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Friday, January 31, 2014

Bookkeeping pitfalls for practices to avoid

In the small practice setting, physicians often don’t realize that they are losing money due to suboptimal bookkeeping practices. While doing it yourself may seem like a way to save money on monthly accounting fees, the decision not to hire a professional may be costing you more than you realize. In many smaller practices, one of two scenarios occurs: Either 1) the physician is doing his or her own bookkeeping, or 2) office staff may be recording and coding transactions.

Bookkeeping services help ensure accurate financial records
Coding errors complicate bookkeeping and waste time
Each transaction has the potential to impact the taxes you pay. The integrity of your financial reporting, which should inform the major decisions you make for your practice, depends on the day to day accuracy of your recorded transactions. This is the information you should be using to trend your practice’s performance, decide whether to bring on another doctor or nurse practitioner, negotiate managed care contracts, offer new services, apply for a loan, or adjust staffing.  

At first glance, picking expense categories in Quickbooks seems pretty basic compared to the complexities of practicing medicine, so many physicians opt to do their own bookkeeping. One of the problems with this is that a physician’s time is best spent on billable activities, such as treating patients, or other activities that cannot be performed by another person whose credentials are not “M.D, ” or “D.O.” Despite the fact that many physicians are very knowledgeable in business in general, what is obvious to an accountant who looks at financials all day long may not be as obvious to a doctor who looks at his or her financials once a month. For example, one physician I worked with did not realize that some of his cash receipts from Blue Cross were being coded as an expense. This was occurring because the physician had a personal health insurance policy through Blue Cross, and so transactions with “Blue Cross” were being automatically coded to health insurance expense rather than revenue.

Realizing that their time is better spent with patients or on business development efforts, some physicians choose to have office staff maintain the books. The problem with this approach is that often office staff are not trained in business accounting and have not worked as full time bookkeepers. They may be fulfilling other roles, such as scheduling patients and verifying insurance.

Below are just a few signs that you may have issues with your bookkeeping. (This list is by no means all inclusive):
  • Wide variations in expense categories from year to year
  • If a sort by vendor shows a single vendor being coded to multiple accounts (for example, if purchases from a suture supplier have been coded to accounts other than medical supplies, such as office expense, miscellaneous expense, etc.)
  • It should be easy to estimate expenses for certain accounts, like salaries, maintenance contracts, or equipment leasing. If these accounts seem greatly over or understated, you may have an issue.
A bookkeeping service or a part time CFO with experience in physician practices, knows what to look for and can ensure that you have meaningful financials to make informed decisions and to minimize your tax liability.

About the author: CFO Business Growth Solutions, LLC is a provider of part time CFO and interim CFO Services, nationwide accounting & bookkeeping Services, debt restructuring and management turnaround, business intelligence applications and due diligence support services. For more information go to http://www.cfobgs.com/

Image license: Dr. Harry Gouvas, CC BY SA 3.0, GFDL

How our eyes process signs and advertising

psychology of signs
The brain's ability to process visual cues makes signs marketable
By Louise Williams

Human beings have an amazing ability to process information in a number of ways. Our brains can understand information in the form of sound, smell, touch, and sight.

One of the most essential functions of our information system is processing visual information. This visual information processing is quite complex.

Converting light in to meaning

It begins with our eyes. Through various mechanisms in our eyes, we are given an impression of how the world before us looks. Although this impression comes into our system originally inverted, our brain has an amazing ability to flip this image so that we can understand it. Once our eyes have collected sufficient information about the world, this data is converted into something which our brain can understand. Our retina is responsible for converting the light pattern which comes into our eye into neurological signals.

Converting light in to meaningful data for the brain is not unique to human beings. Most mammals have a similar system to what was just described. However, what humans can do with this information is much more extensive than what is known about other animals. Exactly what happens in the human brain once this information is conveyed is unclear. There are many different theories about what occurs, but despite the lack of clarity about what occurs, it is clear that humans can and do process visual information at amazing rates.

This ability to take light patterns and convert them into meaningful brain signals is essential to the success of signs. By understanding some of the psychology behind our visual processing system, you can better understand how and why signs are effective.

Committing to memory

When a sign is located at or near the business it is advertising, the visual processing system sends signals to the brain, which may be stored in memory. When we see the sign, we also collect information about the location we saw the sign in. Seeing a specific sign at a specific location can cause us to create a memory of the event. Even if we do not interact with the particular business the same day we create this memory, signs can help us identify where a particular store is located when we are searching for that information at a later time. This ability to connect a sign to a business and then commit them both to memory is very valuable in helping customers come into the store.

Selective processing

One interesting fact about our visual processing system is that it is selective. Every day we are inundated with various visual data. The only way our systems do not overload with converting this data into brain signals is through a process of selection. We do not take in every piece of data which is presented to us, but rather select which parts to remember and which to forget.

This is an important element of successful signage. This is one of the main reasons you don’t want your sign to have way too much information including text and a bunch of different colors. Too much and psychologically human beings drown it out. Too little information and we may not notice it enough to form a memory. You need the right balance of information to effectively reach your audience.

Visual cues

Another element of our visual processing system is our ability to remember previous visual cues. If we are frequently exposed to a particular design, then we are more likely to recognize and associate a particular sensation or event to that design. In terms of signs, this means that consistency is valuable. Using the same basic sign design, perhaps with alterations of scale when needed, will encourage us to form the desired memory. We’ve all had that experience of going into some store somewhere and buying that thing. One of the reasons we don’t remember the details of that store is because the lack of memorable signage. You don’t want to go overboard and turn your business into something which looks like a sign store, but you do want to make your design visible and consistently echo it when appropriate.

