Catherine Alford - The Penny Hoarder

The other day I was browsing in what was marketed as a “smart” toy store. I was curious about “smart toys,” toys that have their own electronic intelligence, so I went in to check it out.

After rolling my eyes at a hot-pink vacuum cleaner toy (seriously, what is this, 1950?), I came across a Mars Rover Barbie. Despite her sexy astronaut uniform (as if that would be necessary on Mars, people), I thought she was an interesting option. The only problem was the hefty price tag. “Have Barbies always been almost $20? I am in for a real surprise when my daughter gets a bit older!” I thought.

Then again, what if I didn’t have to buy my daughter a new Barbie? What if I could get it for free -- or, better yet, what if she could earn it herself?

A Cool Job for Kids: Toy Testing

It sounds crazy, but it’s entirely possible. Many legitimate toy companies hire normal kids to be toy testers. If you want your child to be one, the age range seems to vary depending on the application, but typically companies are looking for toddlers through preteens. The company will either send your child a toy to review or ask you to take them to a toy lab at the company’s headquarters.

Interested? Here are three tips to help your child land the gig:

1. Get a Jump on the Competition

These jobs are hard to find. They pop up unexpectedly, so you should always be on the lookout. As journalist Samantha Christmann explained, be proactive by emailing toy companies directly and asking about opportunities. For example, you can email your contact information and your child’s name and interests to playlab1@fisher-price.com to find opportunities at Fisher-Price.

2. Prowl Social Media

Follow toy companies on Facebook -- both major ones and smaller players. For example, the toy company Step 2 posted on its Facebook page that it was looking for kids to test a Thomas the Tank Engine bed. The company wanted to send the bed to several families to try out. The families got to keep the bed for free in exchange for a product review.

I spoke with Krystal Butherus, a blogger who was selected to test the Thomas the Tank Engine bed after hearing about the opportunity in a blogger Facebook group. Krystal advises anyone who wants to get a toy testing opportunity to set up a blog and social media accounts “to show influence if you’re interested in being a toy tester. Word-of-mouth marketing still seems like a big deal to brands, and it's worthwhile if you actually use the product and enjoying sharing the information with your friends and family.”

As another example, The Warehouse toy company in New Zealand gives its prestigious toy testers $200 worth of toys plus $8,000 cash for their families! To snag one of those jobs, kids had to buy a toy from their store and upload a video of themselves playing with it and explaining why they’d be a great toy tester.

If you want your kids to land similar opportunities, make sure they are comfortable in front of the camera and have no problem selling their skills! It’s a great opportunity for them to learn about marketing and the power of social media all while hopefully getting tons of free toys.

3. Curate Your Online Presence

As Butherus advised, you should have a strong online community to be a toy tester, even if it’s just an active Pinterest page, to be more desirable to toy companies. The bigger online reach you have, the more likely it is that you will be selected as a toy tester.

If you want to do this regularly, prepare your blog by reviewing toys that you already have. That way, you can use these posts as a portfolio to show companies that you write well and review products thoroughly.

When doing a review, be sure to describe the product in detail, including the size, the color, and the age group it’s designed for. Make sure to mention any special or unique features. Have your kid play with the toy for about a month before posting the review, so you can comment on how it held up to wear and tear.

Also, don’t be afraid to mention if you weren’t happy with a toy. Remember, many toy tester jobs exist to check on the safety and reliability of a product, so it’s an important job but also one that involves a bit of risk. Make your reviews honest and reliable, and the companies will thank you.

While it might seem like these jobs are too good to be true, many kids out there are not spending $20 for Mars Rover Barbie. Instead, they can put that money in their college funds and enjoy playing with free toys instead.

Catherine Alford is a full-time blogger, personal finance freelance writer, and mom of twins. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including on her own site, Budget Blonde.

Leaving my job to stay home with my kids was one of the best -- but most challenging -- decisions I’ve ever made, and I’m not alone.

The number of households with a stay-at-home parent has increased by 6% in the past few years, partially due to the influx of freelancing and work at home jobs, according to the Pew Research Center.

If you’re interested in becoming a stay-at-home mom or dad but you’re worried about how to survive financially, know that it is possible to make it work. The key is to have a strong understanding of your expenses and to prepare for making the switch by following the steps below.

Know Your Timeline and Make a Plan

I knew I wanted to stay home with my kids before I was even ready to start my family. I actively followed bloggers who worked from home and raised their children, and to me, it was the perfect lifestyle. Because my husband was still a student, I knew if I wanted to stay at home, I had to work from home to make it work financially.

For about a year before I got pregnant and all through my pregnancy, I worked on the side building a blog and freelance writing business. By the time I had my kids, I was ready to work from home on my own terms.

You and your family might have a different timeline and variables. Some of you will not have to work from home because your spouse can financially support your family. For others, simply cutting back on some basic expenses will allow enough wiggle room in the budget to make it work.

If you know you want to stay home with your child, I would advise you to start planning as soon as you’re ready to grow your family. If you know you want to have children in the near future, sit down with your partner to discuss how much money you will need to make it happen.

Talk about different variables and what would happen if you moved to a less expensive area or cut back on cable and other extra expenses. Do the math over and over again to help you set a goal that works for you and your family -- whether it’s having a certain amount of money stashed away or building a side business to a specific level.

When you’re ready to start a family, you could get pregnant right away or it could take a while. However, having a goal in mind is crucial. If you start working on your plan before you’re pregnant and save throughout your pregnancy, you should be able to find a way to quit your job and stay home with your baby for the long haul.

Set Up an Emergency Fund

The next step is simple: Commit to setting up an emergency fund.

Setting aside this money is a great way to prepare for rough financial months or unexpected expenses. When your family depends on one income, an emergency fund is the perfect backup plan to help you avoid going into debt or falling behind on your bills.

A great way to start your emergency fund is to declutter and purge your home, selling excess items online and in garage sales. Most people own several hundred dollars’ worth of items they don’t need.

Once you jump-start the fund by selling your clutter, slowly cut back on eating out or other entertainment spending until you’ve saved up three months’ worth of expenses. That might sound like a lot, but you can get there.

Pay Off Debt

Saving money is important when you’re planning to stay at home, but paying off debt should be high on your list, too. The more debt you pay off, the more wiggle room you will have in your budget when you become a one-income family.

You can pay off debt using many different methods, so choose the one that works best for your family.

I like the snowball method because most of us deal with money more emotionally than mathematically. If I pay off a small debt first, I get excited and motivated to pay off the next one, even if it’s bigger. If I try to tackle a huge debt first, it’s easy to give up.

You don’t have to pay off every one of your debts before you become a stay-at-home parent, but the more you can pay off, the better. Even paying off a few smaller debts can free up a few hundred dollars a month, which could mean the difference between successfully being able to afford staying at home or not.

It’s also important to try not to take on any new debt. For example, my husband and I both drove very old cars with over 200,000 miles on them. Even though we wanted to drive newer cars, doing so would have affected my ability to stay home. That’s just one example of a trade-off or choice you might have to make to be able to be a stay-at-home parent; they will be different for every family.

Create a New Budget, Then Test It

It’s time to put your plan into action: Plan a budget around only the working parent’s take-home salary.

Sit down with your partner and work together to decide what you might need to cut out to make it possible for your family to live on that single income. You can use popular budgeting apps like Every Dollar or Mint, or even a simple spreadsheet.

Allocate every dollar of that single income to a budget category, such as debt repayment or entertainment.

Many people like to follow guidelines such as the 50/20/30 budget, which means you use 50% of your income for essentials, 20% for saving and 30% for personal use. I think 30% is a little high for personal or fun use, but I’m also committed to paying off my debt as quickly as possible. Do your research and find a budgeting system that works best for you.

Then, take a month (or two!) to test your new budget before you quit your job. Although you don’t have to stick to that single salary yet, pretend as if you do.

