Take a university course for free? Yes you can.

Just a quick post today, but it’s one that could make a big difference to your life.

These days, we don’t finish our education when we leave school or university. We need – and actually often want – to keep going back and learning at many different timers in our lives. Maybe you’ve decided to retrain since your family arrived, perhaps you’re thinking of leaving your little business and going back to your career when your kids start school or perhaps you just feel the need to exercise your brain. Whatever the reason, the internet has opened up some pretty incredible opportunities to learn.

Universities around the world are now offering courses for free at Coursera or you can check out Stanford’s online courses. Yes, they are at higher education level and yes, there is a tutor and assignments to complete. These courses are more than just a set of videos you watch alone. Pretty amazing, I think.

Harvard also offers videos of some of its courses here  and so does Masachusetts Institute of Technology (there’s no tutor or assignments for these).

And if you’re wondering where the British universities are, they’ll joining in soon – see this article for more.

If you decide to sign up, please do let me know how you get on!

Don’t miss a thing here at Business Plus Baby   Click here to get my newsletter and  I’ll also send you a copy of  my e-book Running a business around a family: 9 steps to success.

(By the way, this post doesn’t  have any affiliate links and it’s not sponsored, I just think this info is so good I wanted to share it.)

Take your library on the move with a Kindle

Today’s guest post comes from journalist, copywriter and author Emily Buckley. Over to you, Emily!

First launched in 1997, the Amazon Kindle has revolutionised the way we read. Paying for extra baggage at the airport because you’ve brought ten bestsellers on holiday with you is a thing of the past, as is shoulder ache from lugging a trusty book around with you in your bag all day. With a Kindle, you’ll never run out of books as you can purchase a new one with the push of a button, wherever you are. The great news is that entry level Kindles have come down in price considerably over the years, meaning that everyone should have the opportunity to own their very own portable library.

E-books have fast become the reading device of choice for millions across the globe, evidenced by the fact that in the latter three months of 2010, Amazon sold more e-books than paperback books in the USA for the first time. So why should you buy a Kindle? Although it may seem relatively expensive, it’s the cheapest it’s been since its launch and, as the majority of ebooks are cheaper than their paperback counterparts, you’ll end up saving money in the long run.

Admittedly, the Kindle isn’t the only e-reader on the market and if you’ve made the decision to invest in one you’ll have to know choose what sort of reader you want. Essentially it comes down to a choice between a black-and-white e-reader such as the Kindle and a full-colour tablet such as the iPad. When it comes to reading, the Kindle wins hands down. It’s markedly cheaper than all tablets, lightweight (imagine holding aloft an iPad for a long reading session) and comes the closest to replicating the experience of reading a book. The Kindle’s e-ink screen looks surprisingly like printed paper and allows users to read in direct sunlight, something that isn’t possible with the LCD screens utilised by tablets. This makes them great for taking on holiday, or reading in the park in your lunch hour.

The downsides? Unlike tablets, you’re unable to browse the web on a Kindle. However, for those who simply want to read that also means you’re not interrupted by incoming emails, Facebook messages and Tweets, so could be a blessing in disguise. The Kindle’s screen isn’t backlit, which means that additional lighting is necessary in poor lighting conditions, but there is a reason for this. Backlit screens can cause eye strain and tiredness over long periods and as Kindles are designed for book lovers who are likely to lose themselves in books, this obviously isn’t ideal and is the main source of frustration for tablet users when they read. Furthermore, covers with built-in lights and attachable lamps are both available to solve the lighting issue.

A Kindle makes reading on the go so much easier, giving you the ability to download e-books as and when you want to, carry around thousands of books in a tiny piece of equipment, and even hire library books. It is a book lover’s dream.

Journalist, copywriter and author Emily Buckley is both an avid reader and writer of books who would be lost without her Kindle!

How to stick to your goals when January is long gone

You can’t go anywhere in January without hearing about how you should be setting goals for the year. But as we enter the second quarter of 2013, your goals may be long forgotten. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. You can set and achieve goals at any time of the year.

One place where I’ve made a big step forward this year is in joining a mastermind group. Once a week I get together with three other online business owners and we work through our challenges, plus what we want to achieve. It’s a lot harder to wriggle out of a goal when you know you have to report back to three other people each week! If you haven’t tried a mastermind group I really recommend setting one up.