Modern psychology has divided individuals into different types of learners. These three types are audio, kinesthetic, and visual. Kinesthetic learners are those who learn by touching. The least amount of people fall into this category. The auditory learners take in information best from hearing or saying it aloud. This accounts for a large number of individuals. The largest category are the visual learners, who take in information the best through seeing. This is great news for those with signs because you are tapping into the most common way for individuals to learn new information. With the right sign, you can be teaching them exactly where and how to access your business.    

The study of signage and their emotional and overall psychological impact on the human brain is how IS Installations develops the best signage around. 


About the author: Louise Williams is an expert at breaking down their complicated process to help us better understand how and why certain signs look the way they do.

Image license: Billy Hicks, GFDL, CC BY-2.5

Little known ways to invest your money safely

Index ETFs allow investors to diversify investment capital via one fund
Investing does not have to involve great financial risk
By Joseph Urgo

No matter your age, if you are employed or have excess income available to you through other means, you should seek to set aside a reasonable amount of money each month to contribute towards your savings - ideally 20% or more of your income. Saving is only half of the battle though. Once you have some cash saved up, you need to start considering ways to make your money work for you by investing it.

There are countless ways to invest your income. If you are a recent college grad with less responsibilities than the average worker, you can afford to take more risks than most. If you are older and have a family or extensive financial obligations, you should look to be more prudent in managing your risks. Whichever category you fall into, there are some methods that are safer than others when it comes to investing your money. Let's take a look at some of the more stable and consistent ways to put your money to work.

Index ETFs

The stock market has historically provided individual investors with higher average annual returns than any other investment. With the vast array of individual stocks available to choose from the task of selecting a few specific companies can seem quite daunting to most. Many investors choose to simplify the process by putting their capital into a mutual fund, allowing a professional money manager to determine what stocks offer the best opportunities. However, many mutual fund managers fail to beat the market with any real consistency after taking management fees into account.

Index ETFs (exchange traded funds) offer investors a smart alternative.  Index funds mirror the returns of the index that they track, such as the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, ensuring that you do not see lower returns than the broad market averages.  Fees are also significantly lower as the funds do not need to be as actively managed since there are no decisions for a money manager to make with an ETF.

Dividend paying stocks  

While most young companies offer the opportunity for significant growth, they also carry significantly more risk than long established powerhouses such as McDonalds or Altria Group. What these companies lack in terms of growth prospects, they make up for it through their stability and the dividends they pay. As an example, Altria Group, owner of Philip Morris, has an extensive history of paying a quarterly dividend and also raising their dividend consistently. If you were to invest in Altria today, your investment would yield a 5.2% annual return paid in the form of dividends, a significant return in comparison to those available through a CD or money market fund. Your investment also has the potential to appreciate in value if the stock price rises, adding to the amount already earned from the dividends received.  

Savings bonds

If the stock market is too risky for your appetite, you can consider investing in savings bonds. Treasury bonds, backed by the US government, provide an extremely safe way of investing with virtually zero chance of default. Savings bonds allow you to ensure that the value of your money will appreciate, helping to balance out the effects of US dollar inflation every year.  Treasury Bonds are backed by an AAA rating, the highest credit rating given to bonds issued by governments or corporations.


About the author: This article was written by Joseph Urgo. Jospeh has worked in the financial industry for a number of years and uses his expertise to write money management tips for www.saveup.com

Four strategies for success in the expanding construction sector

Construction site security is a key aspect of company reputation
As demand increases, construction firms seek productivity
Recent figures from the U.S. construction industry indicate that this sector's recovery is well underway. The U.S. Department of Labor recently posted statistical figures for October 2013 that showed spending up nearly a full percent for the month, an impressive showing for the beleaguered residential and commercial construction sector. 

As the demand for residential and commercial building projects continues to increase, many construction firms are looking for ways to boost productivity and reduce costs to snag a larger percentage of currently available opportunities. Here are four tips for streamlining your workflows and processes in the construction field.

Maintain security


Protecting your construction site against intruders, vandals and thieves is a critical element in ensuring optimal productivity. Maintaining the same attention to detail and careful monitoring can produce solid results for your computer systems, as well. Loss of equipment and materials can be financially damaging to your company. The loss of sensitive company data, customer files and proprietary information, however, can result in far greater liability and may cause lasting damage to your corporate reputation. Implementing physical and computer security measures can help you protect your valuable property to promote future growth and profitability.

Simplify your supply chain


By limiting your suppliers to one or two trusted vendors, you can establish a closer working relationship with these firms. This can help you create mutually beneficial partnerships that can boost your company's profitability. By paring down outsized and outdated supply chain arrangements and opting for a more streamlined solution, you can often build synergy with your chosen vendors and can enjoy the benefits of partnership in managing your supply chain requirements.

Make use of available technologies


With an established record of success in the retail marketplace, modern RFID devices make it simple to track inventory and to locate the precise parts or materials needed for a particular task. By integrating these electronic devices into your warehousing or storage facility, you can manage a number of critical tasks more effectively:

• You can track supplies of the most-needed items for your construction firm to simplify the reordering process.
• You can identify areas where inventory losses are occurring to improve security in those areas.
• Tracking of individual high-value items can allow evaluation of their fail rate and durability in comparison to other brands or configurations

In combination with an advanced construction software system, RFID technologies can provide added tracking capabilities for your company's needs.