If your bills are a little too high to live off of one parent’s income, it’s time to start looking at how to cut expenses. Typically, the fastest way to reduce your costs is to stop eating at restaurants and replace your cable service with Netflix or Hulu (especially if you can get Netflix for free). These two changes alone could save you a few hundred dollars a month.

The best case scenario is that during the months you test out living on one income, you can save the other parent’s income and use that money as a cushion for when you finally make the switch.

Consider Working From Home

As I mentioned, the main reason I was able to stay at home with my kids is because I built a blog and freelance writing business which helped supplement our income. Plus, working from home is more popular than ever, and can be a great way to bring in a little extra cash while you raise your kids.

So many opportunities exist for stay-at-home parents, whether you find a work-from-home job or start your own business. You just have to find what works for you. Here’s how I manage raising my twins and running my business from home.

Adjust Your Plan as Needed

I know from experience that even if you take the time to plan, life tends to happen. There will be unexpected expenses, emergencies and more.

The good news is that as long as you have a solid savings cushion, you can tweak and adjust your budget as needed.

This lifestyle isn’t one-size-fits-all, and what works for one family may not work for yours. Going from the corporate world to being a stay-at-home parent can be scary, but having a plan in place can give you a little peace of mind.

Taking the step to stay home with my kids has fulfilled me in ways I never dreamed possible. If you want to do the same, I hope it does for you, too.

Catherine Alford is an award-winning family finance expert and financial writer who lives in Detroit, Michigan, and blogs at CatherineAlford.com. When she is not working, she enjoys yoga and spending time with her 3-year-old boy/girl twins.

Even in the most ideal of situations, working from home can be a challenge. It’s easy to get distracted by tasks like laundry, dishes, cooking and even home improvement projects that have been on your to-do list for months or even years.

Add in having twin toddlers and a husband who’s a busy physician, and it’s hard to imagine successfully working from home. However, that’s what I’ve been doing as a self-employed business owner for almost three years.

It doesn’t always run smoothly and my house always seems to be a disaster, but I’m much happier in my work and life now than I’ve ever been.

I wanted to work from home because I envisioned a life where I would spend more time with my family. I knew people could make money blogging, so I started a blog in 2010, planning to use that income to help me work from home.

After three years of blogging and freelancing, and pregnant with my twins, I was ready to take the leap from my teaching job at a university to working from home. I loved my job, but I was ready to take the leap.

Now that I’ve been in business for a few years and my children are older, I can share what I learned along the way. Here are some tips on how I work at home successfully.

1. Do Not Multitask

I once thought multitasking was the only way to get everything done for my business and my family.

One time, shortly after my twins were born, I found myself sitting on the couch with a mountain of laundry, rocking a baby seat with my foot and trying to write a blog post all at the same time.

I eventually finished all of those tasks, but none of them were my best work because I wasn’t focused on one thing at a time. Over time, I’ve found I produce higher-quality work and deliver better parenting when I focus on one task at a time.

Because I couldn’t afford child care when I first started working from home, I could only work when my twins were napping or after they’d gone to bed for the night.

I now have someone come to my house four days a week to help with my children, which brings me to my next point.

2. Hire Help When You Can

As much as I want to be the perfect wife, mother and entrepreneur, I’ve realized that I can’t give 100% to all three things at the same time while maintaining my sense of self. This is why I finally decided to hire help for my business and my daily tasks.

I spent months working at home while caring for my children before I hired a mother’s helper. I was overwhelmed, working mostly during the twins’ naps, and I knew I needed help.

When I realized I could bill more work in an hour than it would cost to hire a mother’s helper, I knew it was a good financial decision. With a babysitter helping me care for my children, it was easier for me to focus on my business.

My finances were tight at first, but over time, I’ve earned more money because I could work uninterrupted.

I used the time my babysitter was watching my children to approach new clients and negotiate new deals. It definitely paid off: It wasn’t long before my income increased by $500 a month, then $1,000 a month and beyond.

I also started outsourcing parts of my business, like social media management and my overflowing inbox, so I could more effectively use my time.

It was far faster, and thus cheaper, to hire an expert to take on some tasks for me. When you start outsourcing, you must be mindful of the cost versus the benefit. But when you do it right, outsourcing can help you grow your business and spend less time working.

3. Carve Out an Office Space

While I have an office space now, it’s actually the first time I’ve had one. Before, I carved out space in my bedroom for a desk and all of my business supplies.

I still occasionally work from other places, such as my kitchen table and living room couch, but in general, I am better focused and can work more efficiently in my office space.

Instead of a nook in my bedroom, I now have the whole upper floor of my house, which is a finished attic, so I can really stretch out. Though I’m enjoying having a lot more square footage for my business, I was able to run it successfully out of just a little nook in my bedroom.

The key is to dedicate a space just for your work, whether it’s a small desk or an office, away from distractions. It’s near impossible to get any good work done with kids trying to sit in your lap and type with you.

4. Take Time Off

You can’t be all about work all the time. I work anywhere from five to eight hours a day, and I take Friday, Saturday and Sunday off both to spend time with my family and to give my mind a rest -- it’s a great schedule.

Whenever I start to feel stressed or unmotivated during a work day, I like to take a short break for 15 minutes or so to clear my mind and take care of myself.

One of the ways I do this is by taking a walk. My dog loves to come with me, and getting out of the house is refreshing, even if it’s only a quick walk around the block. Other times, I take a shorter walk just to show my twins some love or get a snack from the fridge.

While these little breaks can be a nice way to muddle through your workday and get things done, eventually you have to shut down your computer for a longer period of time so you can rest and recuperate.

When I’m done working for the day, I shut my computer down so I’m not tempted to re-open it.

I also try to avoid screen time, like checking emails or looking at Facebook on my phone, after I’ve shut down and stopped working for the day. My kids know I’m not paying attention to them when I’m on my phone, so to really be there and maintain a semblance of work-life balance, I try to put it in another room when I’m watching them.

5. Develop Good Productivity Habits

Staying focused can be a major challenge for people who work from home.

Here are some of my favorite strategies for boosting concentrating and increasing productivity, so I get the most out of my working hours:

Plan Out Work the Night Before

After I shut down my computer for the night, I make a list of my top priorities and deadlines for the next day so I know what to tackle first.

Start With the Hard Stuff

If you aren’t a morning person, it can be a struggle to start with the hard tasks, but it will help you feel accomplished in a hurry.

Even though I’m a night owl, I like to complete my hardest and most important tasks early in the morning so things get easier as the day goes on.

With twin toddlers, I never know if I’ll actually get to work as long as I’d planned, so it’s best to finish my priorities early in the day.

Make Time for Exercise

Working from home allows you the flexibility of setting your own schedule, but sometimes this flexibility can be a negative, leading to procrastination instead of action as you think you have time to “do it later.”

Prioritize time for exercise, as it relieves stress and improves your mood. Schedule it for the same time each week, if possible, so you don’t forget about this healthy habit.

I go to yoga every Tuesday night, and I try to work out once or twice more during the week depending on how busy it is. I have a membership to a nice gym, and it’s worth every penny because my kids enjoy spending time in its huge daycare area.

Use Tools Wisely

Play around with timers, schedulers, calendars and website blockers to find ones that work best for you.

Tracking your time helps you realize just how much of it you’re devoting to focused work and how much you’re wasting. Plus, this easily helps you gauge how much you earn each hour.

Website blockers were a great productivity booster for my business. I used Self Control to block Facebook from my web browser, and it significantly improved my focus and work rate.

Could You Work From Home?

Ultimately, working from home isn’t for everyone, but many people are hugely successful at it.

The key to success when you work from home is finding the best way to eliminate distractions and boost productivity. That way, whether you have twin toddlers or not, you can feel great about your workday and feel motivated to keep going.

The key is to make the most of your uninterrupted work time and not get distracted by social media sites, chores, or phone calls with family and friends. If you stick to these rules, you truly can have the best of both worlds -- a successful and thriving business and much more time with your kids than the average working mom.

