Decorative Flower
Her Realm, Personal website and blog of Cole
Sep 21

Homeless Family Trying to Build Life in Southern Utah

I am writing this on behalf of a fellow blogger, Victoria of Mom Does Reviews. She recently shared her experience running a family of seven people — and two dogs — who have been homeless for most of this year. Victoria has a GoFundMe campaign that fill finally enable the family to have a place to call home. 

Donate Now!

Homeless2[1]

Since January of this year, Victoria Johnny, her husband and her five children have been traveling the country. It might seem like a dream vacation or an alternative lifestyle, but the truth is more heartbreaking than that. The family of seven is homeless, a word that doesn’t come easy to the matriarch. But things could get much worse. A sixth child is on the way.

Fate seemed to conspire against the family, who originally lived in Florida. The Johnnys decided to live out their dreams of starting a home business. Victoria writes at a popular blog, Mom Does Reviews, and her husband tried his has as a handyman. However, while Victoria was able to bring in income  through blogging, it wasn’t enough to support their family of seven when her husband’s business didn’t pan out.

Since then, the family has stayed with friends on a family farm, spent some nights at hotels, camped out in parks and, when there was no other option, slept in the family car. It wasn’t easy, Victoria describes. When the weather was bad and they were forced to sleep in their SUV, they would move all their belongings to a tent. Their homelessness strained friendships when people weren’t able to put up five children, their parents and two dogs. Potential job leads fell through when the family was unable to establish a residence close enough.

And being homeless isn’t cheap. Victoria estimates that it costs at least $1,800 monthly to feed her family of five and two family pets. She works six to eight hours every day whenever there is a wireless connection around, but that’s not always an option when the family is forced to camp.

Things are finally starting to look up for the Johnnys, however. An accidental job lead in Southern Utah has led the family to a place where they could finally put down roots. Low crime rates, beautiful weather and affordable housing are among the reasons why Southern Utah just makes sense for the growing family.

Before they can finally breathe a sigh of relief, they will have to come up with the money for rental, security, pet and utility deposits — at least $2500. The family is without much of their possessions, including furniture and homeschooling materials, which are stored elsewhere. Victoria has set up a GoFundMe page that outlines stretch goals that include transporting those items to their new home.

The family doesn’t just want to take, however. After they get their feet back on the ground, they plan to give back to the community, friends and family and even strangers when they can. But this will only come together if they can finally have a home to come home to.

If you’d like to contribute to the campaign, visit the GoFundMe page here: http://www.gofundme.com/efhxfg

You can also read about the family’s plight in Victoria’s own words at Mom Does Reviews:  http://momdoesreviews.com/2014/09/17/homeless-look-like-help-gofundme/


Sep 13

Blogging Comes with Hard Lessons

No, really. I’ve learned some awesome things about myself and my community and computers and the Internet and the world at large from being an active blogger. I’ve also learned some things that are frustrating, disheartening and just plain shocking. For example.

Pictofigo Frustration

This is pretty much me on a daily basis!

People Don’t Understand the Internet

Every week, I get at least one comment on Reviews by Cole from someone who thinks I am the company. Not just that I am somehow affiliated but that I can send them products or perform an exchange or send them a manual or what-have-you. Now, this just perplexes me. Chances are, they performed a search for a specific product and wound up on my site because the manufacturer doesn’t offer information about the specific product. I understand how people get to my site.

What I don’t understand is how they could possibly think that they are anywhere else than a product review blog where I talk about my personal experiences. My site looks like a blog. It reads like a blog. It quacks like a blog. It’s a blog, folks!

Language Is Important

I don’t just mean representing yourself in a professional way. I mean that almost any time I’ve worked with a company whose representative’s first language wasn’t English, it turned out terrible. My not-politically-correct opinion is that a lot of companies that cheaply manufacture items overseas view bloggers as a quick way to get some links with minimal cost on their end because they’re making crap.

It doesn’t matter if these are quality posts or long-term relationships. It sure as hell doesn’t matter if the product works or not. And sometimes I am not better than them. I don’t say “No” even when every sign indicates this is going to be painful from beginning to end or that it’s just not worth it.

Giveaways Are a Chance to Win

..and even if you’re the winner, you shouldn’t count your chickens before your eggs hatch. I recently posted on Facebook on how I had been contacted by a winner of my DX Mall giveaway. Sadly, this company fell into the last category. They’re a bottom-feeder type, and not only were my communications with them downright painful because of the language barrier, but it took them over a week to consider crediting my winner’s accounts. One winner went back and forth with them before weeks before she was finally told that the site shut down.

That’s all folks. I’m a middle man. There’s nothing I can do short of paying for those prizes out of my own pocket, which I just can’t do. I’ve been using a disclaimed about how I am not responsible for prize fulfillment for some time. Basically, this means I can send off your information to my contact and nag them a couple times, but you’re not actually the winner until the prize is in your hands.

