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My Parents Can’t Afford College Anymore – What Should I Do?

When most parents offer to fund their child’s tuition, it’s with the expectation that their financial circumstances will remain relatively unchanged. Even with minor dips in income or temporary periods of unemployment, a solid plan will likely see the child through to graduation.

Unfortunately, what these plans don’t tend to account for is a global pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy and job market.

Now, many parents of college-age children are finding themselves struggling to stay afloat – much less afford college tuition. This leaves their children who were previously planning to graduate college with little or no debt in an uncomfortable position.

So if you’re a student suddenly stuck with the bill for your college expenses, what can you do? Read below for some strategies to help you stay on track.

Contact the University

Your first step is to contact the university and let them know that your financial situation has changed. You may have to write something that explains how your parent’s income has decreased.

Many students think the federal government is responsible for doling out aid to students, but federal aid is actually distributed directly by the schools themselves. In other words, your university is the only institution with the authority to provide additional help. If they decide not to extend any more loans or grants, you’re out of luck.

Ask your advisor if there are any scholarships you can apply for. Make sure to ask both about general university scholarships and department-specific scholarships if you’ve already declared a major. If you have a good relationship with a professor, contact them for suggestions on where to find more scholarship opportunities.

Some colleges also have emergency grants they provide to students. Contact the financial aid office and ask how to apply for these.

Try to Graduate Early

Graduating early can save you thousands or even tens of thousands in tuition and room and board expenses. Plus, the sooner you graduate, the sooner you can get a job and start repaying your student loans.

Ask your advisor if graduating early is possible for you. It may require taking more classes per semester than you planned on and being strategic about the courses you sign up for.

Fill out the FAFSA

If your parents have never filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because they paid for your college in full, now is the time for them to complete it. The FAFSA is what colleges use to determine eligibility for both need-based and merit-based aid. Most schools require the FAFSA to hand out scholarships and work-study assignments.

Because the FAFSA uses income information from a previous tax return, it won’t show if your parents have recently lost their jobs or been furloughed. However, once you file the FAFSA, you can send a note to your university explaining your current situation.

Make sure to explain this to your parents if they think filing the FAFSA is a waste of time. Some schools won’t even provide merit-based scholarships to students who haven’t filled out the FAFSA.

Get a Job

If you don’t already have a job, now is the time to get one. Look at online bulletin boards to see what opportunities are available around campus. Check on job listing sites like Monster, Indeed and LinkedIn. Make sure you have a well-crafted resume and cover letter.

Try to think outside the box. If you’re a talented graphic designer, start a freelance business and look for clients on sites like Upwork or Fiverr. If you’re a fluent Spanish speaker, start tutoring other students. Look for jobs where you can study when things are slow or that provide food while you’re working.

Ask anyone you know for suggestions, including former and current professors, older students and advisors. If you had a job back home, contact your old boss. Because so many people are working remotely these days, they may be willing to hire you even if you’re in a different city.

It may be too late to apply for a Resident Advisor (RA) position now but consider it as an option for next year. An RA lives in the dorms and receives free or discounted room and board in exchange for monitoring the students, answering their questions, conducting regular inspections and other duties.

Take Out Private Loans

If you still need more money after you’ve maxed out your federal student loans and applied for more scholarships, private student loans may be the next best option.

Private student loans usually have higher interest rates and fewer repayment and forgiveness options than federal loans. In 2020, the interest rate for federal undergraduate student loans was 2.75% while the rate for private student loans varied from 3.53% to 14.50%.

Private lenders have higher loan limits than the federal government and will usually lend the cost of tuition minus any financial aid. For example, if your tuition costs $35,000 a year and federal loans and scholarships cover $10,000 a year, a private lender will offer you $25,000 annually.

Taking out private loans should be a last resort because the rates are so high, and there’s little recourse if you graduate and can’t find a job. Using private loans may be fine if you only have a semester or two left before you graduate, but freshmen should be hesitant about using this strategy.

Consider Transferring to a Less Expensive School

Before resorting to private student loans to fund your education, consider transferring to a less expensive university. The average tuition cost at a public in-state university was $10,440 for the 2019-2020 school year. The cost at an out-of-state public university was $26,820, and the cost at a private college was $36,880.

If you can transfer to a public college and move back home, you can save on both tuition and housing.

Switching to a different college may sound like a drastic step, but it might be necessary if the alternative is borrowing $100,000 in student loans. Remember, no one knows how long this pandemic and recession will last, so it’s better to be conservative.

The post My Parents Can’t Afford College Anymore – What Should I Do? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What Is A Blog, How Do Blogs Make Money, & More

What is a blog and how does it work? Can you really make money blogging? How much do bloggers make?

Over the years, I have received many questions about blogging. People want to know what is a blog, how they work, is it really a way for people to make money, and so on. 

I completely understand all of the questions. While blogging has now been around for more than a decade, it’s still a fairly new way to earn money. I still have people give me funny looks when I tell them what I do for a living.

But, I didn’t really know what a blog was when I first started mine. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I didn’t know how people made money from blogs or anything else like that.

Pretty much everything I learned about blogging was through trial and error, and I made a lot of mistakes over the years, haha! Honestly, it’s because of those mistakes that I’m where I am right now.

My life has completely changed because of blogging. I was able to quit a job I didn’t love, I travel full-time, and I can retire pretty much whenever I want. 

It’s funny to think about how far I’ve come, especially since I had no idea what blogs even were.

Back then, I also never realized that you could learn how to earn money blogging. I don’t think I even looked into it because that was never my goal when I first learned how to start a blog. I certainly never thought blogging would drastically change my future, but I’m so glad I gave it a shot.

I had so many questions when I started my blog, and I learned 99% of what I know the hard way – by making mistakes.

I know that many new bloggers probably have some of the same questions I had because I receive hundreds of emails a day from readers asking how to start a blog, how to make a living through blogging, and more.  

Today, I’m going to help you by answering some of the most common questions I receive about blogging.

Some of the questions I talk about include:

  • Is 2021 too late to start a website/blog?
  • How do I come up with a blog name?
  • What blogs make the most money?
  • How do you design a blog?
  • How many views do you need to make money blogging?
  • How many blog posts should I have before launching?
  • How do I get my blog noticed by Google?
  • How long until a blog makes money?
  • How do blogs make money?
  • How do bloggers get paid?

I know that blogging can seem scary in the beginning, but remember that most other bloggers were in the exact same place you were when they started.

Blogging, just like any other hobby or job you start, takes time to learn what you’re doing. You have to do research, read about what other people have done, and learn as you go.

For some people this can be frustrating at first, but good things always do take time.

Blogging isn’t as easy as it looks from the outside. Even the most successful bloggers still spend time learning how to do new things. I am constantly signing up for new courses and learning from other people.