Your Turn: Do you work from home and have kids? Share your tips in the comments!

Catherine Alford is an award-winning family finance expert and financial writer who lives in Detroit, Michigan, and blogs at CatherineAlford.com. When she is not working, she enjoys yoga, spending time with her 2.5 year old boy/girl twins, and doing DIY projects around the house.

Are you a talented painter who’s tired of selling prints on Etsy for $30 each? Well, you don’t have to be a starving artist any longer.

If you love weddings or other exclusive events, and don’t mind painting in front of hundreds of people, try your hand at being a live-event artist.

What Is a Live-Event Artist?

Exactly what it sounds like: You’ll paint at events, capturing special moments and scenes live.

The trend started in the wedding industry: Couples would hire an artist to come to their weddings and paint the scene in front of them as it happened. Live-event artists typically paint the couple, the gorgeous venue surrounding them and some of the guests, too.

Most of these paintings are not exact portraits of the bride and groom but, rather, an interpretation of the event as the artist sees it. These paintings are mostly abstract, and capture the movement and excitement of the scene.

Live-event artists also work other events, like galas and birthdays.

How Do You Become a Live-Event Artist?

If you’re interested in becoming one, here are some steps you can take:

Step 1: Hone Your Artistic Skills

Painting in front of an audience is much, much different than painting in a studio or your own home. You’ll need to interact with guests while you work, and you’ll also have to be able to concentrate and complete a painting in a short amount of time.

To prepare for this type of gig, try painting a landscape in your backyard or local park within a certain time frame.

You can also offer to paint a friend’s event for free to practice mingling with guests and see how your paintings evolve over the course of the occasion.

Step 2: Market, Market, Market

This is a relatively new job. It’s your job to educate the market on why they should hire one -- and choose you.

You’ll need to create an incredible website, showcase your portfolio -- remember all those events you worked for free? -- and create social media accounts for your business. You should also attend wedding trade shows and network heavily with other members of the service community.

I would also recommend producing a video like this artist. That way, prospective clients will be able to see what it’s like to have you at their event.

How Much Do Live-Event Artists Get Paid?

Having a live-event artist at a wedding is a luxury for the couple, so you can usually charge a premium price.

Live-event artists typically get $2,000-$4,000 for an event. Some even get paid to go to various locations and get reimbursed for travel.

If you’re just starting out, see what other live event artists are charging in your city.

Pricing also varies depending on the type of materials you use and the size of the canvas. So, factor in your own costs to ensure you make a profit.

The live-event artist market is growing, and more brides are exploring this option as a unique way for their weddings to stand out. If you love to paint and don’t mind performing in front of an audience, this could be a fun and lucrative job for you!

Your Turn: Are you an artist? If so, would you be interested in live-painting at an event?

Catherine Alford is an award-winning personal finance writer, motivational speaker and mother to boy/girl twins. She shares her adventures at www.BudgetBlonde.com.

Although I’ve been blogging for five years, I only recently became aware of the fact that you can buy and sell blogs and websites for actual money. Every day, I see sites left abandoned by owners who didn’t know they could sell them to willing and experienced bloggers who want to build their online portfolios.

Over the last year, I’ve purchased two blogs and sold one, and it’s been a great -- and profitable -- experience.

Essentially, I use my network to find bloggers who no longer want to blog. They might be moving, starting a new job that is a conflict of interest or simply unable to commit the time anymore. I offer to buy their sites, so they can get out of the business with something to show for their efforts, and I have a new way to make money.

Sound intriguing? Here’s what you need to know about buying and selling blogs and websites.

How Much is My Website Worth?

Blogs and other sites typically sell for about 12 times their monthly income. So, if your blog makes $100 a month from ads or affiliate links, it’s worth approximately $1,200.

This number certainly has some wiggle room. In fact, “24 months of income is becoming more common,” says Tom Drake, who owns a whopping 25 blogs, “but I still negotiate down to a 12-to-18-month price point.”

This varying scale is consistent with my experience. For example, I sold a blog that made only a few dollars a month for a big profit because the design was highly customized and it had a lot of potential. I also bought a blog that wasn’t making any money at all because I knew, based on my expertise and experience, I could quickly make it profitable.

So, if you’re reading this and aren’t making money from your blog yet, don’t underestimate its worth. Someone still might want to buy it. Here’s what to consider when you’re estimating a site’s potential value -- whether it’s your own, or one you’re considering buying.

Remember: Location, Location, Location

Brent C., owner of Vosa.com, is an experienced online entrepreneur who is in the process of selling one of his websites for over $200,000. That website “has generated six figures of passive income annually for the past couple of years” and Brent is using the sale to help shift his focus to a new online venture.

When I asked Brent what buyers or sellers should consider when determining the worth of their online property, he said, “I've been investing in rental real estate for more than a decade and what I love about online real estate is that a lot of the same principals apply. Just like houses and apartment buildings, online real estate comes down to ‘location, location, location.’”

What does he mean? Brent recommends owning a “.com” versus a “.net” or “.org.” He also advises that prospective buyers or sellers get several opinions from other website owners in the site’s niche to determine the worth of an online property.

Take the Emotion Out of It

“The owners of websites always think their sites are worth more than they probably are. Either out of emotional attachment or ‘the potential’ they see with it,” says J. Money, the blogger behind popular personal finance site Budgets Are Sexy. He’s brokered the sales of more than 30 websites, including the ones I purchased, working with both buyers and sellers to evaluate a website’s value.

“But here's the thing: You can't pay the bills in emotions or potential! So always do your due diligence and negotiate where you see fit,” he recommends.

If you blog, you’re likely nodding along with his statement. My primary website is like my baby! Selling it would be extremely difficult because I place such a high emotional value on it. If you run into this situation as a buyer, remember to negotiate and let the income numbers speak for themselves, rather than being swayed by a site owner’s emotional attachment.

Consider Your Business Goals

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of big payouts, but before you delve into the world of buying and selling websites first sit back and determine your goals. Online buyers usually come in two types.

“A financial buyer is looking to get a return on their investment. They buy the business and look to reap a percentage return each year,” says Jim Wang, an online media expert who has bought and sold online properties for profit. “A strategic buyer is looking to acquire a business that adds to their existing business. They're looking for a one plus one equals three situation.”

Financial buyers are generally more concerned with income and hard numbers, whereas strategic buyers are less focused on the income and more interested in what an additional web property would add to their current portfolio. For example, I recently purchased a site that didn’t have very strong metrics by itself, but when added to my portfolio of sites, it gives advertisers more options for package deals.

If you want to sell an online property that doesn’t earn a lot of income, try to find a strategic buyer. If you want to get into the business of buying and selling websites for profit yourself, first become a financial buyer so you can make a profit. Once you have a solid portfolio of money-making web properties, you can switch over to being more strategic and creative with your online property purchases.

How to Buy a Website or Blog

Ready to buy your first site? Follow these steps.

1. Make Money With Your Own Site

Generally, you don’t want to start buying blogs or websites until you understand how to monetize a site. I would recommend only buying an additional blog once you learn how to make money from your own blog.

2. Look for Dormant Sites

Use your network to find blogs that have not been updated for months or even years. Tweet out a message saying you’re looking to add a blog to your portfolio. Check blogs you regularly read to see if one of them has a big delay in posting. Once you identify a few options, send the owners a simple email email like, “I noticed you have not posted on your blog lately. If you are interested in selling your site, I would be interested in buying it.”

You can also look on websites like Flippa, which regularly sells online properties and domain names.

3. Research the Site’s Value

Got a bite or two? Make sure to do your due diligence. If you’re buying through a site like Flippa, a site’s listing notes everything included in the purchase as well as its stats and history, which the seller agrees is truthful and legitimate. If you’re buying independently, ask the blogger to prove their income and traffic using screen shots.

