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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Auction Frenzy: 1967 Ferrari sells for $27 million

1967 Ferrari
A 1967 NART Spider Ferarri sold for $27 million in 2013
By Michaella Twersky

This past Sunday, auction history was made in Lexington, North Carolina. A 1967 NART Spider Ferrari broke all auction records for any and all Ferraris by selling for over $27 million at auction. The record for any car, however, is still held by a 1954 Mercedes-Benz racecar sold for $30 million. 

This Ferrari in particular is especially exceptional because of its history of ownership and incredible longevity. Luxury cars, like the Ferrari, used to be built to last, and last it did. Its owner, Eddie Smith Sr., drove it until his death, at age 88. His son, Eddie Smith Jr., kept it for six years after his father's death and decided to auction it off just last week.

The Ferrari

This car, aka the NART Spider, often called "the most satisfying sports car in the world" used to be painted a metallic blue in its hey-day. The Spider was purchased and owned by Eddie Smith, a self-made millionaire. He founded a company called National Wholesale Company, which specialized in mail-order hosiery and has since expanded. Smith's story is the definition of rags to riches. Orphaned at the age of 12, Smith spent his childhood years at an orphanage just outside of Lexington, North Carolina. After turning 17, he left the orphanage and did odd jobs to make ends meet. One of those jobs was driving a taxi for Red Bird Cab Co. where he eventually became manager and after six years, ventured off on his own to start his mail-order hosiery company. The business became wildly successful, allowing him to splurge and buy a Ferrari.

The Rare Blue Diamond

Early this October, the Rare Blue Diamond is coming to the Hong Kong Sotheby's auction house. This diamond, however, is no ordinary diamond. First off, this diamond is enormous at 7.59 carats, approximately the size of a shirt-button, and is cut into the most rare of shapes for a color diamond. The most fascinating feature, though, is its brilliant, clear blue color. It is believed that this diamond will yield about $19 million at least, which would be the record per-carat price for which any diamond has been sold.

Contemporary art

This past May, Christie's saw the largest total brought in at auction: $495 million dollars over 70 lots. Contemporary artists featured at the auction included Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Philip Guston, to name just a few. Amazingly, most of the lots beat their estimates by a landslide and Jussi Pylkk√§nen, auctioneer, had this to say: "Pictures are really making prices that we couldn't have imagined a few years ago." 

These impressive auction sales might be a great sign that the economy is finally turning around. Especially in Hong Kong, where the economy has been in dire straits, the expectation to sell the Rare Blue Diamond for such a princely sum is encouraging. Another heartening fact is that the Ferrari sale was a charity auction so an enormous portion of the money made was given directly to those needing it most. 

About the author: Michaella Twersky is a freelance writer based in New York City. She is a frequent content provider to Diamond Envy (www.diamondenvy.com).

License: Rex Gray; PD with attribution 

Friday, August 30, 2013

How to keep energy costs down

Lower energy costs with multilayered ETFE
ETFE foil is 100% recyclable
By James Murphy

If you're a homeowner you are most likely constantly looking for new and innovate ways to improve your home's energy efficiency and as a result keep energy bills down.

There are numerous ways to do this and these range from things such as reducing your water consumption rates to keeping all electrical devices unplugged when not in use.   One of the best ways to ensure that you are not wasting money on energy bills is by making sure that your home has been properly insulated. 

It can be hard to tell if heat is escaping from our homes and this is easily the biggest cause of overpriced bills.   There are a large number of materials you can use to insulate your home including polystyrene and glass wool, but I advise you to consider having the roof of certain rooms replaced with ETFE foil. ETFE properties include excellent insulation, and a range of other benefits that will improve your home while keeping energy bills low.  

What is ETFE Foil?

ETFE stands for Ethylene Tetra Flouro Ethylene and this material is a form of modified copolymer with transparent qualities. ETFE foil can be bought as a single layer membrane, but the majority of ETFE foil roofing is sold in two to five layer systems. The foil is supported by an aluminium perimeter and this in turn is supported by the main building frame.   

Multilayered foil roofing utilises pneumatic cushions between the layers, and these cushions are kept in place by using a small pressure unit. This increases the insulation qualities of the roof and adds stability to the overall structure.

A triple layered ETFE foil roof will have a greater insulating value than triple glazed windows, and yet this material is only 1% the weight of a relative pane of glass.   Although this material is quite light it can support up to 400 times its own weight, which makes it very suitable for use in areas that have heavy snowfall. ETFE foil can transmit the entire visible spectrum range and most of the UV range.   

Why choose ETFE foil?

There are a number of reasons why I advise you to choose ETFE foil when you're searching for a new insulating material. Apart from the obvious superior insulating qualities this material possesses, ETFE foil will reduce the carbon emissions from your home. ETFE foil is 100% recyclable, making it one of the most environmentally friendly materials sold on the market. An ETFE foil roof will increase a room's natural light transmission, and this will have a positive effect on those within the room.   

The extra light means you will not need as much artificial lighting in the room, reducing the amount of electricity used and in turn keeping your energy bills low. ETFE foil roofs require very low maintenance and are resistant to environmental weathering and UV damage.   This fibre has a very long lifespan, and there are a number of additional coatings that can be added to the foil to increase thermal capabilities or reduce glare from the Sun. If you're interested in purchasing ETFE foil then I recommend you buy from a reputable company such as Vector Foiltec.   

About the author: James Murphy is a home improvement blogger with a strong interest in energy efficiency. James likes to spend his free time working on his novel and searching for rare Penguin Modern Classics in second hand bookshops.

* Image license: Stewart Damonsing; CC BY-SA 2.0

Thursday, August 29, 2013

America's push for foreign visitors to boost economy and is it working?

The U.S. tourism industry is supported by government measures to increase travel to the U.S.
Cheaper U.S. visas encourage more travel
Tourism and travel enrolls a huge amount of money to our societies no matter what country you live in. In 2001, America lost 30% of its revenue within the tourism and travel community.