Even though it takes time and can feel difficult, blogging is something you can do. You can earn money blogging so that you can work towards living the life you want. 

One of the reasons I love blogging so much is that you can do it all on your own time. You don’t have to learn everything at once. You can start your blog and grow it at your own pace.

While there is no 100% guarantee that you will be able to earn a full-time living by blogging, I know many bloggers who are full-time and are very happy with it.

Content related to what is a blog:

  • 12 Free Resources To Grow Your Blog Fast
  • How I Successfully Built A $1,000,000+ Blog
  • How To Quit Your Job And Become A Full-Time Blogger

What is a blog? And your other top questions about blogging.

 

What is a blog?

Before we begin, I want to go over what is a blog definition and some other basic blogging questions.

A blog is a website.

Google’s definition of a blog is, “a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.”

A blog is content that is written on a website. It usually consists of articles, like the one you are reading right now.

What is a blog used for? Blogs can vary from person to person. 

You may create a blog to journal, to teach on a topic, to sell something, to tell a story, and so on. There’s no exact rules about what your blog has to be used for.

What is a blog post? Blog posts are individual entries on a blog. Blog posts usually include text, but they can also have photos, videos, infographics, and more.

An example of a blog post is what you’re reading right now. There is a title, its own URL (that’s the web address), and text where I share in depth information.

 

Is 2021 too late to start a website/blog?

No, it’s not too late, and you haven’t missed out.

The online world is still so new, and each year there are new ways to monetize and grow your blog.

For example, it wasn’t until the past few years that companies and advertisers started realizing the value of online influencers, such as bloggers, and that means even more opportunities to earn money blogging.

Before that, companies mainly wanted to advertise with celebrities, but it is shifting to bloggers and other online influencers (such as Youtubers and Instagrammers!).

The online world is a huge place and it is just going to keep growing. Every blogger earns a living in slightly different ways, and everyone has a different message and story. Plus, there are so many different ways to earn money blogging, and the options have continued to change and grow since I started blogging.

Of course, because the blogging world keeps changing, there will constantly be new things for you to learn, but that will probably always be the case for managing any kind of business.

So, if you are thinking about starting a blog, today is the day. Don’t let your fears hold you back any further! You can find my free How To Start a Blog Course here.

 

How do I come up with a blog name?

Deciding on a name for your blog is probably one of the hardest parts of blogging.

Even if you know exactly what you want to blog about and have some articles written, deciding on your blog’s name may be stopping you from actually creating your website and launching it.

I don’t remember how I came up with Making Sense of Cents, but I’m glad I did. It is still catchy, and I receive compliments on it to this day.

Coming up with a blog name shouldn’t lead to stress, so here are my tips for deciding on a blog name:

  • Make it easy. My blog name isn’t the easiest for people to spell, and even I sometimes jumble it when I’m spelling it. So, my top tip would be to make sure that your blog name is easy for people to type or spell out loud. I’ve seen blog names that are extremely long, contain words that are difficult to spell, and so on. Instead, you should make it as easy as possible for your readers to find you.
  • Think about what you’ll be writing about. Think about the topics you want to write about, who your target audience is, and more, and then jot down descriptive words that are related to each. Brainstorming like this is a good way to come up with a blog name!
  • Use a thesaurus to find similar words. If your first or second choices are taken or if you want to see if there are some catchier sounding blog names, using a thesaurus can help you with some new ideas.
  • Make it catchy. You may want to think of something funny, use alliteration, or something else to make your blog name catchy and memorable.
  • Use your name. If you don’t want something catchy and/or if you think you’re not creative enough, then just use your name. It’s super easy that way, and more and more people are starting to do this. 

See, creating a name for your blog can be easy!

 

What blogs make the most money?

There are many different types of blogs that make money, and you can monetize nearly any kind of blog.

So, how do you determine what to write about?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. I always recommend creating a blog around a topic that you are passionate about, that you are an expert in, that you like, or something else along those lines.

This can make blogging feel fun instead of like a chore.

You can blog about several topics or you can blog about one specific thing, such as personal finance. For me, I cover a ton of different topics here on Making Sense of Cents. I talk about personal finance, life, travel, RVing, sailing, self-help, and more.

Some things that you may want to think about when choosing your blog topic include:

  • What are you passionate about? I always recommend that you start by thinking about what you love doing. Perhaps it’s a sport that you really love, crafts, cooking, managing money, travel, or something else. Whatever it is, blogging about your passion is great because that will show in your writing, and your readers will enjoy reading your posts.
  • What blogs do you enjoy reading? If you are thinking about starting a blog, I’m assuming it’s because you probably enjoy reading blogs yourself. If that’s the case, then you may want to think about which blogs you really enjoy reading and possibly blog about something similar.
  • What are you an expert in? Now, you don’t need to be an expert in your blog’s topic to earn money blogging (more on that below in the next section), but if you are an expert at something, then this could be a topic that you blog about. There are many successful “How-To” websites because people love to learn new things through blogs. And, there is probably something you could teach (everyone’s an expert at something, even if you don’t realize that yet!). Think about the questions your friends and family are always asking you about, topics that you enjoy helping others with, and so on.
  • What things do you like learning about? Like I said above, you don’t need to be an expert in a topic to blog about it. People LOVE reading blogs from people who are learning or trying new things. This is because everyone has to start somewhere, and people love following the journey and seeing how something is actually done. So, if you are learning how to earn money blogging, for example, that could be where you start your blog. You can write about all of your mistakes, talk about what you’ve learned, show how you have tried and reviewed different options, and so on.

To learn how to make money with a blog, your blog can be about anything and/or everything. It’s entirely up to you.

Below is a list of possible blog examples and blog topic ideas. The list doesn’t end here either. Choose one, all, or some. It’s all up to you.

  • Lifestyle
  • Home
  • Family
  • Finance
  • Crafts
  • DIY
  • Small business
  • Outdoor activities
  • Fitness and health
  • Food
  • Inspiration and advice
  • Animals
  • Travel
  • Games
  • Relationships
  • School
  • Electronics, and more!

That’s the beauty of having a blog – it can be about anything and you can still earn money from it.

There are a few topics I would avoid if you aren’t an expert, like blogging about legal issues, tax issues, or medical advice. You could get someone in a lot of trouble if you gave them the wrong information.

 

What is the best blogging platform to make money?

Your blog should be self-hosted if you want to earn money blogging. This is actually one of the first things you should do.

I recommend that you start on self-hosted WordPress (this tutorial will help you start your blog the correct way). I cannot say this enough, but I do not recommend Blogger or WordPress.com (you want the self-hosted version, which is WordPress.org – confusing, I know). Buying that $10 domain name from Blogger or GoDaddy does not mean you are self-hosted either.