Software-as-a-service systems from Procore Technologies, Pivotal and others can deliver improved access and collaboration for projects, contract negotiations and bidding proposals in the construction field. These comprehensive computing tools can provide integrated support for project management tasks in the working environment. Typical features include the following:

• Document management and storage, including contract and RFI management
• Drawing and design management
• Punch lists, photo archives, logs and daily schedules
• Communications tools, including email and direct messaging
• Timecard management tools
• Reporting features

By adopting these strategies to boost overall productivity and increase flexibility on the worksite, modern construction companies can position themselves favorably to enjoy added profits and increased opportunities in today's expanding business marketplace.


About the author: Robert is a writer with expertise in industries like construction, manufacturing and engineering. He is glad to report the uptick in the construction business, and hopes the strategies provided here prove helpful as firms vie for a place in this competitive but recovering industry.

License:  Loozrboy, CC BY-SA 2.0

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Simple tips to manage your best online branding

Online branding techniques include artistic presentation
Online branding focuses awareness
By Daniel Mathews

Most startup entrepreneurs do a great job in branding their businesses, and the internet is literally overflowing with catchy, trendy brand names and domains.

For most online startups, the first quarter or the first year is booming, and for business owners, it may feel like they’ve hit the jackpot for the rest of their lives. However, the real challenge is how a business maintains its online branding. Being successful for the first year is good, for the next three years, that’s even better. Do you want to be a trend that dies within couples weeks or months, or do you want to grow like the great brands?

Maintain online branding


Most people who sees a particular store and an advertisement offline or along the road, often searches first for online presence. Make sure that if they search for your brand online, they get to the right website. Try using Google and search for your brand; does it give your website on the top results? Does it lead to a homepage that makes them want to know more about your business? You may have a catchy brand name, but if people cannot find your business online, you lose potential clients. Make sure they get to right page and they stay on it long enough to get a good impression of your products and services.
Internet marketing involves multi-media brand building strategy
Online branding optimizes social computing to improve ROI

Update on social networks


Online communications are an essential part of Internet brand building
Social networks are ideal for marketing outreach
Do not underestimate the power of social networks for online branding. Make sure your Twitter or Facebook page is constantly updated with your newest products or any eye-catching advertisements.

Tweet about upcoming sales. Post great images of your products to targeted audience in Facebook. Don’t let your social network profiles become stagnant for more than a week, so that at least your fans or followers will know that your brand is still alive and is up to the trends.

Let your customers say it


Reviews are better said by customers rather than your own voice. Avoid sharing positive reviews by your customer’s using your own profile. Let your customer post what they have to say about your products. If they turn out to be positive reviews, that’s good. If it’s negative, respond appropriately and take action. This way, other customers or visitors on your page will know that it’s not an exaggerated publicity stunt. If you fix a problem and people read about it, that’s even better customer service.

Consistency


Assuming that having a great brand name will do the rest of the work forever is the first mistake. Most entrepreneurs think that having a great brand name will do the rest of the work. Remember, it’s not like decades ago where people who have huge capital are the only ones who can advertise. Nowadays, anyone can create their brand name, domain and website, setup their home business and advertise online at minimal costs. The major difference of successful online brands is how hard they work to advertise their business on targeted audience to get more quality leads and conversions. Don’t slack off after having a great startup month. Be consistent, keep your blog posts and tweets coming, keep your Facebook page updated.

Outbursts

Tackle negative public relations with positive branding
End-of-month product specials re-position brands

Let’s admit it’s hard to maintain consistency of brand performance online. Businesses can always update their social network pages but it’s difficult to have loyal customers who won’t jump off to the next trend or the newest brand that goes out.

If your products have consistent quality, but don’t keep up to what people need or want, then it’s hard to grow your online sales. One technique to overcome this is to send outbursts. Post surprise month-end sale prices that rival your counterparts, or continually evolve your product with new models, updates, or newer versions.

With these tips, don’t go stagnant on online brand management. Like in any business that advertises itself constantly on paper, maximize every opportunity to increase online leads and sales by maintaining your online brand presence.


About the author: Daniel Mathews is a representative of Hotelscan.com. Hotelscan.com helps to find the best hotels in Cancun.

Image license: See-ming Lee, CC BY-SA 2.0; Mkhmarketing, CC BY 2.0;  Dion Hinchcliffe, CC BY S.A. 2.0  3. US-PD

Events in 2013 that may affect your tax teturn

The time for taxes is right around the corner

It’s that time of year...again! Tax season is coming back around and Americans will soon be getting their documents together. In fact, according to reports, some people are already submitting their paperwork to tax preparers! Don’t rush though: the government shutdown contributed to the start of tax season being delayed by 10 days. Like last year, the tax season will not begin until January 31st, and the IRS has cautioned tax filers that they will not be processing any tax returns before that date.

W2s are used when filing taxes with the IRS
Form W2 details Social Security, Medicare and state tax payments

Yearly tax developments

Every year new rulings and regulations are issued that taxpayers should be aware of in order to make good choices with money and their investments. 2013 was no different. If you work with a good accountant or CPA, they will be aware of these changes and be able to advise you on how to adjust accordingly.

