Category Archives: Saving Money

Hiring Freelance Web Developers – Start with a Detailed Requirements Doc

March 29, 2013

A great deal of money can be saved by outsourcing your web development to freelancers.  This article builds off of my previous post, How to Hire on oDesk – Eight Tips for Small Business Owners. I have over 10 years experience building many web applications, including cash4books.net, gamerevive.com, mkzbooks.com, and sellbooksdirect.com. If you are looking to hire freelance web developers (AKA web programmers), one of the most important first steps is writing the detailed requirements document for your web application. It defines the scope of the project, and makes it very clear WHAT you are building.  But, it does not address HOW it will be built (a design document would do that).  A clear and detailed requirements document will set your project up for success for your outsourced web development project, and it will save you money by not having to go back and redo parts of the project that were not well defined.  And, if you haven’t figured it out, oDesk is my recommended solution for finding the best freelance web developers.

I prefer to use a Google Docs for writing the requirements.  First, set up the following outline. For your convenience, I created a detailed requirements document template to get you started.  Just open it and go to File–>Make a copy. Then start filling it in.  You’ll need a Google account, of course.  Or, if you want to use Word or something else, here is the outline:

  1. Summary of Functionality
  2. Definitions
  3. CSS, logo, and design of site
  4. Header, navigation, and footer
  5. SEO
  6. Customer Facing Pages
  7. Flow Chart
  8. CRUD operations (create, read, update, delete)
  9. Admin Panel
  10. Roles and Security
  11. Reporting
  12. Form Validation and Error Messages
  13. Logging
  14. Usability
  15. Email Alerts
  16. Mobile
  17. Installation
  18. Maintenance
  19. Q&A from Job Post
  20. Optional: Video Walkthrough of Competitor Sites

For the hardcore software requirements writers, the first critique will be that I’m not recommending usage of UML. Though I’m academically trained in UML, I don’t think it is necessary for the average business owner to use when building out the requirements for the average outsourced web project. That said, it really depends on the size of the project. Larger, and more expensive, projects can benefit from a more rigorous UML based approach.

Back to the Google Doc… Be sure to use “heading 2″ for the high level outline. This way, you can use the table of contents feature at the top of your Google Doc, and you can refresh it and create links to your content.

When writing out the content, use the word “must” instead of “should” in your requirements.  For example, say “The navigation must have x, y, z”. Watch my video for more tips on how to fill in the content from here:

Thanks, and please let me know if my post has been helpful to you by leaving a comment below.

Jim McKenzie Smith
President, CEO
McKenzie Books, Inc.
Cash4Books.net


How to Hire on oDesk – Eight Tips for Small Business Owners

March 23, 2013

oDesk has become extremely popular these days for small to medium size businesses. This is because it is fast, easy, and convenient to post a job and find affordable talent to fill the position. The contractor can be anywhere in the world, thanks to all the cloud-based services readily available (Google Docs, for instance). Plus, one of the biggest benefits are the feedback ratings and reviews left by other business owners so that you know the contractor is trustworthy. It’s a great way to hire locally or internationally: I’ve hired people in Oregon and Texas, but I’ve also hired in South Africa, India, Philippines,  Ukraine, and more. The types of positions I’ve hired for include: QA/Usability Engineer, Software Developer, Graphic Design, Data Entry, Blog Writing, and Online Research… just to name a handful.

oDesk is a great way to save money over using traditional staffing agencies.  And, by the way, oDesk has those staffing agencies scared stiff as they try to catch up with the times. Staffing agencies = deer in the headlights. oDesk = the new hotness.

But how do we go about hiring on oDesk? Given my experience with posting many jobs and screening hundreds of oDesk applicants, here are my eight tips on how to hire on oDesk:

