Thursday, July 30, 2015

37 Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance by The Muse

The Daily Muse editor put together 37 stellar tips on work/life balance.  Since I am working on a guest post this week for The Helicopter Mom & Just Plane Dad, I decided to give myself some balance by curating an amazing article for you!  See what I did there?  ;)

The Muse put together some awesome gems of advice like:

Outsource your chores - I'm a big believer in this.  I wrote a whole post about outsourcing to make life easier.

Set time limits for things you need to do - Need to cook dinner?  Give yourself a max of 30 minutes to do it.  Need to get through your emails?  Give yourself 20 minutes.  You'll quickly learn how to prioritize.

Set up auto-shipping for things you need every week or month - we did this for coffee and water, but you can do it for diapers and pretty much anything.

<Check out the rest of The Muse's tips here>

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

5 Best Sites for FREE Blog Graphics & Images + New Bonus

5 Best Sites for Free Images and Graphic Design | Sarah Smirks

I read a blog post once about a small time blog getting sued over using someone else's image.  Who isn't guilty of going to Google images and scanning for a good picture for a quick post?  Well, you'll notice a note on the right side of the Google image screen saying that these images may have copyrights.  And, guess what?  Many do!  I'm going to give you some of my favorite sites for royalty-free images and graphic design.  But, if you still want to use Google image, here's a hint.  In the right hand corner, go to "advanced search."  Then scroll to usage rights, and choose any with the "free to use or share."  You are good to go.  No lawsuits!

Now, to my favorite free sites!

1)  Pexels - Pexels has absolutely gorgeous photography and it is actually (for real) free.  You'll notice most of the photography from this site and M2M Marketing is from Pexels.

2)  Foter - Foter has a lot of free photography.  Make sure you follow the attribution guidelines for the photography.  Each one is different.

3.  Kaboompics -  Kaboompics is by a Polish photographer Karolina Grabowska.  She takes stunning photos of fashion, lifestyle, architecture, and more.  Best part, she gives it away.

Now that we have a couple great options for free photography, it's time to move to the best graphic design sites.

4.  Canva - Canva is my go to.  It's easy to use and provides great add-ons for infographics.  Most items are free, but some are $1.

5.  PicMonkey - This site has cool effects, lots of options for different kinds of photos, and options for making bad-ass collages.  I tend to use this for the corporate world and Canva for the blogging world.

What are your favorite sites for images and graphic design?  I'd love to add to my list!

P.S. You might also like this post on making blog posts Pinterest worthy ;)

BONUS:  I just discovered Fab N' Free, a resource for free graphic design patterns, frames, and clip art.  It is awesome.

Fab N' Free | Free Downloadable Design Elements for Bloggers and Biz Pros | Sarah Smirks

Monday, July 27, 2015

Behind the Blog: Blog Goals and How to Meet Them

Last week, I talked about my blogging goals for the week and my plan to meet those goals.  I wanted to reach 500 Instagram followers and 20 Bloglovin followers.

For Instagram, I planned on working on making a cohesive profile, with similarly styled photos, following at least 5 new profiles a day, and commenting on at least 5 photos.  I accomplished my goal!  I reached 563 followers by Sunday.  One thing that helped me with this was joining blogging groups on Facebook.  We all follow each other on social media and help promote each other's posts.

For Bloglovin, I planned on adding the link to follow me at the bottom of every post and to comment more on blogs.  I did that, plus joined the blogging groups, and, as of Sunday, I have 51 followers.  I kicked that goal's butt!

My favorite blogging groups on Facebook are:
The Blog Love Project
Blog Hops & Link Parties
Show Your Blog Love

Are you new to blogging groups?  They're great to network with other great bloggers and to grow your blog faster.  There are always posts to follow each other on Twitter, Pinterest, Bloglovin, Instagram, Facebook, and some I haven't even heard of.  Every day, there is a post where you can post your latest blog post for comments.  Sometimes you need the support of your blogging friends to get the comments rolling.  Another perk, maybe they haven't heard of your blog before, but after reading, they start following.  Bloggers are also some of the biggest blog readers.

This Week's Blog Goals

I'd like to hit 70 sessions/day Monday-Friday.  To do this, I'll join link parties for each new post I write this week, and promote my posts multiple times on social.

For Bloglovin, I want to reach 60 followers.  I'm going to continue joining Bloglovin link parties, commenting on blogs, and, I'm considering doing a sponsorship with a similar blog.