Unless you self-host your blog, advertisers, companies, and readers will still know you are on Blogger or free WordPress, and that can look unprofessional. Plus, your blog can be deleted at any time and for no reason if you are using a free version, which actually happened to me. Even though you may save some money in the beginning, not being self-hosted can hurt your chances of earning money through your blog.

Seriously, just trust me. Go with self-hosted WordPress, and it will significantly increase your chances of monetizing your blog.

If you want further proof, take a look at my past income reports. You can tell that my blogging income didn’t take off until I switched to WordPress. That right there is a lot of proof that being self-hosted on WordPress is the way to go!

To recap, the positives of being self-hosted on WordPress through Bluehost include:

  • Your blog will look more professional meaning you will increase your chances of making money online.
  • You will have complete control over your blog.
  • You own your blog, and it can’t be deleted for any reason.

 

How do you design a blog?

To create your blog, I recommend heading to my tutorial: How To Start A WordPress Blog On Bluehost.

After that, you will have three options when it comes to designing your blog:

  1. Designing your blog on your own
  2. Paying someone to design your blog
  3. Purchasing a premade theme (the quickest option and surprisingly affordable)

I usually recommend that a new blogger purchase a premade blog design, such as through Beautiful Dawn Designs. She provides great premade designs for just $45 and this is probably the easiest and quickest design option.

 

How much do I have to spend before I can earn money blogging?

When I first started my blog, I spent almost NOTHING on blogging expenses.

I spent less than $100 the first year and not too much more in the second year.

In fact, I probably went a few years when I was only spending about 1%-2% of my revenues on blogging expenses.

Now, some of my expenses include:

  • My computer
  • The actual blog (design, hosting, etc.)
  • Courses, guides, and ebooks
  • My email (newsletter) list
  • Virtual assistant and editor
  • Technical management
  • Transaction fees

But, you do not need to spend money on all of these things to earn money blogging.

Learn more about my expenses at My Complete List of Monthly Expenses for a Multi Million Dollar Blog.

 

How many views do you need to make money blogging?

You do not need millions of pageviews per month to earn money blogging, but if you want to increase your income, it will be important to increase your page views.

Every blog is different, and it isn’t always the blogs with the largest number of readers that make the most money. That’s because once you understand what your readers want, understand how to effectively reach out to companies for partnerships, and know how to charge the correct rate, you can make a good income online in many cases, regardless of the amount of pageviews you receive.

But, if you want to increase your pageviews, here are my tips:

  1. Publish high-quality blog posts. Readers come back to blogs with high-quality and helpful posts. I recommend that your blog posts be at least 750 words, but more wouldn’t hurt either. The majority of my blog posts are around 1,500 to 3,000 words (this one is close to 5,000 words!).
  2. Be active on Pinterest. Pinterest is one of my top traffic sources. To increase your pageviews with Pinterest, I recommend creating great images, making sure the description and title of your images are catchy, pinning regularly, and only pinning long images. I use Picmonkey to edit all of my images and Tailwind to schedule them.
  3. Be active on other social media sites. Social media lets you interact with your audience more and can help you expand your audience. Besides Pinterest, you may want to check out Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, and others.
  4. Post regularly. If you want to earn money blogging, you should publish something at least once a week. Going for weeks or months at a time without a blog post can lead to readers forgetting about you.
  5. Network with other bloggers. You should look at other bloggers as friends and colleagues, not competition. This means you may want to interact with them on social media, reach out to them via email, attend conferences, and more. Of course, be genuine and give more than you take.
  6. Guest post. Guest posting is a great way to reach a new audience and helps build partnerships with other bloggers.
  7. Make sure it’s easy to share your content. I love sharing posts on social media, but it gets frustrating when some blogs make it more difficult than it needs to be. You should always make sure it’s easy for readers to share your content. This could mean making your social media icons easy to find, having all of the info input that is needed for sharing (title, link, and your username), and so on. Also, you should make sure that when someone clicks on one of your sharing icons the title isn’t in CAPS (I’ve seen this too many times). No one wants to share a blog post when it sounds like you’re screaming at them.
  8. Create catchy headlines. The title of your post is a major factor influencing whether readers click over or not. I like to use the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to help me with my headlines.
  9. Learn SEO. SEO (search engine optimization) is not something I could teach in such a small section, but I recommend doing your research and learning more about what it is and how it can help you.
  10. Make it easy for readers to browse. If you want more pageviews, you should make it as easy as possible for readers to read your other blog posts. Readers should be able to easily find your blog homepage, categories, tags, search bar, and so on. Also, I recommend including links for related posts in every single one of your blog posts.

 

How often should I blog?

I recommend publishing a blog post at least once a week.

This is because consistency is important when it comes to blogging.

I started out publishing short blog posts a few times a week. Now, I try to do just one long blog post each week. I find that works best for me and Making Sense of Cents.

Others may decide to blog every single day, and some may try every other day. It all depends on what you would like to do.

 

How many blog posts should I have before launching?

I recommend simply just launching your blog with one blog post. You can continue to add more as you go.

I recommend this because you won’t have a ton of readers in the beginning anyways, so just getting started is going to be your best plan of action.

Too many people overthink this question, which just delays them from actually starting their blog.

 

What is the ideal length for a blog post?

The ideal length varies. I usually recommend that a blog post be at least 750 words.

For Making Sense of Cents, my blog posts are almost always at least 2,000 words, and I have written some huge whoppers (like this one) that are around 5,000 words too.

The ideal length for your article will depend on your niche, and the topic that you are writing about.

 

How do I get my blog noticed by Google?

For your blog to be found on Google search results, you’ll want to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

You can sign up for The SEO Starter Pack (FREE Video Training) – Level up your SEO knowledge in just 60 minutes with this FREE 6-day video training.

  • The exact template that helped my site earn $95,000 in affiliate income last year
  • How I grew my blog to over 80,000 page views a month in 14 months
  • How to Optimize a Blog Post for SEO

 

How long until a blog makes money?

This is a hard question to answer, and it’s also one of the most common questions I receive.

As you can tell from my past income reports, it took me nearly a year of blogging to start earning a few hundred dollars a month from my blog. After two years of blogging, I was earning several thousands of dollars a month, which was all on the side of my day job.

I know some bloggers who were making thousands of dollars a month after just a few months of blogging. There are bloggers out there who began a year or two after me and are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. There are also other bloggers who aren’t making any money at all.

As you can see, blogging is not a get-rich-quick scheme and there isn’t a timeline for when you will start to earn money blogging. However, if you are serious about it, you never know what it may turn into.

It all depends on you, the effort you put into your blog, whether you have the time to learn how to monetize your blog, and more.

 

How do blogs make money?

There are several ways to earn money blogging, including:

  • Affiliate marketing – I recommend signing up for 10 Easy Tips To Increase Your Affiliate Income to learn more
  • Blog sponsorships
  • Display advertising
  • Product sales
  • Staff writing

I go in depth on each way monetization method here – How To Earn Money Blogging: Your Top Questions Answered.

