Renee Knight - The Penny Hoarder

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If you spend a lot of time searching online, you might want to make Bing your search engine of choice.

Why? Bing wants to pay you for your searches.

Earn credits through Bing Rewards as you’re looking up the latest celebrity gossip or the best budget travel accommodation options -- credits you can cash in for a variety of rewards, from $5 restaurant gift cards to free Skype credits.

Ready to earn bonuses from searches you’re going to do anyway? I tested Bing Rewards to learn more about the reward process and how to maximize your earnings. Here’s how to get started.

How Bing Rewards Works

Signing up on the Bing Rewards homepage only takes a few minutes. When I signed up, I learned I already had 43 credits from previous searches, so if you’ve ever used Bing, expect to find credits waiting for you, too.

The earning process is simple: You search on Bing, you earn credits. You get one credit for every two searches you do on your PC and mobile phone -- up to 15 credits a day through PC searches and 10 credits a day for mobile searches. During my test, I only hit the maximum number of searches a couple of times. Keep an eye out for special daily promotions and offers for double points. They’re usually pretty easy to complete and can help you earn more than the 25-credit daily max.

Keep track of your search tally and credits through your Dashboard. If you prefer not to have an extra tab open in your browser, simply watch your credits increase in your Bing Rewards credit counter in the upper right hand corner on the Bing homepage or download the Bing Rewards toolbar.

Ways to Earn Rewards

When you first sign up, you start out at Member status. From here, you can work your way up to Silver status and finally Gold status. In just a few weeks I achieved Silver status -- all it took was watching the short welcome video, setting a reward redemption goal and earning 200 search credits. As a bonus, I earned 50 additional credits simply for reaching Silver status.

Now I have my sights set on Gold status. To get there, I need to redeem credits for a reward (which I did this morning), complete 150 rewardable searches a month (done!) and earn 750 lifetime credits. I’m at 265, so this might take a few months, but in the meantime I can still redeem credits for smaller rewards and watch my lifetime credits continue to add up.

Once I hit Gold status, I’ll earn a 10% discount when I cash in my credits for rewards. I set my goal reward as a $5 Groupon promotional card, which will only cost me 470 credits instead of 523 when I finally reach Gold status.

What Can You Do With Your Credits?

Most of the rewards in the Redemption Center come in the form of $5 gift cards to retailers like Burger King, Starbucks, iHop, Amazon and Toys ‘R’ Us. These typically cost about 525 credits. If you’re feeling lucky and are willing to part with between 20 and 40 credits, you can enter different sweepstakes. In a giving mood? You can cash in credits to make donations to various charities.

And for a mere three credits, you can buy a virtual scratch-off ticket for a chance to win a variety of prizes, including $500 gift cards, Bing Rewards credits and even an Xbox One + Kinect. I cashed in points for scratch-off cards this morning. I didn’t win, but I had fun trying.

Advice From a Bing Rewards Pro

I’ve only been at this a few weeks, so my experience is limited. Scott Hicks, from Richmond, Va., used Bing Rewards for more than a year, racking up about 2,500 credits.

When Scott first started using Bing Rewards, he worked for an SEO search agency, and that meant he spent a lot of time looking at search results for his clients. Not only was he curious about Bing’s search capabilities, he figured if he was doing all that searching any way, he might as well get something out of it.

After switching jobs Scott now turns to Google more for his searching needs, but when his son’s birthday came up a few months ago, he remembered his rewards and decided to cash in.

His son wanted a $20 item from GameStop, and as luck would have it, Scott had enough credits to pick up five $5 GameStop gift cards -- more than he actually needed. He redeemed his credits and received an email with the gift cards almost instantly.

While Scott doesn’t use Bing as often these days, he sees it as a good way to earn a little extra cash.

“It’s a great search engine for most people so you might as well gather points from your searches,” he says. “Do the extra rewards every day, because whatever they are will give you a little bump.”

Earn While You Search

You’re not going to earn a ton of cash using Bing Rewards, but you will rack up enough credits to grab gift cards that can save you money, and you might even be lucky enough to win one of the sweepstakes or scratch-off prizes.

I’ve had fun watching my credits add up as I search and figuring out what I need to do to win those bigger prizes. It’s like a game to me, so for now I’m going to keep searching with Bing and collecting small rewards for something I’d otherwise be doing for free.

Your Turn: Have you used Bing Rewards? How much have you earned?

Renee Knight is a freelance writer, editor and blogger based in Northern Virginia.

This post is part of our series on Weird Jobs. Check out the other articles to learn about more weird jobs you could try!