There are several giant corporations that rely on the tourism market for their business and that much of a loss determines who will keep or lose their jobs. Therefore, in 2011, the American government issued a Task Force to emphasize tourism and attraction foreign visitors to boost economy levels within the American society.

Why is America focusing on foreign visitors to boost economy?

September 11th 2001, was a difficult time for Americans because of not only the loss of human life, but also the loss of tourism. The sheer drop of this market and markets that relied upon this market sent America spiraling down a pitfall of debt.

The events that occurred sent the country into a panic and strict enforcement on who travelled through America was applied to prevent anything like it from ever occurring again. This forced many tourists who regularly visited America into not being able to do so for a multitude of years. The aftermath didn’t finish until near 2006, when the unemployment level began to see a rise.

In 2011, the American government saw a way out of their debt through tourism and began employing a strategy for attracting tourists. During this time, it began to become increasingly difficult as countries that barred itself from other countries began to open up for tourism.

How is the federal government helping foreign visitors?

The American government has created several ways to alleviate the pressure that comes with visiting the United States. They applied faster screenings for those who have already been to America, lowered the price for Visa’s to America, and even funded services that directly applied to the travel to America.

This funding allowed airlines to sell cheaper tickets, provide world-class comfort, and ensured that tourists would enjoy their experience so much that they would make return visits.

Is the reliance on foreign visitors to boost economy levels on a nationwide scale working?

These methods and strategies are proving to work as the tourism market saw a 7% increase in total sales during half of the year in 2012. While still not very high, this makes the overall projection of what tourism sales will be by 2020 to become a reality as the bar has been set at an annual revenue of $250 billion and the 7% increase is equal to that of $87.1 billion.

Double this and you receive $174.2 billion and with eight years left to make the goal, it seems very likely that the American government will achieve their goal quicker than they plan to.

The strategy that the American government has applied to increase foreign visitors to boost economy levels has already begun to prove itself successful. Over the years, the government plans to unveil more strategies and plans to expedite the process but the strategy exhibits signs of working just as well without any further changes.

About the author: Noc enjoys keeping track of the travel industry and hospitality companies like Travel Advantage Network.

* Image license: US-PDGov

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An introduction to Forex scalping

By Richard Newman

If you have become more experienced in the world of Forex, you have probably heard of scalping. Foreign exchange trading is often portrayed as a fast-paced, high risk and exciting activity and scalping is a technique that embodies this spirit. Having a good knowledge of the foundations of Forex scalping is vital before you start trading.

What is scalping?

Currency trade points and prices are partially determined by software indicators
Forex scalping is designed to yield small profits
Scalping is a Forex technique that involves fast transactions that result in small profits. “Fast” in this sense usually means two to five minutes. The whole point is to hold on to the currency just long enough to make a profit when certain market conditions are met. 

Most of these conditions are buying and selling points that are set on complex charts and systems and for this reason, scalping is usually conducted by advanced computer software that can recognise these trading points in real-time. 

There are, however, scalpers who operate manually and every trading move and decision is subject to the trader’s interpretation. In manual scalping conditions, it is usually the trader who programmes the software to recognise market points and make the trade. A high level of practice and knowledge goes into manual scalping and expertise can takes months, if not years, to build up.

What do I need to start scalping?

Obviously, you will need some money to start scalping. Specifically, you will need to invest ‘risk capital’ i.e. money that you can afford to lose. If you put money into Forex that you cannot afford to lose, you are breaking one of the most important rules of trading. Risk is inherent in trading. Once you have your risk capital, you need to decide what sort of system you will use. 

Remember that no matter what the advertising says, automated trading systems are not really ‘automatic’. In these systems, the actual trades are completed by the computer and the computer can ‘read’ stop-loss points, etc. but it cannot do any of the buying and selling analysis for you. 

Develop your own automated system using rules and techniques that you have learnt through practice or through advice from experts. Your usual Forex broker should be able to help with this.
How much money can I make by scalping?

Many people will claim that you can make as much money as you want by scalping. In theory, this is true but in practice, there are many conditions that restrict what kinds of profits you can make. Unfortunately, there are no ‘average’ figures for how much money scalpers make. Personal stories report making hundreds in one trade, others report a few pounds each time. 

It is important to remember that scalpers will require a large investment to use as Forex leverage because otherwise the small increases will not result in worthwhile profits. It is not unusual for scalpers to make hundreds in a day, and unfortunately, nor is it unusual for them to lose that much in a day.

Overall, Forex scalping is a fast and exciting technique which many claim as being one of the best ways to make money on the foreign exchange. It does, however, like all trading techniques, involve a degree of risk and it is up to each individual trader to make sure that he or she is knowledgeable and confident about making the trades.

About the author: Richard Newman is a copywriter and poet with a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Creative Writing. I have worked in various marketing & creative roles since 2001. My aim is to publish at least one novel before I die – so far I have had 2 poems published internationally in print as well as some online. In my professional capacity I currently work for an advertising agency in London.

* Image license: FX preis levels v4; CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Six months later: Has Groupon turned itself around?

Coupon use is promoted via a kind of crowdsourcing used by Groupon
Groupon is forecasted to stay in business despite stock price volatility
By Jeremie Brenton

Groupon was everyone's favorite thing when it first released its group coupon innovation to the market – everyone from users getting their favorite products and services on the cheap, to businesses getting a large cash influx in return for cheaper services provided at later dates, to investors hoping to cash in on the brilliant scheme and watch it grow, grow, grow. The entrepreneurial fairytale, however, would not last forever. After a number of controversial decisions by the founder and CEO and a number of quarters of not just disappointing, but devastating earnings reports, the company sacked the man who brought it into the world. Read on to see what happened with the promising startup, and see where it stands now.