  1. Give the job post a good title.  Spend some time thinking about the title.  What will intrigue talented people to click on the title of the job? Don’t just give it a one or two word title, like “Blog Writer”.  Instead, you can say something like “12 original WordPress articles: how college students can save money”. See how this is much more specific, and gives them a teaser to what the job is about? In a way, you are advertising your job post–so think like an advertiser.
  2. Be very descriptive about exactly WHAT you want done.  It must have “x, y, and z”.  List it out in a bulleted list in the Description when you post your job.  And, think about what are the deliverables? Be specific. The better you explain it, the better your experience will be on oDesk.
  3. Create an unlisted YouTube video, and link to it from In the Description field. I’ve used Snagit to create a quick video screen capture of exactly what I need done, then uploaded the video to YouTube as unlisted.
  4. Ask questions in the job post. This will help you screen out applicants.  At the end of the Description, say something like “To apply, please answer the following questions: 1)… 2)… 3)…”.  The questions can be experience related for example.  I’ve asked “What are three examples of your best work?”.  Or, “What experience do you have with [insert name of technology]?” If the applicant does not answer all of your questions, then this is immediate disqualification.  Hide them or “decline” them–either way, don’t hire them.
  5. Feedback, feedback, feedback.  For starters, there is no need to hire anyone on oDesk that has a feedback score of less than 4.  Most of the time, you can find people at 4.5 and above. When you post a job, expand the “Advanced Options” section at the bottom.  Select “At least 4.5″. Doing this will help you screen out the dead weight once the applications start rolling in.  And, make sure they’ve billed enough hours on oDesk so that they have feedback from at least five different recent sources.
  6. Know how to sort and filter your applicants. oDesk allows you to sort your applicants  in seven different ways: Best Match, Newest Applicants, Oldest Applicants, Feedback, oDesk Hours, Rate (low to high), and Rate (high to low).  In my opinion, the most useful sorts are Best Match, Feedback, and oDesk Hours.  Once you’ve sorted your applicants, make use of the Shortlist and Hide features to filter out the applicants that don’t have enough good feedback, don’t meet your qualifications, and/or didn’t answer your questions.
  7. Look for contractors that ask questions. I LOVE it when contractors ask questions about the job (about the “what” from #2).  This shows that they are interested in the position, and that they are not just using a canned template to apply for the job.  Or, if they mention something specific about your post such as, “I watched the video, and I’m interested in x, y, z…”. These are the creme of the crop… especially if they also have great feedback and matching qualifications.
  8. Give the contractor a test drive.  If applicable, hire them for 5 hours (or less) and have them complete a small task.  See how they do with it.  For example, before I hired someone for the 12 WordPress articles, I asked a contractor to write one article.  Then I can evaluate how they did, and go from there.

Watch my video for more:

Thanks,

Jim McKenzie Smith
President, CEO
McKenzie Books, Inc.
Cash4Books.net

View my next post: Hiring Freelance Web Developers – Start with a Detailed Requirements Doc


5 Practical Ways to Save Money for College

March 22, 2013

 

Photo Courtesy of Incometherapy

Photo Courtesy of Incometherapy

Are you looking for ways to save money for college? Pursuing a college degree is expensive and a challenging endeavor.  This is the part of  life where you need to learn how to manage your class schedule and your finances, as well.  College life is where you discover how to become more independent because you have to take care of your food, transportation, textbooks, supplies, tuition, budget, entertainment and many others.  It is normal to feel scared on how you will handle all these things, but come to think of it, you can actually transform your “fear” into an exciting experience, if you know the effective student money saving tips. When you follow the five practical money management tips, you do not have to worry and panic about getting broke in college.

 

Learn How to Budget Money

Photo Courtesy of Supermoney Save

Photo Courtesy of Supermoney Save

Organizing and keeping track of your finances is the fundamental financial skill that you should learn as an adult.  Getting an idea on how much you need to spend in a month will help you to keep your finances in order. Prepare a worksheet, and track where your money goes.  Keep your receipts so you can easily record your spending.  It is also useful if you want to compare your records monthly.  Remember, you don’t need to spend all your money, make sure that you set aside a portion of your allowance for “rainy days”.

 

 

 

Buy Used Textbooks

Photo Courtesy of How Stuff Works

Photo Courtesy of How Stuff Works

Buying new textbooks can be very expensive.  New science books for instance, may cost around $300 or more. Why buy expensive books, if you can have a second-hand book which is also of good quality?  Look around in a local bookstore near you; most of them sell heavily discounted textbooks in good condition.  You can also ask some college students who are ahead of you and or a friend who took the same course, if they can lend you their books or you can also rent to them.  You can increase your college savings if you are using second-hand textbooks. You can also visit your College Library and borrow textbooks for free.

Did you know that according to the College Board an average student pays around $1,137 for textbooks and supplies per year? Imagine how much you can save for four years (or depending on how long you will stay in college) if you are taking advantage of these opportunities?

 

Look for Freebies

The best thing about college life is that there are a lot of free amenities that you can enjoy inside the campus. As a matter of fact, most campuses offers free gym membership, free movie rentals, guest lecture series, sports activities, student clubs, and dorm diners.  Instead of paying for these services outside, try to look, ask, and build your networks around the campus. Take advantage of these amenities so you can save your money.

Moreover, don’t forget to bring your college ID with you, even outside the campus, there are some shops, bookstores, and transportation services that offer discounts for college students, just smile and present your student ID as a proof.