 

How do bloggers get paid?

Many of you are interested in blogging, but you aren’t sure where the income actually comes from.

How does the money actually get to you?

You receive blogging income from whoever is paying you.

  • If it is affiliate marketing you are providing, then you are paid by the company that makes the product or service. When someone buys something or signs up through your link, that’s when you get.
  • If someone is paying you to place an advertisement on your website, then you get paid by the company who you are advertising for.
  • If you are publishing a sponsored post, then you are paid by the company who is sponsoring that post.
  • If you have display ads on your website, such as with Google Adsense, then you are paid by Google or by any number of other companies.

There are many companies and blogging networks out there that you can use to earn money blogging, and they usually pay you through PayPal or with a check in the mail.

 

What blogging ebooks and courses do you recommend?

It takes a lot of work to grow and build a successful blogging business!

If you want to earn money blogging, then you may want to look into buying ebooks and/or courses that will teach you about the topics that will help you become a better blogger from the very beginning. Plus, there are many blogging secrets that you just can’t find by searching the internet. So, by taking a course or reading an ebook, you will learn the exact steps to take to help you succeed.

I’m almost always taking new blogging-related courses because I know that there is always something new to learn.

Here are the ebooks and courses that I recommend for bloggers:

  • Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. I share my exact strategy and tips in this very informative online course. If you’re a blogger, then you NEED this course. I show you exactly how to make passive income from blogging, even while you’re sleeping.
  • 21 Strategies I Used to Increase My Monthly Page Views from 17k to 400k+ in 10 Months. Lena Gott’s guide is full of great information on how to increase your blog’s page views. If you are feeling stuck or if you are a new blogger, check out this resource! Lena went from 17,000 monthly page views to 400,000 and shares all of her best tips in this guide.
  • Making Sense of Sponsored Posts. I launched this course with my sister, Alexis of Fitnancials, in 2018 to help bloggers earn money through sponsored posts. Between the two of us, we earn around $20,000-$30,000 a month from sponsored posts. We teach finding sponsorship deals, maintaining partnerships, and how to always make sure that you are helping your readers.
  • My favorite Pinterest course is Pinterest Traffic Avalanche. This course shows you how to get free traffic from Pinterest to your blog. You’ll learn about Pinterest SEO, how to set up Rich Pins, how to create viral content, how to make Pinterest images, all about group boards, and many other valuable Pinterest strategies.
  • If you want to learn about Facebook ads, I recommend reading How One Blogger Grew His Blog to Over 2 Million Visitors In A Year.

The blogging ebooks and courses above will help you to create a successful blog. They will show you how to master Facebook, get crazy traffic from Pinterest, grow your blogging income, and more.

 

If blogging is so great, then why doesn’t everyone do it?

I hear questions like this pretty often. I also get a lot of people asking me, “If it’s so easy, why don’t you just start multiple blogs and make even more money?”

Blogging is not printing money.

It’s not a scam, and it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Learning how to earn money blogging is work, and just like with all jobs – not everyone wants what you want.

And, for every successful blog out there, there are probably hundreds of bloggers who will never earn money blogging. While you can earn money blogging, not all bloggers will.

It would be like saying that 100% of people who start a business will see success. That is just never going to happen – businesses fail, business owners have a change of heart, and others just don’t find it enjoyable.

I know I am always talking about the positives of blogging, but I also like to mention how it’s not the easiest.

After all, if blogging was easy, then everyone would do it and everyone would make thousands of dollars a month.

But as you know, that’s not the case.

Not everyone is going to earn money blogging because it is WORK! Most new bloggers quit just a few months in. A few months is not enough time to see if your blog will be successful. It took me six months before I started to earn money blogging, and I only earned $100. Now, I have made over $5,000,000 from my blog over the years.

It’s funny/weird to think about what life would be like if I would have quit back then.

Just like you, I went from asking “what is a blog?” to where I am now. And, I’m constantly learning new things about blogging and that is one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much.

Once you realize that blogging is hard, you will be ahead of 99% of everyone else in the game. Don’t assume, like most people do, that blogging is easy money.

Starting a blog can be difficult. But, all bloggers start at the same point.

I remember being so lost when I first started my blog. I had to learn everything the hard way – it sure was difficult at times.

But, I have always really enjoyed blogging. I think that is so important when it comes to this type of business – you either need to have passion in your blog and/or passion in what your blog allows you to do in your free time (such as travel or spending more time with your family).

 

Have other blogging questions?

Don’t fret!

I have other blog posts similar to this one where I have answered many other blogging questions.

Please head to How To Earn Money Blogging: Your Top Questions Answered for answers to questions such as:

  • How does a blogger network with other bloggers?
  • What processes do you have with new blog posts?
  • In what ways can I start making money from a blog?
  • What is affiliate marketing?
  • What are sponsored posts?
  • What is display advertising?
  • Can I create my own product to sell on my blog?
  • Do you have to pay taxes on blogging income?
  • Where do you get your photos from?
  • Why do I need an email list for my blog?
  • How do you think of ideas for new blog posts?

I was going to include all of those questions here but that would have made this blog post well over 10,000 words!

What other questions do you have about blogging?

The post What Is A Blog, How Do Blogs Make Money, & More appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

How to Increase Your Earning Potential

Every year presents new lessons we should incorporate on this life journey, and this one, in particular, is no exception. In a world that is ever-changing one thing that has to remain the same is our ability to pivot when necessary. Whenever life challenges arise, we often make changes and shift out of force rather than free choice. While this logic can be applied to every aspect of our lives it’s an especially crucial concept as it relates to our finances. There’s no need to wait until your employer needs to decrease headcount or reduce work hours to jumpstart your rediscovery process. Make the decision today that no matter what happens within the economy, you are making the strides to guarantee your earning power doesn’t rest in the hands of someone else.

Set yourself apart and strengthen your skills

Often times, the number one thing you can do before executing plans of any kind is focus on strengthening your skills. Are others able to depend on you?  If you desire to run your own business or be a high-performing, contributing employee – are you reliable? Being able to breakdown complex situations and produce viable solutions, paying special attention to detail, and asking the right questions at the right time are skills that many often have, but have yet to master. Focusing on any skills that may come naturally to you while achieving mastery, in the long run, will absolutely contribute to the opportunities you are afforded over other candidates. It’s not about competition, because what’s for you won’t pass you by. It’s about actively showcasing you are indeed the best candidate with the physical results to prove it.

Seek out new opportunities and expand your skillset

People believe there are only a few ways to bring in additional income – one being a side hustle. This isn’t necessarily the case. Seeking out opportunities within your current or new place of employment can be just what you need to make substantial strides in increasing your earnings as well as visibility. Make yourself familiar with the Human Resources policies for promotions and role transitions. Look into if there are side projects you can add to your workload that can increase your skillset while being introduced to a new audience of people; consider exploring that. Be sure to document the pros and cons of the newly added responsibilities while making sure it aligns with where you ultimately want to be. Don’t shy away from having a conversation with your manager and making your goals known.