The firing

The expectations for Groupon were through the roof before it went public in 2011. A group of bankers suggested its market cap would be worth $30 billion and others suggested it was the next eBay. Unfortunately for Groupon, there were a series of problems leading up to the IPO which included a COO quitting, accounting scandals, and getting sued by their own employees because of working conditions. The bizarre tale continued on until the young techie founder, Andrew Mason, who promoted a wacky corporate culture for which everyone had so much hope, was fired. During his tenure Groupon shares fell 75%, and rebounded immediately following the release of his idiosyncratic resignation letter.

The rebound

While Mason was busy jump-starting his promising new career as a rock musician with his first album called “Hardly Workin'”, an album to which the current CEO compared Kermit The Frog's Rainbow Connections, Groupon's stocks saw steady incline, and in recent weeks have even seen a 22% surge in value with the release of an earnings report that indicated the interim CEO, an early financier Erik Lefkofsky, would be staying on permanently. The company a week ago was valued at $7.08 billion, which is still about half of its IPO price, but a strong amount nonetheless.

As an investment

As an original investment from an IPO, Groupon has obviously tanked, and it will remain in tank mode for those who invested in its IPO for some time. However, as a fresh investment, it could offer promising growth as the inflated euphoria that grips every new dot com IPO has settled into more realistic expectations. With the new CEO, the company now has a clear path forward and a clear strategy to move from simply marketing emails to being a premier mobile commerce app. There’s a potential to achieve compound stock earnings on the investment in the long run.

While Groupon has certainly had its ups and downs from an investment perspective, it looks like it’s here to stay. The company now has a solid business plan, a solid approach to enticing new customers, and a solid team to manage it. At least this is what the perception on the market is, given their recent stock performance. Whether or not they will deliver on these new expectations, only time will tell – but it seems unlikely this resilient upstart will fall flat a second time.

About the author: This is a guest post by freelance tech and business writer Jeremie Brenton. Jeremie is usually covering startups, e-business and giving advice to small businesses on using technology.

* Image license: ©Groupon, publisher account photo

Monday, August 26, 2013

How to buy a USPS money order

Secure business transactions or purchases are facilitated with USPS money orders
The maximum value of USPS money orders is $1,000
Image attribution: USPS.gov, USPD-Gov

A United States Postal Service (USPS) money order is a finacial instrument that allows payee recipients of the money order to be assured the value of the funds is guaranteed. This is because USPS money orders are paid for at the time of issuance and cannot bounce like a check. USPS money orders to be sent within the United States have maximum values of up to $1000 and international USPS money orders have values up to $700.

Money orders from the USPS are a safe and secure way to send money via the mail and cost between .30 cents and $1.50 depending on the denomination and type of USPS money order. Once a USPS money order is sent it can be traced if necessary. For example, if a USPS money order is lost or stolen the number of the money order allows the United States Postal Service to track, cancel or reissue the money order.

By using the USPS services that accompany their money orders, payees can verify the authenticity of the money order by calling a special number at the United States Postal Service. This number is available at the USPS website along with additional details regarding the information discussed in this guide. Another advantage of USPS money orders is that unlike personal checks, they don't expire after six months.

Determine payment method 

USPS money orders can be paid for at the post office, but if cash is not used, there may be no way to purchase the money order at the post office without an ATM or Debit card. USPS money orders cannot be purchased with credit cards. When paying cash, don't forget to add the cost of the money order to the total amount needed; there is no additional tax included in the cost of the money order itself.

Go to the post office 

After determining how the money order will be purchased, a trip to the post office will be required. There are many locations throughout the United States to choose from, and they can be found using the USPS online 'USPS Services Locator' tool.

Request the money order 

At the USPS service desk a request for the money order can be made. The amount of the money order will need to be specified to the USPS representative so (s)he can print out the money order in the correct amount. If more than $3,000.00 of money orders is requested, a government identification such as driver's license may be requested as per the USPS.

Pay for the money order 

The USPS representative will require the money order be paid for either by cash, or debit. A swipe machine may be available at the service desk and an identification may also be required to validate the name and signature on the credit card if used.

Retain records

The USPS money order has a sender stub that can be filled out and teared off. Complete and tear off this stub from the main order and keep safe along with the transaction receipt. Purchases via credit card provide additional transaction records. These records are helpful for tracking the money order and documenting expenses if required.

* Image licenses: United States Postal Service; USPD-Gov

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bankruptcy filing guide and tips

Debt is either restructured or forgiven via bankruptcy proceedings
BABCPA law regulates bankruptcy
Bankruptcy is the process of reorganizing or receiving amnesty from debt via legal acknowledgement of personal insolvency. Debtors typically file for bankruptcy when there is no other option to resolve the financial complications arisen from uncontrollable debt.  Filing for bankruptcy is typically a fairly involved process that can absolve a debtor from debt and allow a second lease on financial life.

When filing for bankruptcy there are a few things that's expectation may assist in the bankruptcy filing process. Among those expectations are a considerable amount of personal documentation, a bankruptcy processing time that can last for months, bankruptcy filing fees and a record of the bankruptcy on county records and your credit report if approved by the bankruptcy court.

The requirements for filing bankruptcy are essentially met by the person filing for bankruptcy and facilitated by a bankruptcy attorney or bankruptcy filing service if one is used. These criteria are determined by legislation such as the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BABCPA), and your local bankruptcy court.

Assess debt

Complete a means test to determine if your income meets the eligibility criteria for bankruptcy in your locale. You can also perform a personal audit of income, assets and debt to determine how possible it would be to settle debts outside of bankruptcy.

Credit counseling requirements

Bankruptcy petitioners are required to obtain approved credit counseling and record thereof, as part of the bankruptcy qualification process. For assistance in locating a qualifying credit counselor you may call the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies (AICCA) at 1-866-703-8787.

Locate bankruptcy court

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court Locator is helpful in identifying and contacting your local bankruptcy court at which local bankruptcy petitions are filed. The bankruptcy court in your jurisdiction may also be able to inform you of the filing requirements for that particular court.

