day.  Whether it’s writing content, forming partnerships, or writing code, an extra pair of hands is extremely helpful so that you can offload some tasks.

It’s too early for me to hire people, and with the amount of travel I’m doing, I didn’t think it would be fair to bring on an intern.

Enter Fancy Hands.  Wile there are quite a few similar virtual administrative services out there, Fancy Hands employs folks here in the US.  I’ve used them for everything from gathering links, to doing research for blog posts, and 9 times out of 10 they’ve done excellent work.  I know that Tim Ferris’ 4-hour work week books mention Ask Sunday, but I decided that I wanted to support people who are working here in our home country.  So far, I’ve been using their biggest package each month and am burning through it with relative ease.

While you can use them to do things like make phone calls or manage your calendar, you can also have them work on some bigger projects for you (that’s pretty much all I give them).  I think of them as my part-time, low-maintenance intern!

If you use this link to sign up, I’ll get a credit and you’ll get 50% off your first month – http://fhands.com/6UqtQMH

 

fancy_hands

 

How to create an infographic for free online

You see them everywhere. Infographics that look like they’re designed by top notch artists, and you wonder how to get one for your own company or brand.  While some of them are, in fact, created by incredible artists, you can use online tools to create them for free or at a low cost if you want to remove their branding.

I recently stumbled upon Venngage and created my first infographic.  Work of art? Not necessarily, but certainly decent enough to share.  The core service is free but includes Venngage’s branding.  If you want to remove that and download your infographic to PDF or PNG format, you’ll need one of their premium plans which start at $19 per month.  The tool was super easy to use and includes quite a few templates, but you can also start from scratch and drag & drop icons, pictograms, maps and much more.  There are some competitive services out there like Piktochart, but I haven’t had a chance to try them out.

As you’re getting started, you’re probably wondering what makes an infographic go viral. While this doesn’t really cover topics, I ran across an article that highlights the science behind viral infographics – colors, # of words, etc.

If you need something that is above and beyond what you can create yourself online, and want to find a designer to create something for you, you can tap an agency like Lemonly to create an infographic.

I also learned that it’s tough to get traction for that infographic on social media, but here’s a handy guide to get you started.  The formatting does seem to be the biggest issue I ran across – and if your goal is to get traffic over to your site, you will only want to show a teaser as they suggested.

As a bonus, Venngage was also really useful for creating a one-sheeter for my other site.  This is pretty basic, but still looks better than what people whip up in Word!

one-sheeter-example

Responsive (Mobile) menu plugin review

If I had tried these plugins before writing my “13 essential plugins” article, they would have definitely made the cut.  After trying a couple of mobile menu plugins in the past (for my other site), I had essentially put the change on the back burner.  The existing theme came with a “responsive” menu, but frankly, it looked horrendous and was pretty embarrassing.

Late last night, I decided that it was worth giving it one more shot and looked for another plugin.  Fortunately, I stumbled across Sevenspark and tried their ShiftNav product (and quickly upgrade to the Pro version).  While it took me a couple of tries to get it right (let’s just say that I didn’t read the tutorial), it was super easy to implement.  The key thing is that you have to go into your Menus area and modify each of your nav items if you want them to behave a certain way.  Easy enough, but leads to frustration if you don’t take a minute to read directions.

I still have some customization to do, but it’s the best plugin of its kind – or certainly among the others I had tried. The best feature is that it easily suppressed my theme’s default menu, so I didn’t have to mess with a lot of code. One key change that I made to make everything look a bit cleaner was add a bit of CSS to hide my standard top menu when the screen gets to a certain size (you can see it on the left screenshot, and when I first implemented the mobile menu it was stacking on top of it, which looked bad).  Also, I had to uncheck the option to shift the body.  Hard lesson learned, but I realized after some time that it was causing some key information not to show up if a user clicked on the “get coupon” button.

Earlier today, I implemented one of their other products, Uber Menu.  I still have a bit of work to do on that one, as well, but in general it already looks way better than the menu that came with my theme.

If you’re looking for a new mobile menu, definitely give Shiftnav a try – especially because the free option is really good, and the pro version is only $9.

Before and after shots below, but the real magic is in the actual menu usability.