For Instagram, I want to get to 600 followers this week.  I will continue commenting on pictures and follow the followers of similar blogs.

For Facebook, I'd like my page to reach 150 followers.  I'm going to comment on other blogger's FB pages from my blog page account and join link parties.

And lastly, for Twitter, I'm aiming to reach 1,800 followers.  I will continue to automate tweets throughout the day, follow at least 5 accounts per day, and give some Twitter love with retweets and favorites.

What are you doing to grow your blog or business this week?  What are your goals?

Read the next post in the series here!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Behind the Blog: Dave Matthews Band at Alpine Valley

Hello, lovelies!  This weekend we went to the Dave Matthews Band concert at Alpine Valley.  Now, let me tell you the insane road to get there....

First, let me start off by saying my husband and I have been huge Dave fans (like card carrying members of the Warehouse) since forever.  I remember watching the VH1 top 10 on Saturday mornings waiting for the Crash video to come on in 6th grade.  When I met Kyle, he was an even bigger fan than me, so we're full on nerdy groupies together now.  We have actually planned vacations based on the tour schedule.....  I think it's important you know our level of obsession before I begin this story.

We ordered our tickets THE DAY they went on sale, of course.  We got them in the mail in March, and kept them safely in our mail bin until one day we thought, let's move them somewhere safe...  The worst phrase ever.

About a week ago, the H asks me, "Do you know where our Dave tickets are?"  I respond, "Um....I thought you picked the spot."  And this begins a solid three days of searching.  We tore apart every cranny of this old house and guess what?  We never found them!

The show was Saturday, so by Thursday, we're in a full on panic.  I go on Craigslist and email everyone that has tickets.  Ever.  Y.  One.  We've already spent $250 on the original tickets, so my soul is dying a slow death by cheapness.  I'm negotiating like I never have before.  By Friday, I suck it up and we end up meeting someone at a country club they lifeguard at, and we ponied up $250 more dollars for two new (slamming seats) tickets.

When Saturday rolls around, we drop the nino over at my in-laws, and decide to have the time of our lives.  We ate, drank, and were merry (Trippin Billies) until we were going to explode.  We made friends with everyone around us, and screamed the lyrics to every song.  Because when you spend a week looking for lost tickets, and then have to buy new ones, you gotta live it up and make it worth it.

Lunch in Lake Geneva with Grandma before the show.

Having a couple before the show with my in-laws.

J and grandpa chilling in his new school house.

Celebrate we will (Two Step), because you and me together, we can do anything, baby (You & Me) (including buy tickets to the same show twice).

Dave Matthews Band | Sarah Smirks

What bands do you have on your "must see" list when they come to town?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

3 Tools to Make Life Your Bitch

3 Tools to Make Life Your Bitch | Sarah Smirks

If you're anything like me, you're a sucker for taking on too much.  I have a full, legit career as a marketing director, a blog, a toddler, a husband, friends, family - the whole shebang.  That probably sounds very familiar to you because it IS you.  We all have a lot to take on.  Even for those mamas that choose to be a SAHM; you're taking on the whole household management.  That's a job in itself.  To make my life slightly less chaotic, I'm a big fan of using the tools necessary to make my life work.  I wrote a post about outsourcing your to do list, when it no longer makes sense for you to take on those responsibilities.  For all those items that need to stay on your plate, I'm going to tell you my favorite tools to keep that shit in check.  Life doesn't have to be hard.  You just need to know how to organize it.  Here are my three favorite tools for a smoother life.

1.  Google Calendars - I have a Google Calendar for my blog schedule, life schedule, & bills.  My husband has Google calendars for coaching, teaching, and himself.  We share them with each other, so we always know where the other person is and how to schedule our day.

2.  MyFitnessPal - It's way too easy to lose site of fitness and healthy eating goals when you're busy.  To prevent this, I use my FitBit and MyFitnessPal to track my calories and exercise.  Join a FitBit challenge group, so others are keeping you accountable.  A reminder alert on your phone will be a quick, daily reminder to get moving or eat less calories.  Thank you, MyFitnessPal, I didn't need that break room doughnut, anyway.

3.  Chase Bill Pay - Setting up automatic bill payments takes one thing off my plate each month.  I always know my bills will be paid on time because I either set them up to autopay or I set up the bill to be taken out as soon as I get it in the mail.  Along the same vein, my husband and I also like Mint for organizing our money and tracking our budget.

