Tag Archives: How to

Encore! 6 Lessons My Cat Taught Me About Time Management.


My cat Annie is full of useful lessons. And for those of you who say that lack of time is keeping you from getting your life story told, here’s what Annie knows about good time management… More

16 Penny-Pinching Ideas to Keep Your Small Business Afloat.

Are you struggling to survive in these tough economic times? I’ve been self-employed for 30 years and know what it’s like to keep going through lean years. If I’ve one key piece of advice, it would be to watch the small stuff. You’d be surprised at how a few dollars a week can add up over a year.

Here’s are 16 penny-pinching ideas worth trying:

1. Check out thrift stores and garage sales. Don’t spend a fortune on office furnishings. Local thrift stores and garage sales are a good bet for desks, chairs, and filing cabinets. Even better get stuff free through organizations such as Freecycle.

2. Buy used equipment. I’ve used refurbished computers for years and been very happy with them. The savings are considerable. Make sure you buy from a reputable dealer who has a warranty on parts and labor.

3. Meet over a coffee rather than lunch. A few business lunches a year can add up.  Your local coffee shop is  a more practical alternative.  Better yet,  invite a client to your home. The coffee’s cheaper. ;-)

4. Save on gas. Consolidate your car trips. If you’re driving to pick up groceries, combine it with a trip to the post office, office supply store, or library.

5. Use VoIP. Don’t  spend money on long distance calls. Use a VoIP service such as  Skype . It’s free and easy to set up and use.

6. Become friends with your library. Stop buying books and magazines and renting DVDs. They’re all free at your Library.

7. Go online. Before spending your hard earned dollars, check out the wealth of excellent free resources available on the Internet. To get you started, here’s a previous post I wrote 100 Free Resources for Personal Historians.

8. Only buy what you absolutely need. It might be fun to have the latest iPad and smart phone but are they essential items in your business? I’m still using a cell phone I bought 5 years ago. It suites my needs just fine. Don’t be seduced into spending money on electronic devices and software that’ll do very little to help your business.

9. Be a savvy shopper. Clip coupons, check out sales, and compare prices. And find out the best time of year to buy things. Here’s a start: The Best Times to Buy Anything, All Year Round.

10. Negotiate a good deal. Whether you’re dealing with a salesperson or a subcontractor, don’t be shy to ask for a discount.  I always ask salespeople if that’s the best price they can give me. Sometimes paying by cash rather than a credit card will lower the price on an item.  With a subcontractors,  pointing out that you’ll be using their services regularly  might lead to a reduced fee.

11. Market on the cheap. This is not the time to be producing glossy brochures and business cards. I’ve written about some low cost or no cost marketing ideas here.

12. Try bartering. This involves trading goods or services with another business. For example, you might arrange with a web designer to create a website for you. In return, if you’re a personal historian, you could organize her photo collection.

13. Monitor your energy consumption. Shut down your computer when you’re not using it for a few hours. Turn off lights that you don’t need.  And avoid phantom energy loss by literally pulling the plug on all equipment that operates in standby mode such as computers, monitors, computer speakers, and cell phone chargers. Phantom loss can add hundreds of dollars to your yearly electrical bill. To make it easy,  plug these standby mode items into a power bar that you can shut off with the flick of a switch.

14. Tax deductions. Don’t forget that if you’re home-based, you can deduct a portion of your rent or mortgage interest. And keep in mind that some of your utilities and home services such as security, cleaning, and yard maintenance are eligible for tax deductions.

15. Use recycled printer cartridges. Printer ink is hugely expensive. Check for a recycle dealer in your area or go to an online source such as Whole Toner.

16. Consider free web hosting. It’s not perfect but the price is right! For a list of some of the best, check out Best Free Web Hosting.

What are some of your penny-pinching favorites?

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Photo by Alan Cleaver

Monday’s Link Roundup.

To start off your week, why not peruse some of these lively articles in Monday’s Links Roundup? I recommend The Power of Color! for tips on how to use color to sell your products or services.  And for a really creative memoir idea, take a look at The Sidewalk Memoir Project.