Regardless, always ask for second and third opinions from friends in the same niche or industry. More experienced bloggers will be able to look at a site’s metrics and ascertain if they’re legitimate. They can also help you brainstorm ways to improve the site and get more income. This is why it pays to establish yourself as a blogger and build a network before starting to buy other sites!

Flippa also provides a service where you can pay for a professional review of the site before buying it.

4. Make the Deal

When you buy through a website like Flippa, you can send or receive payments in a variety of ways. I recommend using escrow. As the buyer, you’re protected because you actually receive ownership of the site before authorizing your payment, and the seller can see you’ve put money in escrow, meaning you can afford the purchase and aren’t going to take the site and run.

When you buy independently, always have a contract. When I bought both of my websites, I was more casual about both contracts because I knew the sellers. Our negotiations were recorded in emails and because they were both bloggers I knew well, I trusted them to have quality sites. However, be as safe as possible by getting everything in writing and if you feel more comfortable, having an attorney look over the contract.

5. Transfer Ownership

Actually taking over the web property might include moving servers and transferring domain names. You can work with the seller to manage these technical aspects, or you can hire someone to help you. I used iMark Interactive to help me with the technical side of my website purchases.

How to Sell a Website or Blog

Once you’ve built up your site, you might be ready to cash in on your efforts.

1. Establish Your Site’s Value

Ask a few fellow bloggers in your niche what they think your site is worth, or multiply your monthly income by 12.

If you don’t have any monthly income, calculate what you spent on the site’s design. Collect supporting information like traffic patterns, social media accounts associated with the blog, and other features that might demonstrate value to a buyer. Even if you don’t make an income from your blog, it could still have value.

2. Advertise Your Site for Sale

List the blog or website on Flippa.com, or contact a trusted blogger friend if they know anyone who is selling a site. You may be able to find a buyer within your network.

3. Negotiate and Close the Deal

Be as helpful as possible while discussing the deal, including being quick with emails and answers to the buyer’s questions. See the “buy” section for more details on how to finalize the deal. Get everything in writing, and if you need technical help to release your domain name, hire someone to ensure the transaction runs smoothly.

Case Studies of Real Blog and Website Sales

Does all of this still sound too good to be true, or at the very least, overwhelming? Here are a few case studies to illustrate the process -- and the profits.

Case Study #1: $2,000 Profit in 6 Months

Robert Farrington bought a personal finance website from an owner who was burnt out and didn’t want to maintain his blog anymore. He paid $2,400 in June 2013, hired a freelance writer and updated a few technical aspects of the site.

“In the remaining six months of 2013, I was able to gross $4,626.55 in total advertising sales -- turning a profit immediately,” he says. “Since I acquired the site, I have had total gross sales of $12,089.50.”

After taking out fees for hosting and hiring the freelance writer, Robert’s net profit is $10,347.50 so far.

Case Study #2: Look for Profitable Potential

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner started buying websites a little over a year ago. “I recently sold three websites for $30,000, and that $30,000 was almost all profit, as I bought the websites for less than $1,000 altogether,” she explains.

After buying the sites, Michelle regularly added new posts, improved the websites’ search rankings and built income streams on them. Then, she mentioned to an online colleague that she wanted to sell the sites -- and he immediately offered to buy them.

“My top tip for readers is to look for a website that has potential,” says Michelle. But that potential must be backed by numbers and your own experience. “It has to be something that you can build up so that you can flip it for a profit. I like to look for a website that is undervalued so that I can build it up and flip it for a significant profit.”

Case Study #3: Investing in Help Leads to Immediate Profit

Aaron Crowe purchased a new blog for $5,000 in January 2015. Because he was new to blogging, he hired a writer and virtual assistant who knew the ins and outs of placing ads and writing excellent online content.

Hiring someone to help fill the gaps in his own knowledge helped his website be profitable from the beginning, earning $225 in January, $655 in February and $804 in March. Although he does need to pay his assistant, he hopes to make back his $5,000 investment by the end of the year, making all future years of owning this site pure profit.

Could You Buy or Sell a Site?

Whether you build up and sell your own site or purchase an established blog, it’s clear that you can make serious money from sales of online properties.

Buying and selling blogs can be a worthy business venture, but like any business opportunity, it’s not without risks. The key is to be passionate about your sites and work hard to make them succeed: Hire help when you need it, get second opinions and learn from your mistakes.

Your Turn: Have you ever bought or sold a blog or website? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments!

Catherine Alford is a full time blogger, personal finance freelance writer, and mom of newborn twins. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.

Most of us want to make more money, right? We all envision what we could do with a little extra cash, whether it’s a one-time windfall or a boost to our monthly paychecks.

While a recent study conducted by the Federal Reserve showed men were less likely to earn big raises after age 45 -- “If You Aren’t Rich by 45, Give Up” is how Slate titled their coverage -- you don’t have to be under 40 to start increasing your income.

Take your financial future into your own hands, hustle like your hair’s on fire and start increasing your monthly income a little bit at a time. Whether you’re 16 or 60, here’s how to start putting away a little more money each month.

1. Negotiate Your Salary

Perhaps one of the quickest ways to increase your income is to ask for a raise -- today! Whether you work part time or full time, in an office or a retail store or anywhere else, you can try to negotiate your wages.

Before you ask for more money, make a plan. It’s important that you have a valid reason for a raise, like you recently completed a major project that made your company a lot of money, you’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours, or you’ve been receiving rave reviews from customers. It’s also ideal if it’s been a while since your last raise; you don’t want to be asking every other month.

Show the value you provide to the company, like how many sales you bring in or feedback from customers you’ve helped. Present your case in a compelling way.

If your boss says no, remember to be professional, thank her for her time, and ask how you might be able to secure a raise in the future. You never know -- maybe she’ll recommend asking again after tax time or in the next quarter.

2. Pick Up a Side Gig

A side gig can be any sort of small business you do alongside your regular work or school, whether it’s a recurring role with a client or one-off projects with multiple customers. From picking up a newspaper route or mowing lawns to tutoring students on the weekend, side gigs are a great way to make a little bit of extra cash.

Even though it might feel less official than your full-time job, be professional. Treat it like a real job -- because it is one.

Make business cards and even a website to add to your credibility. Follow up with clients and demonstrate great customer service, and this could be a money-making venture for you for quite a long time.

3. Flip Furniture

Before I had kids, I made a habit out of picking up old, used furniture at garage sales and at Goodwill. Sometimes I’d find amazing deals, like solid wood desks for $20. I’d spend a few hours refinishing and painting them and then resell them for a nice profit.

People love custom furniture, and they’d rather not spend the time to refinish it themselves. This is a great way to make some extra money, and it’s fun to hunt down deals. In addition to garage sales and thrift stores, make sure to check your back alley and Craiglist’s free section for more potential projects.

4. Buy a Popular Blog

Starting a blog and building its following to become popular is no easy feat. In fact, it can take months or even years to make money as a blogger!

One way you can make money faster is by buying a site that’s up for sale on a site like Flippa. Although purchasing a blog can cost a few thousand dollars upfront, if you buy a quality site, you can earn back your investment quickly. On one of the already-established websites I bought, I earned back my investment in three months. On the other, I am about $300 away from making back my investment.

If you’re ready to go bigger, you could learn from Chris Guthrie, who earns a six-figure income buying blogs with established audiences. He bought a crafting website for $4,000 (a reasonably low amount in website sales) but he was able to make his investment back in seven months. Now, with minimal overhead and time, he earns around $670 a month in pure profit.

If you have the experience and you know what you’re doing or are willing to learn, buying websites could be a great investment opportunity. If you’re not experienced, it’s important to get a trusted source to walk you through the process and a blog manager to help teach you the ropes.

5. Start a Freelance Business

If you have a skill like writing, graphic design, computer programming or personal training, you’ve got a great opportunity to start freelancing for clients. (If you have a full-time job in a similar area to your new freelance business, check your contract to make sure you’re not violating any non-compete agreements or any other rules.)