Here are a few other great articles on organization tools:

20 Great Tools to Keep Your Life Organized | Zen Habits

8 Tools to Organize Life in 2015 | US Money

5 Free Tools I Use to Organize Life | The Simple Dollar (I use all of these tools too!)

What are your favorite tools for organizing your life?  Please share in the comments!

Oh, and quick reminder, bloggers, add your URL in your comment, it'll set up a backlink (I'm a marketer!  I'm always thinking SEO).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

8 Marketing Hacks to Get You to the Top of Google

8 Marketing Hacks to Get to the Top of Google | Sarah Smirks | SEO

The goal of most websites is to get found – amiright?  You want people to know where to find your business, what you do, and how to contact you.  And then the dump truck of money gets dropped at your feet, and you can swim through your gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.  

Before you can do swan dives into your money pile, you need to learn how Google thinks.  What does Google need in order to rank you higher?  Google takes a lot of things into account.  I could write a book on it, but since you probably don’t want to read a book on Google, I’ll give you my Cliff’s Notes.  These are my top 8 must-dos to get to the top of Google.

1.  Use Google AdWords Keyword Tool ( -  You don’t need to use Google Ads to use this tool.  Use the tool to search for keywords you’re thinking about using on your site.  You can look up how many people are actually searching for those keywords.  There’s no point in focusing on keywords no one searches for.  You can look by geographic area, if you are a local business, as well.  Aim for keywords that rank “medium.”  High has too much competition and low has too little searches.

2.  Use long-tailed keywords – “Long-tailed” keywords means phrases.  Too many people are focusing on “lawyer,” for example.  Instead, focus on “bankruptcy lawyer Illinois.”  You have much better odds of being found now!

3.  Use your keywords in varied ways, so it looks natural – Google hates robotic writing.  They want copy that is natural and written the way people speak.  So, when you choose which keywords to weave throughout your site, make sure you place them naturally and use synonyms.

4.  Add your website to directories – Google search looks for backlinks.  It shows your authority when other RELEVANT resources reference your URL.  Add your business information to legit directories to get more backlinks (spammy, link farm directories will have the opposite effect and hurt your ranking).

5.  Add your URL when posting comments – Use Q&A forums and blog comment areas as a way to get your domain out there.  Whenever you add a comment to a blog, add your domain along with your name.  If you answer a question in a forum like Quora, add your domain.  The more relevant backlinks, the better.

6.  Write press releases – Another way to get backlinks to your website AND possibly get some media attention is to write, or hire someone to write, press releases.  Distribute them to press release distribution sites and your backlinks will quickly build up.  Bonus, your company news will end up posted in Google News and other media channels.

7.  Mobile-friendly is a must – Google will lower your ranking if your website is not mobile-friendly.  You can test your website here.

8.  Write a blog – Google likes websites that have frequently updated content.  What better way to have frequently updated content then a blog?  It’s great to post daily, but if you don’t have time for that, aim for at least one post per week.

Google isn’t the Flintheart Glomgold (Scrooge McDucks arch-nemesis.  I Googled it ;) of your website.  If you know what Google is looking for, it’s completely possible to get to #1 in Google.

Good luck!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Behind the Blog: Weekend Fun and Upcoming Blog Partnerships

Behind the Blog | Blog Goals & Collaborations | Sarah Smirks

Happy Monday!  I hope your weekend was good.  In going with my recent blog changes (changing the tagline to "The Marketing Mama Blog," some design changes, & an updated content calendar), I have changed the name of my Monday posts from Weekend Wrap-up to Behind the Blog.  It will still feature my weekend plans and my life outside of the blog and work, but it will also delve into my upcoming blog goals and blog plans.  They say, if you have a goal, write it down and share it.  I'd say writing down my goals and sharing them with my readers is taking it one step further!  I hope you enjoy the changes.

Behind the Blog:  Weekend Wrap-up

This weekend was pretty laid back thanks to the weather.  We had LOTS of plans, but the weather said, naw, you're staying home.  On Saturday, we were supposed to go to my cousins birthday party, and on the way there a huge storm blew in.  It rocked our car, blew rain sideways to the point we couldn't see, and knocked down trees right in front of our car.  So, we turned around.  Not worth our lives!

Flea Market Fun at Wolff's Flea Market | Sarah Smirks
Flea Market fun.  J is in a stage where he always wants to
hold hands.  Here, he decided he needed to hold both of my parents'
On Sunday, it was beyond humid.  It was the kind of air you can cut with a knife.  We went to the flea market, which has become somewhat of our Sunday routine, but it was just too hot and humid to enjoy the time.  Later, we were supposed to meet up with some friends and go to the art fest in Evanston, but J slept right through it!  By the time he woke up from his nap, our friends' daughter was one tot mess and had to go home.  Toddler life.  Their moods control everything!