Ask for more (and quantify it)

Employers have mid-year and end of year reviews to go over performance goals and ensure the work you’ve done over time aligns with the responsibilities of the team as well as the company. While this is protocol, as an employee you don’t have to wait until this designated time to discuss career goals. Not only does this conversation create awareness between you and your manager – it allows them to understand your desire for more. I’m sure we’ve all had less than desirable bosses, coworkers, and teams. We’ve also been in situations where we know that the work required of us was so much more than the actual amount of money we were taking home. To avoid the unfortunate cycle of being overworked and underpaid that many fall into, have an open and candid conversation with management. Be sure to quantify every task and tie a metric to it if possible. This helps to build your professional story while also making sure your resume stays current for all new opportunities as they arise.

Start a side hustle

When your friends, family, or peers often ask you to complete something and you enjoy doing it; what is that ‘thing’? What talents do you innately have that seem as if it doesn’t require a huge amount of effort? The answers to these questions should birth the idea of your new side hustle. As daunting as it may sound, take the time to loosely create a plan. Remember, this is scalable! Go at the pace that is most comfortable for you and can transition well into your lifestyle. Solicit the help of family and friends while using your larger network to advertise your talent. Social media and word of mouth can go a very long way – use all outlets to promote yourself and your services.

Never underestimate the power of networking

We all have a comfort zone and typically stay within those walls on a regular basis unless probed. However, do you consider the opportunities that could be available to you by adding several new people to your network? Utilize employee resource groups at your place of employment, various professional networks in your local cities, and other organizations that have a virtual platform. Do a quick Google search based on your preferred industry and start the journey of expanding your network. There’s a very familiar phrase we’ve all heard at some point, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” LinkedIn is a great social media platform to engage with professionals all over the world on various subject matters and topics. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and make the connections that could lead you to new opportunities.

Become a lifelong learner

Make a commitment to yourself that no matter what happens, you will always seek knowledge, no matter the method. Explore personal and professional learning opportunities. This may be pursuing an advanced degree to expand opportunities. For others, it can be obtaining a certification within your desired field to land a better position – resulting in a salary increase. If either of those doesn’t sound appealing or fit within your current life circumstances, you can always attend conferences, listen to webinars, podcasts, and so many other cost-effective (or free) learning channels to keep your skills in top shape. This could be listening to an audible book while driving in your car or reading a new article every day related to your industry before getting your day started – learning is limitless!

The post How to Increase Your Earning Potential appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Amex discounting domestic airfare for Platinum cardholders

Great news for Amex Platinum cardholders: Through the end of March, The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express can book discounted domestic airfare through Amex Travel. The discount works similarly to American Express’ International Airline Program, which offers discounted premium cabin airfare on international flights. This promotion, however, …

Source: thepointsguy.com

Minimum Payments on a Credit Card

Your minimum monthly payment is the lowest amount that you need to pay on your credit card balance. Any less could result in a derogatory mark, any more will clear more of the principal. 

Your monthly payment is one of the most important aspects of your credit card debt and failure to understand this could seriously impact your credit score and leave marks on your credit report that remain for up to 7 years.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how these payments operate and how you can quickly clear your credit card debt.

How Minimum Payments on a Credit Card are Calculated

The minimum payment is calculated as a percentage of the total balance at the end of the month. This percentage ranges from 2% to 5%, but it has been known to go lower. 

As an example, if you have a $5,000 credit card balance and are required to pay 5% a month, then your monthly payment will be $250. However, this only covers the principal, which is the money that you borrowed. It does not cover the interest, which is where things get a little complicated and expensive.

What Influences Your Minimum Monthly Payment?

The reason credit card interest is so high is because it compounds. This means that if you have an annual percentage rate of 20% and a debt of $20,000, that debt will climb to $24,000, at which point the next billing cycle will commence and this time you’ll be charged 20% on $24,000 and not $20,000.

However, credit card interest is calculated daily, not yearly. To arrive at your daily percentage rate, simply divide your interest rate by 365 (the number of days in a year) and then multiply this by your daily balance.

For example, if we stick with that 20% interest rate, then the daily rate will be 0.00054%. If we multiply this with the daily balance, we get an interest rate of $2.7 for the first day. Multiply this by 30, for the total days in a billing cycle, and it’s $81. That’s your total interest for the first month.

So, when we calculate the 2% minimum monthly payment, we’re calculating it against $5,081, not $5,000, which means we get a total of $101.62, reducing the balance to just $479.38.

In other words, you pay over $100, but reduce the balance by a little over $20 when you make that monthly payment. If penalty fees and interest rates are added to that, it will reduce in even smaller increments.

Pros and Cons of Only Paying the Minimum Payment on your Credit Card

As discussed above, it’s imperative that you make the minimum payment, avoiding any late payment charges or credit score reductions. However, if you only make those minimum payments every month then it will take a long time to clear your balance and you may struggle to keep your head above water.

The Benefits of Paying More Than the Minimum

Many borrowers struggle to pay more than the minimum not because they don’t have the money, but because they fail to see the benefits. They focus on the short-term and not the long-term, seeing an extra $100 payment as a lost $100 in the present, as opposed to a saved $500 in the future.

However, if you can get over this mindset and start paying more than the minimum, you will do your future self a huge favor, helping with all of the following:

Shorten the Term and Lessen the Interest

Every extra dollar that you add to your minimum payment can help you get out of debt quicker than if you simply stick with the minimum. This is true for all debts—a higher monthly payment means that more money goes towards the principal, which means there is less interest to compound.

Credit card debt is like a snowball gathering momentum as it rolls, and this is exacerbated every time you miss a payment and are hit with penalty fees. By paying more than the minimum, you’re taking a giant chunk out of that snowball and slowing its progression.

You’ll Improve Your Credit Utilization

Your credit utilization ratio is one of the most important parts of your credit report, counting for 30% of your total. This ratio takes your total available credit (such as a credit limit on a credit card) and then compares it to total debt (such as the balance on that credit card). The higher the number, the more of your credit has been used and the more your credit score will suffer.

Every time you pay more of your credit card balance, you’re reducing this score and significantly boosting your credit score.

Avoid Maxing Out Your Balance

Not only will a maxed-out credit card do some serious damage to your credit utilization score, but it can also have a direct impact on your credit score on the whole. Lenders don’t want to see it and credit bureaus will punish you for it. If you’re still using the card and only paying the minimum, you may be stuck in a cycle of persistent debt, but by paying more and using it less, you can prevent that.

