WordPress.com Business Users: eCommerce Has Arrived!

February 26, 2014

This is big news for WordPress.com users!

The WordPress.com Blog

We’re thrilled to announce that, starting today,  WordPress.com Business users can connect their sites to their online stores. With three leading ecommerce partners to choose from — Ecwid , Shopify , and ShopLocket — you can showcase, promote, and sell products to your customers directly from your site.

If you’re already a WordPress.com Business user, or are thinking of becoming one, here’s how the ecommerce feature will power your WordPress.com site.

A simple, hassle-free connection

Users with the WordPress.com Business upgrade already enjoy great features like live-chat support, unlimited storage, and free access to all our premium themes. Now, you can turn your site into a sleek online storefront, and let visitors shop from any post or page. The partners we’ve teamed up with — Ecwid, Shopify, and ShopLocket — all provide a smooth and secure ecommerce experience for you and your customers.

Connecting to your store is…

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A Call To Arms For Illinois Senators

February 24, 2014

This letter was emailed to Illinois Senators Durbin and Kirk, and Representative Duckworth over the weekend.  Neither Senator received the email, though it appears Rep. Duckworth did.  Hard copies are going to the these individuals today in the hope that someone in a position of power will help those of us afflicted with chronic conditions, including multiple sclerosis, ALS, Lupus, and many others.

The Honorable Richard Durbin
United States Senate
711 Hart Senate Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Mark Kirk
United States Senate
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

The Honorable Tammy Duckworth
United States Representative
1701 E. Woodfield Rd., Suite 900
Schaumburg, IL 60173

Sirs and Madam:

Sometimes it is difficult to see real-world problems from different viewpoints and circumstances.  If you would indulge me for a moment, I’d like to tell you about my circumstances that affect many others in similar situations.

I live in Schaumburg, Illinois.  I grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, attended St. Giles grade school and Oak Park River Forest High School.  My alma mater include College of DuPage and DePaul University.  I graduated with 4.0/4.0, and 3.9/4.0, respectively.  Growing up, our family of 4 (sister included) was an upper middle class family with many advantages: private primary school, nice house, travel, and numerous cultural events.  Both parents are PhDs and my father is a retired university professor and WW II veteran (Army, Pacific Theater).  My parents, even at advanced ages, are active and doing well.

I am not. I was unfortunately diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1991. I was 23.  Though still ambulatory, most of my walking is brief and with a cane.  I have little control over bowel and bladder functions as well as many other typical M.S. symptoms.  I am male and 46.

The last few years have been very difficult: I’ve been laid off twice (4 times total in my life) and unable to work a full-time job in recent years because of M.S.  Further, though I’ve had health insurance, I have paid over $34,000 out of pocket just for medical expenses the past two years.  Last year I made only $26,400 (from Long-Term Disability) – the majority paid for medical expenses.  I’ve had to raid my retirement plans (another $10,000 requested today on top of $25,000 in 2013) and over the weekend I sold much of my AT&T stock (from my days as an employee).   My furniture is either second hand (Craigslist) or ready-to-assemble furniture from IKEA.

Last month I lost my long-term disability plan, carried by The Hartford insurance (adjuster Natalie Bourne), despite my neurologist’s instructions to file for social security disability.  I did so immediately of course (with attorney Jeff Rabin), and my claim is somewhere in process (aka limbo).  The Hartford claims I am able to work full-time, despite my neurologist’s (Dr. Daniel Wynn) assertion to the contrary.  Thus far in 2014, I have earned $600.00.  An attorney (Mark DeBofsky) advised me that The Hartford may be in violation of ERISA but said his costs were more than I would recognize in return.  I am very fortunate to have these fine attorneys on my side.