If you handle your own taxes, it can be hard to keep track of new developments in the tax industry. Sometimes CPA firms and accountants will post the latest changes on their site for taxpayers to be aware of. A tax firm out of Columbia, SC, Burkett, Burkett & Burkett, regularly updates a public blog with tax developments from each quarter to try to keep their tax clients in the know. As you make financial plans and decisions, a site like this may be useful.
Here are some of the tax developments of 2013:
  • In January 2013, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA) was signed into law by President Obama. ATRA made some of the Bush-era tax cuts for lower to middle income-earners permanent, while extending expiring provisions through the end of 2013. With no plan in place for many of these to continue, over 50 provisions expired at the beginning of 2014.
  • The Supreme Court ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional. One impact of this ruling is that the IRS will recognize same-sex spouses who are legally married as married for tax purposes. This is the case regardless of whether the spouses live in a state that recognizes that marriage, and means that all legally married same-sex couples must file taxes using either "married filing jointly" or "married filing separately" status.

    Gay Marriage
    Same gender unions are now tax deductible
  • With the bumpy roll out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there have been a lot of changes in requirements and regulations. The IRS has issued a document on its website in an effort to answer some common questions about the health insurance premium tax credit, which aims to make health insurance more affordable for people within 400% of the federal poverty level who don’t qualify for Medicare.
  • The IRS released final regulations on the additional Medicare tax established by the ACA.
  • Final regulations were issued allowing taxpayers to figure out if the expense of tangible property is deductible or considered “capital expense.”

This is only a top-level view of a handful of changes that occurred over the last year. If you have a reason to believe that 2013 developments may affect you or your business when you file your taxes, it’s a good idea to either look into the details. Or, you could consider hiring a tax professional like the one from Columbia, SC that we mentioned above. They are trained to help determine your best options and can even help you plan a strategy moving forward.


About the author: David Tooley is a freelance blogger who writes for blogs such as Financial Times Digest.  He wishes he would have gotten his CPA license so he could spend more time getting paid to do taxes instead of paying others to do his.

Image licenses: Joseanavas, CC BY 2.0,  401(K) 2013, CC BY-SA 2.0

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Why your investment should have a silver lining

If you want to start investing in precious metals you should give Silver some due consideration. This info graphic outlines why ‘Your Investment Should Have a Silver Lining’. Gold investment has been the favoured and most popular option for many years; however, the current Gold cost makes it an investment out of reach for many. Silver Facts looks at some astonishing evidence in relation to Silver investment, for example did you know that if you invested in Silver in 2003 you would have received a 500% return on your investment. 

The next section of this infographic highlights ten reasons to invest in silver from the fact that it is not tied to any one currency and therefore can’t feel the effects of currency devaluation to Silver helping to diversify an investment portfolio, in turn reducing overall risk. The next section of this info graphic details the top 10 Silver producing companies of 2012, with Mexico coming out on top producing 162.2 million ounces in one year. Once you have made the decision to invest in Silver the three most popular forms people buy this precious metal in are Silver Rounds, Silver Bars and Silver Coins. Silver prices over the last 10 years have also risen steadily, which is another great reason why Silver is worth the investment. 

The final section of this info graphic looks at some of the many different uses of Silver, with wide industrial use and used in hundreds of thousands of industries some of these uses are more obvious than others. From jewellery to photography and chemical production to water purification Silver is a diverse precious metal. Read on to find out why Silver should be your next investment. 

 
The Troyounce
Silver investing hedges against inflation, loose monetary policy and market downcycles
Infographic courtesy of: The Troyounce

How to save time and money with document management

Business document management systems optimize paperwork requirements
Digital documentation expedites and secures retrieval
It is an image known to most, if not all, of us: an office, cluttered with files and folders everywhere. A favorite subject for comedians around the world, but the nightmare of everyone else. This cluttered office may have been an inescapable reality in the past, but it does not have to be any longer. 

We live in the digital age, and our lives are changing for the better everyday. Document Management Systems and Document Scanning Services make our lives much easier when it comes to working with our documents, and in the process they help us save time (and money!) in several ways, such as the following:

Document retrieval

If you are using a traditional paper retrieval system, then one thing you will know is that this procedure can be very uneven, time-wise. 

Working remotely is possible with digital data management systems
Remote data access improves organizational efficiency
If it is a somewhat recent paper you are looking for that has been stored onsite, then we are talking about a matter of minutes. However, if it is not, then it could take up to one or more days, and the procedural cost rises accordingly. 

Needless to say, this is simply not acceptable in today’s world. By using a Document Management System, you can access all your documents regardless of age or where they have been stored in mere seconds, and the cost is always the same.

Lost/missing documents

Document retrieval is key to business organization
Data systems organize retrieval
Did you know that 7.5% of all documents (Coopers & Lybrand, Price Waterhouse Coopers) get lost? That is a disturbingly high amount, especially given how important some of these documents may be.

Let us not even get started on the potential costs and legal ramifications of reproducing a lost document. 

No matter which way you look at it, the risk of losing a document is high and costly.

By storing a document with the use of a Document Management System, you ensure it will never be lost. Furthermore, by using the backup system you also ensure that if you ever need to restore a file you can do so quickly and efficiently.

Security

Digital security of documentation protects important documents
Layered security protects documents
The old lock and key may still be going strong in the 21st century, but they are becoming increasingly outdated with each day that passes. Keys get misplaced, can easily be copied and most locks are hardly invulnerable. On the other hand, not only a Document Management System ensure multiple levels of security for your documents, it also allows for custom security levels, meaning that only certain people may have access to certain files.

 

Filing

Office efficiency is enhanced via documentation management systems
Digital filing automates storage
With traditional systems, filing must be done manually. This could take from mere minutes to several days, depending on the number of our documents. However, in a Document Management System this is done automatically and through a PC, making the entire procedure much faster. Moreover, procedures such as alphabetizing are automatic. 