You’ll need a website that showcases your work, a professional pitch letter that you will edit depending on the job, and a lot of professionalism and motivation to keep going when business fluctuates. Here’s more information on starting a freelance business.

6. Become a Business Coach

If you’ve been in a particular field for a few years, you could provide valuable insight and guidance to less experienced people or those who wants to break into your field.

For example, entrepreneur Carrie Smith offers coaching services to help people make the shift from employee to freelancer, and I offer a more niche coaching service where I help new bloggers learn how to get paid as a staff writer. When offering this type of coaching service, you can either charge an hourly rate to meet with someone over coffee or online, or charge a monthly retainer to be available to answer questions at any time.

7. Walk People’s Dogs

With young twins in the house and tons of snow outside, it can be hard to get motivated to take my dog on the nice, long walk that she absolutely needs -- so I pay a dog walker to take her out every week.

If you love dogs, becoming a dog walker is a great way to make extra cash. This is an especially great option if you have a flexible work schedule and can take dogs out during the 9-5 workday.

8. Become a Night Nanny

Love babies? If you have experience caring for and feeding newborns, you could make a lot of money helping sleep-deprived parents as a night nanny -- sometimes as much as $100 to $200 a night.

This type of support is especially helpful to parents of multiples, so start by contacting a local multiples group in your area and advertising your services at its meeting or in its newsletter. Once you’ve helped a family or two, ask if they know anyone else who could use your help.

9. Drive for Uber or Lyft

OK, so this one does depend on your age; you will need to have a driver’s license to make money driving passengers through Uber and Lyft.

Both companies use a very detailed application process, so your car has to be a certain age and your licence has to be up to date. If you qualify, you could fit shifts around other commitments and make excellent money, especially on busy weekend nights. One Uber driver turns his car into a salesroom for his jewelry business and makes $250,000 a year!

10. Sell Home-Cooked Meals and Treats

If you’re a college student or live near a college campus, you could make great money selling home-cooked meals and baked goods to college students, who might enjoy a piping-hot plate of lasagna or a freshly made cupcake.

Not convinced? University of Chicago student Aneesa Sonawalla makes gourmet cupcakes in her dorm room and delivers them to fellow students for $20 per dozen. Students can order their treats through her blog and view examples of some of the “stress baking” options.

If you want to follow Sonawalla’s lead, just be sure to check with college officials to get permission to advertise and sell your goods.

11. Become a Minimalist

Between email ads, billboards, TV shows, and general office chatter, our world is filled with triggers to buy, buy, and buy some more. It can be hard to be the type of person who doesn’t keep up with the Joneses, but becoming a minimalist helps you enjoy extra money money in two ways.

First, once you identify the unnecessary items in your home, you can sell them. Whether you post them in a Facebook garage sale group or simply list them on Craigslist, you’ll earn a little extra money from something you don’t need anymore. If you don’t want to sell it, you can always donate it to a local charity or thrift store for a tax receipt.

Second, when you stop spending your money on meaningless items, you’ll experience an automatic income increase. Think of all the money you would have spent on a new jacket or another shiny kitchen gadget, and then think of what else you could do with it.

How Will You Make More Money?

The evidence is pretty clear: You definitely aren’t limited by age or experience when it comes to boosting your monthly income. You just have to have a sense of entrepreneurship, a great work ethic and a strong will to make it happen.

Your Turn: How do you plan to boost your monthly income?

Catherine Alford is an award winning personal finance writer and full time blogger. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.

“Blue and black? Or white and gold?”

We’re all sick of hearing about The Dress by now. But let’s be honest: while this viral phenomenon might not be as entertaining as Katy Perry’s Left Shark, #TheDress really does have some money-making potential.

How on earth did something as simple as a two-colored dress take over our Facebook feeds, online newspapers and pretty much the entire Internet?

It started with a Tumblr blogger named Swiked, who posted a picture of a lacy dress. It seemed harmless enough, except she mentioned in the update that she was spooked because she saw one color and her friends saw another. Then BuzzFeed picked it up, which sparked waves of traffic and controversy. Many people online clearly saw a gold and white dress, while others swore it was blue and black or blue and brown. (For the record, I see blue and brown.) Wired even ran an article on the science behind why we see different colors.

The whole thing seems rather innocuous -- unless you wasted half your workday in the break room, discussing the merits of blue and black vs. gold and white -- but the impact on social media was astounding. In fact, because of this infamous dress, yesterday was one of the most viral days ever on social media.

What does this mean for a savvy young entrepreneur? Every time something unusual captures the attention of the online world at large, you have a real opportunity to capitalize and earn a meaningful income in a short amount of time.

Here’s how some individuals and brands are banking on #TheDress and how you might do the same:

1. Extend the 15 Minutes of Fame

If you’re lucky enough to be the person who created the viral product or video, be armed and ready to extend your 15 minutes of fame. In this bizarre controversy over The Dress, it doesn’t seem like Caitlin McNeill, who took the original photo, really capitalized on it. She might have talked to a few people in the media, but she could have booked interviews for the entire week while the story was still hot. She could have written a post about it for a respected publication or given exclusive interviews for a high fee. She also might have worked with the company who created the dress on some sort of publicity partnership.

The makers of the dress, on the other hand, a women’s clothing company called Roman, embraced this heartily. Completely ignoring everyone who called the dress was ugly, Roman proudly altered its cover photo on Facebook to feature the dress and is running a contest to give away the outfit to someone who shares its version of the photo.

While the company didn’t respond to our requests for information, The Daily News reported Roman saw record sales on Friday. The company sold out of the dress in the first 30 minutes of business on Friday, and they saw a 2,000% increase in website traffic, according to The Daily News. And that web traffic translated to foot traffic, too; shoppers visited their brick-and-mortar stores all day asking about the famous dress.

Ultimately, Roman has enjoyed a massive amount free advertising from this viral photo, and they took smart steps to translate that interest into sales.

UPDATE: Roman got back to us after this article published and confirmed those sales figures, likening sales to Black Friday. "People are loving the dress, all the colors it comes in and also the other styles we sell," said Ian Johnson, Roman's creative manager.

2. Create Hilarious Products

If you weren’t the person who created the viral idea to begin with, don’t worry; there are numerous other ways to make a profit. You should always take into account copyright laws when creating products that resemble other people’s work, but if you’re able to take your own photo of the dress or get a likeness of it, you’ll have a lot to work with.

For example, one creative soul recently created t-shirts on CafePress that say, “Team Black and Blue,” though the shirts are, ironically, gold and white. They’re also selling “Team Gold and White” versions, and the shirts sell for $34.

If this route appeals to you, check out our post on how to create wearable art that brings in cash. The trick is to choose a product you can create quickly, so you can ride the viral wave right from the beginning and for as long as possible.

3. Sell Look-Alikes

We now know #TheDress is out of stock, so a savvy entrepreneur and seamstress might start sewing lookalikes and selling them, perhaps on Etsy, preferably for a lower rate than what Roman charges ($77 USD). You could also alter the pattern behind The Dress so it works with different styles, like a fuller skirt, for example.

We don’t see anyone doing this yet, but we’re confident look-alike options will flood the web in the next few weeks!

4. Give It Some Personality

We all get a kick out of when a viral product or idea becomes its own personality. #TheDress could have a Twitter feed or Facebook page where it offers commentary about going viral, being worn to a wedding, and having its feelings hurt because so many people are saying it’s not the prettiest dress they’ve ever seen.

The clever person who comes up with this account could certainly make money if the social media account grows in popularity. Remember how popular Angelina Jolie’s right leg was on Twitter a few years back? And the Tumblr account Texts from Hillary (Clinton)?

If you create a hilarious account that gains a high number of followers, leverage that by signing up for SponsoredTweets, so you can get paid to share sponsored updates. If you’re able to grow a YouTube channel around the meme, you have even more options for monetizing, including using affiliate links.

