My top passive income strategies 2021

Most of us look forward to not having to work so much, so we have more time to follow our dreams– you know, the things you always wanted to do and expected you would do one day, but somehow, that day never came because work showed up and rained over your whole life.

With passive income streams, you can make that day happen sooner. A passive income is one that makes you money again and again without you having to do much to it. Passive income usually requires an initial investment of time or money. If you’re seriously broke, like I was when I started this journey, then you can invest your time to get out of the rat race. Of course, if you’re busy and broke, it will take longer to get results.

My favourite passive income strategies for 2021:

  1. Amazon Associates: Yeah, people love to hate Amazon but I make most of my money from them, either via Associates or my books. Amazon Associates is an affiliate marketing program where you tell people about stuff that’s for sale at Amazon, and you get a commission. There are a lot of other affiliate marketing schemes out there, from companies with charter planes to companies selling make-up or even credit cards, but Amazon Associates has been my top-performing affiliate scheme this year and I’m making about $250 a month from it now, without having to do anything at all, due to the size of this website (over 500 pages and counting) and age of this blog (2014). Obviously, I had to put a lot of time and work into making this site useful to people, and I had to build my traffic to a good level, but now I can sit back and let the reward come in. That’s the beauty of affiliate marketing.
  2. Ebooks: Starting a self-publishing business as an author is NOT a quick or easy way to make money, but if you get it right, it’s scaleable and you get to write books and earn from them. There are tons of niches in both fiction and non-fiction where you can find your blue ocean. If you write an evergreen book series about things people are looking for, you can generate a reasonable income from this. Thousands of self-published authors make 6 or even 7 figures a month.
  3. Other info products: These are where the big money is in 2021. Courses are huge and the market is set to grow as colleges stay closed in various countries worldwide for yet another year. The way to make money with courses is to find something you know about, which other people struggle with. Position yourself as an authority on your topic, grow an audience, then BAM! Launch your course. Courses are better than ebooks because they are what’s known as a high-ticket item (you can price ’em high).
  4. Rent something out: Your living room couch, your whole house while you’re on holiday, the parking space outside your house… the options are varied and you can put as much or as little into this as you like.
  5. Cryptocurrency: I am not a financial adviser, but if you have money you can afford to lose, investing in crypto is high risk. You can make a lot from a little, but you also might lose it all on the whim of the market. Before investing in cryptocurrencies, educate yourself and do your own research from a variety of sources, don’t just listen to one person’s recommendations.
  6. Stocks: A less risky investment (but you can still lose it all) is investing in the stock market. Like cryptos, do your research and don’t ever buy into a company on one person’s say-so.

So those are the top ways I’m generating passive income in 2021, there are obviously a lot more things you could do to bring in money, I haven’t covered side-hustles or ways you can earn cryptocurrencies from performing online tasks for companies (such as content creation) because I wanted to focus only on things I’ve tried and tested, which are bringing in a reasonable amount of money for me. That’s also why website advertising hasn’t made this list – it’s not even bringing in $50 a month to my site so I can’t count it as a reliable passive income stream.

My Experience With Word Ads Advertising on WordPress

Part of my passive income strategy is running ads on this site. I never used to, but WordPress was putting them on my pages and even telling visitors that these were my ads so eventually I decided, screw it, let’s try Word Ads for a year and see how it goes. That was August 2020.

It was really easy to set this up on my WordPress.com site which has a unique domain name but is still hosted by WordPress. I had some reservations about the whole thing because I didn’t want my site to end up like one of those godawful recipe sites.

You know every recipe site ever, where you Google “ice cream recipe” and click on a result, then the page takes several minutes to load because of all the popups and videos, and suddenly you’re slamming your hand on your laptop’s mute button like you know the Countdown Conundrum because one of the many bloody videos has decided it’s not enough to zap your bandwidth and stop you being able to read this recipe, it also wants to SHOUT AT YOU ABOUT SOMETHING. And you couldn’t care less what it’s banging on about, you just wanted to read an ice cream recipe and why is someone shouting at you?

I definitely didn’t want my site to be like that. There’s a lot of local news sites like that, too. I was glad I could customize ad placements and tell Ad Words what kind of ads I was comfortable showing (I’ve just looked at the settings again and found this seems to be no longer possible, they just show ads wherever they feel, which wasn’t what I signed up for). I thought I’d try it and see how much some subtle ads brought in.

At first I was amazed and excited at the amount of money they were generating, and I worked really hard to increase my traffic to my blog using a content strategy which I explained here. I was making about $50 a month which was amazing, but although I doubled my traffic in a month in November, I noticed my site’s advertising income hadn’t gone up! What? But that makes no sense.

So I looked into this a bit more and found that, gradually, as my traffic increased, the amount I was being paid per ad went down. So although I was showing more ads than ever, I was making less every month!