Conclusion


While a traditional paper retrieval system may have worked well for you all these years, and you feel like there is no reason to change what works, the Document Management System offers some significant and immediate advantages over it. Therefore, do not be afraid to upgrade to a Document Management System as soon as possible!

Image license: Isaac Bowen, CC BY-SA 2.0; 2. Ludovic.ferre, GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0; 3. Soumyasch, GFDL; 3. US-PDGov; 5. Moumou82, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Get the most out of your credit card rewards with these helpful tips

Credit card rewards programs offer incentives to customers
Credit card reward programs add value
By Israel Defeo

There are a lot of benefits to owning a credit card. One of the benefits to having a credit card is that it frees you from bringing a lot of cash with you when you shop. Credit card regulations also offer several consumer protections.

Credit cards are widely accepted so having one lets you pay for things at a lot of places and is especially useful for shopping online. Another benefit to having a credit card is that it helps you earn rewards every time you make a purchase.

For many, these rewards are the main reason for getting a credit card. Unlock the power of your credit card and get more rewards by following these tips. 

Cashback 


A cashback program is one of the many rewards that a credit card can provide cardholders with. The cardholder can get a percentage of the amount spent on the card back as cash. Before you sign up and apply for a credit card, you need to do a little research on which card offers the best cashback rates. You can use a comparison website to find a card that offers the best rate by filtering the results for the ones that have a cashback program. 

Aside from using a comparison website, you could also wait for a big signup offer from credit card issuers. Keep your eye out for promos from specialty websites and even from the mail. Also keep a lookout for seasonal bonus categories where you earn more cashback when you spend on one category for a specific season like gas in the summer or car repairs in winter. You have to opt-in to these seasonal offers first before you get the bonus. 

Air miles 


Who doesn’t want to fly off to a beach somewhere to soak up some sun or somewhere exotic like Hong Kong? Some credit cards allow cardholders to earn air miles for every purchase. The air miles can be exchanged for an airline ticket for your dream vacation. Also use those comparison sites to look for a credit card that offers the best conversion rates for purchases. 

If you have a favourite airline, you could search and look for a credit card that’s co-branded with your favourite airline as these may let you earn more points when flying with them. These cards also usually provide a discount so that’s an added bonus. Look out for welcome offers from these cards that will give you bonus miles. Watch out though as you may have to first spend a certain amount within the first two or three months from when you received the card in order to get the bonus miles. Cards that let cardholders earn air miles usually also provide complimentary airport lounge access so you should also take advantage of these free offers and relax at these lounges the next time you wait for your plane to depart. 

Gas rewards 


If you regularly burn cash to fill up your tank, why not earn a cashback from your gas purchase by using your credit card? Doing your research and going on comparison sites to look for a card that offers the best cashback rates for gas purchases is always important especially if a big portion of your salary goes to filling up your gas tank weekly. 

You could also look into getting a co-branded credit card from the gas station that you frequently gas up from as these can give better rates. 

Reward points 


Credit card reward points can be exchanged for goods and some cards will also let you exchange your reward points to air miles that can go towards an airplane ticket. Some credit cards will give you bonus reward points whenever you shop for a certain category, say, groceries. You might want to check how your card company classifies your favourite store by going online as some stores that people will not necessarily think of as “groceries” can be classified as such so you get bonus points when you shop at these places. 

Many cards can have a special offer where you can double or triple the reward points you earn. Keep an eye out on these special offers and sign up for them. 

Get the most out of your credit card 


In order to maximize the benefits from your credit card, it’s always good to study your purchasing habits first before you sign up for a credit card. Take note of what categories you spend the most on and look for a card that lets you earn the most rewards for purchases in that category. If you usually swipe your credit card to buy groceries, then a card that lets you earn reward points for grocery purchase could be the right one for you. If you have a preferred airline, you could consider getting a co-branded credit card from that airline to get discounts and earn bonus air miles. 

Just make sure to pay off your credit card bills monthly as the interest you’ll be paying will probably be worth more than the rewards you’ll earn and you could lose the rewards you’ve earned as well. 

The proper way to use a credit card is to also not just use the card to merely earn rewards. Just use the card for “needs” and for purchases you can pay for in cash but set the cash aside and use it to pay for your bill once your statement arrives so you still earn points, air miles or cashbacks. These rewards give credit cards added benefits aside from freeing you from carrying a lot of cash when you shop and to let you pay for goods and services online. Making smart moves like comparing credit card rewards before signing up for one helps you earn more rewards by just keeping to your purchase habits. 


About the author:  This article is contributed by Israel Defeo of Money Hero, the leading financial comparison website in Hong Kong.

Image license: PD

4 ways to build buzz around your products by using them as event decor

By Kenneth Fabian
Here is how the average small or medium sized business on a budget displays its products at events: By usually stacking them on a display table and then adding little samples into the takeaway bags for guests. 

Do not be that average business. Out of the box events management teams will tell you such an event is boring. It is exactly what your guests expect, because they have been to countless other product launches just like yours. And as a result, as some surveys showed for 2010, nearly half of the surveyed customers were unable to remember a single product launch. To make an indelible mark on your potential clients you will need to grab their attention - and one way of doing so is by being different from the rest of the competition from the word go!

Marketing via product placement helps businesses position their brands
Innovative product placement differentiates brands
So, why not give your guests an event to remember? Use your unique products in unusual, creative ways and give your guests an equally unique launch. Be subtle or obvious about it, but by all means be different! The more innovative you are, the more points you get in terms of how memorable your event is. And a memorable product launch does not always have to turn out into an expensive one. You can work with what you have, the space you have available to you, and your great products to come up with some unique decor ideas. 

