5 Plugins Every Blogger Needs

5 Plugins Every Blogger Needs

Let’s talk about plugins and their importance in the blogosphere. What are plugins? They are basically bits of software or add-ons that expand the functionality of your site. They enable customization of new or existing features as well as adding extra functions to your site. In other words, plugins make your blogging work & life 10x easier.

They’re located on the left hand of your WordPress Admin panel, just below “Appearance”.

JetPack for WordPress:

This is the ultimate plugin for all bloggers, beginners or not. JetPack is a single plugin that consists of mini-plugins with numerous features. It consists of a main dashboard which shows an overview of your site statistics and analytics, i.e source of your site’s traffic, overall number of site views, total number of comments, etc..

It also has features which can enhance your media such as tiled galleries, photon and a carousel. I particularly love this plugin because the free option/package offers so many benefits.

Yoast SEO:

Yoast SEO assists with optimizing your blog’s content so they’re easily findable by search engines like Google. It simplifies all the steps that need to be completed in order for your content to be fully optimized. It lets you set a focus keyword, which is the keyword you’d like your post to be ranked for, or found by in search results. It then runs a content analysis on your post/page to ensure that keyword appears often enough and in the right places for your post to rank higher and better.

Coupled with other features like readability check (i.e how easy is the post to read, lengths of sentences & paragraphs, transition words, etc) and meta description (customizing what your post would look like on Google), etc..Yoast SEO provides a lot of benefits to content creators. For more on this, read here

Akismet Plugin:

This is a spam fighting service that protects your site from spam comments. This is  because there’s nothing more annoying than having to filter through spam comments just to get through to genuine ones. Akismet comes pre-installed in your WordPress but it has to be activated to perform.

Google Analytics:

Essential for keeping tabs (literally) on your site’s performance. Shows analytics broken down into different categories such as Demographics, Country, Page Views, etc…Check here for a step-by-step guide on how to install on your website.

Social Media Widget:

It’s one thing to create content and another to promote said content. Social media shares are very essential in this day and age to getting your content noticed by people all over the world. There are tons of social media widgets out there, for TAC, I use the pre-installed feature on the Jetpack plugin. I love how easily customizable it is to fit my website’s theme/layout.

Newsletter:

I’m throwing this in as a bonus. It’s optional for beginners as you might not be sending out newsletters right away but as you grow, collecting subscriber emails for newsletters will become essential in building and maintaining a solid readership. There are tons of newsletter plugins but some popular ones are MailChimp, Newsletter & SumoMe.

*Originally posted on The Alma Chronicle 

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Pursuing Multiple Passions: 6 Steps to Help Guide Your Vision

Pursuing Multiple Passions: 6 Steps to Help Guide Your Vision

“Find that one thing you enjoy doing, get good at doing it, then make a living doing it professionally.”

How often have we heard this preached to us in one form or another? Though it sounds like solid advice, what happens when your passion and expertise lies in more than one area? When you have multiple interests, strengths, and feel drawn to excel in multiple fields?

Well, if you’re like me, this article’s for you. This article’s also for anyone convinced that pursuing multiple passions is the perfect equation for chaos.

Over the years, I’ve found it challenging having to narrow my dream career to just one —constantly finding myself gravitating towards different interests and opportunities that seem to have no clear connection to one another. Frustrated from feeling like I was doing the whole career selection thing wrong, I started seriously reflecting and asking myself important questions like, “What do I see myself doing? What makes me feel fulfilled? What do I have to offer the world?” 

I haven’t figured out all the answers. However, asking these questions made me realize my frustrations were stemming from trying to live out my dreams the way society has mapped out the course. Life doesn’t often follow that route, though. It’s okay to go against the grain, to go down the road less travelled.

I’ve now managed to shift my perspective. I’m learning to truly trust and follow my heart, and the endless examples of people who’ve successfully done the same have helped make journeys like mine less rugged. An enthusiasm to pursue multiple passions shouldn’t be considered a risk, weakness, loss of focus, or misdirection. Continue asking the necessary questions and trust the process.