Gather documentation

Financial documents will be required to file for bankruptcy. Tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, real estate and personal property appraisals, credit counseling certificate, application, debts, and inventory lists may all be needed in addition to any other documentation asked for by either a bankruptcy filing service or bankruptcy court official.

File for bankruptcy

After all the necessary documentation is gathered, the type of bankruptcy petitioned for is identified, and the filing fee is paid the complete petition can be filed with the bankruptcy court.  A court date hearing may then be scheduled in which a bankruptcy judge reviews the case and authorizes the bankruptcy.
* Image license: xymonau; RGBStock.com royalty free

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The challenges of working with Gen-Y

By David Johnson

The July jobs report (PDF) that came out earlier this month held more dismal news for Gen-Y workers. For adult workers, ages 25 to 54, Gen-Y (25-34) comprises about a third of the work force or about 31 million people. Unemployment is at 7.5% for them, compared to 6.0% for workers age 35-44 and 5.7% for workers age 45-54. For slightly younger workers, the unemployment rate is downright grim – a whopping 12.6% for workers age 20-24 and 23.7% for teenage workers.

So what does that mean for managers?

Gen-Y Employee
Younger workers don't see as much payoff for their efforts
A lot of the complaints about Gen-Y workers – a sense of entitlement coupled with complacency, poor work habits, social media-derived communication and professional styles – are actually a natural growth from a poor work climate. 

Todd and Victoria Buchholz published an article in the New York Times last year that detailed research that children and young adults in hard economic times don’t see a payoff for hard work, so they associate achievement more with luck than with persistence. They point to a number of disappointing trends: younger people are less likely to move states, get driver’s licenses later, even see reduced earnings 15 years after the end of a recession.

The educational climate feeds that complacent mindset, with participation trophies and gold stars rather than rewards for performance. And an emphasis on college and even masters degrees means that most young workers don’t even seriously enter the job market until their mid-twenties – meaning that managers have to deal with fully adult workers with no practical work experience, and workers who should be established and independent are in entry-level or even interning positions.

That’s an interesting situation to me, and one I think managers can easily overlook in a “get off my lawn!” generational conflict in the work place. Quite simply, Gen-Yers don’t know how to work.

Pushing back

There are some good articles out there with work advice for dealing with Gen-Y (and, honestly, workers of all ages). Forbes has a good article from Jason Nazar for advice for young workers. What jumps out to me is how many of his 20-tips deal with pushing back against the degrading influences of social media saturation – something that can be very helpful to managers to gain perspective on the quirks of their 20-something employees. Key points:
  • Social media is not a career. It’s a type of marketing.
  • Work during regular office hours, especially in the morning.
  • Pick up the phone or chat in person – don’t rely first on email.
  • Don’t wait to be told what to do.
  • Don’t back-talk and gossip.
  • Learn technical skills. WordPress programming is a skill; posting to Instagram is not.
  • Read books, not texts or tweets. Long works require concentration, thoughtfulness, and the ability to process information.
  • Bouncing between jobs isn’t a good thing. Commit to a place and develop your skills.

Effects of a media-driven culture

David Hassell at Talent Culture has another list for Gen-y and feedback. Two of his three points are key, and they also relate to the effects of a media-driven culture.
  • Gen-Yers are accustomed to instant feedback. Download a song on iTunes, listen to the song immediately. Turn in a paper on Friday, get the grade on Monday. Combine instant-gratification with thin work experience, and most Gen-Yers don’t have the skills to read and respond to normal feedback loops, and a traditional yearly performance review may simply take to long for them to be able to assimilate the feedback, good and bad. Informal and frequent feedback will help younger workers figure out what they’re doing right and how they need to improve more effectively.
  • Participation awards and a crappy economy have combined to make success seem like luck, not something that is pursued. Therefore, Gen-Yers need to be taught how to establish personal goals before they can begin successfully achieving them.

Instill positive habits

One key thing that emerged from these articles for me is how very different the perspective is for younger workers than it was for new workers 20 years ago. The sense of instability in the 2000s has bred a generation of cautious, inexperienced workers that is very different from the driven optimism of the 1980s or the booming 1990s. Recognizing that the apparent lethargy and entitlement in younger workers comes more from uncertainty than laziness is a good thing. Both Nazar and Hassell have some good points – ultimately, the general goal is to instill habits counter to the passive Facebook/Twitter/texting trend and inspire some real confidence and ambition to perform.

About the author: For the better part of four decades, David Johnson has been working in both small and large business for strategic marketing, productivity, management, and office design.  Experiencing different industries and different management styles has helped develop his perspective on office culture, leadership, and communication. Follow his posts on his business site ConferenceRoomOutfitters.com or on Twitter (@bizoutfitter).

*Images: 1. Gilles Klein; CC BY-SA 2.0,  2. Author owned and licensed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Men win! Their desks are the dirtiest place in the office

Men's work areas are dirtier than women's per study data
Men's desks have more bateria
By Carrie Hughes

These days many of us spend a large part of our day sitting in front of a computer, shedding skin and spreading bacteria. Although this is only natural, some people do seem to be considerably dirtier than others!

A recent survey found that men’s desks were the dirtiest place in the office. The university of San Diego study tested several different areas of offices and found high levels of bacteria, deriving from human skin, soil and plants. Chair arm rests and phones were found to be covered in billions of bacteria but mens desks had the highst bacteria levels of all.

Dirty boys

Researchers tested different office areas for 450 types of bacteria and noted the gender of the occupants of desks. The results showed that men’s desks had significantly more bacterial cells than women’s.

One explanation of this phenomenon is that men are larger than women and have a greater surface area to grow bacteria on, but the scientists conducting the study believe it’s more likely that men simply wash their hands and brush their teeth less often than women.