Here are some ways to get you started with using your products as creative decor at your event. 

1. Design a unique centerpiece


Use a table as a centerpiece and show off your product with novel arrangements. Use some great lighting to focus the attention of the entire room on the centerpiece. There is a lot you can do with what you already have. 

2. Use them in chandeliers or lighting


Why not hang your products from the ceiling? It is hard to have the attention drawn away from something that is strung overhead, especially if you have suitable lights to light it up. The lights will help to brighten the room while keeping the focus of the room on your products dangling in mid air

3. Create a backdrop with them


If your products come in boxes, you can stack them up to create an accent wall or a backdrop. You can achieve great impact by going for ceiling high stacks that will draw every eye to them. Again, use lights effectively to focus attention on them.

4. Turn them in to furniture


Create a table out of your product boxes. Or get creative and design a chair. If you have the space, go large scale and create a bar space out of them. 

These decor ideas do not necessarily mean that you stop preparing samples, especially if you are in the food industry. But turn your product launch into an event (with the help of an events agency if necessary), in the way big brands like Apple do, and you are bound to stick in the memories of guests and convert many of them to customers. 


About the author: Kenneth Fabian, Founder & Owner of OGL Asia - a brand activation company specialising in Events, Exhibition and Design Communications since 1989. With 27 years of experience, Kenneth was able to gather the right contacts, strategies and resources to ensure an effective brand engagement.

Image license: Henripontes, CC BY-SA 3.0

Monday, January 27, 2014

The 4 benefits of long-term precious metal investing

Gold prices are considered stable over the long term
Precious metals protect investors from currency devaluation
In these uncertain financial times it’s critical to have a game plan set in place to counter any unforeseen changes and difficulties.  However, a plan itself is not always a solution in itself as, with the ever changing market and the steady devaluation of the dollar, you do not want to find yourself powerless in the face of a crisis.  

A large amount of intelligent and experienced investors have turned to precious metal investments as a method of ensuring their wealth as the dollar’s value continues to plummet year after year.  Gold is one precious metal that has proven its value year after year.  Gold has hit record high values in recent years and by looking at its history, many consider it more than a safe alternative investment to the standard investment opportunities.  

There are a variety of factors involved in gold’s rising value including such things as increasing demand, fear of economic collapse, the devaluation of the dollar, and projected future scarcity of the commodity.  As with any investment, there is no guarantee that gold will continue to rise in value; however, because of the factors that have caused its large increases in recent years, projections for the future are more than promising.  Experts and investors alike are agreeing that the price of gold will continue to skyrocket for many years to come.  Learn more about the reasons behind gold’s steady increase in value and the projections for its future value.

You do not have to be wealthy to begin investing in precious metals such as gold or silver.  By committing yourself to take a percentage of your earnings each month and convert it to precious metals, over time you can build up a powerful reserve without causing yourself any financial difficulties.  It is usually advised to take 10% of your earnings for investments of this type; however, as the value of gold continues to rise, it would be smart to invest more if you can afford it.  

A big question that is probably on your mind is: what are the specific benefits from investing in a precious metal such as gold?  There are actually a huge variety of benefits that can be found from changing a percentage of your earnings into precious metals each month, but this article will focus on just four of the most important.  Benefits can easily be found by searching online and doing some extra research yourself. 
  1. The first benefit is the ability to combat the loss of wealth through inflation and the devaluation of the dollar.  Investing in a precious metal, such as gold, allows you to protect your earnings from the declining economy.  More specifically, as the dollar’s value goes down, the price of gold goes up.  Since the value of gold is entirely independent of the value of currency in the US and as a result your savings would be safe even from hyper-inflation.

  2. At the same time, by converting your savings to precious metals, you are also increasing and protecting the purchasing power of your savings.  Even if inflation becomes completely out of control, there is no guarantee that salaries and wages will increase at a similar rate.  Not to mention the fact that as time goes by, the money you made the week before will be worth less than it was when you earned it.

  3. Another incredibly important benefit is the protection of your savings from an economic crisis.  If banks collapsed, you could risk losing all of the money you had invested; however, as gold is a physical commodity, your savings would be entirely unaffected.

  4. You will also be protected from the rising debts of the government and excessive printing of the dollar.  The idea that foolish choices made by government officials are leading to the loss of your own wealth is maddening to think about.  If your savings are invested into precious metals, the government’s mistakes will be entirely separate from and, as a result, will not affect your wealth. 
To get started on protecting your savings, head over to Personal Income’s Gold IRA Company review section and find out how you can get started converting your money to precious metals today.

Image: Author owned and licensed

Is your job making you sick?

Asbestos exposure at work is a serious workplace health concern
Work-related illness may qualify individuals for workers' compensation
           
By Robert Gordan

55-year old, Hank, has worked in a car part manufacturing plant for 35 years.  Up until recently, Hank was healthy and rarely missed a day of work. A couple of months ago, Hank suffered from a persistent cough, accompanied by abdominal pain. Hank assumed he had a nasty cold and his abdomen pain was due to constant coughing, but Hank, feeling worn down and weak, decided he was too ill to go to work.  After a week and a half, when his symptoms didn’t get any better he went to the doctor. The doctor suspected that Hank had a virus and recommended bed rest and antibiotics.  An additional week passed and Hank’s symptoms worsened to coughing up blood and losing weight.  His doctor ordered a variety of tests and revealed that Hank had an asbestos-related illness, asbestosis and had most likely developed it while handling brake parts (which contained asbestos). 