Here are 6 guiding steps to fall back on when you find yourself second guessing if you’re making the choice that’s right for you:

Surround yourself with positive support systems.

Living out your dreams isn’t easy. Constantly being in the company of negative people with a lack of positive supports can make this process more challenging when you’re making important life choices. It pays off to dedicate time towards identifying the people you trust will be there to support you best at whatever stage you’re at. It can be a family member, friend, teacher, pastor—you name it!

If you don’t know who or what your supports look like do your research. Find people who are pursuing careers in the same areas of your interests. Learn from their successes and their failures. Watch interviews, read articles, attend workshops, events, and conferences that’ll give you insight and connect you with the people, information, and resources that can equip, aid, and direct you.

Invest in self-care.

Self-care is vital. It’s impossible to build a secure future without looking out for you. While working towards building your dreams, it becomes easy to get caught up in caring for everything and everyone other than yourself. Demanding work schedules and a tonne of responsibilities coming from managing several pursuits can prevent you from crafting out time to take care of you.

What self-care looks like varies from person to person. Whether you choose to do it big or keep it simple, investing in you goes a long way. Remember, abandon any idea in your mind that says self-care is egotistical.

Silence the voices of naysayers.

When you’re trying to gain focus and work towards a dream or goal, people seem to voluntarily show up in your life and go out of their way to offer “friendly” advice, share their experiences, or “direct” you…

“Actually, teaching doesn’t seem like a field that you’ll grow in, you’d make a great realtor, though!” 

*Deep sigh*

…Thanks, but no thanks!

Too many negative and biased opinions can stop you from attending to your main focus—which is doing what you feel called to do. Whether or not the intention behind someone else’s input or advice is good or bad, one thing to be cautious of is how much influence you allow naysayers to have in shaping your choices, decisions, and actions. Seeking advice from anyone who wants to chime in is a big NO, NO, because not everyone has your best interest in mind. Even the ones who do won’t know entirely what’s ultimately best for you.

Get organized and prioritize.

Knowing where to place your time is crucial. You definitely need to be prepared to multitask, which requires you getting organized. Knowing what’s priority on your to-do list will save you from additional stress. There are a lot of great free apps and resources that’ll help you get the job done if you use them effectively.

Life happens, but planning ahead will make a difference that gives you a strategic advantage in the long run.

Trust your heart

This is another simple yet very essential step. Many of us know ourselves enough to know when our heart is leading us to act or not act on a thought, belief, or emotion. Our minds can get us into the habit of doubting, trying to make logical decisions to come up with solutions, and understand everything. It’s not always easy to remind ourselves to trust our hearts.

Just do it!

Most of us are familiar with the ever so popular Nike slogan, “Just do it.” The act of just doing sounds simple—however, the process isn’t quite so, if you know what I mean. Things like doubt, uncertainty, and fear can get in the way of progress. There’ll be times when you don’t feel ready, but it’s just a matter of following through with the first step and moving forward from there. 

There’s no solid blueprint or error-proof formula that I can share to get you from point A to point B, and that’s okay. It’s okay to not know, and it’s okay to make mistakes along the way, as long as you don’t allow the fear of moving forward to stop you from reaching your goals.

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Essentials For Solid Storytelling

Essentials For Solid Storytelling

Whether it’s an Instagram post, Twitter thread, Facebook rant, blog, newspaper, or work of fiction, you consume several stories a day. We’re all telling stories about ourselves, what we believe and what we observe of the world around us.

As a journalism program graduate and someone who currently works in Communications, I know that telling a good story is a critical piece in sharing important news. This article is for you, if like me, you write news stories, blog posts, occasionally share longer posts on Instagram or Facebook or just curious about what goes into solid storytelling.

What is this story and why is it interesting/important?