A normal workday for Samantha Hess includes spooning, holding hands and snuggling with people she barely knows.

And she gets paid $60 an hour to do it.

This Portland-based entrepreneur started her business, Cuddle Up to Me, a little more than a year ago and has not only managed to build a steady client base, she’s become a bit of a worldwide sensation. The 30-year-old has been interviewed for print, radio and television media outlets across the country and globe, including CNN and USA Today, and even released a book earlier this year, Touch: The Power of Human Connection.

How did she do it? It all started with a broken marriage, a random article she found on the Internet, a killer support system and a drive to succeed. You may not need that exact formula, but if you genuinely like people and want to make some extra cash -- or explore a new full-time job opportunity -- professional cuddling may be right for you, too.

The Inspiration for This Unusual Business

After Hess ended her marriage, she felt unfulfilled. She wasn’t ready to date, but still yearned for touch and acceptance from another person, she says. One day during this bleak period, she came across an online article about a man offering free hugs at a Saturday market, yet getting outdone by another man offering “deluxe hugs” for $2 a pop.

“I thought, how great would it be to have someone who would just hug me and make me feel loved, and not need anything from me emotionally?” Hess says. "Then I came across professional cuddler Jackie Samuel online and I knew I had found my dream job.”

Getting started

When Hess began pursuing her full-time snuggling dreams last March, she had to make sure professional cuddling was indeed a legal, viable business. She even hired a lawyer to help her through the startup process, which also included developing a waiver to ensure her safety -- a difficult task considering the cuddling industry is a relatively new, open landscape.

By June, she was ready to start taking client appointments, and Hess was marketing her cuddling services to everyone she met. She put flyers up around town and left business cards at local shops -- anywhere she might find someone who needed a hug.

Within a month local television, radio and print media took interest, but Hess really started feeling the love in October, when The Oregonian published a feature about her. Turns out, a lot of people wanted to snuggle with Hess -- she received 10,000 emails that week.

Her business took off, and a year later, Hess says her story has touched 17 million people around the world, including China, Brazil and Australia.

Why She Charges $60 an Hour

Before finding her true calling, Hess held a slew of less-than-fulfilling, customer service-type jobs. She also spent time as a personal trainer, a job she says commands about $60 an hour.

Based on that, her skill set and the fact the most similar professional she could think of -- a massage therapist -- charges about the same, she decided folks would be happy to pay that rate to spoon. Plus, she liked the idea of marketing her services for only $1 a minute.

With that rate, it took Hess about seven months to find herself in the black.

So how much can she make? When she snuggles up to her max of five clients a day, Hess brings in $300, and she usually works five days a week. But her earning potential doesn’t end there. She plans to open a retail store later this year and to teach a 40-hour certification course for aspiring cuddlers.

Who Wants Cuddles from a Stranger?

When Hess first started, she expected to dole out most of her hugs to lonely widowers. That hasn’t been the case. She has spooned with people of all ages and backgrounds, from CEOs to artists.

Most clients schedule four to five sessions, and she’s amazed by the emails she gets from those clients who want to thank her for helping them get through a difficult, otherwise hug-less time.

And for Hess, that’s what cuddling is all about.

“When someone has some sort of gap in their world that makes them feel incomplete, I get to help fill in that gap,” Hess says. “I get to build people up to give them the self-confidence to go after what they want in life.”

Making It as a Professional Cuddler

Interested in cuddling professionally? You better like people.

If you’re going to try this business, you have to offer unconditional love to everyone who signs your waiver. There’s no room for discrimination or judgment, Hess says. You’re there to build your clients up, to offer them comfort and the human touch they crave -- in a mother/child, non-sexual kind of way.

You can’t be a control freak, either. Clients drive the sessions, whether they want to hold hands in the park, spoon on the couch in silence or chat about their problems as you snuggle in bed. Of course, you should develop a sign that alerts clients when they’re making you uncomfortable or if something inappropriate happens -- for Hess it’s two taps.

Find Support of Your Own

If you’re ready to cuddle with strangers, Hess says you need a support system. Hers consists of family, friends and the folks she volunteers with at the local food bank. They give her encouragement and lift her up when she’s feeling weighed down.

Beyond that, believe in yourself and ignore those naysayers who don’t understand your dreams of full-time cuddling.

“You have to be so excited about it,” Hess says. “Know it. Just own it. If you’re not sure it’s going to work, it’s not going to work.”

Your Turn: Would you work as a professional cuddler? Or, on the flip side, would you pay for platonic snuggles?