Hank’s diagnosis looks bleak, but due to his previous clean bill of health his quality of life may be better than others who suffer from asbestos-related diseases.  Because Hank has been ordered by his doctor to limit his exposure to asbestos and environments that may have asbestos, he has been put on leave from work.  While Hank has built up a substantial savings over the years, he needs financial assistance.  After a family member’s suggestion, Hank is now applying for workers’ compensation benefits in order to help cover some of his living costs while he is forced to be on leave during his aggressive treatment for asbestosis.

Workers’ comp and work-related illnesses


Thousands of employees, like Hank, suffer from diseases, illnesses, or injuries directly related to their jobs.   Whether you have a repetitive stress injury such as a carpal tunnel syndrome or an incurable disease related to toxin exposure, you have the right to and may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation.  Workers’ compensation can be described as a “job insurance” and was created to protect people who are injured at work or while “on the clock”.  Employees, who have suffered a work-related injury or illness, are provided with fixed monetary awards, which are intended to prevent litigation (legal action).  Additionally, some laws protect the employers by limiting the amount of benefits that an injured worker can obtain.

Workers’ compensation benefits often differ from state to state.  In New York, for example, employees eligible for benefits may receive a larger amount of compensation than in states like Georgia.  While each state allows eligible employees to receive two-thirds of the average weekly wage, the amount of the actual cash benefits differ greatly (such factors including cost-of-living should be considered).  Employees seeking workers’ compensation benefits for their injury or illness may also be eligible for additional benefits (in addition to or instead of cash): supplemental, social security, medical and/or death.  The amount you receive for additional benefits, however, may be lower if you already receive workers’ compensation benefits.  According to the Social Security Administration, individuals who apply and are eligible to receive social security disability (SSD) benefits may receive a smaller payment if he/she already receives workers’ compensation payments.

Don’t be left struggling after a work-related injury


Millions of employees across the U.S. go to work each day, trusting that they will be safe on the job.  Unfortunately, hard-working Americans fall victim to work-related injuries or illnesses, are forced to take leave (or quit work all together) and face the fear of financial worry.  If you or a loved one has developed an illness from a working environment or suffers from the chronic pain of a stress injury, you may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits.  Before you file, make sure you know the rules within your state, as laws differ slightly across the U.S.  While your injury may prevent you from making a full recovery, benefits can help you cover everyday costs of living.  Don’t delay; file your claim today!


About the author: Robert Gordon is the editor of medical-directions.com, a health fanatic and avid Kayaker. He spends most of his time reading medical blogs and searching for new content to engage his readership. 

Image license: Compliance and Safety LLC, CC BY-SA 3.0

Employment law: How do I make sure my company is acting correctly and fairly?

By Amy Rice

Employers protect themselves with business liability insurance
Properly drafted contracts detail employee benefits
Any modern organisation has the responsibility to its employees, customers, and reputation to be both fair and reasonable. In fact it’s important that you ensure that your company’s human resources department is operating at its absolute best. 

It’s advised that you seek the counsel of an experienced solicitor with expertise in HR (Peter Holt HR is one such example). That way you will be secure in the knowledge that you’ve received the best possible advice. This will enable you to remain focused on developing a successful business.

Opening a new business – Things every new business should understand

When considering or starting the process of opening a new company, it’s vital that you get things right from the beginning. If you will be employing staff members, then you must ensure that all paperwork and contracts are properly drafted. Also be sure to perform any necessary background checks on new staff members. If your company will be hiring new staff from abroad, then it’s necessary that you're well advised in immigration employment regulations. Not complying with the necessary immigration guidelines can result in damaging penalties.

Monitoring safety and health – Are you doing your best?

Every business has the responsibility to keep their employees safe at all times. If you haven’t already done so, seek advice from a knowledgeable solicitor to ensure that your business is up-to-date on all required guidelines. Keeping in close contact with a legal expert can give you confidence that you’ve done everything possible to maintain a safe working environment. It’s vital that you select the best possible solicitor for your business needs.

When the unexpected occurs – Ensuring your organisation’s reputation

Working with others can be a challenge. When a staff member is not performing as desired or has indulged in bad workplace behavior, the issue should be promptly addressed. When dealing with your staff, sensitivity and care should always be taken. Not dealing with the situation tactfully can lead to potential negative effects on your business. In these cases consulting with an expert solicitor can keep you best advised on what disciplinary employment procedures to follow.

When it’s time to restructure – Restructuring with integrity

When financial times become difficult you may need to consider restructuring your organization to meet current needs. While not an easy thing to do, it can often be the best thing you can do for your business and your staff. This is true no matter the size of your business, from the smallest to the largest company; removing redundancies must be handled in accordance with given regulations and guidelines. When you are considering a restructure of any kind, a qualified solicitor can guide you through the process.

Business marketing done right – Keeping your clients privacy secured


Coming up with new and creative marketing is vital to attract potential clients to any business. Keep in mind, that if you are planning any new marketing campaign you need to consider some things from a legal standpoint. One of the many things people don’t think about is data management. Any organization has the responsibility to keep any data gathered both safe and secure. When we talk of data we mean any information that you gather about your clients. This can include email addresses, phone numbers, and other personal details. Not keeping your customers financial and personal data secure can actually be a violation of prescribed business guidelines. In fact, your business is required by law to ensure that any client information is kept confidential at all times.
Citations:

About the author: Amy Rice enjoys writing articles on employment law, when not writing I enjoy spending time with my daughter and playing adventure golf.




Image licenses: 1. Smart Photo Stock; 2. Author owned and licensed. 