This is the first thing you need to know about what you want to write- what’s the story. Don’t get too lost in the details at first; those will come later. For example, I recently had the opportunity to do a multi-part story about a university undergraduate experience. When first mentioning it to someone interested in my work, I said, “I’m writing a story about eight students who have been given $10,000 to buy a piece of artwork for their university art collection.” The story is interesting because it was a unique opportunity for a bunch of students to have a significant amount of money to do what professional curators around the world do as part of their academic experience. Once you know what story you want to tell, it will help you to focus on the other details you want to include.

What are the most important facts? Include them in the initial paragraphs.

You’ve heard that people don’t read much anymore. Not true. According to a 2017 report by Pew Research Centre, many are reading the news on their mobile phones. It’s safe to say, that most of us are pretty busy and we scan for the important information and move on.

When writing a news story the traditional journalistic method of storytelling helps to ensure your readers are walking away with the information they need. This method is called the inverted pyramid – you share information in order of importance.

Your lead, the first line of your story, is also called the hook. It tells you one of more interesting parts of the story. Then you can include a quote from the subject of the story followed by what we call a nut graph – a paragraph with whatever is left of the who, what, where, when and why. After that first one to three (sometimes four) sections you include any additional information. This is true for all types of posts, even video. When creating the episodes for my multi-part story about those students, I made sure to include the who/what/why/where/when information at the top of each episode. It was short enough to not bore my retained audience to tears but long enough to inform new viewers on why the video they were watching was important.

A word about word counts – Shakespeare got it right when he wrote, brevity is the soul of wit. Most News stories don’t call for an essay-length post (not to negate the work of feature writers, I treasure a good feature). In my job writing news stories for a post-secondary institution, the sweet place for a standard news story or feature is between 600 and 800 words. If I can edit it down to 650, that’s when I have a real winner.

What visuals are you including?

Visuals are not an option. No ifs, and, or buts. I mean, feel free to post an article without an accompanying photo, but don’t be surprised if there’s a lack of engagement. A picture is worth a People click on a story for several reasons, but judge interest level on a story by a subject of image, quality, layout

To expand the use of your story, consider video storytelling. Video storytelling allows you to communicate details that you might spend a few paragraphs on in 15 seconds instead. Here’s an example of the final video I did to accompany my story about students selecting artwork.

 

Have you checked your spelling and grammar?

Check your spelling and grammar. Double check. Triple check. There are several reasons for this, including spelling errors can be a distraction. A small one like not catching your “the” turning into “teh” is a one-off that most will forgive you for. However,  if your work is littered with errors like “teh” world would be a batter place if had more civic discussions,” it will be hard for your readers to take you seriously.  When in doubt, reach out to a friend to read your work or consider using Grammarly, a spelling and grammar checking app/Chrome extension. The basic version is free!

What voice are you using? Who are you?

Figure out your voice and practice using it. What style do YOU write in? What are important parts of yourself that you infuse into the stories YOU tell? Don’t try to be someone you’re not.  Most readers can tell when you’re being false, so make sure to be yourself.

In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King said writing is “about enriching the lives of those who will read your work and enrich your own life as well.” The technical principals are important, but even as we work to become better communicators, I believe this is a beautiful sentiment to hold onto. Let’s enrich the lives of others even we enrich our own with solid storytelling.

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How To Start A Blog

How To Start A Blog

Two years ago when I started The Alma Chronicle, I remember being overwhelmed by all the information I came across on the internet. I spent countless hours trying to make sense of words I had never come across and somehow never figuring out what exactly I wanted or needed to do. Over the years, I’m proud that I’ve managed to single-handedly grow it to what it is today.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be doing a series called “Owning your blog”, sharing pointers from how to get started as a blog/website owner to creating compelling content and even content management. There’ll be 4 engaging posts to this series published every Thursday in the month of March and I hope at the end of it, someone’s work will be made a lot easier.