Okay, don’t jump to conclusions, I told myself. Maybe it is just a coincidence that my traffic went up at the same time that advertising price went down. I decided to wait and see.

That was in November 2020. At that point, the income had gone down to $0.47 per 1000 ads instead of $0.63 per 1000 ads (which it had been in August and September 2020). In March I was getting $0.23 per 1000 ads. Now, in April 2021, with more traffic than ever, I am earning $0.13 per 1000 ads. That is a quarter of what they were originally paying me.

Is adwords worth it advertising for bloggers

As you can see from the graph above, the whole reporting thing is very misleading. At a glance, you would think those blue bars were the money I’m making, but they’re not. Those blue bars are the amount of ads they have shown on my site, in thousands.

By hovering over particular days, you can get a breakdown of how much I made. The “Avg CPM” is the average cost per mille, or the money I made per 1000 ads on that day. The “Revenue” is the total money I earned that day. As you can see, it’s quite poor.

WordPress shows ads on my site whether I like it or not. To take control of the ads on my site, I have to pay WordPress an annual fee (a “plan” as they call it). If the ads continue to drop in price, soon it won’t be worth the $70 a year I’m paying them to take control of the ads.

That means this is so bad, it’s not a profitable form of passive income.

My conclusion is that I don’t think it’s worth it to get into Word Ads right now because of their sneaky sliding scale which just goes lower and lower the more traffic your site gets. If this gets any worse I’ll basically be paying them instead of the other way around! Maybe this will change in the future.

Buying a house during Covid

Should we buy a house during Covid? This was a question that did pop up, but our need for a new home (in a new country) was so great, we couldn’t wait. Let me explain how we ended up buying a house during Covid and give you some tips.

Four years ago, we moved to China from England. We rented out our home in England and thought we could always sell it when we got back. Obviously, I didn’t polish my crystal ball and I had no idea anything like the disruption or financial ruin of this pandemic was on the horizon, or I would have sold our house in 2016 and invested the money somewhere.

When we were ready to sell our home, of course, our tenants weren’t ready to move out. They moved out 7 months after I came back from China, heavily pregnant. In fact, I had a five-month-old when we got our house back. So in the meantime, I’d rented somewhere. Anyway, I never wanted to live in England again (and I still don’t) so we didn’t ever plan to move back into our old house. The rental place I got was abysmal due to the rental crisis in Ireland. Also, I couldn’t get anywhere in the South due to the rental crisis, so we ended up in Belfast where you have to learn a whole new way of talking about a lot of things to avoid offending people. But that’s another story.

We put our house up for sale in January 2020. We had viewings and multiple offers and had accepted an offer for full asking price within 7 days of the house going up for sale. Wow. We thought we’d be out of that rental in six weeks.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

The sale finally completed in August. This was a no-chain sale, we were moving countries so we were going to be cash buyers, and our buyer was a first-time buyer who was already approved for a mortgage when they put the offer in. Unfortunately, during the first English lockdown they shut down all the legal offices. This meant that our sale ground to a halt for months. Simple aspects of a house sale became impossible. When they all reopened, there was an enormous backlog.

Anyway, we had the cash at the start of August. By now, our baby had his first birthday and we were still in the rental, but we were finally able to go househunting. We booked some viewings.

Obviously, with the current situation, it’s not really possible to go to view the same house as many times as you normally would. To put it into perspective, when we were looking for our first house, in 2013, we viewed it (and another house) three times each to be sure we were making the right choice, that there were no issues we hadn’t spotted, that the area was decent, etc.

With our purchase last year, we had to make a decision from one visit. One of the main issues I’ve seen when househunting is damp patches. They can mean a lot of different things. Roof leaks, pipe leaks, bad bathroom installation, building defects in new builds, cracks in the walls from mica or pyrite (Ireland only), condensation or rising damp from outside. Basically, you don’t want damp patches. And on a viewing, they can be impossible to spot. The nicest houses get them. Even newbuilds. So I bought this FLIR infrared camera from US Amazon.

It attached to my phone, I downloaded an app, then it showed me areas of hot or cold. Basically it meant I could see behind the walls to find out if there were any leaks which will show as a sudden cold patch in the FLIR app.

For househunting in Covid times, it was the best $250 I spent. Think about it. This is the biggest purchase we’re making in our lives. We’re buying a house outright with no mortgage. If this falls down around our ears, we have lost the full cost of a house. An extra $250 is less than the cost of the surveyor or house insurance which are also intended to guard this investment. If you’re buying a house during Covid and are worried about not being able to find out enough from one brief viewing, I 100% recommend you get a FLIR One Infrared Camera for your phone.

You can get the FLIR One camera from UK Amazon here (it was about $50 cheaper to get it from the US for me).

Or buy it from US Amazon here.