What we ended up doing most of the weekend, is organizing the home.  My lovely H put organizers in my terrible, half thought out closet (our bedroom was an addition), and we did some bedroom redecorating.

Newly organized closet

New bedroom decor

My dad made this tree for my wedding.
Now, I repurpose it for my jewelry holder.

How do you spend your weekends?

Behind the Blog Goals: Amping up Instagram & BlogLovin

My goals this week are to work on amping up Instagram and Bloglovin.  My issue is, I had always kept my IG personal and private, so I really restricted who could follow me.  Since starting my blog, I have since gone public, and now I need to really work to get all of those followers I restricted when it was private.

My goal for IG this week is to get to 500 followers.  To do this, I will do link up parties where bloggers follow each other on Instagram.  I will post at least 10 comments a day on other people's pictures, follow at least 5 new people a day, and post one picture a day.  I also plan on trying to give my overall profile a look by posting similar style pictures, using the same palette for graphics, and using the same filter to provide cohesion.

For BlogLovin, my goal is to reach 20 followers by the end of the week.  My issue with BlogLovin growth is my RSS feed was broken after I changed blog platforms.  It took a few months to fix, so my growth on BlogLovin was drastically cut.  

To increase BlogLovin followers, I have changed my post signature to include a link and prompt to follow me on BlogLovin.  I will follow more bloggers I know and offer follow for follow.

Behind the Blog:  Upcoming Collaborations

I have Small Business Spotlights scheduled for three great small businesses that I am super excited about collaborating with.  I will tell you more about them soon :).

I am working on a guest post with the blog Helicopter Mom & Just Plane Dad.  I will be writing a post about choosing a pre-school.  I will also be featured on the blog One Active Mama as a Mom of Instagram.

Tell me, what are your blogging and social media goals this week and how do you plan on achieving them?


Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Newbie's Guide to Bloglovin

The Newbie's Guide to Bloglovin | Sarah Smirks

If you haven't hopped on the Bloglovin bandwagon yet, get to it.  It is my favorite blog newsfeed site.  It's easy to follow your favorite blogs, find new blogs that you'll get hooked on, & you can add your own blog to the platform.

What the heck is bloglovin?  

Bloglovin is a way to organize and save the blogs you love.  It's in a newsfeed style, like Facebook.  You can just scroll through all of your favorite bloggers' posts, read, and save the ones you want to reference later.  You can also get them in your inbox with their daily newsletter (I confess, it's the only email I always open...).

What the Heck is Bloglovin? | Sarah Smirks:  The Marketing Mama Blog
Bloglovin newsfeed.

How does bloglovin work for bloggers?

Bloggers claim their blog and get a TON of benefits.  I'm a marketing girl, as we know, so the fact that you get analytics excites me to no end.  I LOVE a good graph (swoon).  Their analytics aren't any replacement for Google Analytics.  Bloglovin's analytics just track your followers, but it's still a great perk.  

Bloggers can also get a Bloglovin' button, so readers can subscribe to thier blog.  I think Bloglovin is so much better than other feed services.  It's always available to you and your readers (emails, app, website).  There's no missing a post, or readers falling off the wagon with reading your posts.

Another huge bonus, Bloglovin will promote your blog for you.  You can enable a feature that will Tweet and post on Facebook your latest blog posts.

I don't know what took me so long to post about this website that has had my heart for so long.  Really?  What took me so long?  If you have any questions about Bloglovin, feel free to comment below.  I love to hear from you!

Monday, July 13, 2015

How to Make Blog Posts Pinterest-worthy | Mom Boss Monthly Series

Create Pinterest-worthy blog posts | M2M Marketing/Sarah Smirks

Good morning!  Be kind, people, be kind - I have just done my first VLOG.  Oh God.  A video of my lollypop-self showing you how to make your blog posts more Pinterest-worthy.  You'll learn how to make an easily pinnable image and how to input alt text, so you can control the description readers see when they see your pin on their Pinterest feed.  The description of the pin is basically the SEO of Pinterest, so now you're in control of it.