5. Extend the Meme to Whatever You Create or Sell

If you own a company yourself, simply joining the conversation could rally your community and even turn lucrative.

Large companies from Burger King to Dunkin Donuts took to social media on Friday to share images of their own food with cheeky commentary, like Burger King saying their gold crown was actually blue. Small businesses took part, too, with startup Eone Timepieces sharing a photo on Facebook that compared two straps of its tactile watch, asking followers the color question that had by then become ubiquitous.

Taking a playful approach allowed these brands to drive traffic to their own products, show some personality, and benefit from the virality.

So here’s the lesson: Stop fighting with your spouse over the color of the dress. (You know it’s blue and brown anyway.) Instead, put your heads together to find a way to profit off this viral photo... and make a plan to act quickly the next time something this ridiculous takes over the Internet.

Catherine Alford is an award winning personal finance writer and full time blogger. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.


Forget football. The world was far more captivated by Katy Perry’s backup dancers this past weekend at the Super Bowl. Specifically, a dancer now known as “Left Shark.”

If you missed it, the memorable Perry performed an incredible showcase full of glamour, suspense, music and of course, fireworks.

The high-energy performance to the song “Teenage Dream,” which mentions California and the beach, was going pretty well until people on the Internet noticed that one of her backup dancers, who was clothed in a shark costume for the song, seemed a little… off. At least, “Left Shark,” as he came to be called, wasn’t exactly as coordinated as “Right Shark.” You can see what I mean here:

[video width="480" height="268" webm="https://cdn.thepennyhoarder.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/7CZby9V.webm" poster="https://s.yimg.com/cd/diminuendo/1.0/original/5110ab302ad1b064c96279efa186dfee97e84b2a.gif"][/video]

 

 

Although Perry’s choreographer insists the dancers were supposed to be freestyling, as opposed to performing the exact same moves, Left Shark has caused a media frenzy simply because he seemed a little unprepared for his Super Bowl debut (and it is a “he,” as was later revealed).

It might seem like a bizarre or silly news story, but smart entrepreneurs know that when a something like this goes viral, there is money to be made. From Left Shark videos to T-shirts to a custom flipbook, business-minded creatives are pulling out all the stops to profit off this bizarre and admittedly hilarious gaffe before the frenzy dies down.

Want to get in on the Left Shark action? Here are a few examples of how to earn a few bucks from this trend:

Create Themed YouTube Videos

People have already watched videos of Left Shark hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube, and it has only been a few days. In fact, if you search “Left Shark” on YouTube, there are 140,000 results, although some of them are from obvious spam accounts. Some are unique, though, like this video that teaches you how to make a Left Shark emblem for the Advanced Warfare game.

YouTube channels make money from advertising like Google Ads, which pay based on the number of views and clicks. By creating a popular Left Shark video, you could potentially earn high advertising profits over the next few days while the story rides its viral wave.

 Offer Left Shark Outfits

If you want your own Left Shark outfit, it’s going to cost you. One website in particular charges nearly $1,500 for a costume that resembles Left Shark. I smell an opportunity to offer one in a more affordable price range...

Let’s be honest; this could make for a really awesome Halloween costume or just your average everyday outfit for going to a job fair. Or, imagine showing up at your college frat party dressed like a shark. The ladies will dig it. Just make sure to practice your moves a bit, a la Right Shark.

Create Custom FlipBooks

The Flippist is known for creating incredible custom flipbooks. You can use them to tell your love story, propose or even relive Left Shark’s dance moves one flip at a time.

Custom flipbooks from The Flippist start at $395. It makes a really unique gift, so we’re hoping Perry reads this and decides to purchase a few for her dancers.

Write Adorable Love Notes

Everyone’s looking for a romantic way to show their love this Valentine’s Day… and  Left Shark is the perfect way to express those emotions.

Two smart twenty-somethings are selling a Left Shark card for just $5. The message inside says just what your lover wants to hear: “You’re the Left Shark to my Katy Perry.”

Other Left Shark Merchandise

Who wouldn’t want Left Shark to be their Valentine? You can tell the world about it for just $25. Or, for $20, find some solace in knowing we’re all Left Shark at some time or another.

Of course, if T-shirts aren’t your thing, you can always settle for a Left Shark phone case for $22.91, a tote bag for $35 or some colorful canvas artwork for $28.

You never know what people will find funny or why certain videos go viral, but it just takes one person to start a viral reaction. Who knew that when Left Shark decided to shake his money maker in that special way that only he could, that all of these people would be inspired to create products? These items are sure to brighten the day for all Left Shark fans out there, and that -- along with earning a nice chunk of change -- is what this is all about.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite Left Shark item? Will you try to cash in on the hype?

Please do your own homework before creating and selling any products on the internet. Before creating a listing, do a search on Uspto.gov to ensure that your creation doesn't run afoul of any trademark laws and if necessary, consult an attorney.

Catherine Alford is an award winning personal finance writer, full-time blogger, and mom of boy/girl twins. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.

When your website is hot, it’s hot. Or should I say, it’s glittery.

Over the past few days, everyone has been kicking themselves wondering why they didn’t come up with the genius idea to create a company where customers could send their enemies glitter.

The way ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com works is quite simple. People place orders for $9.99 Australian Dollars via PayPal, and the owner prints out a hate letter, fills it with glitter, and mails it to the enemy in question.

After all, why go the old school way of torturing your enemies with hate texts or embarrassing videos when you can go the much more lethal route of sending them glitter in the mail?

This Glitter Company Could Be Yours

If you’re as enthralled with this idea as the rest of the Internet, get your wallet ready, because this business is up for sale.

You can see all the details on the official auction page at Flippa, a website where people buy and sell websites and domain names. The company has received an astonishing 2.5 million visitors since it launched on January 12, 2015 -- yes, just a mere week before it went on sale. That level of viral activity is any online entrepreneur’s dream, which is why we’re all watching with bated breath as the price goes up and up in auction.

When this post published on the evening of Tuesday, January 20, the highest bid for the site was nearly $71,000. Nearly 340 potential buyers had bid. (UPDATE: When the auction closed on January 21, the site sold for $85,000.)

Why sell a website that’s doing so well so early after launching? Because 22-year-old Mathew Carpenter created the site as a fun side project, not expecting to quickly generate over $20,000 Australian dollars in sales… and becoming successful so quickly can apparently create a lot of problems.

“I launched this website as a bit of a joke not expecting this level of attention,” Carpenter wrote on Flippa. “Heck, I launched this website whilst I was on holiday! For the past few days it has been stressful dealing with all of the media attention.”

Should You Buy This Website?

Obviously, many people believe the concept of this particular business is a hilarious and brilliant idea. However, true entrepreneurs are also wondering whether this concept has any staying power, and whether it can become a viable long-term business.

“Buying a viral site is definitely a huge risk, but it can also come with a huge return,” says Jeff Rose, creator of GoodFinancialCents.com, who nets more than $20,000 a month through online businesses. “For that to happen, the buyer of the site needs the resources and capabilities to take full advantage of the momentum and keep it going.”

Because the site has been overwhelmed with orders -- Carpenter actually had to stop making sales -- the new owner should be able to generate a high number of purchases from just the current customer base. In fact, Mr. Carpenter has agreed to forward the new owner all emails from current and future hopeful customers.

That kind of email list can be extremely valuable, says Joe Saul-Sehy, an experienced online entrepreneur and former financial planner who writes at StackingBenjamins.com. If you want to purchase a viral site like this one, he says, “you should have a purpose that clearly outlines how you’re going to make back the $70k purchase price in a short time. It’s not enough to love the business . . . you either have to have e-myth-style systems in place or have another reason to buy it (the email list, for example) that’ll make it profitable.”

What About Long-Term Potential?

This business is on the height of what can be called a “viral wave” -- it has generated a significant amount of interest in a short amount of time. Typically, when companies produce viral videos or interesting products, the initial excitement produces the most money and then sales level off as time goes on.