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Removing the Yellow Background behind Adsense Ads in WordPress

Have you ever installed a new theme and found that there’s now a yellow background behind your ads?  It happened to me and I kept thinking that something was wrong with my adsense code.  Well it wasn’t…

All you need to do is open your CSS file in your theme and find #fff9c0 or #ff9 (likely where it mentions “ins”), then replace it with white or your background color.  Full instructions provided on Botcrawl if you need more assistance.

13 Essential WordPress Plugins

Six months ago, I decided to create a new affiliate site, OfficialCouponCode.com.  After spending a number of years in leadership roles at leading retailers including Proflowers, Guitar Center, JCPenney and Fossil, I decided that there was a better way to approach affiliate marketing and couponing, so off I went.

Through the journey, I’ve been working as an army of one as a “digital nomad” with a couple of key partners, and have tried a number of plugins which have made the process much easier.

Having come from companies where I had every resource imaginable at my fingertips to building a nimble and scrappy startup in a hyper competitive industry means that I’ve had to quickly discover the best tools out there.

Here’s my list of tools that have proven invaluable.  These are great tools not just for affiliate sites, but for any site out there that is built on WordPress.

13 WordPress plugins and tools that are great for every site:

Relevanssi Premium – What it does:  One of the most important things on any site is site search, but the default site search on WordPress leaves a bit to be desired. Relevanssi Premium allows you to control the weighting of your different types of posts and articles, helping you provide better results to your users.

Pods Content – What it does: Any affiliate site out there needs more content than just what gets spit out of CJ, Commission Junction and the other networks and you need to be able to control where that content goes.  Enter Pods content.  In effect, you create additional zones that will house your content and can either set those up as stand alone, or assign them to an existing taxonomy. In plain english, you can create a zone on your store, category or other pages and customize your content in each of these.

WP Forms – What it does: I’ve tried a few different form providers, and I like WP Forms’ UI, plus you can integrate them with Mailchimp or another email provider so that your email file gets built quickly.  I have had some issues with the captcha and honeypot features, where users end up clicking submit more than once, but it’s a good product and better than some of the others I had tried.

404 Error Logger – What it does:  One day, I had my Google Analytics account open and noticed someone hitting an awful lot of 404 error pages.  They were also typing in URLs that looked like something that someone who would crawl your site be typing in (stuff with /all/, etc).  I quickly installed the 404 error log plugin and used this to find their IP address.  Once that was in place, I was able to block them and keep an eye on others doing the same thing.  Of course, it’s also helpful for finding broken links on or off of your site, as well.

Redirection – What it does:  If you have a lot of pages on your website, you’ll inevitably end up with some broken links or even with bad links pointing to your site.  You can use Redirection to easily route those to the correct URL and can also use it to help with page moves or site migrations.

Collapse-o-matic – What it does: Ever wonder how sites create the “read more” links within long content and then have content expand? I tried a few things, and this worked really well… but I had to use their raw javascript in posts rather than using the shortcode. Either way, it’s been very helpful!

Google Tag Manager – What it does: Rather than placing pixels throughout your website, just add GTM and manage your multitude of pixels that way.  While you don’t really need the plugin to help, it does make it easy to include the tags and manage events and scroll tracking.

Imagify – What it does: If you’re an affiliate site, you likely have thousands and thousands of images/logos. Every K counts, and imagify allows you to compress your images, which in turn helps your site load faster.

WP Rocket – What it does: Having a fast site is essential, both to providing a great customer experience, as well as to SEO.  I’ve tried a few of the caching plugins and WP rocket seemed to provide the best experience.  You may need to tweak the mobile settings to ensure that your site loads, and loads quickly.  This works well in conjunction with a CDN, such as Max CDN.

Loginizer Security – What it does: You’ll inevitable have people trying to hack your password. Loginizer makes it super easy to set up a rule to lock people out after a certain number of attempts.

Wordfence – What it does: As I mentioned, you’ll have all sorts of people trying to scrape your content or do other troubling things to your website.  I use wordfence to block out the IPs that I identify using the 404 error log tool, but I also set up rules within Wordfence to throttle traffic or blacklist IPs when they detect naughty behavior.

Yoast SEO – What it does: One of your primary jobs if you run a website is to ensure that people can find it.  SEO can be brutally tough, but the Yoast SEO plugin (both free and premium) can help you set up title & description templates, add breadcrumbs and more.

WP Rollback – What it does: Have you ever installed a plugin only to find that it’s breaking something? You then panic and wonder the safest way to go back to an old version and are afraid to lose your work? This happened to me with a version of Yoast and I was terrified to lose a bunch of custom content. I used the WP Rollback plugin to go to my previous version and it worked like magic!