I also signed up for an Affordable Care Plan in December of 2012 and received a partially subsidized plan with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.  I have since learned that BC/BS will not cover two prescriptions at all and the cost of my catheter supplies has escalated to $900.00 for 90 kits or 4 to 6 weeks supply.  I have zero income, except for a few dollars from published eBooks.  I have yet to fill my two most expensive prescriptions and have no idea if BC/BS will cover them at all.  I was advised not to earn more than $800.00 per month at the risk of losing any chance at SSDI. My mortgage payment is $825.00 on a very modest townhouse/rowhouse.

I was compelled to drop out of my master’s degree program at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville.  This is a shame; I am three classes short of a master’s degree in Project Management.  Following a lay-off in 2009 from Wisconsin Tool and Stamping (I was MIS Manager), I volunteered for Illinois Worknet (Mohamed Faheem) and started a blog for the unemployed: http://homepreneurs.net with related social media outlets.  The various sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Twitter, et al. – have well over 100,000 visits, presumably from some of the many millions of unemployed and underemployed.  I have attempted to assist those that I can.

I have enough money to survive for perhaps two more months.  I will then default on all debt.  I do not live frivolously: I drive a 2006 Toyota Matrix and live in a simple townhouse in Schaumburg with a second floor that is useless because of stair climbing issues (falling).

I know I am not nearly the only one in this situation.  Many other friends and acquaintances with M.S. suffer from similar situations.  Several either have gone into bankruptcy, live even at older ages with parents, or are on the precipice of financial ruin every single day.  We have no savings, no cushion, and no room for error.  This is very disturbing for a country that has so many millionaires and other wealthy individuals.  I was born into a solidly upper middle class environment; I am now well below the poverty line.  I am educated, experienced, and intelligent, yet have virtually zero recourse.  Even with SSDI and a part-time job (an extra $1000 per month), I will not survive financially.

I have consulted with a bankruptcy attorney (Nate Pomrenze) and determined that even Ch. 7 bankruptcy (full liquidation) is unrealistic, insufficient, and inadequate.  Basic monthly living expenses – food, shelter, medication – are not wiped out in Ch. 7 and SSDI (even with a part-time job) is simply not enough to survive, given my condition.

In 2012, I attempted and was approved for a stem cell transplant at Northwestern University and Hospital in Chicago with Dr. Richard Burt in the hopes of arresting or reversing my condition.  Cigna medical (my insurance at that time) would not cover this still-experimental treatment and a third-party evaluator (appointed by Cigna) also ruled against my claim.  I would need to pay for the transplant from my own pocket: the cost – $120,000 at minimum.

Why do I send this email?  Each of you has faced difficult medical challenges in life for either yourselves or family members.  You have better coverage of course than I, and the means to pay for better treatments and therapy.  I represent an increasingly frustrated and “dismissed” segment of the population.  We are a growing group of Americans – 400,000 cases in the U.S. (200 new cases per week) with a life expectancy of 6 years less than healthy persons, according to a recent study by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Though we are ever-hopeful of better treatments, most have seen scant progress in 100 years.  We suffer indignities of falls, diapers, and struggle to get dressed and function every damn day.

Our hope for an affordable health care alternative has not occurred: as indicated for me, at least 2 prescribed medications are not covered at all in my Blue Cross “Gold” plan, and medical supplies are more than I can possibly afford (I boil catheters for multiple uses).  Our hope for a faster transition to SSDI or financial assistance is non-existent.  Instead, we spend what little we save over a lifetime with little hope for the future.  Any chance at potentially life-altering treatments is likely impossible with AFA.

I am not asking for your pity, condolences, or sympathy.  I am asking each of you to examine your own past medical situations and realize that millions in the United States are in similar circumstances (with MS, ALS, Lupus, et al.)  You are somewhat fortunate: Annette Funicello, Richard Pryor, David Lander, Montel Williams, Teri Garr, and myself, not as much.  I lay no claim to fame as the named individuals; I am Joe Average.  The Joe Average you represent and I put into office with my votes.  The Joe Average that coached kids’ little league baseball and basketball teams; the Joe Average that serves as an election judge; the Joe Average that worked his tail off to earn college degrees despite medical issues; the Joe Average that is shamed and regarded as irrelevant by society; the Joe Average that is facing homelessness in months.