If you’re in Ireland, the best place to get it will fluctuate week-by-week and you can shop on either site.

I was really excited to get one of these as I enjoy photography as a hobby and have messed around with infrared lenses in the past. This type of infrared camera is different to the infrared lenses you can get for DSLR cameras, though, and it creates images from the far-infrared part of the spectrum, which is less artistic and much more practical.

These are the sort of pictures you get (you can see the heat left from footprints on the floor, and the cold left from ice cream standing on a table, even after you’ve moved the ice cream):

The space where the ice cream had been sitting is that big dark circle at the bottom of the picture.
A footprint after I moved my foot. This camera is very sensitive and will show you a lot of information.

The estate agents didn’t say anything while I deployed the FLIR camera on each brief viewing of the two houses on our shortlist. We were not allowed to touch anything, which was annoying as it meant we couldn’t find out if the windows opened properly, or if the doors were hanging correctly, etc. This did mean we ended up buying a house where there were problems with the doors on the kitchen cupboards, but these aren’t hard to replace and it did make us feel more justified about the offer we had made for the house, which was 8k below asking.

Once we had satisfied ourselves that we were buying a house that was structurally sound and that didn’t have any hidden disasters for us to find later, we put in an offer and it was accepted, and four months later (thanks to more Covid delays) we were the proud owners of our new home.

And if you want to know how I managed to start a business that enabled me to be mortgage free by thirty-three years of age (including taking two years out for a baby), I will write about that at some point soon.

Why you need to stop selling via a Facebook page right now

When I started my soapmaking business, one of the things I wanted to know was how could I sell my soap to customers without having to have long complicated interactions. I was part of a local crafting and makers’ group on Facebook, and I was very surprised that the majority of small business owners were using Facebook pages to sell products!

Basically, you set it up like this: [read the full article]

How to make your first $100 from blogging: The 100×100 method

There are SO many people out there giving out advice about how to become a successful blogger and how to monetize your blog. They talk about authority sites and high-ticket products but they’re missing what it’s like for 95% of bloggers.

The hard truth is, most bloggers can’t get started with making money from blogging. So they lose motivation and give up. In some niches (I’m looking at you, beauty bloggers), it’s even harder because the path that people are trying to take isn’t the most profitable one, it’s a big shiny distraction that will fill your make-up drawer but not your wallet.

Here, I want to share my 100×100 method for making your first $100 from blogging. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything.

What I did wasn’t remarkable or unusual. Anyone could do it. 18 months into blogging, I was regularly taking home about $400 per month. I didn’t have a huge email list (I still don’t have a mailing list for my blog because I’m managing 50,000 subscribers across 3 author mailing lists and need another one like I need a hole in the head).

I didn’t have a huge amount of views in the early days. My blog’s been running since December 2014 and along the way, I’ve learned a few things. I’d like to help you take some shortcuts to being a successful blogger and the hardest thing I found was making that first $100.

Once I’d broken that barrier, the views, money and everything else started rolling in.

And I’ve never written a sponsored post or accepted a free product from a company in exchange for a review, although I get about 20 requests a week (I usually say no because I don’t want the obligation of reviewing something I might not like although there are some things I’d say yes to that have never been offered, such as Latisse or an all-inclusive trip to Tibet).

I didn’t set out to make money from my blog.

This is important because I didn’t monetize until January 2016. There were 15 months at the beginning of blogging when I wasn’t monetized. I think this was good for me, overall, because it meant I focused on writing strong, well-researched articles and my success measure came from growing my daily views, not from how many affiliate links I’d dumped into any given article.

I actually started my blog two months after I had turned my Citroen Xsara Picasso into a campervan and taken my husband on a 16-day adventure from York to Rome for our honeymoon.

I just wanted somewhere permanent to put my travel pictures to share with my family, then I started YouTubing hair tutorials so I also wanted somewhere to write down how to do beauty-related things for people who didn’t watch videos. The twin focus of my blog – beauty and travel – made me think it was impossible to monetize, and all the advice said focus on one thing, but this just isn’t true. Focus on doing each topic WELL, don’t flit around doing half a job, would be better advice.

I think I got a lot of followers early on because I had Travel Tuesday and Beautiful Friday, and shared posts on both topics. Although it did take longer for Google to rank my site as a travel blog than as a beauty blog, it now ranks well for both.

The 100×100 method for monetizing your blog

Before you try to make any money with your site, ask yourself the 100×100 question: “Do I have a good blog with around 100 well-written posts on it and am I getting around 100 views a day?” If the answer is yes, you’re ready to take the next steps into monetizing your blog.

If not, I suggest you work on these first; let’s look at how.

Write good content for your blog

Content IS still King in 2020. What does that mean? Content is the most important thing in blogging. Your entire success or failure comes down to whether your posts are engaging for your readers, and whether your posts answer readers’ questions.