Mystery microbes

At present, we understand that bacteria are everywhere, but there is still little knowledge surrounding exactly how they work – and when it comes to office based microbes we know even less. The recent study could help provide clues about ‘sick building syndrome’, and other health related issues, but also give an insight into the type of bacteria that grow in office environments and what we can learn from them.

Bad call

Another study conducted in London recently found that 16% of the phones and hands of users contained E.coli, a potentially dangerous bacteria that derives from faeces. The researchers, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, swabbed samples from the phones and hands of 780 people and once again the high level of E.coli was surmised to be caused by a lack of hand washing after using the toilet.

Clean up

So whatever type of office environment you work in, it’s more than likely that not everyone will be playing by the rules, so if you want to ensure your workspace isn’t a health hazard it’s a good idea to hire a professional cleaner to come in and work their magic.

The benefits of clean

A clean office is a happier and healthier place to work. If you want your office to be a pleasant environment then keep it clean and clear!

We all love the feeling of having a good sort out at home and getting everything organised – with a little bit of work and the help of a professional cleaning company, you can create that feeling in your office all the time.

Although some bacteria is good, you certainly don’t need desks, phones and hands covered in E.coli lurking round your office. When you opt to use a professional cleaning service you can ensure that the places in your office that are likely to be the dirtiest are thoroughly and properly cleaned.

About the author: Carrie Hughes has over 10 years experience working in office envrionments specifically in HR. Her passion is the management of people, ensuring a happy and efficient work force through the management of both staff and their environment. 

* Image license: US-PD

Thursday, August 22, 2013

New marketing techniques for SMB owners

By Michael Gal

If it’s been a while since you’ve last evaluated your marketing strategies, it’s time you took a second look. A variety of effective marketing strategies can help you reach your desired markets and achieve the greatest return on investment. As consumers change and respond to constant changes in technology, traditional marketing strategies are losing their edge. And as consumer preferences change, companies must rise to the occasion, using the most popular forms of communication to get their message delivered.

Voice broadcasting and mass texting are two marketing strategies in step with today’s technology. Here’s more on why you should consider integrating these strategies into your marketing platform.

Voice broadcasting gets personal

Business communication is made more efficient with voice broadcasting
Voice broadcasting helps business with bill collecting
When people think of voice broadcasting, they often associate the concept with an impersonal automated phone message. In truth, voice broadcasting technology has become much more versatile since its humble beginnings. Today, voice broadcasting messages can be customized and interacted with like any other person. Personalized messages you record and send to your opt-in call list provides a human touch, too. The rest is taken care of on your behalf.

This feature can be used for a number of applications like special promotions, customer satisfaction surveys, appointments and urgent updates. Automated reminder phone calls related to past due payments is another great use for voice broadcasting. After listening to the late payment reminder, message recipients can be provided options for making a payment over the phone with the need for being transferred to your billing department. However, if they would prefer being transferred to discuss any questions or concerns they might have, you can offer that option as well. Interaction also means message recipients can opt-out of receiving automated calls. Overall, voice broadcasting saves company time by eliminating redundant phone duties.

SMS marketing becomes a frontrunner

Mass texting or SMS marketing is another strategy that has been a major game changer for many companies. For many of us, mobile phone use has become an integral part of daily life. Many survey results show text messaging is becoming the most preferred form of communication over phone calls and email. It has also been shown that text messages have the fastest response times. In fact, 95% of texts are opened within five minutes of receipt. This is likely because cell phones are on us practically all the time.

With a text message, the recipient has time to read and respond to the message on their schedule, an important convenience for many. Another great advantage of this marketing strategy is its affordability. Each message costs just a couple of cents allowing you to reach a larger target market for a manageable price. Redemption rates have been shown to be significantly higher than those of TV, radio, and direct mail. ROI can also be tracked, using the responses received as an indicator of whether certain text ads are worth your money. 

Considering the preferences of your existing and potential customers is a huge part of making your marketing strategies a success. Not every message you send will be as effective on every media channel. In many cases it will also be important to create convenient and flexible options that allow your customer to reach you. A mix of strategies will allow you to accomplish both. With mass texting and voice broadcasting, you will be able to reach a broader audience and maximize your return on investment.

About the author: Written by Michael Gal, a social media marketing specialist representing CallFire, a provider of voice broadcasting and mass SMS messaging services. Michael produces content for businesses looking to improve their search engine ranking.

* Image licenses: 1. Lusi; RGBStock royalty free 2. Johnnyberg; RGBStock royalty free

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

College tips: How to stretch your dollars

To save money on housing costs live off campus
Cooking food bought in bulk and avoiding restaurants saves money
By Jennifer Dalenberg

College can be quite expensive. There are student loans to think of, credit card debts to settle, and money for food and accommodation. The more money you borrow to sustain you through college, the more debts you incur, and the longer it will take for you to pay all of them back. There are ways though that you can cut down on your expenses, decrease your debts, and still have some money left for your savings.

Save money on food

You will be surprised to know that one of the biggest expenses in college is food. Hundreds of dollars are being funneled into food expenses each month, the cost climbing if you eat at restaurants. If you can direct some of the food costs to your debts, then you can pay your loans off sooner. Below are some ways that you can save money on food.

Eating at restaurants is very costly, but you can save some money though by cooking your own food. Not only is it healthier than restaurant and fast foods, but it is also a skill worth developing. There are a lot of easy-to-cook recipe that you can download from the internet, and the best thing about it is that the ingredients are not that hard to find and the steps are not that difficult to follow.

When you shop for the ingredients, you can save more money if you purchase food and other supplies in bulk. The quantity may be too much for a single person, but you can split the cost with your roommates though.

When cooking food, cook in large batches and simply store the leftover food in your freezer. After your classes, you only have to reheat some of the leftover, and in no time at all, you can enjoy hot food. This saves you not only time and effort, but money as well.

Finally, avoid buying from vending machines. The items are more expensive than those sold at the grocery stores. If you want to save money on snacks and drinks, then buy them in bulk at your local grocery store.