  • From Scroll to Screen. “Something very important and very weird is happening to the book right now: It’s shedding its papery corpus and transmigrating into a bodiless digital form, right before our eyes. We’re witnessing the bibliographical equivalent of the rapture. If anything we may be lowballing the weirdness of it all. The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was circa 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type.”
  • Five Ways to Improve Your Social Media Skills. “The sites you subscribe to and the thoughts you post define you: as a connection, a customer and even a thought leader. If you have a product or service and you are not using social media to reach out to the masses you are missing a huge opportunity.”
  • The Sidewalk Memoir Project. “I’m teaching an 8 a.m. session of Writing Rhetorically this semester, which is Bridgewater State’s equivalent on Writing I. You need to be a little innovative when you’re trying to hold a class’s attention that early in the morning, so here’s what we ended up doing Thursday. The exercise — which doubled as a lesson in brevity as well as audience — ended up going much better than I thought it was.”
  • National Punctuation Day. “This Saturday, September 24, is National Punctuation Day. Founded by Jeff Rubin, the holiday seems readymade for copyeditors. Rubin’s site offers a few ways to celebrate his holiday, but for word professionals, the best way is to correct punctuation in your editing every day—not just on Punctuation Day—and instruct your writers on better punctuation usage. Gently, of course. Here are a few resources for punctuation lessons:”

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Encore!16 Tips That’ll Make The Most of Your Next Conference.

16 Tips That'll Make The Most of Your Next Conference. Going to a conference is a major commitment of time and money. You want to make the most of it. Here are some tips that will help… Read More

The #1Thing You Can Do to Jump Start Your Marketing.

Marketing strategies assume one size fits all. We’re told that we must network, build referrals, provide items of interest to the media, write newsletters, blog, give presentations, and so on.

News Flash! It doesn’t matter if we know what we’re supposed to do if we don’t like doing it. And not tending to marketing tasks that we’re told are critical can make us feel inept. This can quickly spiral into doing nothing at all.

For example, there’s no point in telling me to get out to as many “meet and greet” events as my poor little body can manage. I’d rather have a root canal than walk around a room full of strangers pretending I’m thrilled to be there.

On the other hand, I know there are others of you who would prefer to schmooze than spend hours at a computer grinding out a newsletter.

Here’s the trick. The #1 thing you can do to jump start your marketing is to make a plan that takes into account your personality.

If you’re introverted, like me,  put more energy into newsletters, blogs, and social media. And if you’re an educator at heart,  meeting potential clients through workshops and presentations can be satisfying.

If you’re extroverted, design a plan that’s people oriented.  Networking events, professional groups, trade shows, and conferences will get you energized.

Conclusion.  It’s useful to broaden your range of marketing activities but first build on your strengths. It’ll give you more confidence. Then bit by bit you can begin to add a few marketing tasks that you find more challenging.

Two of my previous articles that you might find helpful are:

Photo by David Campbell

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Encore! Ten Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Your Camcorder.

Ten Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Your Camcorder. For those of you who are new to doing video interviews for a life story, here are some common mistakes to avoid. Failure to … Read More

7 Tips on Creating a Winning Outgoing Voicemail Message.

Have you listened to your outgoing voicemail message lately? Does it sound professional? Like someone you’d want to do business with? If not, you could be losing potential clients. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Avoid old answering machines with poor quality audio.

What kind of business impression do you create if your prospective caller can hardly make out your voicemail message because of static and a barely audible voice? If I were hiring you to do a video or audio recording, I’d have second thoughts!

Be smart. Use a telephone company answering service or a good quality digital answering machine.

2. Make it clear as to the person the caller has reached.

You might say something like, “Thank you for calling. You’ve reached the voicemail of Kathy Smith, owner of Lifestory Productions.”

Don’t leave an announcement like, “Hi, I’m not in. Please leave a message after the tone.”  Callers have no idea if they’ve reached the correct number or if their message will actually reach the right person.

3. Leave instructions.

Many voicemail messages end with something like “Please leave your name and number after the beep.”  It’s a start. But if all you get is “Hi, this is Bob call me at 200-4000,” you have a problem. Who is Bob and what does he want? Does this call require immediate attention?

A better outgoing message provides the caller with some guidance. Here’s a sample: ” Please leave your name, the reason for your call, a number where you can be reached, and the best time for me to call you.”

4. Be concise.

Callers don’t want to listen to a lengthy monologue before they can leave a message. Your voicemail announcement shouldn’t be more than 20 seconds long.

5. Avoid being cute and clever.

Even if you have the wit of a Mark Twain, cleverness can wear thin if a caller is hearing your message for the third time. Keep it simple and business-like.

6. Script and rehearse you message.

We’ve all heard voicemail messages that covered the spectrum from flat and bored to breathless and rushed.

The tone of your voice is as important as the words being spoken. I once worked with an actress on some narration for a documentary of mine. At one point she said, “I can do that line with a smile in my voice. It’ll work better.” She was right. She actually spoke the line while smiling. It sounded friendly and welcoming.

Begin by writing down what you want to say. Read it aloud. Edit your message until it sounds right. Now try it on a friend or family member and get a critique. Before recording your message do several rehearsals so that you can deliver your lines flawlessly and with a  smile in your voice.

7. Record your message in a quiet environment.

Nothing reeks more of amateurishness  than a voicemail message  with a background cacophony of dogs barking, kids screaming, and TVs blaring.  Find a quiet room to record, preferably one with lots of sound absorbing material like a bedroom.