I ask that you stand up and speak out for Joe Average and that you help me and others afflicted with better financial and medical options.  We are American citizens and we should be afforded the rights and dignity of every citizen and certainly more than non-citizens.  While I cannot speak for others, my father’s North American family history traces back to somewhere around 1790 when a Joseph Shaw arrived on American shores in an unknown ship.  My family fought in WW 1, WW 2, Viet Nam, and Gulf Wars.  We are free because they contributed and in some cases, paid the ultimate price.

There are two choices all face in some way: either we use our power and influence to help others survive and succeed, or dismiss emails, letters, issues and complaints as ranting from the disenfranchised.  It is my hope that my votes over the years were not in vain.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Most Sincerely,

Dion D. Shaw

P.S. Many dozens of people are bcc’d  on this email (lawyers, media, Illinois residents) and I will post it on Facebook and other social media outlets I control as well.  I am not afraid to speak up for myself, but I will not identify other individuals for reasons of privacy and no prior notification.  I attempted to email each of you at the same time, but two of three were returned from servers.  Rep. Duckworth seemed to go through.

P.P.S. This letter was posted on WordPress, Facebook, and Homepreneurs website over the weekend and distributed to various social media outlets as well.

America


10 Free Business Ideas from Idealab IdeaDay

January 21, 2014

Business Ideas for you

David Cummings on Startups

Idealab, the most famous tech startup incubator in the world, just released a 90 minute video from their IdeaDay event last week. The goal with IdeaDay is to share 10 business ideas they’re excited about in the hopes that potential entrepreneurs, team members, and investors come forward to partner with Idealab in some way on them. Of course, the ideas are free and people can take them and run with them on their own as well.

Here are the 10 free business ideas from Idealab’s IdeaDay:

  1. Too Many Pictures – With digital pictures stored in so many places there’s a growing need to wrangle them all in a manner that’s more maintainable (e.g. photos on Facebook, Picassa, Instragram, Dropbox, etc)
  2. ActionMail – Interface with email in a more manageable manner through features like pulling questions out of email text and prompting for answers, prioritizing inbound email based on whether…

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Pin It… Pin It Good: Making the Most of Pinterest

January 19, 2014

Agreed – Pinterest is a valuable source of website traffic.

The Daily Post

We’ve talked Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. But for many blogs, the biggest source of traffic from a social network isn’t any of those: it’s Pinterest.

If you’ve eschewed Pinterest because you don’t care about ombre cakes or repurposing wooden pallets for home decor use, you might be missing out on a huge audience for your blog (and some delicious cake). Today, we’ll push past the inspirational quotes with beautiful typography, turn left at the green smoothies, and explore whether Pinterest is a good match for your blog.

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Attracting Traffic: Tips for Writing Great Blog Post Titles

January 9, 2014

The Daily Post

You’ve been working hard on your blog: you put thought and effort into your About page, your site title and tagline, and you’ve even picked a funky blog name. You sweat your photography. You read and re-read your drafts to make sure they’re just so.

With over 1.4 million posts published on WordPress.com every day, how do you make sure your work stands out in the crowd? Crafting strong post titles is one way to snag reader attention, pique interest, attract followers, and earn repeat visits. Here’s a few ideas to think about as your write titles for your posts.

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10 Questions to ask Before Starting a Home Business with a Spouse

January 4, 2014

You married or live with him or her because you love them.  But could you spend your working days with them too?  And sleep together at night?  Here are 10 simple questions to ask before starting a home business with a partner or spouse.

1) Can you work side-by-side?

This seems like a basic question – you play well in the sandbox – so why can’t you work well together?  There are many reasons from constant contact to settling personal and business differences.  Ask yourself honestly if a working arrangement can be productive, successful, and not destroy the positive and personal side of your lives.

2) Do you each have common goals?