Earn extra cash

Off-campus housing is cheaper than on-campus ones, and if you want to save more money on rent and you have some extra space in your apartment, then why not rent the space out? This gives you extra cash that you can use to pay for your student loan faster or extra money to go into your savings. Of note though; before you go this route, be sure to read up on the pros and cons of having roommates. Weigh the advantages against the disadvantages. You do not want to regret your decision later, especially if having a roommate proved to be more of an inconvenience to you.

Finally, look for a summer job. There are a lot of summer jobs that you can choose from, but if you want to use the opportunity to build a better resume for when you look for a job after graduation, then choose one that is in line with the college course you are taking. One example of a lucrative summer job that can also help build your resume is a sales representative position.

About the author: Jennifer Dalenberg is a freelance content provider for business and financial blogs. If you are looking for a summer job, she recommends a sales representative position such as those offered by Vantage Marketing Opportunity.

Image license: Dave Crosby; CC BY-SA 2.0 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Leverage digital marketing and SEO to promote financial services

Promote financial services by leveraging digital marketing and SEO
SMS texting is a form of digital marketing
By Jeff Shjarback

The Internet makes it possible to reach global audiences through effective and well-crafted marketing campaigns. The power of the Internet lies in the sheer number of consumers and businesses that use websites to purchase goods and services.

Digital marketing allows hedge funds and financial professionals to reach their target markets, promote their services and drive revenue growth.  Marketers utilize specific methods to leverage the full power of the Internet.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a process through which a business boosts its search engine ranking and enhances its visibility on the Internet. The process requires selection of pertinent keywords and manipulation of the HTML code associated with web content.  Careful analysis of keywords is critical for reaching the right customers and increasing market penetration. Hedge funds and financial professionals seeking to enhance brand awareness, reach new investors or promote services can beat the competition by achieving a high search engine ranking.

Types of digital marketing

Digital marketing encompasses everything from effective mobile lead generation to press releases and link building. For instance, press release distribution through major online sites like Yahoo Finance reaches a large audience and propels search engine rankings. Content marketing, which includes everything from blog posts to article syndication, helps draw attention to hedge funds through thought provoking content and reader engagement. According to the Content Marketing Institute, uses of content marketing vary across vertical markets, geographies and different sized companies. This makes selecting the right mediums and methods imperative for the optimal results.

Advantages of digital marketing

Digital marketing and SEO compared to direct mail and other traditional marketing methods is cost-effective.  The audiences that can be reached are wider and more diverse, which is essential for growing the revenues and resources of financial professionals. The economy continues to become more interconnected throughout the world. Those firms and professionals capable of transcending borders have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. SEO allows businesses to raise their visibility and impact public perception in a way that would cost excessive amounts of money with traditional advertising.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, companies such as P&G, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and John Deere all utilize content marketing strategies. Companies large and small are leveraging the Internet to enhance the effectiveness of marketing efforts. Delivering high-quality and informative content has the potential to educate customers and create brand loyalty. This is a critical point for hedge funds and financial professionals. The methods employed by hedge funds can be complex and difficult to understand. Disseminating information in a way that makes it easy to digest and internalize has the ability to win-over new clientele.

Return on investment

It is hard to gauge the effectiveness of print ads, TV commercials and other traditional forms of marketing. Many traditional marketing techniques have also become cost-prohibitive in light of budgetary limitations and cuts. With digital marketing and SEO, it is easy to track page clicks and sales generated through individual campaigns. Analytics are readily available to measure return on investment, which allows management to craft better strategies and increase net profit. Financial professionals can use everything from social media to info-graphics to reach target markets while lowering the cost of sales or cost of goods sold. Increased revenues and decreased operational costs are the hallmarks of solid marketing strategies.

There are numerous reasons for hedge funds and financial professionals to use digital marketing and SEO. Reaching new customers and promoting brand awareness helps to drive sales and enhance the profitability of operations. The Internet gives businesses the power to reach audiences all over the globe in an efficient and cost-effective manner. 

About the author: This post was written by Jeff Shjarback. Jeff Shjarback, MBA is a Digital Marketing Consultant, Writer and Blogger that enjoys blogging about online marketing, business, lead generation, economics, innovation & emerging technology, future trend analysis and business philosophy.  To learn more about Jeff, you can visit his Google Author Profile.
Image license: JayLopez; RGBStock royalty free

Monday, August 19, 2013

Five helpful hints for refinancing your mortgage with poor credit

Lending risk rises as the amount of equity in a home declines
Federally insured loans require less equity
By Don Anfuso

Refinancing your mortgage is an excellent option to put hundreds of dollars back into your pocket every month. However, you may be hesitant and held back by your less than stellar credit score. The following five hints will help you refinance your mortgage, despite any blemishes on your credit report.

1. Never expect super low interest rates

If you ever watch television, read the newspaper, or use the internet, then chances are you have seen advertisements for rock-bottom interest rates for homeowners. Regardless of these ads, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage is still 4.38 percent. The opportunity for record low interest rates has certainly passed. Rates have been steadily rising in the last few weeks. Even if these low interest rates were still available though, they are typically reserved for borrowers with a pristine credit report. If your credit is shaky, do not have overly inflated expectations about receiving the cheapest loan rates advertised.

2. You should have equity in your property

If you owe more on the property than it is worth, then the majority of lenders will not even think about refinancing your mortgage. Many banks only want to refinance if you have a bit of equity in your house. Banks are cautious because the new loan will be based on the market value of your home. Those that do not have much equity are considered riskier, which makes lenders unwilling to issue a new mortgage. In addition, make sure you do adequate research on the bank you are thinking of lending with. The more conservative the bank is, then the more equity they will prefer.

3. Consider refinancing with a government-insured loan

Homeowners who do not have sufficient equity have another option for refinancing their mortgage. Banks that offer government-backed loans, including the FHA loan, typically do not insist on tons of equity in the property. They are insured federal agencies such as the department of housing and urban development. Refinancing with a FHA loan, you must have a small amount of equity in order to get a new mortgage with a ltv limit up to 97.75 percent of your home’s value.