Other cool tools & services

Sumome – What it does: They offer a variety of tools, but if you’ve seen the little social icons floating on the side of a website, they’re likely powered by Sumome.  I also use their email capture bar, which integrates with various email service providers.

Mailchimp – What it does: This is an ESP (email service provider), but the best part is that you don’t have to pay when you’re starting out.  You only start getting charged once your file gets to be a certain size. It integrates with some of the other plugins I use.

Hosting Companies

Liquidweb – Liquidweb provides the best support of anyone I’ve tried. When I’m doing fun things like moving from http to https, they’re invaluable and extraordinarily helpful!  Ready to sign up? Here are some Liquidweb coupons.

Dreamhost  – I worked with these guys for many years and it was fine when I just had a low traffic blog, but their support team tends to point you to wiki articles rather than actually helping you solve the issue directly.  I still use them for some sites, but not for anything requiring a higher level of support.

9 Solo Road-Trip Travel Tips for Females

Whether you’re an expert or it’s your first time taking a road trip by yourself, here are some tips to keep you safe and having fun!

Solo Road-Trip Travel Tips for Females

1) Drive during daylight hours when there are more cars passing by in case of emergency

2) Carry some pepper spray and put it in an easily accessible place. I keep one large can, similar to bear spray, in the side of the door and a small one that can fit in my pocket for walks around less desirable areas

3) Find a good hiding spot in your trunk.  I keep my camera bag in a hidden compartment, so if someone does get into my car they’re likely to just see my clothes and snacks.  I also keep a backpack with my “can’t lose” items including my laptop and wallet in the front passenger area and take that with me whenever I stop anywhere.

4) Don’t be afraid to change plans.  I was supposed to head to another state one morning, but knew that I was too tired to drive so I stayed in the same hotel one extra night. It’s not worth the stress and risk of driving when tired.

5) Pick up a 24 pack of water bottles and snacks.  The water is there primarily for safety in case of emergency, but it’s nice to be able to grab one and have a drink if you need it.  It’s much easier than getting into a gallon bottle if you’re thirsty!  Peanut butter is a great thing to pack in case of emergency since it’s full of protein and tasty, you could go quite a long time with a single jar.  But I usually carry a mix of salty & sweet snacks in the car for munching on while I drive.

6) Let your friends know where you are. Provide someone with an initial itinerary and  consider giving them access to “find my iphone” or another GPS program on your phone.

7) Get gas every time you hit a half of a tank.  Depending on where you are driving, you might go through very long stretches without seeing a gas station.  It’s not worth the stress, and it also gives you a chance to stretch your legs every couple of hours.

8) Find some music to dance by.  It’s ok to dance a bit in your car and it will keep you awake. Even if you love mellow music, driving for 6 hours through vast open land is not the place for it. My newest find was Classic by MKTO – I dare you not to dance!

9) Carry a rubber doorstop. It’s a cheap and easy way to add another layer of protection to the hotel door without sticking a chair in front of it.  Just put it about 6 inches inside the door and it will provide another barrier to entry.

Have some tips to share?  Let us know.

Traveling soon? Here are some travel deals.

How to Open RAF Files with Lightroom’s Desktop edition (Fuji X-Pro2)

I’ve been a Nikon shooter for as long as I can remember, but recently picked up a Fuji X-Pro2 to use as a “walking around” camera, as well as for trips where I don’t want to carry as much weight.

Since I tend to travel to places where wifi is limited and don’t want to rely on their CC product, I’ve always used the desktop edition of Lightroom.  When I first tried to import my .RAF files into Lightroom, I kept getting “preview not available” every time and it appears that many people are having the same issue.

Here’s what finally resolved the issue:

  • First, update your Lightroom install to 6.0.  Adobe tries to hide the links to the desktop program, but you can get to it here on this software page about halfway down.  If you are upgrading your older version, you still want to click on where it says “buy” and then just change the option to Upgrade instead of Full
  • Now you can finally import those RAF files!

If you are having problems with other file types, you can check this page to see what the minimum needed versions are for your camera.

 

 

Solo Road Trip – Montana & Wyoming

Assuming that driving back and forth from college doesn’t count, I undertook my first solo road trip these past couple of weeks across Montana and Wyoming.  As a single female traveling alone, I took some precautions but didn’t let them get in my way of seeing two states that I had visited only briefly in the past.