Here are some more tips to help you set goals and stick to them:

1. Be realistic

Do you set large and totally unrealistic goals? Or maybe you don’t set goals at all? Perhaps the goals are so small that they don’t help you accomplish anything? When creating your goals, take the time to make sure they’re realistic.

For example, if you have a goal to write an e-book to promote your business, make sure you give yourself enough time to get the job done. Trying to complete the report in a single day may be biting off more than you can chew. Instead, a two-week goal writing two or three pages a day may be more realistic.

2. Leave time for things to go wrong

One common mistake is to push your schedule to the deadline. Inevitably something will happen to get in you’re way, especially when you’re working around a family. So don’t save that e-book until the last minute. Your internet will drop out, your four-year-old will wake up with a stomach ache or your car will break down and you’ll have to wait for the AA. Make sure you schedule your days so that your project is completed on or before you need it.

3. Learn your triggers

Everyone has a few triggers that prevent them from being as productive as they’d like to be. Maybe you are easily distracted by Facebook or do you get caught up in email or daytime talk shows?

Learn your triggers and then create systems to manage them. For example, if you get caught up in Facebook, block the site on your computer during your productive working hours. If you enjoy watching daytime television, structure your work hours around your favourite shows and don’t turn on the TV until you’ve accomplished your set tasks for the day.

Finally, make time to relax and celebrate your successes. Taking time off from being productive is just as important as setting and achieving your goals. In fact, it may be more important. When you allow yourself to step away from your goals and your business, you’re able to return to them renewed and refreshed. It helps you maintain focus and a positive attitude.

Once you learn how to identify triggers and set realistic goals, you’ll find that you’re able to accomplish much more in less time. There’s satisfaction in that. There are profits and business growth too.

Don’t miss a thing here at Business Plus Baby   Click here to get my newsletter and  I’ll also send you a copy of  my e-book Running a business around a family: 9 steps to success.

What should you outsource first?

Outsourcing for a small business means paying someone else to work in your business on a freelance basis rather than as employee. Being able to offload a stack of work to someone else sounds very tempting, but where on earth do you start?

The first tasks to outsource are the ones you simply can’t do yourself, either because you don’t have the skills or qualifications or because it would be a risk to  your business if you tried. Good examples include:

– Web design – if you’re a complete technophobe

– Graphic design – it’s OK, most of us struggle to make graphics look good!

– Accountancy – let’s be honest, this subject takes at least three years of full-time study and it changes constantly. And that’s just the start, there are also many specialisms, such as forensic accountancy! (You can find out more about that at Frenkels Forensics if you’re curious…)

– Legal – would you know where to start when drawing up a contract? Nope, neither would I.

Once you’ve worked out all the tasks you simply can’t do your self,  list all the tasks that you hate or aren’t very good at. These are the tasks that someone else can do far better than you and in a fraction of the time, too! Bookkeeping is high up on many people’s lists and you may be surprised how little it costs to outsource if you find a bookkeeper  who specialises in working with small businesses.

There are plenty of mums with valuable skills who would love to help you out part-time with admin, graphic design, running a PR campaign and many more tasks. If they work from home their overheads are low and they could well do the job for less than you could. That frees up your time to do what you are really are good at, plus growing your business to the next level. You could also free up a few hours by asking a local teenager to help out with post office runs and baby-sitting, or you could get a cleaner.

The internet has made outsourcing easier than ever before. Many home-based freelancers can be found on Twitter, so it’s easy to ask around for recommendations. You can also post jobs on sites like Elance.com and PeoplePerHour.com. Make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully and look at the freelancer’s track record before you hire them, though. I’ve had some success with Fiverr.com,  a site where people will do work for you for just five dollars (about £3.50). I really recommend giving that a go if you want to get started in outsourcing because it’s so cheap and easy to use.

Ultimately, you should aim to outsource as many tasks as you possibly can. That will free you up to work on growing your business, rather than working within it.

(Note: remember when hiring freelancers to stay on the right side of the HM Revenue and Customs’ rules around self-employment see www.hmrc.gov.uk/employment-status/index.htm for more)

Image courtesy of nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Consideration was received for the writing and editing of this post.