Challenge #3-The Wonderful World of Web Building

My third challenge was to write a review.  I haven’t read a book or watched a movie I really like in a while, so I decided to review websites.writing challenge-3

If you are a business owner there is no better marketing tool that a website. Not only does it allow your customers to find you, but when it’s used with social media and blogs, it’s the most affordable and effective means of advertising available today.

I didn’t learn a lot about websites in college. I tried my hand at creating a website, which wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t that great, either.

I learned how to write html code in my web class, but my teacher candidly told us that if we could get someone do it for us, you might as well take advantage of it.

He was right. I tried building my own through Adobe Dreamweaver, but got so frustrated with it, I threw the book in the back of my closet, where it’s still buried.

I purchased a site from Go Daddy. The site’s tools weren’t very user-friendly and my website ended up looking like crap. I talked to someone who tried to walk me through it, but I couldn’t really understand what he wanted me to do.

Someone suggested I transfer my domain to Google sites. It was easier to use than the Go Daddy site and had several perks, including Google Analytics, but it wasn’t very flashy. I checked into hiring someone to build a custom design, but the price tag nearly floored me.

I stayed with Google sites, mostly because that was my best option. Until I discovered other options.

Once I started checking into affordable sites that were user-friendly and had a variety of templates, I found a couple I liked right away, mostly because they let you try them out before you decide whether or not you want to purchase it.

Wix and Weebly are two sites I would highly recommend. Both are fairly easy to use and depending on your business’ needs, are about as affordable as you can get for a website.

At $49 a year for a starter site (this doesn’t have many perks, but it gets you online and searchable) and a few dollars for a domain name (you can purchase one most anywhere and have it transferred) Weebly is the most affordable out of all the ones I found.

Wix is a little more pricey ($149  a year and includes the domain name) but it has a few perks that Weebly doesn’t. Wix has a newsletter or “Shout Outs” that are easily generated and can be sent out to your email list. (This is great for specials, sales, or events.) It also offers a variety of applications you can integrate into your site.

You can also move the text boxes wherever you want on the page in Wix, while Weebly is a bit tougher to navigate. You can still add text boxes and images boxes, and there are spacers and dividers you can use, but it’s not as easy to do.

While Wix is great for some businesses, I would recommend Weebly for the first-time user or for a business owner who really just wants to get their business online. Weebly is fairly easy to use and has a variety of attractive templates to choose from.

However, both web builders offer other packages and explain the differences very well, so you know exactly what you’re getting.

NOTE**Be sure to read the fine print; some companies make false promises about what you’ll receive for a special or introductory price. Once they have you hooked, they jack up the price.

(For more information on building a website visit meiscommunications.com)

 

 

 

 

 

That’s what friends are for

Scott Loggins and I became friends by accident. I was writing a story about Troop 2, a special needs boy no failscout group in Cedar Rapids, and was introduced to Scott, who was the leader of Venturing Crew 2 at the time.

Venturing Crew is a branch of the Boy Scouts that is open to boys and girls 14-21. It follows the Boy Scout rules and regulations, but this group does not get badges for their efforts. Instead, they receive awards for completing a series of challenges, such as the Venturing Award, which requires 24 hours of community service. Venturing Crew 2 is designed for special needs individuals, as well.

Scott’s son, Andrew, is 23 and a member of the Crew. Because membership is based on cognitive age, rather than actual age, my son, Sean, who is autistic, was welcomed into the group. I got to know the kids and eventually became the leader of the crew. (Scott is also the committee president for Troop 2/Venturing Crew 2.)

But the story doesn’t stop there. Scott, who is also a small business owner and a SCORE mentor, has helped me build my online marketing business, MarkIt CR. There have been several times I’ve wanted to throw in the towel, but Scott’s support and encouragement have helped me see that I just might be able to pull this off.

I didn’t intend to become a business owner and did so by default when I started my newspaper in 2012. After it was apparent I couldn’t get the advertising necessary to keep the paper going, I ended publication of the paper and got a full-time job.

I enjoyed working at Hibu as a pagination specialist (a fancy name for magazine editor), but I was missing the freedom of being my own boss and was already mulling over the idea of starting my own business when I was laid off in April 2014.

I saw this as a sign. With more time on my hands, I could focus on starting a business. However, I still wasn’t convinced that being a business owner was the right path for me. I started asking questions like, “what kind of business would be the most successful?” and “Do I have what it takes?”

I thought about the things I was already pretty good at and what I liked to do. I liked to write,  I knew that much. I also like to help people and I love to create things. Websites, videos, and photography came to mind. So how could I use all these things to my advantage?

Scott help me sort through my confusion to figure out what kind of business I would be happy doing, but also the best chance for success. He didn’t laugh at my wild ideas about what I wanted to do, but explained the pros and cons that each one consisted of.

That’s when MarkIt CR was born. I would help small businesses owners get online and teach them how to use social media to get the most out of their advertising dollars. And because I am a one-woman show, with low overhead, I could do it at an affordable price.

Scott became my go-to guy for every business question I could ever have, and in turn, he consults with me on the writing, web, and social media issues he comes across. He sends me leads for small businesses that might need help getting online. He also opened his door to me as a tenant in his building when I needed space to work.

I was a little leery about becoming a business owner, especially after my newspaper folded, and shared my fears with Scott. He confided in me that his first business wasn’t a success. And neither was the fifth. He told me it took him 10 tries before his business, Kieck’s Career Apparel, became a success. He has since sold it and now owns Air Management in Cedar Rapids (a filter supply company) as well as several other businesses and real estate.