It’s a Numbers Game

This might be the lesson that’s been the most difficult for me to come to terms with. While things like user engagement and comments mean a lot to me, it’s stuff like visits and Facebook “Likes” that turn the heads of PR folks and businesses who consider working with me. I know this isn’t always the case, but unless you don’t have the masses visiting your site, you’re likely going to miss out on opportunities that might otherwise be perfect for you.

Another thing is that someone who takes good (or sometimes numerous!) pictures will get more opportunities than I do because I tend to focus on text. I’ve literally left reviews not knowing what items were or how well they worked. I’ve seen bloggers highlighted on social media and forums because of their great photos that literally did nothing to convince me that the brand or product was worth thinking about twice.

I’ve seen this time and again, and it’s tempting to feel anger, but I know it’s not use it. I’ll keep building and getting better. I’ll be grateful for what I qualify for, and that’s included some awesome stuff. But I won’t be quiet when you write a terrible review because you’re hurting more than just yourself.

Also, when it comes to those giveaways? Another numbers game. Consider the amount of work you’re putting in and how much you really need or want that item because I can guarantee a lot of entrants are wasting their time and effort!

I sound more jaded than I feel on a daily basis in this post, but nothing everything about blogging is pretty.


Jul 30

Avoid Making Enemies with Email Etiquette

I’ve had a particularly trying day when it comes to email exchanges. People have sent too many emails and too few emails, and it’s taken over a week for something that could be done with a few clicks of the mouse to even get started. There’s no reason for this. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that someone who is doing these things is unprofessional, and this hurts your brand.

Email is just another form of customer service in 2014, and if you don’t treat it right, consumers will pay attention. When those consumers are also a blogger like me, we write posts like this telling you how to write emails without coming off as a douche or a moron.

NEVER ADD PEOPLE TO YOUR LIST WITHOUT THEIR EXPRESS PERMISSION.

You do not have the right to add me to any newsletter list just because I fill out a contact for or enter a giveaway. No fine print makes this even legal. It’s annoying when companies do it and even worse when it comes from other bloggers who should know better because they’ve been on a the receiving end. Just no no no.

Use BCC.

BCC, or blind carbon copy, sends emails to multiple recipients without showing their email addresses to everyone else on the list. It’s rude and unsafe to release another person’s email address.  Even if you trust everyone on your list, anyone whose email address you have trusts you to keep that contact information safe. Fortunately, using BCC enables you to do this without having to individually email every person.

Check your email before you send it.

Make sure you have added all attachments (Thunderbird will ask you if you meant to add attachments. Fix typos. If you intended to copy and paste content, add a link or  format the text in a specific way, do it. This helps you avoid the next.

Email Etiquette

Email Etiquette

Don’t send two emails in a row.

If you don’t take the time to proofread/give your email the once over, you’re going to have to send a correction. This gets confusing and causes clutter. However, it’s not the only reason someone might use to send an email twice.

  • If I haven’t replied to your email in a few hours and it’s not an emergency.
  • If you sent me some sort of press release or invitation to a program and you received no reply.
  • If I’ve told you I have to do X and will get back to you.

The one thing these events all have in common? It’s not okay to send another email just because I didn’t reply unless your previous email specifically stated you required a reply within a certain period. I am either working on what I need to reply or have deleted your email because it’s spammy. In many cases, I reply at night because I am usually awake during third shift hours. Sending a second email will not make this happen any faster and may land you on a reported spam list.

Send as few emails as possible.

Few things are as obnoxious as an email exchange that takes hours, days or even weeks longer than it should because you fail to understand the concept that you can send messages with more than one sentence or thought. Simply being thoughtful will enable you to anticipate questions I might have or information I will need. I don’t expect you to be a mind-reader, but one thing that I frequently run into is that email exchanges take more time (and patience!) than they should because you fail to ask the right questions.

I use email to organize giveaways and reviews more than I use it for any other reason. In fact, I never use it for personal reasons anymore. So my exchanges typically go like this:

  • I send a pitch (or receive one).
  • Company agrees (or I agree).
  • I specify products I’d like to try and send my address.

As a reviewer, the next email I want is a notification of shipping or tracking number. That’s it.

If I am hosting a giveaway, I will send emails verifying the prize, number of winners, shipping restrictions and any entries the company would like. After I receive these replies, there’s no need to reply until I send you a link to the giveaway and the winner’s information.

There are certain points during the review process where there will be a lull. If you understand the process, you won’t need to email me at these times. If you do, you obviously haven’t asked the right questions from the start.

This leads me to my next point.

Know when to end the communication.

It’s like when someone says “Good night” on the phone and the other person says “Good night,” and it keeps going back and forth and neither of you want to keep up the conversation but you feel pressured to do so.

So what would you add to this list?