Domain Name & Hosting:

This is the first step to owning your website. When I started, I remember being confused on the meanings of a “domain name” & “hosting” & why they were necessary. A domain name is a unique address to a webpage or in this case, your blog. It is essential to your brand identity as it’s what you will be known for years to come so please take it seriously. After deciding on a name, check for its availability & register it with a Domain Registrar for a fee. The most popular ones are GoDaddy & Bluehost.

Next thing is to integrate this domain name with a blogging platform such as WordPress or Blogger. Luckily, the domain registrars mentioned above have a simple, free, one-click installation process. Spending on a domain name and hosting is not necessary for everyone. I recommend it if you want a more professional looking site. On the other hand, if you’re just looking to try out blogging with no intention of committing, I suggest starting with a WordPress.com (e.g xyz.wordpress.com) which is free.

(Tip: Domain registrars typically go on promotions from time to time so be on the lookout to get a desired domain name at a cheaper price)

Update: In partnership with websitesetup.org, I’ve included an easy tutorial on how to get a registered domain name with Bluehost. Watch below!

 

Choosing a Theme/Blog/Brand Identity:

A theme sets the tone for your blog and overall brand. This is the first thing users see when they click on your link and you want to make sure it represents you and your brand identity to the latter. Before picking a theme, do an overall blog/brand analysis and make a mental picture of what you want your brand to be known for. Think colours, name, overall aesthetics, fonts, photos, layouts, etc.

Most platforms come with decent pre-installed and free themes that I advice people to take advantage of when they’re just starting out. You know, get a hang of blogging and decide it’s something you want to do/commit to before you start throwing some major bucks into it. If you decide to go a step further to make your blog look more personal and professional, I recommend purchasing a pre-made theme from a theme developer and customizing it to your preference. That way, you don’t stress with the technicalities behind web design and focus on tweaking the theme to your taste; and creating content. You can purchase themes off a lot of websites but my favourites are Etsy,  SquareSpace, & Theme Forest to name a few.

Blog Content:

This varies depending on what your blog is centered around. Contrary to popular belief, blogging isn’t as easy as it looks. A lot of work and thought goes into creating content, especially when it’s done for a living. Overtime, analyze your audience demographic and be intentional about every content you put out. Be it be entertaining, inspirational, educational, etc. Make sure it adds some sort of value to the person on the other side of the computer screen.

Have fun & be consistent:

Just like everything else in life, consistency is key to growth; but blogging shouldn’t be a chore. It’s important to view your blog as your brand and have fun nurturing it so it can grow. For me, I’m happiest when I’m in front of my computer editing photos or creating compelling content such as this one for you guys. It’s also amazing how many opportunities and doors this platform has opened to me and I’m forever grateful.

(N.B This post is monetized with affiliate links from Bluehost. They are published in accordance with this site’s the terms of use policy)

*Originally posted on The Alma Chronicle 

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Reasons Why You Should Stick With An Instagram Theme

Reasons Why You Should Stick With An Instagram Theme

Ever looked at your Instagram feed and thought it looked overwhelming? Well, this is the post for you. A few months ago, I thought the same way and took it upon myself to change the aesthetics of my feed.

What are the benefits? 

Aside from the fact that you feel the ultimate satisfaction when you visit your feed, I’ve realized that Instagram themes are an easy way to give your brand its own visual identity. This is important because your followers are able to identify your work wherever they see it (Dude! You have no idea how helpful this is when someone steals your work). Additionally, your followers have an idea of what to expect from you every time, which not only gives them a sense of inclusiveness and excitement but also benefits you because you automatically cultivate a loyal following that comes back for more. Isn’t that amazing? Damn! I think it is.

You’ve probably heard the saying that the first nine photos on your feed play a huge role in the decision-making process of your potential new followers. Now, while I’m not sure how politically correct this shallow behaviour (as I like to call it) is for the majority of people, I’d be the first to say I’m guilty of it. Lmao, shoot me but if I go to a person’s page and it looks a hot mess, chances are I’d most likely leave the page without scrolling down sooooo we want to make sure we’re keeping it clean and cohesive, Okay!