 

Be Smart and Frugal with your Dorm or Apartment Living

Photo Courtesy of Quizzle

Photo Courtesy of Quizzle

When you are eyeing for some appliances for your dorm, try to check with your parents, if they have old appliances at home which they are not using anymore.  You can borrow it for the meantime instead of buying a new one.  You can also check with your dorm if they have a program for low-cost appliance rentals.  If there is none, there are some companies that offer for rent services, which you can also avail.  Buying new appliances are costly and you may not be able to use it after college particularly if you plan to move-out or work in other places.

If you are living in an apartment, look for few roommates or ask your friends to live with you, so you can split the rent. Living off-campus can be very costly because you need to pay for internet connection, furniture, transportation, phone, and security deposit during summer months.   If you can share these expenses, you can set aside some money for your college savings.

 

Look for Scholarship Grants and other Money Resources

Photo Courtesy of College to Careers

Photo Courtesy of College to Careers

Scholarship grants and other financial aids will help you to pay your bills. Ask your school regarding their scholarship programs and offerings, and how you can avail them.  Do your best to get good grades, so you can be eligible for scholarships for graduate studies, if ever you plan to pursue it. If you have good grades, you can easily build your networks and get good recommendations after graduation.

If you have extra time, you can also look for part-time jobs, so you can increase your college savings. You can also invest some of your money with a discount broker, so you can start saving money for your future. Learning the different ways  to save money will rescue you from being broke.  It will also train you to become more discipline in handling your finances.  If you follow these money management tips by heart, college life will be more fun and rewarding for you.

7 Homemade Cleaning Recipes | Non-toxic and Cheap

May 4, 2012

Non Toxic Homemade Cleaning Recipes

 

Are you looking for safe and cheap homemade cleaning recipes? Cleaning your home with natural, non-toxic cleaners helps keeps your ecological footprint low, saves you money, and creates a safer home for children and pets. Consider how much money you can save by utilizing eco-friendly substances already on hand (which you can also purchase in bulk!), rather than purchasing a specialized cleaning product for each part of your home.

#1 – White distilled vinegar

  • Use undiluted or diluted vinegar to disinfect and deodorize kitchen and bathroom surfaces, floors, sinks and tubs.
  • Use on carpet stains to effectively blot out color or burn marks.
  • Add a cup of vinegar to the final rinse cycle to act as a fabric softener and to remove soap residues.
  • Clean windows with diluted vinegar (then dry and buff with crumpled newspaper).
  • Soak dishcloths and dishtowels in equal parts vinegar and water overnight to remove stains and prolong fiber life.
  • Avoid using undiluted vinegar on marble, as the acid can corrode it!

#2 – Baking soda

  • Sprinkle over carpets to deodorize, leave for an hour and then vacuum.
  • Sprinkle inside garbage cans before putting in a bag—swill with water after removing a full bag.
  • Add a tablespoon to cut flower water to prolong life—change water every few days.
  • Substitute half of your laundry powder soap with baking soda—this will use fewer chemicals, make your detergent powder last longer, as well as make the detergent more effective.
  • Place a saucer of baking soda in the refrigerator to absorb odors, change regularly—pour the old baking soda down the kitchen drain and follow with a kettle of boiling water to clean and deodorize drains.
  • Combine with water and soak in teacups and teapots to remove tea stains.

#3 – Lemons

  • Swirl lemon juice around to deodorize glass water bottles and jars.
  • Use juice to disinfect and clean wooden cutting boards (wooden boards are more ecologically sound than plastic ones).
  • Make lemon-scented dusting cloths by wrapping peeled lemon rind up in a clean, dry rag and then placing in a closed glass jar until use.

#4 – Eggshells

  • Crush and combine with baking soda and water to make a fantastic abrasive cleaner for hard-to-reach places such as glass decanters and long bottles.
  • Eggshells are also a great fertilizer for plants because of their mineral content; they are easy to crush up and sprinkle in pots of household plants or in gardens.

#5 – Mild, natural bar soaps

  • Use a bar of Castille or ivory soap as a stain stick to treat stains before putting into the laundry.
  • Use as a gentle and eco-friendly hand soap in the kitchen & bathroom.
  • Any natural bar soap works wonders for skin—try Burt’s Bees brand, or handmade soaps from a market.

#6 – Epsom salts

  • Use mixed with a little water as an abrasive scrub in the home.
  • Also does wonders in the garden as a commercial fertilizer substitute—Epsom salts are high in magnesium and give natural nutrients to flowers and edibles without adding petroleum to the soil.
  • They are also proven to promote a greater yield in both flowers and edible fruits and vegetables than commercial fertilizers.