You May Get a Better Credit Limit

Credit card issuers monitor their customer’s activities very closely. If they clear their balances every month without issue, they are more inclined to increase their credit limit, offer them rewards, and generally provide them with good opportunities. If they are accumulating large amounts of credit card debt and only meeting their minimum payments, they’ll be less inclined to do any of those things.

It always helps to get on a creditor’s good side, because you never know when you will need that improve credit limit or access to that generous rewards scheme.

What Happens if you Only Make the Minimum Payment?

If you only pay the minimum, the debt will take a long time to clear and you’ll repay huge sums of interest in that time. If we go back to the previous example and assume an APR of 20%, a balance of $5,000 and a minimum payment of 2%, you will repay over 400% in interest alone and it will take you decades to repay the debt.

Thankfully, very few credit card providers will actually let you pay such a small amount on such a substantial debt. But even if we increase the minimum payment to 5%, it still looks abysmal for the borrower. It would take them about 9 years to pay the balance, requiring $250 a month and paying close to $2,500 in interest.

Although it’s more realistic, this is still a poor option, especially when you consider the card will still be active and you may still be using it, which means that every time you make a repayment, you’re adding more debt and offsetting all your hard work.

Your credit score will not suffer if you only make the minimum payment. Providing you make it on time then you will build a respectable payment history, a stable credit report, and a credit score that is sure to impress lenders. However, it won’t look great for your finances as you’re giving yourself an expensive liability that will cripple your debt-to-income ratio and your credit utilization ratio for years to come.

Are There Any Advantages to Just Paying the Minimum?

The only advantage to paying just the minimum is that you will have more money in your pocket at the end of the month, which will allow you to make additional investments and purchases that would otherwise not be available to you. However, this is a pretty narrow-minded way of looking at it, because while you will have more cash in the long-term, it comes at the expense of many additional risks and obligations, not to mention thousands of dollars’ worth of additional interest paid over the term.

What Happens if you Can’t Pay the Minimum Payment?

If there is a late payment or a missed payment, your creditor may charge you a penalty fee or a penalty rate. If your payment is due for more than 30-days they may also report you to the credit bureaus, at which point a derogatory mark will appear on your credit report and your credit score will drop.

This can happen even with a single missed payment, which is why you should never simply skip a payment on the basis that you’ll just double-up next time around.

Instead, contact your creditor, explain your situation, and see if there is anything they can do to help you. They may say no, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, and, in most cases, they will offer you some kind of reprieve. After all, they want their money, and if they can increase their chances of getting paid by providing you with some leeway, they’ll often be more than happy to do it.

Some people believe that you can simply pay a few dollars and it will count as a minimum payment and not show on your credit report. This is a myth. Technically, any payment that doesn’t meet the full minimum requirement can be classed as a late payment and can lead to fees and derogatory marks.

Resources to Lower Minimum Payments on a Credit Card

It’s important to keep a close eye on your credit card statement and activity at all times. Monitor your spending, making sure it doesn’t go overboard, and if you find yourself struggling to make payments at any time, checkout the following resources and options to get the help you need:

  • Credit Counselors: Speak with a trained expert who has helped many individuals in a similar position. They will discuss your finances and your debts and will help you to find a solution.
  • Debt Management: A debt management plan can help when you’re struggling to meet your debt obligations and have a huge debt-to-income ratio. They will provide assistance and help you swap multiple debts for a single consolidation loan.
  • Debt Settlement: An option that works best for individuals with multiple debts and missed payments. It’s one of the cheapest ways to clear personal loan and credit card debt, as well as other forms of unsecured debt.
  • Debt Consolidation: Another consolidation loan option, this time with a long term, ensuring that you pay less per month but more over the term. This is a good option if you’re stuck in a tricky spot right now and need to reduce your outgoings.

In all the above cases, you can use the NMLS Consumer Access site to find a legitimate and reputable company or professional working within the financial sector. You can also use resources like the Better Business Bureau as well as the many guides, reviews, and help files right here on the Pocket Your Dollars website.

How to Reduce the Balance on a Credit Card Debt

One of the best ways to reduce your balance is to initiate a balance transfer. As the name suggests, this entails moving your balance from one card to another. Balance transfer cards entice you by offering a 0% APR on all transfers and this lasts for up to 18% with the best providers. 

In that time, you won’t pay any interest on your balance, which means all your monthly payment will go towards the principal and you can reduce your debt in huge leaps as opposed to small steps.

These cards are not without their issues, however. You will need a good credit score to get a card that has a good APR and balance transfer offer. If you don’t, and you fail to clear the balance during that introductory period, you may be paying more interest than you were before.

In most cases, though, these cards will be just what you need to ease the burden of mounting credit card debts and get back into the black. Take a look at our guide to the best balance transfer cards to learn more and discover how you can move your current balance to a card that has more preferable terms, in the short-term at least.

The Bottom Line: Clear that Balance

A minimum payment is the least amount you need to commit to a credit card balance. If credit card debt was a house party, the minimum payment would be the equivalent of showing up, saying your introductions, and then hiding in the corner for the rest of the night. If you really want to make an impact, you need to be proactive.

It doesn’t have to be twice or thrice the size of your minimum payment. It doesn’t have to be a consistent sum that you pay every month, but it does have to be something. Don’t worry if it’s only 1% or 2% of the balance, because every additional payment helps. Just pay whatever you can afford, whenever you can afford it. A small amount of money today can save you a huge sum of money in the future.

Minimum Payments on a Credit Card is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

What’s a Good Credit Score?

Whats a good credit score?

Your credit score is incredibly important. In fact, this number is so influential on various financial aspects of life that it can determine your eligibility to be approved for credit cards, car loans, home mortgages, apartment rentals, and even certain jobs. Knowing what your credit score is, and what range it falls under, is important so you can decide what loans you can to apply for, and if necessary, if steps need to be taken to improve your score.

So what constitutes a good credit score?

The Credit Score Range Scale

The most common credit score used by lenders and other business entities is the FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850. The bigger the number, the better. To create credit scores, FICO uses information from one of the three major credit bureau agencies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Knowing this range is important because it will help you understand where your specific number fits in.

Know what factors influence a good credit score to help improve your own credit health.

As far as lenders are concerned, the lower a consumer’s number on this scale, the higher the risk. Lenders will often deny a loan application for those with a lower credit score because of this risk. If they do approve a loan application, they’ll make consumers pay for such risk by means of a much higher interest rate.

Understand Your Credit Score

Within the credit score range are different categories, ranging from bad to excellent. Here is how credit score ranges are broken down:

Bad credit: 630 or Lower

Lenders generally consider a credit score of 630 or lower as bad credit. A number of past activities could have landed you in this category, including a string of late or missed credit card payments, maxed out credit cards, or even bankruptcy. Younger people who have no credit history will probably find themselves in this category until they have had time to develop their credit. If you’re in this bracket, you’ll be faced with higher interest rates and fees, and your selection of credit cards will be restricted.