Your primary focus should be writing 100-ish posts of good content. At first, you will be shouting into a hole and wondering who will ever see these articles when you have no views. You might be wondering whether you should waste your best content on a blog which no one is reading.

I wondered these things too.

What I learned over my first and second year of blogging was those best articles with good content will soon rank in Google, and when they do, people will find them. One of my earliest posts is “Hair Bleaching 101”. It got a grand total of 15 views in the first six months after I published it.

Now, five years later, it has an average of 150 views per month. I have over five hundred posts on my site (I didn’t blog for all of 2018 and posted 6 times in 2019, or there’d be a lot more).

If each post on my site gets 150 views a month, that’s 75,000 views total in a month (rough average; that post isn’t even in my top 10 most popular, as you can see from the sidebar on the right hand side of the screen), so all those early posts are contributing to my overall success.

How to get more views for your blog

Once you have around 100 posts of good content, your viewing figures may take care of themselves if you’re a natural at SEO (getting your posts to show up on Google) but they may not. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and you need it on your site to make everything visible to Google.

SEO for bloggers in brief

In (very) brief, SEO for bloggers is all about ensuring your article titles match with what readers type into Google, your articles are the right length (over 1500 words for most articles, but change it up when you need to and don’t force yourself to ramble, Google hates that), and that your tags are all correct.

You also need internal links, so Google knows how important any given article is to your whole blog. And you need to post regularly. That doesn’t get said enough. If you don’t post at least once a week, every week, no exceptions, Google won’t rank you as high.

If you take time out of posting (I took about 18 months away from blogging) your SEO will suffer because Google penalizes “dead” sites in favour of “current” sites that are still being updated.

The best site about SEO is Neil Patel. That guy knows what he is talking about. If you want lots and lots of advice and info on SEO, go read his stuff.

Do bloggers need to be on social media?

If SEO is too technical for you, you should focus on building a platform of readers on social media who want to see your stuff. There are many ways to do this. You could start a Facebook Page for your blog and invite your friends to like it (scary but necessary for a Facebook strategy, as strangers will be reluctant to hit “like” on a page which has zero likes).

If you don’t do Facebook, you could start a Twitter or Instagram. Twitter is better if you like writing short sentences with a link, Instagram is better if you like sharing really good photos but don’t want to link to specific articles (e.g. for cosplayers or food bloggers).

Most of us will do a bit of SEO and a bit of social media. You can’t do everything, so don’t try, you will just waste a lot of time chasing your tail. Pick one social media site and get good at it before moving onto others. Make friends in your niche e.g. other travel bloggers. Find Facebook groups for bloggers in your niche.

Some people will say you don’t need to do any of this, just be your authentic self and the readers will find you and adore you. People say this to authors, too (I’m a double USA Today bestselling romance author so I hear this garbage a LOT).

They’re lying and trying to stoke your ego into believing them so you won’t work hard on the mechanics behind blogging, won’t succeed, and won’t compete with their site. Believe me, they did all this stuff to monetize their site, too. Or they’re not making money off their site and they don’t know why. In which case, share this post with them. 😉

If you haven’t got any of the stuff you’ve read so far in this post completely nailed, bookmark this (click the star in the right hand corner of the screen in Chrome and you can save this post for later)! Go take action, and come back to the rest of this post weeks or months from now, when your blog is ready for you to move forward. I’ll still be here.

I have 100 GOOD posts and 100 views per day. How do I make money?

Perfect! You’re ready to move forward.

The best way to make your first money with a blog is by joining Amazon Associates. This is a program Amazon runs, which means they give you special links which you can use on your blog, and you make a small amount of money whenever readers click on the links, if they buy something on Amazon within 24 hours of clicking on your link. It works best in review articles, in my experience, but you can also get them into “how-to” articles if there’s an appropriate spot.

The golden rules for ethically putting affiliate links in your blog:

  1. State somewhere on the page that you use affiliate links. My blog has been set to say it on every post and page on my site, at the bottom, to be sure I never forget to state it, and it’s also stated in other places, too, although I try not to interrupt the flow of any given post.
  2. Don’t shoehorn a link in or mislead readers into clicking e.g. by disguising the link. Reader trust is all you have as a blogger so don’t abuse it.
  3. Only link to things that are actually worth linking to. Don’t sell crap. Steve Jobs said that, and it’s something you should live by with affiliate marketing.
  4. Don’t put affiliate links into negative reviews. You don’t want people to buy products you hated, do you? That would be pretty scammy. Instead, link a negative review of one product to a positive review of a related product, or write a comparison between something you did/didn’t like and link to the good products only.
  5. Don’t just rehash the Amazon reviews for a product on your blog. Google will actually penalize you for this because they don’t like duplicate content. Amazon can also penalize you for this as the copyright for reviews belongs to the people who wrote the reviews.