That’s what more seasoned online entrepreneurs will take into serious consideration before putting in a bid, says Rob Walling, founder of marketing automation software Drip, who has bought and sold dozens of websites through Flippa.

“When determining if I'm going to buy a website, I look for a history of stable (or growing) revenue, a stable source of traffic that's not going to disappear tomorrow, and a hefty profit margin,” he explains. “This site fails the first two since it has a four-day history of sales, and my guess is its traffic came from a lot of one-time sources like press mentions.”

He goes on to say, “At $70k, this is not a good buy for someone like me who builds longer-term businesses. The site got a lucky spike of traffic due to some press coverage, but that's not really sustainable… The current bidders are betting that the profit they can turn on this short-term spike of orders will be more than the current high bid. I'd say it's a good bet this site will gross more than $70k… The question is: how much more than $70k will it make?”

So while the new owner might not receive the same level of sales as the company did during its first few hours, with the right marketing and budget, they could, in theory, launch this company into the forefront of young pranksters’ minds and build it into something even bigger.

Want to buy the company but not interested in filling every room in your home with glitter? Carpenter outlines on Flippa how a new owner could outsource most if not all of the business and still generate a significant income. He received numerous emails from businesses offering to handle the entire production of his business, he writes, and he’s happy to pass along those contact details.

If you’re seriously considering buying the site, here’s one more factor on your side: Carpenter has offered to sign a three-year non-compete contract, so you won’t have to worry about him shipping out envelopes full of feather boas anytime soon.

Your Turn: How much would you pay for a website like this that has gone viral?

Catherine Alford is a full time blogger, personal finance freelance writer, and mom of newborn twins. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.

Who can resist a good photo booth? What was once a cheesy high-school date activity has become one of the staples of the 40-billion-dollar wedding industry. Over the past few years, photo booths “have really exploded," New Jersey wedding industry veteran Rebecca Parliman told the Press of Atlantic City.

It’s not just weddings, either: Photo booths are popular at all kinds of parties, like bar and bat mitzvahs, company holiday celebrations, quinceaneras and more.

Creative entrepreneurs are taking note of the photo booth’s resurgence in popularity. Popular wedding site The Knot lists dozens of options for couples looking to rent a photo booth for their big day. However, not all areas are represented -- and those gaps in the market represent opportunities for new businesses.

Could you run a photo booth business? Here’s how to know if owning a photo booth could be a fun and lucrative option for you.

Why Run a Photo Booth Business?

Owning a photo booth is a great choice for a new entrepreneur because the business model is simple, according to Anne Bradley of TapSnap, a mobile, futuristic photobooth in Pennington, New Jersey.

The process is straightforward, she explained. You buy a photo booth. You market your services on social media and through wedding industry events, and you provide great service. Many people are able to start this business as a side hustle, so it’s not as risky as a venture that requires quitting your job or taking out a large business loan.

The downside is that the photo booth business is becoming increasingly saturated and competitive. If you want to make money in this business, you’ll need to bring your A game to stand out from the crowd.

How to Stand Out and Find Customers for Your Photo Booth

Since photo booth businesses are becoming more popular, how do you make sure yours stands out to potential customers? Many business owners have come up with unique and specialized photo booths to help set themselves apart.

Katherine and Conan Fugit of the Lamphouse Photo Company have mastered the art of creating memorable photo booths. They purchased a vintage camper and transformed it into a one of a kind photography studio. They also built a photo booth into the back of their '88 Grand Wagoneer, allowing them to maintain a “sense of curiosity and creativity.” Katherine explained that like most businesses, “The return you receive is relative to the amount of work you put into it.”

[caption id="attachment_8930" align="aligncenter" width="725"]Creative photo booth Photo courtesy of Lamphouse Photo Co.[/caption]

Kate Liebfriend of Bubble Gum Photo Booths says that her company relies almost exclusively on word-of-mouth marketing as their most effective marketing tool. However she also places ads in City Pages, a popular Minneapolis news site, and uses social media -- a great, free way to spread the word about your business.

Another smart strategy is to network with others in the wedding industry. If you have a cousin who is a hairdresser, make sure she mentions your business to all of her bridal clients. Chat with caterers and florists when you are setting up the photo booth at weddings. You never know who might be able to recommend you to another couple.

How Much Does It Cost to Buy a Photo Booth?

There’s no way around the upfront costs of a photo booth business. Most people will have to actually buy a photo booth, which can cost several thousand dollars. Liebfriend said it took her about two years to pay back her initial investment.

However, you could also minimize your startup costs by bootstrapping like the Fugits, who built their photo booths themselves out of a camper and a car.

You’ll also need to consider additional costs of the business, like paper, ink cartridges, props and gas.

How Much Can You Earn?

Most photo booth services include three to four hours of photo booth use including props, access to all the photos people take, an attendant and someone to drop off and pick up the photo booth.

Pricing for all of these services usually starts at $500 or $600 dollars, according to Kyle Tysvaer of Insightful Eye Photography, though costs increase as renters add on more services like scrapbooks, unlimited prints and social media options. Ryan Schmitz of Digital Photography Hobbyist estimates that he earns between $500 and $1,000 per event and runs through a few scenarios of earning potential, based on how much time you commit to the business.

Tysvaer explained that a few years ago he could charge more than $1,500 for his photo booth, prices have dropped as they have become more and more common at weddings. If you live in a highly saturated area, you may want to think twice about this business.

[caption id="attachment_8931" align="aligncenter" width="614"]Small photo booth Photo courtesy of Lamphouse Photo Co.[/caption]

What Else Should You Know?

When you own a photo booth, you will have to find a way to transport it to and from events. It’s best to choose a photobooth that you can transport easily in an SUV or a van, said Tysvaer. Otherwise, you might have to rent a trailer or a UHaul, which adds to your expenses.

You’re also going to want to hire an energetic, exuberant person to manage the photo booth and make it fun (or do it yourself). Personality is everything, and if people have a good time, they will recommend your business to others.

Ultimately, if you are willing to put in the effort and investment, a photo booth is a great way to create a side income as part of the lucrative and ever-growing wedding and party industry.

Your Turn: Would you start a business as a photo booth operator?

Catherine Alford is a full-time blogger, personal finance freelance writer and mom of infant twins. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.

If you’ve been searching high and low for a way to reduce your student loan debt without living in a van, set down your keys and grab your computer. We have a solution for you.

It’s called Gradible.

Gradible is an innovative and relatively new company created by three entrepreneurs to combat the United States’ trillion-dollar student loan problem. The founders understand that not only do students rely heavily on loans to attend college, but the cost of higher education is skyrocketing at an alarming rate.

So what exactly does it do?

Gradible pays college students and grads to perform certain tasks. Some are quick, like posting to Facebook, and others are more time consuming, like writing a well-researched blog post. You choose how much you work and which tasks you complete -- and you don’t have to go through an extensive interview process or wear a suit for this job. (I recommend yoga pants.)

I took Gradible for a test-drive to see whether it lives up to its promise, and I’m about to share my best advice. If the site sounds like an interesting way to reduce your student loan balance, here’s how to get started.

How Does Gradible Work?

Anyone in the United States with student debt, whether public or private, is eligible. You can be a current student, a graduate or even taking time off from earning your degree.

Gradible will give you $5 just to signup and confirm your email address. Once you're logged in, you can start to complete tasks. Gradible awards you with “LoanCreds,” which you then redeem against your student debt. 10 LoanCreds equal $1, and you’ll earn between 5 and 500 LoanCreds for completing each task.

What are Your Initial Gradible Tasks?

Here’s what to expect from your initial tasks when you sign up.