Renee Knight is a freelance writer, editor and blogger based in Northern Virginia.

Karen Lynch can’t help but laugh when guests tell her how they picture her day, a leisurely one spent serving breakfast, pouring wine and chatting up out of town visitors as they relax at her bed and breakfast, the Inn on Randolph.

In reality, Karen’s days are much more hectic than that -- more so than she ever imagined in 2011 when she and her husband bought and renovated a then outdated, run-down bed and breakfast in Napa, California.

They now spend their days managing the B&B’s website, responding to reviews, managing social media accounts, bookkeeping, fixing anything that’s broken, taking reservations, greeting guests, finding and hiring employees -- the list of tasks goes on and on.

Even though it’s hectic, Karen loves the B&B lifestyle, and has actually made a profit since opening in 2012. But not every new owner is so lucky. Your earnings and success depend on many factors, including location, how much you invest and how different your inn is from others in the area.

Have you ever dreamed of opening a bed and breakfast? Here’s what you need to know to make sure running a B&B is right for you, and to turn a profit as soon as possible.

Realize It’s a Full-Time Job

If you want to make a significant amount of money,running a B&B isn’t something you can do on the side, says John Finneran, who owns the Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast in Salisbury Mills, New York. Sure, you might make a few extra bucks, but how will people find you if you’re not promoting your business? And if you don’t create an exceptional experience for guests who do happen to find you, the chances they’ll come back are pretty slim.

John and his wife, Dena, opened their B&B about three years ago. They bought a five-room bed and breakfast and expanded it to 10. They recently bought adjacent property and plan to add four more rooms and a banquet facility.

Once completed, their efforts will lead to income that folks renting rooms as a side gig can never reach. John, a Professional Association of Innkeepers International board member, says his nightly rate for one room is often three times more than what three-to-four bedroom operations charge for all their rooms combined.

The point? If you just want extra income to help make ends meet or to justify keeping your large, now empty family home, opening a B&B likely isn’t the right venture for you.

Try Before You Buy

Before you buy a B&B, Karen suggests volunteering at other inns. You’ll get a feel for what an innkeeper’s day actually entails, and a good sense for what you do and don’t like. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

If your state has a B&B association, think about joining and taking the classes they offer, recommends Jenn Wheaton, marketing and program coordinator for the California Association of Boutique & Breakfast Inns. This gives you access to experts who can answer any questions you have before you buy.

Buy an Existing B&B

Once you’ve decided running a B&B is for you, don’t feel like you have to start from scratch, says Jenn. Look for an existing bed and breakfast that needs a little TLC, and you’ll be up and running quickly -- and likely attracting existing clientele who can’t wait to see how you’ve improved the inn.

When you buy, consider location, says Bruce Abney, who owns El Morocco Inn & Spa in Desert Hot Springs, California. Think about the weather, how many other B&Bs are in the area and what activities guests can enjoy while visiting your inn.

Bruce also suggests finding out what local inns charge and their occupancy percentages. With these numbers, you can estimate your yearly earning potential and decide if you’ve found the right location.

And if at all possible, pay cash, Karen says. You’ll make a profit a lot faster if you don’t have a mortgage weighing you down.

Be Ready to Spend

The money trail doesn’t end after you open your inn. Be prepared to invest in your B&B, John says, and be proactive when it comes to making repairs and improvements.

Every touch you add, whether it’s heated bathroom floors or iPads in every room, makes you memorable -- and that will help you bring in more money faster.

Hire Great Staff

When you’re marketing, gardening, cooking, cleaning and fixing whatever happens to break day after day, it’s easy to burn out.

Instead of taking it all on yourself, hire staff members for the jobs you’d rather not do, John suggests, and focus on what you love about your new job as innkeeper. Your inn will flourish and you’ll be raising your rates in no time.

Exceed Expectations

If you want guests to return to your B&B, you have to create value.

Think about ways to stand out. Bruce has a Moroccan theme, offers spa services and pours a special drink at his nightly happy hour. Guests love these touches, spend money on the extra services, and remember the exceptional experience the next time they’re planning a trip.

Is Running a B&B for You?

Opening a bed and breakfast can be a great business opportunity -- if you’re ready to invest the necessary time and money. Just realize you might make money right away, or it may take you two or three years to see a profit.

But if you genuinely love people and are looking for a new business opportunity you can keep close to home, you just might be ready to take on the innkeeper title.

Your Turn: Would you open a bed and breakfast?

Renee Knight is a freelance writer, blogger and editor who has a new-found appreciation for B&B owners. Get to know her at ReneeKnight.com.