The amount of money you will make from doing this depends on how much traffic your site has and how much your readers are looking to buy a product when they read your post. If they’re not in a buying mindset, you won’t get a sale. That’s why your honest reviews and especially comparisons of different products are the best places to put links.

That’s all you need to do to make your first $100 from blogging! But it’s not very scaleable to higher figures. Several six-figure blogging sites have said your income with this will peak around $4000 per month and it can fluctuate very heavily from one month to the next as it’s really dependent on luck, so you could go from $100 one month to $60 the next month then $300 the month after.

If $4000 a month is the amount of money that will transform your life, then fantastic. But if you want to take things further, then at that point, you need to move into different affiliate programs with high-ticket products like cars, private jets, or online courses.

I’m not doing any of those very well, yet, but when I do, I’ll write about it, so you can climb the success ladder with me.

I use three affiliate programs but realistically, Amazon is the only one making me money because I haven’t figured out how to write high-ranking articles that find buyers for the other two yet. And earlier this year, I designed an online course that didn’t sell a single copy, so I need to go back to the drawing board with all of that and work out how to take my blog to the next level.

If this article was helpful for you, feel free to link to it on your blog, or share it on social media using the sharing buttons below. And if you have any questions, ask them in the comments! I usually close comments on posts after 28 days but I’m going to keep them open on this one.

How to access your Gmail emails from China without a VPN and 7 other solutions

This article will cover how to read your emails without a VPN, even if you use Gmail, and 7 other solutions to internet access problems caused by the Great Firewall of China.

What is the Great Firewall?

Basically, China has some concerns about the data security of specific western companies and they have blanket banned their services. This includes all Google services, not just Google search, so Maps, Gmail, Google Drive, Scholar and Google Books are all affected.

You might be forgiven for thinking that no one in China uses the internet, or that it’s a bleak, pared-down service with no real value to anyone. Google is EVERYTHING, right? Uh… no.

People in China use the internet like 24/7, and they do pretty much everything on there. More things than you. I’m pretty sure they’d use the internet to sleep if there was an app for it. The internet in China is thriving, and you can use it, too, you just have to know what to do instead of what you’re accustomed to.

If you have an iPhone, you can use Apple’s in-house programs instead of Google services.

If you have Google’s Maps app on your phone or tablet, the app will still work (ish) but it will be horribly inaccurate because it doesn’t know where anything in China is, streetview doesn’t work, and half the addresses are written in Chinese characters instead of English, so don’t use Google Maps in China anyway.

So anyway, there’s this firewall, and you’ve heard the answer is a VPN (virtual private network… you basically lie to the internet and tell it you’re somewhere else). You’re about to go to China and you are wondering about buying a VPN? STOP! Ask if you really need it. If you’re only going for a short trip, you likely will be about to waste £100!

Lots of rich-kid travel bloggers will tell you that you need a VPN to use the internet in China but it’s just not true. And actually, it can cause more problems than it solves.

Here’s the main reasons people think they need a VPN to visit China:

  • Gmail
  • Google Search
  • Google Maps
  • Google Drive and Dropbox
  • Google Translate
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • To access news sites and anything using AdSense or Analytics
  • YouTube

This article is going to cover how to set up your stuff so you won’t need a VPN for most purposes. It’s for people who are only going to be in China for a week or two.

If you’re going as an expat, a VPN makes more sense because these workarounds are not long-term solutions, but as a tourist, why waste £100 on a year’s subscription to something you’ll never use after you get back from China?

How to get at your Gmail emails in China (do this before you go):

The biggest reason you might seriously need to use non-Chinese internet is to access important messages in your email inbox. Many things in the West are done via email these days so not being able to communicate with people is an abject nuisance, especially if you’re a digital nomad running a business.

Here’s how to read your emails and and stay in touch with your contacts while you’re on holiday in China:

  1. Go to Mail.com (that’s a different website to Gmail.com – note there’s no G at the start because it’s not a Google site). Set up a free account. It’s fairly basic and their popups are really annoying but they have one huge advantage for tourists in China trying to read their email, which is that mail.com is not banned in China.

    You could also use Yahoo Mail (the search engine is banned but not the email, so bookmark a direct link), or if you have a self-hosted website or a work email, you could set up Outlook, Mac Mail or Thunderbird (but these are complicated for getting at web-based mail).
  2. Go to your Gmail account and go to “settings” (the cog). Click “go to all settings” near the top of the menu. In the tabs across the top (grey and hard to spot, see my screenshot), go to “forwarding and POP/IMAP” and check “forward a copy of incoming mail to:”
  3. Click “add a forwarding address.” Type your new mail.com email address into the box here and check “keep Gmail’s copy in the inbox” so you have a record of all your emails in case you need them later. Ignore all the rest and click “save changes”.
  4. Go back to your Mail.com account and confirm the forwarding request. If you don’t do this, the whole thing doesn’t work.
  5. Go to China and read your emails. It’s that simple!