  1. Complete a survey. The first one is easy, a simple survey with a few questions that help the Gradible team learn more about you. They’ll ask you what type of work you’d be best suited for (like posting to Facebook or creating a blog post). They’ll also ask about your interests (finance, reading, writing, etc.).
  2. Write a short essay. It sounds painful, but don’t worry, it’s not. You went to college, after all! All I had to do was write 300 words about student loans, likely so the team could get a feel for my writing style and ability to write clearly and succinctly.
  3. Upload an ad to Craigslist. This one should be a breeze for any college grad. They asked me to go to Pinterest, find a particular photo and upload the photo to Craigslist with a description (it was an advertisement for a company).

Completing these three tasks took me less than 20 minutes, and I earned approximately $10 towards my student loans.

Speed isn’t everything, though; completing tasks well and thoroughly will open up the doors for more job opportunities. Basically, the better you are at following directions, the more jobs you’ll be able to complete.

Writing jobs pay the most, according to the company’s website. My best tip is to treat your work for Gradible with the same concentration and respect that you give your full-time job. The team loves it when people follow directions and do great work, and they will reward you with more opportunities.

Is the Pay Worth Your Time?

Are you wondering whether this type of work is even worth your time? James Foster, the blogger behind Debt Free Homestead, has been working for Gradible for months and shared some of his experience with me.

“Overall, I feel the pay is very fair,” said Foster, when asked whether his time investment was worthwhile. “While you could probably make more money by doing this type of work at a full-time job, it is definitely worth it if you are completing tasks in your free time, or even as a secondary income stream.”

James works full time, so he can only work on Gradible tasks in the evenings. However, those hours have paid off! So far, he has earned $250 using Gradible. During October 2014, he’s worked even harder to complete tasks and is projected to make over $200 for this month alone.

Why Gradible Works for Me

I finished college in December 2008, and despite graduating from one of the country’s best schools, I had no job prospects. Instead, I went to graduate school and took out more loans.

Slowly, over the last few years, I have brought my student loan balance from $39,000 down to around $33,000. Still, each month I have to make a decision about whether to use extra cash to pay student loan debt, add to my savings account, or make a purchase for my children.

For me, the best part about Gradible is that instead of paying me in cash -- which I could then spend on something unnecessary -- Gradible pays my loan provider directly. I have no choice but to reduce my student loans one task at a time.

A Simple Business Model

Gradible’s model is simple: You work. You get paid. You instruct the company to apply the funds to your student debt.

There’s no way to change your mind or allocate your income to another savings goal. Every task you complete goes toward reducing your balance -- as well as building your resume, especially if you snag one of the higher paying jobs like writing an ebook.

If you’re interested in giving Gradible a try and reducing your student loan debt, sign up for an account here. Plus, they give you 50 "LoanCreds" (50 credits = $5) when you sign up and confirm your email!

Catherine Alford is a full-time blogger, personal finance freelance writer, and mom of young twins. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.

Do people call you “The Baby Whisperer”? Do you love newborns? Do babies stop crying right when you pick them up to hold them?

If so, you might enjoy a new and highly lucrative job that is becoming more and more popular: night nanny (or night nurse). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help parents with their newborns. You’ll stay with babies overnight and feed or comfort them when they cry.

While it might sound like a job you could only get in ritzy areas of Manhattan, middle-class parents across the country are embracing this trend as a way to ease their transition into parenthood.

Interested in becoming a night nanny? Here’s how to get started:

What It Takes to Be a Night Nanny

Newborn Experience

Even if you’ve been a babysitter for toddlers for 10 years, many parents look specifically for experience with newborns.

You must have an excellent grasp of newborns’ needs and be able to confidently handle an infant who is only a few days old. This includes being able to change diapers and outfits in addition to swaddling if the parent prefers.

Experience Handling Sterile Items

A night nanny is in charge of all overnight feedings, which means bottle-feeding an infant. If the baby is taking formula, you need to know how to mix it correctly and properly sterilize the bottles.

If the mother is pumping milk for her baby, a night nurse will be responsible for taking the milk from the mother, washing and cleaning pump parts, and putting them back by the mother’s door for the next feeding.

Stamina

Taking care of a newborn is exhausting. You need to be able to wake up when you hear the baby crying and tend to him quickly.

If you are taking care of multiples, this is even more important because the longer one baby cries, the more likely it will wake the other one (or two, or three) up.

Compassion and Positivity

Many nannies have lost their jobs after parents overheard them on a baby monitor or camera, especially with the monitors parents can see on their cell phones. Assume these are installed in the nursery, whether you can see them or not.

Regardless of what happens, always be honest with parents about challenges or other happenings with their children. Make sure that you have a positive attitude, don’t get annoyed easily and are extremely patient.

Nursing experience

While this is more of a recommended skill than a required skill, you’ll be more likely to secure jobs over other candidates if you are a nursing student or a nurse, specifically an NICU or a pediatric nurse.

How to Find Night Nanny Jobs

Use these sites to search for opportunities, but also to list your services and availability.

  • Care.com. Many mothers use Care.com to search for babysitters, housekeepers and night nannies.
  • Craigslist. Parents are more wary of finding someone to watch their children on Craigslist; however, it’s worthwhile to list your services in the “Jobs” section, just in case.
  • Agencies: Childcare agencies screen candidates ahead of time so that they can quickly refer babysitters and nannies to families. Search online for a childcare agency near you by typing in “[your city] + nanny agency.”

Take extra time to present yourself well in your listing. Parents will be trusting you with their brand-new babies, and you need to convince them you’re reliable, competent and caring.

Include a photo. It shouldn’t be important, but it is. Parents want to look through photos and see who could potentially be taking care of their children.

Make sure you have excellent grammar. Parents want smart and put-together individuals taking care of their children. If your application is full of grammatical errors or mistakes, they will assume you have poor attention to detail.

List as many references as possible. Parents will call them, so make sure you list several people who will speak very highly of your services and experience.

Meet the Parents: Interview Tips

Be honest. If you have a certain obligation, a pet peeve, or are uncomfortable doing something, be honest in your interview. For example, don’t say you are comfortable washing out cloth diapers if the thought of them disgusts you.

I speak from experience: Do not compare multiples to single children. A big pet peeve of parents of multiples is when childcare providers assume multiples are the same as close siblings. Do not say you have experience with multiples because you used to take care of siblings who were 11 months apart. You will not get the job.

Similarly, do not speak about twins as if they are the same person with the same needs. Twin moms, myself included, are sensitive to these types of assumptions.

Communicate your ability to take direction. Parents, especially first-time parents, want things done a certain way. Even if you think you have more experience than they do, it’s very important you indicate that you’re willing to do exactly as they say when it comes to the care of their children.

How Much Do Night Nannies Make?

Compensation varies depending on your location and how often you help the family.

For example, Denise Acampora, a mother of twins, lives in an expensive part of Connecticut. She told me that she hired a night nanny for 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for $25 an hour.

Her night nanny made a full-time wage, but Denise said her services were more than worth it. Not only did her nanny help her with household chores, but because of her, Denise’s twins now sleep 11 hours every night!

Rachel Fike, a mom in Arizona, paid $100 a night for her nanny, who helped her from 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. Rather than using her services every night, Rachel explained that she hired the nanny to come once every other week to “recharge her batteries.”

Another mom, Kimberly Papac in California, found nighttime help in the form of a doula, who charged $32 an hour. Jennifer Soliman, a mom of multiples from North Carolina, paid her night nanny $23 an hour.

Hannah Birchman, a mom of six children under the age of five, pays her nanny $15 an hour to help with her triplets. However, she lives in more affordable Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Although compensation varies across the country, becoming a night nanny is a profitable job on its own, or one you could do on the side while working a full-time job during the day. As long as you know how to take care of a newborn and don’t mind a few weeks of fatigue, you can make a great income in short amount of time.

Your Turn: Are you good with newborns? Would you take advantage of your skills with babies to earn money as a night nanny?

Catherine Alford is a full time blogger, personal finance freelance writer, and mom of newborn twins. She writes about how to balance life and a budget all across the web including her own site, Budget Blonde.