Whats a good credit score?

Fair Credit: 630-689

This is considered an average score. Lingering within this range is most likely the result of having too much “bad” debt, such as high credit card debt that’s grazing the limit. Within this bracket, lenders will have a harder time trusting you with their loan.

Good Credit: 690-719

Having a credit score within this range will afford you more choices when it comes to credit cards, an easier time getting approved for various loans, and being charged much lower interest rates on such loans.

Excellent Credit: 720-850

Consider your credit score excellent if your number falls within this bracket. You’ll be able to take advantage of all the fringe benefits that come with credit cards, and will almost certainly be approved for loans at the lowest interest rates possible.

Understand the factors that make up a good credit score.

Whats a good credit score?

What’s Your Credit Score?

Federal law allows consumers to check their credit score for free once every 12 months. But if you want to check more often than this, a fee is typically charged. Luckily, there are other avenues to take to check your credit score.

Mint has recently launched an online tool that allows you to check your credit score for free without the need for a credit card. Here you’ll be able to learn the different components that affect your score, and how you can improve it.

You’ll be able to see your score with your other accounts to give you a complete picture of your finances. Knowing what your credit score is can help determine if you need to improve it to help you get the things you need or want. Visit Mint.com to find out more about how you can access your credit score – for free.

Lisa Simonelli Rennie is a freelance web content creator who enjoys writing on all sorts of topics, including personal finance, investing in stocks, mortgages, real estate investments, and anything else to do with the world of economics.

The post What’s a Good Credit Score? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Earn a cash back bonus of up to $200 with the Chase Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited cards

If you’re looking for a way to get a large influx of Ultimate Rewards points, there is great news for Chase members: Both the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited cards offer a high cash bonus for a low spend threshold.

Currently, both cards are offering a $200 bonus if you spend $500 in the first three months.

Which Chase Freedom card is better in the first year?

That depends largely on your spending habits. While the two cards share certain earning categories, they still have different rewards earning structures.

The Freedom Unlimited offers the same flat rate of 1.5% cash back on purchases outside of bonus categories, and the Freedom Flex card offers 5% cash back in rotating bonus categories that you must activate each quarter (on up to $1,500 in purchases, then 1% cash back).

Comparing the Chase Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited cards

For many cardholders, the Chase Freedom Flex card should offer greater value, assuming you are able to maximize your spending in its quarterly bonus categories.

That said, if you’re not able to maximize the Freedom bonus categories, the Freedom Unlimited card might be a better choice thanks to its higher rewards rate on general purchases.


Chase Freedom Flex
/
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Rewards rate
  • 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories (up to $1,500 per quarter)
  • 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022)
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash back on dining
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • 1% cash back on other purchases
  • 5% cash back on Lyft purchases (through March 2022)
  • 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • 3% cash back on dining
  • 3% cash back on drugstore purchases
  • 1.5% cash back on all other purchases
Annual fee $0 $0
Introductory offer $200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months $200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months
Estimated earnings in first year (Assumes maxed-out bonus categories and a $15,900 annual spend) $666 $526

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from applying for both cards and potentially earning both cards’ sign-up bonuses. The Chase Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited cards go nicely together – you can use the Chase Freedom Flex card to earn 5% cash back on its quarterly bonus categories and the Chase Freedom Unlimited card to earn 1.5% cash back on everything else. Then, use either card at drug stores, restaurants and on travel purchases in the Ultimate Rewards portal.

Recent changes to the Chase Freedom cards’ sign-up bonus

While some rewards cards frequently update their sign-up bonuses, the offers on the Chase Freedom cards are fairly consistent. Recently, however, we have seen increased welcome offers, with both cards offering a $200 bonus. For a limited time, both cards also offered a higher rate on grocery store purchases in the first year of card membership, but that offer has expired.

Chase Freedom Flex card recent changes
Current $200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months
Previous $200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months, plus 5% cash back on grocery store purchases in first year (on up to $12,000 in spending, not including Target® or Walmart® purchases)

 

Chase Freedom Unlimited card recent changes
Current $200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months
Previous $200 if you spend $500 in first 3 months, plus 5% cash back on grocery store purchases in first year (on up to $12,000 in spending, not including Target® or Walmart® purchases)
Previous $150 if you spend $500 in first 3 months

Who is eligible to apply for the sign-up bonus?

New cardholders who have not received a sign-up bonus for the same card within the past 24 months are eligible to earn the bonus with the Chase Freedom cards. Of course, you have to qualify for the cards first, which means you’ll need a credit score in the good to excellent range (at least 680).

Chase doesn’t appear to have a hard limit on how many cards you own, though they may deny your application if you have too large of a credit limit across your other Chase cards. Also, while there is no strict rule on how many Chase cards you can apply for within a certain timeframe, many applicants report a limit of one to two new cards per month.

Chase has recently cracked down on applicants who have opened several credit cards at once. Though it’s not an official policy, Chase appears to be enforcing a “5/24” rule on new credit card applications. What this means is – if you have opened at least five credit card accounts in the past 24 months with any issuer (not just Chase) – your application will likely be denied. The rule seems to apply to any credit card account that shows up on your credit report, including co-branded store cards and authorized user accounts. (On the plus side, business credit cards that don’t appear on your personal credit report do not affect your chances of being approved.)

How to earn and use Ultimate Rewards points

As cash back cards, the Chase Freedom cards offer a flat 1 cent value on most redemption options. However, there are a few options that you want to avoid. Our table below shows that Amazon.com and Chase Pay purchases are valued at only 0.8 cents per point:

Redemption options for Chase Freedom cards

Redemption option Point value (cents) Value of 20,000 points
Statement credit 1 $200
Direct deposit 1 $200
Gift cards 1 $200
Ultimate Rewards portal travel 1 $200
Amazon.com purchases 0.8 $160
Chase Pay purchases 0.8 $160

You can also transfer points from the Chase Freedom cards to certain Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card* and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards. As you can see from the table below, transferring your points to one of these cards will allow you to get more value out of your sign-up bonus. You get a 25% to 50% bonus on your points if you redeem for travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, depending on which card you own.