What to use instead of Google Search in China?

http://bing.com

http://baidu.com

These work fine. Bing throws up more results in English. Take your pick.

What to use instead of Google Maps in China?

A mapping app is something we’ve all come to rely on to help us find our way around. Sure, you could buy a paper map, but it won’t tell you shop opening times or give you a company website when you click on it.

However, there are LOADS of alternatives to Google maps which work in China. Here I’ll review all of them along with discussing the problem most of them share:

1. Bing Maps.

This is basically the best mapping app for China.
Pros: The road names are all in English so you can read them. It shows the public transport lines really clearly, like WAY better than Google which absolutely isn’t geared up to showing you public transport very well. It gives you details about things on the map such as their website and opening hours, where these have been added to Bing. It works in your browser so even on a Mac you can use this Microsoft app. There’s also a downloadable Bing Maps app for your phone!
Cons: None. I am not a fan of Bing search engine but their mapping app is really good.
Find it: https://www.bing.com/maps

2. Apple Maps.

Misses out on the top spot because it only works on Apple products and there’s no browser option.
Pros: Works on your iphone, ipad or Mac. You don’t need to remember a URL to get a map. Has more up-to-date China maps than Google.
Cons: Doesn’t work on non-Apple products and you can’t use it in a browser.
Find it: On your Apple products.

3. Here We Go.

This works in your browser or as an app, across a range of products. I saw reviews which said it only worked on Windows, Android or iOS but I tested it on my MacBook Pro and I can safely say it also works on Macs.
Pros: Works on all platforms and there’s a browser mode. Great for getting from A to B when you know where you are and where you are going.
Cons: No business listings, destinations or places of interest, it only works with addresses you already know, so it’s not great for getting travel inspiration or mapping to somewhere by place name rather than street address. Very simple in terms of features shown, e.g. there’s no green to show parks.
Find it: https://wego.here.com/

4. Maps.Me

This is a mapping app that claims to work offline and be a great friend to travellers.
Pros: Works offline (if you downloaded the map)
Cons: Doesn’t work on laptops, you can only run it on iOS or Android. No good for late-night laptop research for tomorrow’s itinerary. Am I the only one who does this?

The one problem all mapping apps share when you’re in China:

Street names are shown in Chinese characters or Western translations, both of which are, of course, useless for people who aren’t bilingual. Pinyin of the Mandarin street names written out in full would have been a better choice for readability and would also help with conveying addresses to taxi drivers (many of whom can’t read Chinese characters either).

If app developers are looking to update their maps with a major improvement, things like the screenshot below (from the English-language version of Apple maps) are basically useless when trying to get around in China. Instead of Fengcheng 1 Rd, it would be 1000% more useful to see “Fengcheng Yi Luo” written out in Pinyin, so travellers to China can read this out loud to taxi drivers, and those Chinese characters are hopeless, too.

Maps Conclusion:

Bing maps, y’all. It’s the best of the lot for getting around in China.

How to access Google Drive or Dropbox in China without a VPN:

You basically can’t. Sorry. The best workaround is to back up your files onto an external hard drive and use that, instead. Large-scale file sharing is a non-starter in China.

How to translate things in realtime in China:

Google Translate is very useful when you want to paste some text into a box and see some English. However, it is banned in China, which is a country where few people speak English.

Instead of using Google Translate in China, locals use a phone app called WeChat, which includes a translation option. You can either translate text, if someone sends you a message in Chinese, or you can use the phone’s picture scanner to translate Chinese into English.

Go to “options” “QR code scanner” then on the QR code scanner, press the “translate” button to toggle between QR scanner and translation. This will take a picture of the thing you want to understand, and it will translate it for you. Be sure to snap a screenshot if you need to keep the translation, as WeChat doesn’t save the translations for you.

You can also use a translation app but I have tried about 6 and none of them (even the expensive ones) were useful for China if I’m honest, so I have nothing else to recommend.

If you want an app to help you actually learn Chinese instead of translating, get Duolingo.

How to use Facebook in China (and Twitter) without a VPN

The only way to use Facebook in China is by using a VPN. And you can’t use a VPN on mobile data. BUT you can stay on top of your notifications by being clever.

Go to Facebook and look at your email settings. Get it to email you notifications for everything that happens on your Facebook. If you set your email up (first section, above), these notifications will be forwarded to your Mail.com and you can see who has liked your cat photo. This also works for Twitter. Who knew those crazy emails every 2 seconds, like, “Bob Smith liked your post!” were actually useful for something?