4. Research an FHA streamline refinance

If you already have an FHA loan, it may be worth looking into an FHA streamline refinance. This is a special mortgage that is limited to only current FHA borrowers, but it is ideal for those who cannot refinance in other means due to their credit. The application process does not involve an appraisal, and it does not make you prove income or credit.

5. Do your best to make the rest of your application appealing

Try to offset any bad credit scores by making the rest of your application as immaculate as you can. Gather all of your work papers, including w-2 statements or pay stubs, and provide thorough documentation of your income. Emphasize the length of time you have been working, any prospective raises, and bank records demonstrating savings accounts. Having cash on hand in the bank will likely catch the lender’s eye when they are reading your application.

Overall, position yourself in the best possible light on your application and do plenty of research on your options. Refinancing your mortgage is not a hopeless cause when you have average or poor credit. While it is a tougher challenge, you can still accomplish a refinance. 

About the author: Don Anfuso is an NJ mortgage broker that provides help with people who are looking to finance a residential mortgage.

Image license: Albion80; rgbstock royalty free  

Record banking profits = On-going lay-offs . . . What gives?

Corporate profit increases did not deter bank from firing employees
Banking layoffs have been focused on mortgage divisions
By RJ Tayaban

Here’s a paradox to start the day with – the major banking industry is raking in record profits, yet at the same time seems hell-bent on sacking everyone in sight. With net incomes totalling a combined $40 billion in the space of a single quarter, why on Earth is it still necessary for thousands of jobs to go?

Just this week, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase all confirmed that more employees were being given their marching orders. Wells Fargo will be getting rid of 126 jobs in its mortgage arm as it heads toward its 763 redundancy target, Bank of America will be losing another 209 workers and JPMorgan Chase is laying-off staff by the hundred as part of its 15,000 staff-reduction plan.

Citi has also said goodbye to over 120 employees in the last couple of weeks and confirmed that more redundancies are on their way. So considering that more money is coming in than ever before, why do more and more workers seem to be heading in the opposite direction?

Well, the first thing to bear in mind is that most of the redundancies are falling within the mortgage arms of the banks. This is something that was expected all along as there is likely to be a significant fall in demand for mortgages and refinance loans as national average interest rates slowly climb.

Mortgage applications rose as home loan rates declined
Despite record low interest rates, lay-offs continued
Over the past few years, mortgage rates have hit all-time lows and prompted the most incredible uptick in mortgage applications in recent history. People were scrambling to save small fortunes, which required a small army of workers to handle and process. However, this has cooled off quite a bit over recent months and is set to continue slowing as interest rates go back up. In figures, the Mortgage Bankers Association predicts that things will decelerate by at least 40% in the refinance market in Q3 compared the previous quarter.

So that’s one of the reasons the banks don’t need quite as many staff as before – the next is the way in which most of the redundancies form parts of plans put into place years ago. Taking Bank of America for example – it was announced in 2011 that a full 30,000 jobs would be cut over the coming years, which is a target they’re still nowhere near but seem to be making some headway at least.
Profit margin is increased by maintaining worker productivity while cutting human resource costs
Cutting costs at a faster rate increases profit margin

More recently, JPMorgan Chase said at the beginning of the year that it intended to lose 20,000 workers before the end of 2014 – all in the name of cutting expenses. This would include around 4,000 roles in community/commerce banking and over 15,000 staff in the mortgage arm. And just before this, Citigroup also warned that 11,000 redundancies were on the way following already huge lay-offs affecting a quarter of the whole company.

All in all, the banking industry in the US became one of the most notorious for heavy lay-offs over the past couple of years, with a total of 26,000+ redundancies already recorded.

Increasing banking revenue becomes more difficult with low home loan interest rates
Revenue growth has been weak despite cost cuts
An altogether more curious reason for the lay-offs is the fact that despite profits being at all-time highs, revenue growth is proving extremely difficult. The lowest interest rates in the history of the market are making top-line growth very difficult, therefore leading to staff cuts as a means by which to cut costs.

Perhaps one of the starkest messages being passed around by industry analysts and experts is that despite what happens in the coming months and years, it’s unlikely that most of these jobs will ever be brought back. Banks are going through some serious restructuring and reshaping efforts which for the most part don’t paint the best picture on the employment front.

But still, at least you can stop scratching your head now as to why record profits haven’t triggered the hiring spree you might have logically expected!

About The Author: RJ Tayaban wrote this blog post for MoneyListings. For more than 8 years, RJ has been covering news on investment, banking and finance.

* Image license: Xoneca; CC 1.0 Delphi234; CC 1.0; MHz'as; CC BY-SA 3.0 Debastein1; CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, August 18, 2013

EU legislation to limit single-use plastic shopping bags

Limiting plastic bag use is better for the environment per the EU Environmental Commission
Less plastic bag use reduces landfill waste
The European Union Environmental Commission is considering legislation that could empower member states to limit single-use plastic bags. The legislation would remove legal barriers between member countries so they could pass their own legislation that could tax the use of single-use plastic shopping bags or banning the plastic bags altogether.

EU Environmetal Commission 

According to European Union environmental commissioner, Janez Potocnik, plastic products, such as shopping bags, are mostly thrown away by consumers across Europe. This results in an immense amount of plastic waste ending up in landfills across the European Union. Potocnik claims that half of plastic waste ends up in landfills.

Potocnik blames cultural attitudes toward plastic. Since plastic is cheap, objects like plastic bottles to shopping bags, are thrown away after a single use. However, the Environmental Commission report, authored by Potocnik, claims that plastic costs never appreciated the true environmental costs of these goods. The market, the report claims, seldom adds environmental costs, so governments need to impose taxes and benefits to change consumer behavior for a greater good, like the environment. Potocnik wants the European Union to promote member states to minimize the single-use of plastic products, particularly shopping bags, which can be used multiple times. There are some concrete examples Potocnik cites where member nations devised policies to minimize plastic single-use. In 2002, Ireland imposed a tax on plastic bags. The result included a 90 percent reduction in plastic waste.