And finally…

Here’s a sample of an outgoing message that you can adapt to suit your needs.

Hello.  You’ve reached the voicemail of Kathy Smith, owner of Lifestory Productions. Please leave your name, telephone number, the reason for your call, and the best time for me to reach you. Thanks for calling.

Photo by Christomopher

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup I particularly enjoyed Toss Productivity Out.  It questions our usual notion of what it means to be productive.  And for the grammar challenged like myself, you’ll find More one-or-two-word confusables a handy reference.

  • The iPhone: a Scanner in Your Pocket. “The next time you read a document that contains information about your ancestors, wouldn’t it be nice to immediately scan an image of it and email the image to yourself? Even better, how about uploading the image immediately to Dropbox or to MobileMe iDisk?  If you own an iPhone, you can do that right now by installing a bit of low-cost software.”
  • How to survive the age of distraction. “In the 20th century, all the nightmare-novels of the future imagined that books would be burnt. In the 21st century, our dystopias imagine a world where books are forgotten. To pluck just one, Gary Steynghart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story describes a world where everybody is obsessed with their electronic Apparat – an even more omnivorous i-Phone with a flickering stream of shopping and reality shows and porn – and have somehow come to believe that the few remaining unread paper books let off a rank smell. The book on the book, it suggests, is closing.”
  • Confessions of a Typomaniac. “Of all the truly calamitous afflictions of the modern world, typomania is one of the most alarming and least understood. It was first diagnosed by the German designer Erik Spiekermann as a condition peculiar to the font-obsessed, and it has one common symptom: an inability to walk past a sign (or pick up a book or a menu) without needing to identify the typeface. Sometimes font freaks find this task easy, and they move on; and sometimes their entire day is wrecked until they nail it.”
  • Toss Productivity Out. “Toss productivity advice out the window. Most of it is well-meaning, but the advice is wrong for a simple reason: it’s meant to squeeze the most productivity out of every day, instead of making your days better.”
  • The typewriter lives on in India. “India’s typewriter culture survives the age of computers in offices where bureaucracy demands typed forms and in rural areas where many homes don’t have electricity.”
  • Teen volunteers to ghostwrite life tales for patients. “For some teen volunteers at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center in Sun City West, they’re discovering more about many patients’ backgrounds — and themselves in the process — during one-on-one interviews through a program called Life Stories. Started in January, the program offers two volunteers — this summer it’s 18-year-old Zack Welch and 15-year-old Lauren Harrell — a chance to get to know patients of all ages by asking questions relating to life as a child, interesting vacations, their jobs and careers, and dating and marriage.”

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Encore! Do You Want to Improve Your Presentation Skills?

Do You Want to Improve Your Presentation Skills? In a previous article I covered six ways you can “Get Control of Your Pre-Presentation Jitters”. In this post I’ve assembled six great sites that provide a range of practical ways you can improve your personal history presentation skills.  … Read More

How Much Detail Should a Life Story Contain?

That’s the question some of my colleagues at the Association of Personal Historians  have recently been examining.

Some feel that details count because they can enrich a life story by providing a social history context for it. They suggest that what might be tedious to the interviewer could in fact be fascinating to family members now and in the future.

Other personal historians  see a  need to be selective with details, choosing only those that enhance a story – sifting out the chaff and creating a more readable and entertaining narrative.

But the debate about how much detail to include is better settled after thinking through the following questions:

Is this a book or video life story?

In the previous article Book or Video? Which Makes a Better Personal History? I extolled the strengths and weaknesses of both print and video.

Books are more suited to detail than video. Video’s strength is in storytelling, broad strokes, and emotional content.

What’s the budget?

If you want detail,  it’s going to take time and time costs money. Ten or more hours of interview isn’t uncommon for a full life story.

While your client might want their very own version of Gone with the Wind, their budget restrictions point to a more modest affair like Swayed by the Breeze. ;-)

How open and revealing is your storyteller?

Some people  need little prompting to unleash a wealth of detailed stories. Then there are those who are more reticent. No matter how sensitive and clever your questions, you’re lucky to get the bare bones of the person’s life.

What kind of questions are you asking?

The interview is at the core of a comprehensive and entertaining personal history. I’ve written extensively about the art of interviewing in 11 Articles on Interviewing .

If you want to get the stories behind a life,  avoid questions that focus exclusively on names, dates, and places. Instead, use open-ended questions that begin with How, Where, When, What, and Why. And don’t read from a series of scripted questions. Make sure to go deeper with prompts like “And then what happened?”


I believe that details can enrich a life story. Ultimately though, we’re  hired as professionals to edit and weave those details into a coherent and engaging story.

Photo by Chris Beckett

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