How to read western news in China without a VPN

A lot of western news sites are blocked in China. Without saying too much, this is usually because they’ve been identified as having an anti-China bias. To make it even more annoying, paranoid webmasters in western countries block Chinese IP addresses for no good reason.

You can still get western news however. Your local hometown newspaper is very unlikely to be affected by this, because when was the last time the Springfield Gazette ran an article on China?

Bookmark your local hometown news site. If you’re from a big city like LA, Washington DC or New York, you might be better finding a smaller gazette or chronicle.

Additionally, certain western news sites are not blocked. This list is ever changing but if you bookmark the main sites, you have a good chance of finding one that can keep you abreast. When I last checked, the Independent and the Guardian weren’t blocked, and both cover US news as well as European news, although I suspect it’s only a matter of time before they get banned.

How to get YouTube in China without a VPN

Sorry, YouTube is a Google company, so you basically can’t access YouTube at all without a VPN. If you’re a Youtuber without a VPN in China, stay up to date on your channel notifications by getting them all via email, and save your videos of China to share when you get home.

For non-Youtubers, if you download your favourite videos with a YouTube downloader (my go-to one has just stopped doing free downloads so I no longer have a recommendation for this), you can watch them offline. Otherwise, buy a DVD and external DVD drive to take with you.

Are there any other apps or sites you’re struggling to use in China? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do some looking and update this article for you. 🙂

Mailerlite vs Mailchimp: A warning (it’s not what you think)

So about 12 months ago, I was using Mailchimp and there was suddenly a huge drama because they changed their fee structure and got a LOT more expensive. Customers started leaving them in droves. I didn’t understand the issue until I got my new bill and it was suddenly insanely high compared to how much money I was making.

I asked around and everyone told me it was so easy to switch to Mailerlite, and that they were better in a number of ways that no one could explain. I was pregnant and knew I needed to reduce my overheads.

So I exported my contacts and imported them into Mailerlite, where I grew my list to over 15,000 subscribers.

With Mailchimp, the only issue was the cost. Everything else about it worked perfectly, I never had a failed send or anything. They always just sorted out payment and everything was smooth. I don’t know what their customer service was like because I don’t remember ever having to contact them after the day I first signed up.

Also, Mailchimp works in China, and Mailerlite does not. I was living in China when I started emailing my list through Mailchimp instead of using batches via Google mail.

With Mailerlite, it seemed like every time my mailing list grew, they wanted me to re-verify myself, to fill out a tedious questionnaire (for the fifth time) about what I was using their services for, and they threw in some mandatory market research questions as well, which honestly is offensive but you do what you gotta do to get a half-price mailing service to email your newsletter for you.

The best part? They do this when you want to send an email, instead of when you hit the new subscriber threshold. This means, if you’re sending about something time-sensitive, like a flash sale or 24-hour deal, you will not get to send your email in time especially if you want to send according to timezone.

I didn’t like the fact that a lot more of my emails seemed to go to the spam folder when I used Mailerlite, either.

I sucked it up.

Then I had a baby, so I deleted my contacts because no-one wants to pay $150 a month for a mailing list they’re not actually sending any emails to for a year. I downloaded and carefully saved my 15000 contacts in a CSV file that I never actually looked at because I had more important things to do like keep a small baby alive.

Obviously.

Ready to get back to work, I uploaded my email list to Mailerlite and guess what? They wouldn’t let me re-verify because I’d already uploaded this list and deleted it.

So in desperation I went back to Mailchimp, thinking that paying $200 monthly is worth it if you actually get the service you’re paying for. I uploaded my mailing list.

Then I found out why you should never, EVER move your list to Mailerlite.

We’re always told that our mailing list is the most important marketing asset for our business because it is ours and we get to keep that no matter what happens to service providers, right?

WRONG.

Mailerlite has deleted so much information from the downloaded copy of my mailing list that Mailchimp actually doesn’t have the data it needs to let me upload to them.

So I opened the file to look through it. There’s email addresses, but then all the other columns are empty. No first names. No last names. No opt-in timestamps or IP addresses and no confirmation timestamps or IP addresses (all of which you need to be compliant with data handling, CAN-SPAM, and GDPR rules). It’s a mangled, useless CSV file that is as useless as a phone book comprising of phone numbers but no names.

I am effectively stuck with Mailerlite who seemed able to re-connect all the data when I uploaded the email addresses (presumably they’ve stored the rest of the data on their server and can access it by using the email addresses as a “primary key”, but I obviously have a right to have all that data, it’s not theirs, it’s mine, so they shouldn’t keep it like this). Who won’t let me go through their stupid validation and approval process. And anyway, I resent all the bullshit they’ve put me through so I’m not going back to them.

This means I have no mailing list. Mailerlite has destroyed it by deleting key data. Five years of hard work down the drain. Fifteen thousand fans of my business, who I cannot contact because Mailerlite have ensured I can’t go to another service provider.