Here are a few places to visit and stay if you decide to take a similar trip.

Jackson Hole

Stay: If you can, stay at Hotel Jackson. Beautiful and modern, and located right in the heart of town. The staff was incredibly friendly and it was an awesome place to start my journey.  I also spent one night at the Wort hotel and while it also had an incredible location, it had quite a bit more of a country/traditional feel.

Work: I work on my other website from the road and often look for a place to hang out for a few hours to catch up on email and tackle projects. Cowboy Coffee was just the spot.

Eat: Many of my meals were quick because I was eager to get out to shoot photos of animals when they come out in the morning and at dusk. Some places I tried were Cafe Genevieve, Persephone Bakery, Gather and Pinky G’s. Of these, Gather was my favorite for dinner and had some delicious starters. Be prepared to spend a lot on meals in Jackson Hole.

See animals:  I had good luck when I was in Jackson Hole and was able to see moose and bears.  Any wildlife photographer will tell you that it takes a lot of persistence to see animals, but it’s well worth it.  I was able to spot a mom and her two bear cubs on Moose Wilson road, and moose on the road to Kelly.  Both sightings were in the early evening between 6 and 8pm.

Tour company: Eco Tour Adventures did a good job, but unfortunately we didn’t see any animals the first day out – which lasted from 6am to 2pm. This was disappointing, but if I hadn’t taken the tour I wouldn’t have known the best spots to see animals the next day.  I used the same company to visit Yellowstone and we did see the key spots in a full day.  The best thing about Eco Tours was the small size – one day we only had about 5 people and the next it was about 7 total.

Bozeman Montana

I absolutely loved Bozeman, especially the main street area and independent shops.  The best place to stay is the Element Bozeman hotel which is right off main street and is modern and very comfortable.  For dinner, check out Copper Whiskey Bar and Grill, and sit at the bar if you’re traveling on your own.  The sunsets from Bozeman and vibrant and the drive up from Jackson Hole takes you through beautiful Big Sky.

East Glacier & The Red Bus Tour

The Glacier Park Lodge is defined as frills-free and rustic… what that meant is that there was a sink in the main bedroom and some very old looking blankets.  Not quite my cup of tea, but perfect for those who want a step up from camping.  The fact that they only show photos of the outside of the hotel should have been a clue!  That being said, the restaurant on site was very good and the staff was nice.  They have some rockers out back with a view of the mountains that you can enjoy with a good book. I stayed one night instead of three and moved over to Whitefish.

The all day Red Bus tour provided a good overview of Glacier National Park.  We saw some beautiful vistas and took the Going to the Sun road, but unfortunately didn’t see much wildlife.  They took us to several of the lodges that their parent company manages, which felt a bit salesy, and we could have likely seen more spots.  The driver of our bus was passionate without being annoying and I’d recommend them to anyone who wants to see a lot of the park without driving.

Whitefish / West Glacier

After a night of a rustic adventure at Glacier Park Lodge, I moved over to the Lodge at Whitefish.  This was a beautiful spot about 40 minutes from the West park entrance and sits right on the lake.  They have some outdoor sofas right in front of the lake which provided a great place to sit, read and watch the sunset.  The rooms have a country feel, but are highly upgraded and comfortable.  Whitefish has a small town area that is perfect to stroll around and explore, along with providing some other restaurant choices.  Overall, Whitefish was a great getaway spot.

Billings

Billings was my last stop before heading home since I abandoned plans to go to South Dakota. It was my least favorite town, in part because it was industrial and felt the least safe to walk around on my own.  The Northern hotel was located right in downtown and primarily operates as a business hotel.  Walkers Bar and Grill around the corner has fantastic pasta and you can keep yourself busy for a while at places like the Pictograph Cave, although it is only about a 3/4 mile loop and goes quickly.  Use Billings as a stopover spot, but don’t allocate much time there.

Ready to travel? Take a look at some of the travel deals on my other site.

A Bit More Press – Digital Nomad and Otherwise

Was working in a Jackson Hole cafe earlier this week when an email came through from a writer that I had connected with a while back.  She picked up a quote about my (very fun) trip to Morocco.

You can read the full story on Insight Guides.

While unrelated to my adventures, I was also grateful to be picked up in some other pieces in Entrepreneur magazine, Businessing and Creative Click Media.