Also, both the Sapphire cards allow you to transfer your points at 1:1 value to one of Chase’s many travel partners to get even higher values on your points. For instance, we value Southwest Airlines points at 1.6 cents on average (note the value can vary widely on the ticket that you purchase), which means the 20,000-point bonus can net you $320 of value on average when used for Southwest airfare:

Redemption options for Chase Sapphire cards

Redemption option Point value (cents) Value of 20,000 points
Chase Sapphire Reserve – 50% redemption bonus 1.5 $300
Chase Sapphire Preferred – 25% redemption bonus 1.25 $250
Singapore Airlines transfer 2.36 $472
British Airways transfer 1.4 $280
Southwest Airlines transfer 1.6 $320
JetBlue transfer 1.53 $306
United Airlines transfer 1.52 $304
World of Hyatt 1.43 $286
Air France transfer 1 $200
Virgin Atlantic transfer 0.8 $150
Marriott Rewards transfer 0.8 $160
IHG transfer 0.65 $130

An extra $500 per year

In addition to a sign-up bonus, the Chase Freedom cards offer a referral bonus worth up to $500 each year. Chase’s “Refer-a-Friend” program gives Freedom cardholders $100 cash back for each person they refer who is approved for the Freedom card – up to five people per year.

To take part in the promotion, enter your last name, zip code and last four digits of your credit card on Chase’s Refer-a-Friend page. On the following page, enter the first name and email address of each person you wish to invite. You also have the option to post an invitation link to Facebook or Twitter or refer friends through the Chase app.

*All information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer. This card is no longer available through CreditCards.com.

Source: creditcards.com

How to Run a Virtual Brainstorm that Actually Works

Fun fact about pandemic life: Zoom fatigue is real. And not just real, but “widely prevalent, intense, and completely new,” according to Psychiatric Times.

Although we might be avoiding Zoom these days when an email or even a phone call (is it 1986 again?) will suffice, there's one place where video conferencing still shines, and that's the good ol' brainstorm.

Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

When I picture brainstorms of years past, I see images of big tables full of candy and fidget toys and pens and Post-Its galore. Old school brainstorming was creative and connective and interactive—all things difficult, but not impossible, to recreate virtually.

Today we’ll talk about some virtual brainstorming strategies I’ve seen work really well. And then hopefully, you’ll give one a try. 

Choose your occasion wisely

brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation.

Back when our biggest workplace woe was a vending machine out of Diet Coke, many of us took brainstorming sessions for granted. But in a virtual world, it's harder to organize, facilitate, and get people engaged.

That's why brainstorms shouldn’t be a catch-all for any group conversation. (Often what you’re looking for is just a meeting.) Brainstorms are a very specific brand of discussion in which a collective of creative voices, ideas, and opinions are necessary inputs to achieve a valuable output.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions. They're a fabulous enabler of ideas and solutions, so do use them. But do so strategically and with clear intention.

Because of challenges like Zoom fatigue and burnout, I urge you to be stingy with your brainstorming sessions.

What are some great occasions to host a brainstorming session? Use them when you need to:

  • Add or refine product features
  • Define a path in a sticky situation
  • Solve a complex problem

These and many other scenarios call for a variety of perspectives in which there are no right or wrong answers, but only ideas.

In contrast, many other occasions don’t call for a brainstorm. Like when you need…

  • Approval or alignment
  • Receipt of a message or direction
  • Feedback on a mostly baked idea

These are not brainstorm moments—they're meetings with a much more defined outcome. See the difference?

Figure out the specific problem you want to address

Okay, so you've figured out that your situation calls for a brainstorming session. Now, it's time to make sure everybody who comes to the brainstorm is on the same page before you begin by creating a statement that lays out the specific problem and how you need to tackle it.

Your problem statement might be something like:

We’re losing market share on X product, and we need to define new features to attract Millennial customers.

And here's another example:

This client wasn’t happy with our last deliverable and we need to redefine how we’re engaging with them.

One of your goals is to keep the session short (because fatigue) while maximizing what you take away from it. A clear problem statement allows you to invite your brainstorming participants to get the creative juices flowing ahead of the actual session.

Assign some prework to get things rolling

Now that you've stated the problem or opportunity, it's time to let participants know you’re looking forward to a collaborative discussion and invite them to jot down some early ideas and send them your way.

You can then do some analysis ahead of the session. Did you spot any common themes? Any particular ideas you’re interested in having the group build upon?

Share your findings at the beginning of the brainstorming session. This will give you a strong foundation from which to build.

Get creative with tech 

Love it or hate it, video conferencing technology is definitely your friend in a virtual brainstorm. It allows you to create a purposeful connection amongst participants. But you have to understand how to engage them.

When I used to run in-person meetings with leadership teams, I was always intentional about switching up the activities every 30 minutes or so. I’d facilitate a breakout, and then we’d do a quick poll, and then I’d have people plot Post-It notes around the room, and more.

Keeping things changing and moving is a great way to keep adults engaged. According to the Harvard Business Review: "If you don’t sustain a continual expectation of meaningful involvement, [people] will retreat into that alluring observer role."

So take the time to learn the features of whatever platform you’re using, and make the session engaging. Some tactics you might try?

  • Use polls to test out early ideas
  • Use small group breakout sessions to create mini-competitions between your participants
  • Use a whiteboard to replicate a poster board people can plot virtual Post-It notes on
  • Use voting to prioritize or stack rank

Of course, talking is part of any brainstorm. But using technology can keep participants from slipping into the shadows without contributing.

Establish norms that serve your purpose

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

A client once told me this story about a packaging company that was struggling with productivity. Their products had to be wrapped in newspaper before being shipped. But often, as employees were packaging product, they’d accidentally start reading the newspaper, losing precious packing minutes. These minutes added up to lost productivity.

One day the leadership team was brainstorming solutions to this distraction problem and one executive said, “Well, what if we just poked their eyes out?”

Of course, he wasn't serious—the question was absurd and meant to add a little humor. But it triggered a new line of thinking. Eventually, the company established a partnership with a non-profit organization that finds jobs for blind people.

Is this story true? I’m honestly not sure. But it’s a great illustration of the importance of free-flowing ideas.

A brainstorm isn’t successful because of how smart its participants are, but because of how much freedom and space their voices are given.

As the facilitator, what norms can you put in place to ensure that all ideas get voiced without judgment and everyone has a chance to speak?

Here are a few you might consider:

  • Use the improv rule of “yes, and.” It means that ideas are never knocked down, only built upon. (Don’t worry, they can get voted down later, just not during the brainstorm)
     
  • Use the two- (or one- or five)-minute rule. Ask people to limit themselves to two minutes at a time, even if they need to stop mid-thought (they can finish on their next turn). This challenges people to be concise and ensures that everyone gets a chance to speak.
     
  • Use a round-robin technique. Circle around the Zoom participants, calling on each person as you go. If someone isn’t ready, they can pass. But this is a great way to prevent introverts from getting overlooked.

What other norms will keep you on track?

Close out thoughtfully

Save a few minutes at the end of your scheduled session to check in on the process. How did it feel for everyone? What worked well and what might you skip next time? Do they have other tactics to recommend?

The best answer to “How do I host a great virtual brainstorm?” is the answer that your own participants give you.

When scheduled for the right occasion and with the right people, brainstorms are a fabulous tool. Don’t be intimidated by them. Just be open to learning as you go.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com