#7 – Beeswax

  • Purchase natural beeswax polish to use as a polish/wax for wooden furniture and tabletops. Furniture polish sprays create a shiny, impenetrable glaze over wood, whereas beeswax feeds the grain of the wood with a deeper, richer luster.
  • Another alternative is a drop of olive oil.

Bonus household cleaning tips:

  • Soft cotton cloths
    • Keep old white cotton shirts, dresses and towels to clean with.
    • Cotton is a reusable and natural fiber, and is a far superior alternative to paper towels.
  • Newspaper
    • As mentioned, a great way to reuse old newspaper is to buff glass windows with it after spraying with vinegar water.
    • Newspaper absorbs oils or remaining residues and leaves windows free of streaks, with a nice sparkle.
  • Essential oils
    • Adding a small drop of essential oil to homemade cleaners or after deodorizing surfaces offers a pleasant lingering scent.
    • Nice and comparatively cheap scents are lavender, citrus or clove.

Additional resources and references:

  • A Guide to Green Housekeepingby Christina Strutt
  • Non-Toxic Housecleaningby Amy Kolb Noyes
  • Green Housekeepingby Ellen Sandbeck
  • Vinegar: Over 400 Various, Versatile, and Very Good Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought Ofby Vicki Lansky
  • Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun, and Frugal Uses You’ve Probably Never Thought Of by Vicki Lansky

Save Money in College | Money Saving Tips for Students

November 30, 2011

How Students Can Save Money in College

College is an exciting time in students’ lives.  Students learn about new subjects and explore their career options in a safe, knowledge-based setting. However, it is important college students also begin to form healthy financial habits in college. Too often, students that start off on the wrong foot make poor decisions later on, especially when it comes to their finances. Here are some ways students can save money in college and use their money in smart ways. These methods have worked for a number of students and are a good way to usher in adulthood and responsibility.

Purchase Second-Hand Supplies & Textbooks

Save money in college - used funrniture

You'll probably have some of these items that you can bring from home. Credit: William Hook, Flickr.com.

Many students want all new supplies for their dorm room. This can cost students and parents a lot of money and frustration when the bill arrives.  Thus, consider borrowing and buying used as strategies to save money in college:

  • Buy items like furniture, second-hand. You may find good second-hand supplies like coffee tables or lamps at consignment shops or garage sales. You might even have these supplies at home and can easily transport them with you to college.
  • Talk to family and friends and see if they have any supplies lying around you can buy at a lower cost. You never know when an old desk can become a study companion at college!
  • Bring materials and supplies you already have. Your pillow from home will work just as well at college and decorative items like photos or pictures you wish to hang up might be suited for your dream dorm room design. Additionally, bringing items you already own may help when you feel homesick at college. It is always a better option to add a touch of home to a dorm room rather than shopping for brand new items at stores.

Use Meal Plans

Most colleges require students to purchase a meal plan as part of their room and board. Even commuter students that live at home or have an off-campus apartment may be required to have a meal plan in order to keep their enrollment status. Meal plans are often grandfathered into costs and are difficult to avoid. Here are some tips for strategically using a meal plan to help  save money in college:

  • The meal plan is typically already paid for as a set number of meals per week or in points for food and beverage items on campus. The school may offer a combination of both of these options in their meal plants. Students do not have to spend extra money on meals with meal plan options, which is a benefit for those students that do not work while in school.
  • Colleges have begun focusing on healthier meal options. This helps students avoid calories and unnecessary spending on unhealthy foods they might be tempted to buy off campus.
  • Check your school’s policy on meal plans and any restrictions, such as times the cafeterias might be closed. This can help you plan your schedule better and make plans with friends to meet on campus for meals.

Check out even more advice on how to save money on food in college.

Avoid Using Credit Cards

Save money in college - avoid the plastic!

Leave the plastic at home and save money in college. Credit: Andres Rueda, Flickr.com.

Credit cards are readily available on college campuses and can easily lead students down to a dangerous path of increased debt and frustration. Avoid using credit cards or being cajoled into signing up for one while on campus. The benefits the salesperson might tell you at the table will not outweigh the cost of high interest rates.

  • If you come on campus with a credit card, use it sparingly. Students typically have a parent as a cosigner on credit cards, so overuse of credit might harm the parent’s credit score, too.
  • Avoid using credit by leaving the card out of your wallet altogether. Store it in a safe place, such as in a small safe with a lock, so you are not tempted to use it on a regular basis. If you must use credit for purchases, pay the debt off immediately the next month.

It may be challenging for students to save money in college, but it is not impossible! Following these steps will ensure many dollars (and headaches) saved during your college experience!