Enjoy :)

An Interview with Skincare Expert Maryam Tabrizi

Sarah Smirks:  An Interview with Skincare Expert Maryam Tabrizi
Happy Monday!  Sort of, as I'm writing this, it's 4:50am on the Monday following an amazing weekend with family, friends, and awesome Chicago weather.  Thanks to the giant cell phone ad that created the biggest guilt trip in history for using your phone too much in front of your kids, I am trying to unplug in front of J. I am, at 4:50am writing a blog post while he's sleeping.  Cheers to a more "present" self!

Today, I am bringing you something I've never brought you before - an interview!  As I get older, I get more and more concerned about my skin.  I'm definitely guilty of going in tanning beds when I was a stupid teenager, as were my friends, and you know what?  Some of them have already been diagnosed with skin cancer.  Teenagers are stupid, and I was no exception.  When I met Maryam Tabrizi through the M2M Marketing Network, I thought, I need to interview this girl and get some deeper insight into skincare.  She has a true passion for skincare and really cares about her clients.  Enjoy :)

Sarah Noel (SN):  First off, why don't you tell my readers a little about yourself.

Maryam Tabrizi (MT):  Hi, my name is Maryam and I'm a proud wife and mother of a 3 1/2 yr old little boy. Originally from Wisconsin, we moved here 6 years ago. I decided it was time for a change in careers and left my social work job for a passion of mine-skincare. I went back to school full time and started working in the health, wellness, and beauty field. being a licensed esthetician has changed my life in so many ways. I am still helping people but in a way that is creative, healthy, and positive. I've been working at a spa in the Gold Coast for 2 1/2 years and also have my own mobile spa business , FreshbyMaryam. I bring the spa to mommies at home! Whether it's a facial, waxing, or tinting of brows/ lashes, I enjoy making people feel better and more confident about themselves.

SN: What caused your career transition?

MT: I had "made it" in terms of career advancements and was on a track to go higher but found myself stressed and not happy. My husband encouraged me to go for my dreams and once he was offered a job in Chicago I took it as a sign to change it up. Best decision I ever made!

SN: That's great! What is the biggest mistake women make in terms of their skincare routine?

MT: many! Lol. Either not wearing daily sunscreen or not washing skin before bed

SN: I don't know how people can't wash their face before bed. I feel like I'm caked in the day by then! If you could only do one thing each day for your skin, what one thing would be your priority?

MT: So hard to just pick one! Sunscreen. 90% of aging is from the sun. You'd be shocked at how the most intelligent, capable, women are horrible with their skin.

SN: Ugh, I know I'm guilty! Tell us about your at home events with your mobile spa.

MT: I'm sure your not that bad!:) I provide at home spa services such as waxing, tinting, facials. It started off when I had my son and meeting new mommy friends. We were talking about what everyone did and I would say I was a skin therapist. I had an at home wax kit and started waxing my mommy friends at playdates! Then it morphed into facials and then a small side biz. Since then, I go to mommy groups, spa nights, I have event given facials to a couple at home on valentines day. It's awesome and I love it.

SN: That sounds like an amazing business. What area do you service?

MT: Mainly, the city of Chicago.

SN: Okay, great - I'll let you get back to it. Thank you for taking the time to allow me to interview!

If you're interested in contacting Maryam, feel from to email me and I will give you her contact information!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Weekend Wrap-Up: Bubbles, Baby, & Beachin'

Happy Back from Fourth of July - wooo......

Is anyone else having a hard time admitting that our long weekend is over and reality is back?  No?  Just me?

This weekend we had so much outdoor fun.  Friday, H, J, and I went to the South BLVD Beach.  It's only a few blocks from our house, so a nice walk and boom, we're beaching.  

Illinois beach

Saturday, we had a BBQ with all of our family.  We had a great turn out and it was so much fun having some new faces over that haven't seen our house yet.  When you live in Chicago, you make a BIG deal out of your outdoor space and summers (they are too damn short), so we've really made the most of our urban yard.  

fourth of july bbq

This is Byron, my brother in law.  He has an amazing cooking blog Mr. Cheez.  Check it out!

AND, we went to the South BLVD Beach to watch the fireworks with our crew.

I also got to meet Kayden, my newest nephew.  What a sweet boy!

newborn, bbq, fun fourth of july

Sunday, we went boating with my dad, the H, J, and our friend Jay.  My parents recently got a pontoon, so we took it out to the Chain O Lakes and soaked up the sun.  J absolutely loved the boat, and I was super surprised to see him enjoy popping into the river.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures.  I'll be honest, it was the first time my dad was taking out the boat and I wasn't ready to bring my fancy camera on without knowing it wouldn't sink.  My baby, yes, my camera.....

What did you do for Independence Day?

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