Apr 28

CAPTCHAS Suck and How to Make Them Suck Less

Did you know that CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”? Probably not. When you think about these tools to stop spam on websites that use some type of forms — blog comments and forums are among the most heavily targeted — you probably sigh in frustration.  Most of us recognize that CAPTCHAS are a necessary evil when it comes to protecting our websites. As visitors, we robotically type the words we see in the images into a form and press “Enter.”

Solve Media CAPTCHA failHowever, this is easier said than done. In fact, CAPTCHAs are so problematic that some people have called for website owners to stop using CAPTCHAs all together.

When you tell a story with CAPTCHAs, like Blogger did, it makes it easier for the visitor to understand.

CAPTCHAs should never use the letter “O”. It can be too easily confused with the number 0, especially when using certain fonts.

If you want people with disabilities to communicate with you, a CAPTCHA that has an audio component is a must. Otherwise, people who use screenreaders won’t be able to comment.

CAPTCHAS need the ability to refresh them. Sometimes it’s just too difficult to read the current code, but we’ll lose our lengthy comment or form input if we refresh.

CAPTCHAs should never be cap sensitive, especially on mobile devices because it’s hard to change between lowercase and capitalized letters. If, for some reason, you cannot avoid this, please make note that your CAPTCHA is case sensitive. There’s one blog that I frequently visit and like to comment on, but every single time I try to leave a comment, the CAPTCHA form rejects me and tells me to try again because it is case sensitive but doesn’t say so.

CAPTCHAs on mobile devices are generally a bad idea. Biz Report talked about this years ago. At the time, retail websites that used CAPTCHAs lost 2/3 of their customers. Do you think that your website offers something so fantastic that people want to enter CAPTCHAS? Probably not. Consider a CAPTCHA that you can disable for mobile visitors. If spam is such a problem that you cannot do this, there are mobile-friendly options:

After installing a CAPTCHA tool, make sure to test it in your own site, in multiple browsers and on different devices. If you cannot easily post a comment, others will run into the same problems.

However, you really don’t need to use CAPTCHAs at all. Really. If you want an alternative to CAPTCHAs, consider some of the popular options.

A math equation requires users to read and answer a similar problem. They typically have to type no more than 2 characters (numbers).

Let Akismet catch your spam comments. It’s the only solution I use on some of my blogs.

Try a plugin such as Growmap Antispam, which requires users to select a checkbox and can be mobile friendly.

There are literally dozens of anti-spam plugins available for WordPress. In fact, WordPress has so many options to help you stop spam without installing plugins, that you will rarely have a need for a CAPTCHA.

So, please, do us all a favor and use CAPTCHAs only as a last resort!


Apr 22

On #BloggerExhaustion and Words, Words, Words!

blogger-exhaustion

I’ve stolen this hashtag and image from Nicole who runs BloggerPR. Her vent was a little different than mine will be, but it was a tag that I could immediately relate to. I run four blogs, three of which you might know about this: Her Realm, Reviews by Cole and Lyrical Musings. For the most part, my personal blogs are just that: personal. I write in them when I have time and when I am inspired or impassioned. This has become less and less common lately.

You see, I write for a living. Every day, I pump out between 1,000 and 3,000 words depending on the price I’m paying. Sometimes it’s boring as fuck. Other times it’s just repetitive. I deal with unclear clients, finicky editors, slow Internet connections and requirements that are just absurd for how little people want to pay me. I do this not because I like to but because I need to pay rent. I really don’t hate it. In fact, I’ve gotten some compliments lately on my work ethic and my ability to write. I love this, but I do feel a little jaded about the whole thing because I do it so much.

On top of those thousands of words, I try to write at least one post on Reviews by Cole every day; although, it’s often more like 2. Not all of the content is 100% my words. However, I do write an extra 500 words or so a day. Add on taking, editing and uploading pictures, social media promotion, sending pitches, commenting in blogger groups and everything else I do, and this is a hobby that’s a labor of love. Sure, there’s a little money in it,  but it started because I like to talk basically. However, to keep up with others, I have to talk more than I’d like. It’s just how it works.

This leaves little time or inspiration for writing poetry or patience enough to write words to come up with a humorous post about my life or a tutorial about WordPress here. I don’t want to type words. I don’t want to see words. I don’t want to think words. I pretty much have stopped reading for fun. I can’t even read blogs anymore. It’s all words, words, words. And I can’t do it.

Even on the one day a week I give myself off from work, I have to blog. That’s where my exhaustion comes in. It doesn’t end. Because even if I am not working, there’s something to be blogged. Even if I am caught up with Reviews by Cole, I have ideas here that I really do want to write, but they all feel like a task.

I guess I need to take a good vacation from it all, but this means I’ll have to write and schedule posts for Reviews by Cole and catch up on work to give me that time off. If I could do all that, I wouldn’t be feeling this way, now would I?

I suppose this is part of the reason that I never wanted to make hobbies into a career. I also suppose this is just part of being a working adult. The working part is exhausting and steals time and energy that we’d like to devote to the things we like to do, instead. At least I am in good company, then.