God I wish someone had written about this before I switched to Mailerlite.

Please, please, PLEASE be careful. If you want to switch to Mailerlite, be sure you’re going to stay with them forever. Because they will not let you take your mailing list when you leave.

I guess that’s what you get when you go with a cut-price mailing list provider. I have learned my lesson the painfully, devastatingly hard way. I have no business to come back to after maternity leave. I built my business to give my baby a future, and now our situation is more precarious than ever.

If I am very, very lucky, I might still have an old version of my mailing list from when I switched from Mailchimp to Mailerlite in the first place. But obviously, that could have people on it who have since unsubscribed, so I have to weigh up whether I can use that old version or not.

This is my honest review of two companies I’ve spent thousands of dollars with, over the past half-decade. Verdict? I’d rather spend more money on a service that actually does what it says it’s going to. Your mileage may vary. If you have a different perspective, or a solution for this issue, please let me know in the comments.

The psychology of choosing a color scheme for your website

I was reading (as I’m sure many of you do, too) Neil Patel’s blog earlier today when I came across this interesting article about the psychology of choosing a color scheme for your blog or website. I quite like reading articles that go into psychology, because while I doubt they’re applicable to everyone, everywhere, I usually find something of value in them (unless they’re truly terrible).

Most of Neil’s article was very interesting, and I liked spending time thinking about how color schemes affect the way my readers feel when they’re on my site. I don’t want anyone to get distracted by a jarring or stark color scheme and I do sometimes wonder if my black-and-white format is too harsh for my usual content.

I found his take on the “color wheel” (part-way down that article, looks like a flower) and at first I was interested, then I felt I just had to disagree with the “meanings” assigned to color. Purple, for instance was associated with revulsion. It’s my favorite color, so of course, I don’t feel revulsion when I see purple. According to the color wheel Neil had posted, the exact shade of orange which is part of his own branded color scheme, was a color which evoked mixture of vigilance and rage. It just doesn’t add up, does it?
I decided to search for some more interpretations of how color affects people, and I found these:

This one has been done phenomenologically and it’s sounding very authoritative but it has no evidence on which it’s based its conclusions, which appears to be an endemic problem in this topic.

This article from Entrepreneur.com has a good summary of the debates surrounding the psychology of colour and highlights the need for more evidence.
There is no doubt that color plays a huge part in buying behavior in marketing, but no-one seems able to agree on which colors are best to do what.

Personally? I think the most important thing is to use a color scheme that goes together properly. The color blender color matching tool often gives surprising results, but overall I think it works very well. In some instances, the coloring might be obvious (this erotica author’s writing site, for example, is themed monochrome and pink, and it’s easy to tell that it’s a steamy romance author’s site with exciting books) but in other cases, the role of color is ambiguous and complicated.

Different colors mean different things to different people, but we can associate color schemes or sets of colors with the things we know they represent – for example, fire is orange, water is blue, so is sky. If we see those colors, with other associated colors (orange with brown for the logs on the fire or black for coals, and grey for smoke, for example) it will definitely ensure people make links between a brand and a concept or thing.

I have no idea how to apply any of this to Delight and Inspire, but it’s been interesting to research how other people have thought about the psychology of color.
Isn’t color theory fascinating?

This post was scheduled; I’ll reply to comments tomorrow 🙂

Brexit: You have doomed us all.

So I haven’t really said a huge amount about the big important referendum that took place yesterday.  I woke up this morning (it’s currently 7:49am here) to check the results, confident that, despite all the alleged posturing etc of the “remain campaign,” that the “leave campaign” didn’t stand a snowball’s chance of winning.  I thought they’d maybe get 20% of votes.

Nope.

They won.

They actually won.

Apparently I live in a racist, xenophobic country that is more interested in getting foreigners deported than remaining a part of the EU.

To put it into perspective for my American readers, it would be like if Texas was sick of all the Mexicans and decided to quit the United States.

You might say, “whatever, doesn’t matter to me, I’m not in Texas.”  No, but I am, I am stuck in Texas that wants to leave the USA.  Only I can’t just leave because of border control.

I genuinely don’t know what to do – I think this time, I’m going to have to emigrate.  I have a cheque from US Amazon which I now can’t put in the bank as the exchange rate is so bad – it’s plummeted.  My latest book is selling really well (but also pays in USD).  All my ways of earning money are now worthless and I’ve got a foreign sounding name in a country of xenophobes who are so desperate to deport foreigners that they’ve voted to leave the EU.

There, also, goes the US-UK tax treaty.  The IRS can now tax me as well as the UK.  I will now pay double tax on my meager earnings.

I am glad I voted remain.  Now, I think I have to vote with my feet and leave the UK before it gets any worse.

Suggestions? Apparently as a writer I will meet the eligibility criteria to emigrate to Canada by next April.