UK stance on plastic

In Britain, public discourse toward plastic legislation has built up steam in recent months. The actor, Jeremy Irons, has chastised governments for not doing more on plastic waste. Irons has appeared with Potocnik at commission hearings in Brussels.

A tax has been proposed concerning plastic bags over the last few months. However, the Conservative environment minister, Richard Benyon, stated the government would not consider the tax. Benyon cited that such a tax would harm the budgets of households struggling during the economic recession. The policy paper by Potocnik has cited a policy that had been backed by the previous Labour government.

The pay-as-you-throw policy would allow local councils to measure, assess, and rebate households who threw out the least waste and recycled the most products. Plastic would undoubtedly be heavily recycled and if households reused plastic items, like bags, then the general waste would be smaller. In effect, households would be financially rewarded for either recycling or reusing their plastic products. If households had too much waste that is not being recycled, then the household would be charged with extra fees. The Colchester Borough Council is using a computer system for their waste collection that can track the amount of non-recycled waste left by the household.

Other countries not within the EU

Are already taking measures on single use plastic shopping bags. The governments of Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and other countries have passed laws requiring biodegradable plastic packaging. They have seen plastic shopping bags accumulate on their shores and clog their waterways, as well as great rafts of plastic packaging material and other debris floating about the seas. Plastic that does not biodegrade tends to also accumulate in deserts. 

Governments may legislate against specific types of plastic packaging as a means to protect soil and water. If plastic shopping bags do not biodegrade, they may sit in landfills or blow about the landscape until they settle. They may then leach chemicals into the soil and groundwater. Plastic bags that are not disposed of properly can be unsightly, raising the risk of reduced tourism revenue in areas that bill themselves as scenic. 

The amount of different environmental controls placed on companies around the world has forced global packaging companies like Keenpac to provide technical help to packaging buyers operating from different contries and where their products may ultimatly end up being sold. When it comes to making a straight choice between materials that are better for the environment versus cost, the question then arises; is there a ‘best of both’?

About the author: Tim writes about environmental issues and how companies can achieve a balance between their environmental obligations and their profit obligations

* Image license: Mikekol; CC BY-SA 3.0

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Apps and phones: The future of payment

Cash and card payments will be overshadowed by smartphone payments per Pew research
Mobile banking is convenient
By Greg Jones

How we acquire services and items matters a great deal. From bartering, to money, to credit cards, we have evolved our methods to gain the things we want. However, what is the future of payment and what security could be taken for such extravagant future technologies?

The ability to acquire items or services arises from recognising we are not capable of doing or making everything, as individuals.

Our skills as a carpenter might take years to acquire, but it also means we don’t get the skills of a surgeon. Yet the surgeon might need a table and the carpenter might need surgery. However, things are not equal: If a surgeon needs a table, he can’t offer his only – albeit highly technical – skill to a healthy carpenter! Money is a means to stretch that exchange, allowing it to occur instead of the sometimes unequal bartering. But what do we mean by money?

Money talk

We might automatically think cash and coins. But that’s of course limited: After all, we now have credit and debit and accounts. Indeed, most people in some countries, like Britain, are slowly moving toward electronic payment: In 2010, £272 billion was spent on debit cards compared to £269 billion in cash. That’s a difference of about £10 billion.

Now consider the future of payment technology, such as Google Wallet. Used on Android phones, the free app works similar to PayPal, in that money can be put into and drawn out from bank accounts. The idea is that we give wallets entirely and just carry out smartphones. When we get to a counter, we simply “tap of your phone at the register”. Other devices are of course doing the same thing. Indeed, Pew Research concluded that, by 2020, smartphones will replace cash and cards as the preferred payment method.

The convenience of having all necessary items within a singular item is obvious. There is no need to worry about where your wallet is, where you cash is, whether you’ve drawn enough and so on – all of it is sorted by having the right phone.

And mobile banking is not only becoming increasingly popular, but increasingly sophisticated. For example, on advanced but easy-to-use apps like First National Bank’s (FNB) app, one can manage all manner of things: debit payments, invoicing, transfers and switching between accounts (though not necessarily more advanced transactions like debit order switching). The logical step then is to make mobile banking as credit card: that is, “swiping” at the till. Or, in a phone’s case, tapping the screen. There are various methods, but one often cited is NFC, or near-field communication. This is an ultra short-range wireless technology allowing communication and data exchange between two devices held in close proximity.

Security matters

Of course, if we reach the stage of using smartphones for in-store payment, we must recognise that convenience isn’t the only determining factor. It’s security, too. For example, what can we do if we lose our phones? It would, in a sense, be the same as losing our wallet. Second, unlike cash, you can be hacked or broken into and have money stolen. Safe cash untouched can’t be “magically” taken by smart people kilometres away, without leaving their office.

Of course, we don’t simply leave it as such: We take precautions. For example, if your phone is stolen, we’ve all got ways, like loved ones, to help us cancel the phone’s activities. We can immediately notify our banks that any activity from specific places should be denied – just as we do with stolen cards.

The point is that we don’t cease progress simply because they’re problems. We have problems even with current technology. By definition, the monetary system is by definition an illusion, as Professor Susan Crawford from Harvard says. But we don’t let its illusory status define the security: we still do what we can to be efficient and safe.

The future is not scary but convenient and we should allow our spending to follow suit.

About the author: I am Greg Jones, a self-employed guy who loves cookings, outdoors activities and spending time with my family and friends. As a business person, I find using my smart phone to do transactions saves me time and effort, allowing me to focus on the important things in life - fitness, family and friends.

Image license: Jpcritis; RGBStock royalty free