Tips for getting a personal loan in Dubai

Dubai loan tips
The DFSA regulates banking services
If you’ve just moved to the UAE, then it’s worth noting that there are a number of factors that differ within their banking system. 

Like anywhere in the world, Dubai and the surrounding area has its own way of doing things and if you’re an expat then you will need to consider this when undertaking any financial process.

Moving anywhere is like learning a whole new set of rules, so it’s a good idea to research and read lots of similar blogs to this one to get a feel for what is available in terms of a personal loan – and also what is expected from you. This way, you can enjoy the benefits of a personal loan without any worry.

Here are a few tips to start you off:

Go with a reputable bank


  Established financial institutions understand banking
If you are sure you need a loan and have no alternative way of borrowing funds from friends or family in the interim, then do your homework and find a reputable bank.

It’s easy to just go with the first one you stumble across or that offers you a loan, but you should always research the bank and check that they’re a reputable, well-established bank that is well-known.


Be sensible about what you borrow


You should always consider your outgoings for each month, and decide on a figure that you can comfortably pay back. Don’t try to push your finances to the limit in order to get a bigger loan, or pay it back sooner when you cannot comfortably do this – you should be completely realistic and honest with yourself about repayments, then apply this to what you borrow.

You need to borrow enough to cover what you need, but make sure you pay it back over a length of time that makes the loan repayments comfortable, so that after paying all of your bills and taking out what you need, you would able to make your loan repayment and still enjoy your life. This is where a loan calculator can be a valuable asset in organising your finances.

Credit utilization is a key metric used by lenders
Too many loans reduce credibility

Don’t apply for too many loans


Applying for loans means you leave behind a ‘footprint’ which lenders can see on your credit record.

The more loans you apply for, the more it will appear you have been rejected by the others and are in a desperate way. So it will be extremely off-putting for lenders who will view you as a credit risk if they see on your credit record that you’ve applied for numerous different loans.

Check the terms


Never assume that all banks have ‘more or less’ the same terms and conditions, as all banks will have their own set of regulations that you will need to adhere to when you sign up for loans with them.

Keep up repayments


This comes back again to number 2, as when we talked about being sensible about the amount you borrow, it was because it is hugely important to keep up your repayments. In the worst case scenario, it can result in you losing your home, so it is crucial that you are vigilant in paying your bill each month. As long as you agree on a low enough amount that isn’t overstretching yourself then you should be fine.


Image licenses: 1. Bad Boy, CC BY-SA 2.0, 2. Yeowatzup, CC BY 2.0, 3. Ishrona, CC BY 2.0

Sunday, January 26, 2014

An evolutionary pattern: The shifting sands of solar demand

By Alice Lambe

 Europe has accounted for a large percentage of solar energy equipment  installations
The global solar energy market has expanded in recent years
There is no doubt about it, the nature of demand for solar energy is continuing to change with every single year.

While this has always been the case since its innovation, the last five years have seen a more fundamental shift in power in the global solar energy market. More specifically, Europe has begun to lose its prevailing reputation as the king of installations, as egalitarianism begins to impact on the market and diversify customer demographics.

Between 2006 and 2011, for example, Europe represented an estimated 70% of all global solar installations. In 2008 and 2010 specifically, the region compromised approximately 85% of installations, dominating the marketplace ahead of developing economies in alternative parts of the world.

Addressing current trends & recent market shifts


Nothing lasts forever, however, and subsidy reforms and high rates of market penetration have a detrimental impact on solar market growth throughout Europe. Conversely, other global regions have experienced a surge in demand for solar energy providers, as the market becomes increasingly diversified and influenced by worldwide socio-economic trends. With Europe's dominance of the sector now considered to be a thing of the past, countries in Asia, North America and to a lesser extent the Middle East have stepped forward to fill the void.

Taking Asia as an example, it is immediately obvious that the independent markets in China and Japan have benefited from considerable growth. As a result of this expansion, the Asia-Pacific region now contributes approximately half of all global installations, which is a far-cry from its previous share of just 10% in 2010. In fact, the continent of Europe only represented a third of the cumulative global market last year, and this is expected to decline to less than a quarter by the end of 2014.

While Asia may have already usurped Europe as the dominant market leader, North America is not far behind. With American citizens increasingly motivated by environmental goals and the desire to live more sustainable lives, it stands to reason that the U.S. should be an influential player in the worldwide solar industry over the course of the last eighteen months. In terms of the quickly developing Middle Eastern sector, Saudi Arabia is likely to lead the way amid a rising number of government backed solar incentives and initiatives.

The bottom line in global solar energy: A bright and increasingly diverse future


Given the shifts in market dynamics that have occurred during the last five years, it is likely that the industry will experience even more diversification between now and 2018. More specifically, while the Asia-Pacific region will continue to emerge as the dominant market player, the most significant rate of growth will be recorded in largely unsubsidised Latin American markets such as Mexico and Chile. Although the market in these regions will be relatively small in comparison with the industry leaders, they will attract larger developers and make more significant waves over time.

Aside from creating opportunities for industrial growth and expansion in both developed and developing economies, there are also considerable environmental benefits delivered by a diversified solar market. On a fundamental level, the rising level of demand for solar power reflects the changing attitude of home-owners and consumers from across the globe, as people strive to reduce their carbon footprint and identify a more sustainable way of living. When you also consider the cost-efficiency of solar panels, this drive is only likely to gather further momentum in the years that follow.


About the author: Alice Lambe is a solar energy specialist. When she’s not advising her clients on all things solar she contributes to renewableheating.org.

Image license: USAF, US-PDGov