Scott was also on the flood business task force when Cedar Rapids faced one of its biggest challenges of its existence. The Flood of 2008 damaged most of the buildings in the downtown area and Scott was in charge of helping these businesses rebuild or relocate.

But Scott is a humble, behind-the-scenes kind of guy. Like me, he doesn’t like being in the limelight and would much rather work his magic in the background, which he does, magnificently. He is quiet, but he usually gets people to do what he wants. He is always ready to lend a hand and is a great example of what being a good friend means. He won’t sugar-coat anything, which is why I value his friendship the most. He genuinely cares about his friends, and it shows.

Scott convinced me to teach a SCORE class in March, using the Wix website building program, to a group of small business. I hesitated because of my ingrained apprehension of speaking in public (strange for a journalist, I know), but he pointed out, “What’s there to be afraid of?”

He’s right. I’m reminded of the quote, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” After all, nothing is a failure if you learn from it. I see my ventures as stepping stones to something bigger.  Though my newspaper wasn’t a complete success, it was an awesome experience. And just because I may have zigged and zagged my way to an online marketing business, I got here, and I love it. I get to use everything I have ever learned and I’m pretty good at it.

It’s nice to have friends who want to see you succeed. It helps make the journey less intimidating.

 

 

(My) Office Space

For the first time in my life, I have an office. With a real door.

My new office, which is also my first.

My new office, which is also my first.

And not just one in my house, either. This is an actually office with a desk that takes up half the dimensions and a couple of chairs and shelves. True, it doesn’t have my name on the door yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

I have been going back and forth with the whole “owning a business” thing. I have it in my blood. My grandpa owned a grocery store for years in Cedar Rapids, where I grew up. And as a kid, I was the one who wanted to play “store” or “restaurant” when others wanted to play “house.”

But I have a lot of fears, as I’m sure most  entrepreneurs have. (If they don’t they should have some, anyway). As I have found out, there is a lot of comfort in going to a 9 to 5 job and being able to leave your work there.

And I could do that, if I could get one, but as it is, I have had countless rejections in as many months and I’m getting tired of it.

It’s not a lack of skills,but I think employers look at my resume and see that I have only been out of college two years. It doesn’t matter f I started my own newspaper or if I have published a book. I am 51 years old with two years experience, but a lifetime of street-smarts.  Doesn’t that count for something?

So I decided to run with my online marketing idea, MarkIt CR. My niche is that I help small businesses get online at an affordable price. I am a small business owner. I know how tight money is. And I know how valuable my time is. If I were the owner of a small shop and was the only employee, I would love it if I could hire someone to do the dirty work (who happens to like doing it.)

It’s a win-win for everyone involved.

But then I realized that I needed my own space, a place where I could work and NO ONE would bother me. I needed an office.

The building where my new office is belongs to a friend of mine. I asked him if he knew someone who wanted to share office space and said, “As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Can two friends share the same office space without driving each other crazy?”

I think in this case, we can. He and I are both advisors for Venture Crew, an organization that is associated with the Boy Scouts of America. Our group is specifically for special needs boys and girls, and he and I both have sons who are challenged.  The other person who is sharing the office is on the committee for the group.

It’s so nice having my own space, and I couldn’t ask for better office mates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hats off to Isaac’s BirdBrains

Most entrepreneurs have to work at getting their business off the ground.

Isaac models one of the hats his mom makes. Photo by Cynthia Petersen

Isaac models one of the hats his mom makes.
Photo by Cynthia Petersen

But not Erin Maeder.

With a natural talent on her side, Erin, who lives in Cedar Rapids, turns a cold weather necessity into a whimsical conversation piece.

Erin was only 9 years-old when her grandmother gave her a needle and taught her the basics of crochet.

“I mostly just crocheted squares,” she said. “Then about 2 years ago I decided to crochet my son a blackbird hat.”

Erin said that when her friends saw what she had made, they wanted her to make one for them, too.

“That’s where I got the name for the business…Isaac’s Bird Brain-from Isaac’s blackbird hat.”

Since then, Erin said she has literally made thousands of hats and has a picture of every one she’s made, which can be found on her business’ Facebook page.

Erin said she gets a lot of help from her son, too. Isaac, now 3, models the hats his mom makes.

“He’s getting really good at it,” she said with a laugh.

He has two favorite hats which he would wear all the time if Erin let him; a “Geo” hat and a “Jake” hat, which are based on TV cartoon characters.

Erin also crochets slippers, booties, scarves, and mittens.

“I often go online and research what everyone else is doing,” she said.  “I do my best to stay current and competitive.”

Most of the hats only take Erin 1-2 hours to make, but some can be rather complicated. She said she recently completed a Vikings hat, which comes complete with a “helmet” and beard.

And though Erin gets some interesting requests, she doesn’t work from a pattern.

“They send me pictures and I just try to make it the way they want.”

She said it doesn’t always turn out exactly the way it’s supposed to.

“But no one has complained about it yet,” she said with a smile.

Erin participated in her first craft show late last year and sold out of her entire inventory in one day.

“Since it was my first show I didn’t know what to expect,” she said with laugh. “Next time I’ll be better prepared.”

Erin said she hopes to take part in more craft shows next fall, but will continue to take orders for hats and other items on Facebook all year-long.

And as her hats continue to be in demand, Erin is getting ready to go back to school at Mount Mercy University, where she is majoring in Criminal Justice.

Erin has worked at ASAC for the past seven years, helping kids who have drug and alcohol problems.

“That’s really what got me into the Criminal Justice program,” she said. “I love working with kids. I hope to make a career out of it.”

For more information about Erin and Isaac’s Bird Brain, visit her Facebook page.

Mark It CR