Finally, believe it or not, but having a theme makes it so much easier to plan what to post next. With a structured plan for your feed, (and by structured, I mean everything from your niche to your content medium to your aesthetics) you already know the nature of your content which helps you come up with dope ideas on what to post next, what products to feature and exactly how to present it to your audience.

Curating Your Instagram Theme

So now you know why themes are super important, let’s get into how to actually come up with your new popping Instagram theme. You ready?

Once you have your niche and content medium all figured out, I say the next step is to find some inspiration. The best places to go for this are pinterest.com (Seriously, this platform is probably the best thing known to any content creator) and your favourite Instagram accounts that obviously adopt this technique. After consulting the content doctors, you can move on to figure out what you like in terms of colour, style and editing styles. Here are a few examples:

How I Edit My Instagram Photos

I personally love a minimalistic look. It’s airy, white, has a bit of nature here and there, you know, It’s cute! I tend to play with negative space a lot (which is basically a blank area around your subject). I find that this helps prevent the overall feed from looking “unnecessarily busy”. I ALWAYS edit with Facetune and VSCO. I use Facetune to clean up my pictures and VSCO to plan my feed and add my signature filter; A5. I use this for ALL my pictures. Here’s is a more detailed video on how I do this.

I hope these tips have helped you understand Instagram themes and remember to have fun while at it. Xoxo.

 

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Pregnancy, Planning, and Paperwork

Pregnancy, Planning, and Paperwork

So, you’re pregnant. Congratulations!! If you’re like most new moms to be: excited, overwhelmed, and counting down the weeks left until you meet your little bundle of joy that you have been carrying for 9 months.

But, if you are also like most new moms to be, you’re also pretty tired from being pregnant and having to work long hours to ensure you are financially secure for your little one or existing family, even if you have a partner. Whether your self-employed, got a 9-5, 5-10, or managing a few side hustles all once, I’ve compiled 5 key points to remember when you’re a work ninja, but also expecting!

My company, Baby Steps Guru provides maternity and parental leave guidance, and saves parents a headache, hassle, and lots of time, knowing how to navigate through the business side of having a baby!
Time better spent on bonding with your newborn baby, instead of handling paperwork!

As someone with extensive knowledge and more than a decade of experience, when dealing with group benefits, human resources, and government agencies such as Service Canada, I know how to make the planning of your little arrival less stressful.

I’ve listed 5 tips no one ever tells you but is important to know when preparing for your little one and can save you a lot of prep time and unnecessary paperwork:

TIP 1:  If you are employed, make sure you review and/or update your group benefits prior to your mat leave. It’s way more time consuming and a headache to get it done on your leave. If your self-employed and have an independent plan, notify your agent directly to look into your family options

TIP 2: Speaking of self-employment, did you know that you could qualify for EI maternity benefits if you’re self-employed?? For more details on this, email me at hello@babystepsguru.com

TIP 3: If you have a medically complicated pregnancy and need to leave work early, ensure you utilize all your sick time, and vacation time if it can’t be carried forward to when you return. You don’t want to lose those days! FYI, you could also apply for sickness EI prior to starting your mat leave

TIP 4: You only need 600 hours to qualify for EI maternity or sickness benefits, but you need them within a 1-year period from your last day worked.  Hours worked prior to 1-year period do not get used.

TIP 5:  If your baby needs additional care and needs to stay in the hospital for medical reasons for 1 week or more, your mat leave period could potentially be extended for the duration of the period that your baby remains in the hospital before going home. For more info on this, feel free to send me an email.

Bonus tip: Did you know you could apply for maternity leave up to 8 weeks prior to your due date if you’re no longer working?

If you are expecting and would like to discuss information in this post or other maternity benefit related question or would like to know about the services I provide, send me an email at hello@babystepsguru.com or visit my website, www.babystepsguru.com .

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