Is your vision the same as your partner?  Does he or she support and agree with what you want to do and vice-versa?  If one wants to make widgets and the other wants to make cogs, how will you reconcile that?  What about the long-term?  Do you both agree about a long-term vision for the business?  Does it fit with your personal goals?  And if you have children, how do they fit in the mix?

3) Define and agree on roles

Will you do bookkeeping or will the other?  Determine who is responsible for producing the product (if appropriate) and who will handle customer service.  Also, who will make the final decision if common agreement is impossible?  You don’t want a business to cause friction in your personal life and the business needs are important too.  Someone must be in charge.

4) Define the business plan

Sometimes an objective third party is a good choice for reviewing a business plan.  An organization like SCORE will gladly assist entrepreneurs interested in starting a business – individuals or couples – with business plans and start-up businesses.

5) Talk. Talk. Talk.

Open and honest conversation is key to successful marriages and a successful business.  Set aside time to talk specifically about business issues.  When discussing, don’t be critical or dismiss the other’s ideas. You are not always right and the other is not always wrong.  Relationships are a 50-50 proposition.  A business partnership is too.

6) Draw a line between family and business

Maybe your business hours are 8 to 4 or one works that shift while another works a later time.  Whatever the case, draw that line between family time and business time.  If you promised to take the kids to the water park after school, make sure the business doesn’t interfere.  The flip side is also true.  Don’t allow your pillow talk to wander into the upcoming client meeting or quarterly taxes.

7) Create logical boundaries

Work is work.  The office is the office, even if the office is at home.  Design your work and living spaces to be separate from each other.  This helps keep personal and professional lives from conflicting.

8) Present as a team

Be united as business partners.  If you are parents, you don’t allow children to play one parent against another.  Do the same with your business.  Answer client questions the same way, each and every time.

9) Keep customers in the dark

Clients don’t need to know that your spouse is the other partner.  Keep them out of the loop.  Refer to your partner by name or as my partner, not as my husband or wife.  The less a client knows, the better.

10) Contingency plans

With both spouses working on the same business, failure is a double whammy.  Instead of losing one income, both incomes are gone.  Have a sizable cash reserve and another way to make money, if needed.  Assuming the worst outcome will make you plan more carefully and cautiously.  Build those reserves – remember, you have a family to feed too.  Further, draw up a partnership agreement that allows for one to get out, if they want to or must.  A business attorney can assist with this endeavor.


3 Tips for Freelance Workers

January 3, 2014

Want to start a freelance career?  Freelance work has many benefits: independence, control, flexible hours, and the potential to make a lot of money.  Before you make that decision, think about these drawbacks.

1) Can you and are you willing to do what it takes?

A freelancer has no backup, no wingman, no one to bail you out.  The job is completely up to you, or at least your part of the job.  Can you accept that?  Do you have the skills, experience, and determination to get it done?  Freelancing isn’t easy, and bad customer experiences can make you look bad too.

2) Are you a closer?

Getting freelance work isn’t about the number of social media sites or contacts you have.  It is about telling the customer how you will do the job, in their time, and within budget.  Social media sites – LinkedIn in particular – are great, but don’t replace a firm handshake or personal contact.  And once in the door, do you have the personality to close the deal?   You have to always sell yourself and always close the deal.

If you can’t or are not comfortable selling yourself and the services you bring, freelancing may not be for you.  You must be able to sell and react to changes in client demand and expectations.

3) Do you have the time?

Freelancing is not a 9 to 5 job at all.  It is closer to a 50 or 60 hour workweek or more.  Other than the actual consulting (freelancing) work, you will have lots of paperwork (billing, taxes, education),work on getting  the next client (while still on the current job), and of course every little task a small business needs to do.  As a freelancer, you have no staff and need to handle everything yourself.

Can you put in the time needed?  If you can confidentially answer yes to all of the above, you may be ready for a freelance career.  If you can’t, perhaps part-time freelancing is a better choice at this time.


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