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Friday, February 28, 2014

Slapped with a lawsuit: 7 things to do if your company is being sued

Having your company taken to court is an unpleasant experience but is something of a rite of passage for any corporation that gets big or achieves any amount of public attention. The problem is that as soon as you're seen to be successful, people will want a slice of that success and that can often mean a dubious lawsuit.

The other issue your business will contend with as you get bigger meanwhile is the simple challenge of scale. The bigger your company becomes, the more products and services you release, and the more people you employ, the more legal issues you can encounter and the more opportunities there are for you to slip up and make an honest mistake.

Whatever the case, this will likely feel like a personal attack on the company that you created and can result in a lot of money and time wasted. Your job though is not to feel sorry for yourself, but to prepare for the oncoming legal battle by preparing yourself and your organisation in these 7 ways…


Budgeting for a lawsuit
A good legal defense costs money
The harsh reality of a lawsuit is that it's going to cost you money. Even though you are the defendant and in all likelihood didn't want this lawsuit to happen, you're still going to have to shoulder half the cost until you manage to prove yourself innocent. Furthermore you are probably going to want to put some more money into marketing and PR to handle the media backlash, and you'll need to hire a law firm all of which costs money. Start budgeting now so that this hurts as little as possible.

Find a law firm

Legal advantage is ideal during a lawsuit
Expertise helps ensure positive results

The next thing to do is to find a lawyer or a law firm assuming you don't already have your own legal department. A lawyer will guide you through the process and give you the very best chances of coming out of the battle victorious. It's crucial that you contact the lawyers early in the process because they may recommend that you settle out of court, or have other advice that you can act on now.

Get your facts straight

It's also important before you make any big decisions that you ensure you know all the details and that you have these in front of you and ready to use if necessary. You may believe that you are in the right, but find when looking through old e-mails that actually you did mention X in the original agreement. It's crucial you have all the facts before going ahead, and that you look for any evidence that may weigh in your favour (such as CCTV footage if the case relates to a workplace accident).
Research the law to build a legal defense
Due diligence may add advantage

Do your research

You should also make sure that you research the law as much as possible pertaining to your case. This is something that a law firm can help you with, but you can start on your own by reading about similar cases and any potential loopholes etc. that may weigh against you or help you out.

Weigh the options

If you think you'll be able to settle out of court then you need to weigh up this option versus going through with the lawsuit. How much damage will this really do to you and your company? Again this is a good time to discuss with your lawyer, as there may be factors you hadn't considered. If you pay up for instance, it might make you a target for more lawsuits in the future.

Make contact

Either way it is worth contacting the company or individuals issuing the lawsuit. It may be that you are able to get them back down simply by showing them the evidence you have against them, or by explaining the potential outcomes if they lose. Alternatively you may be able to negotiate an agreement that suits both of you. This is a good time to think of the 'art of fighting without fighting' as Bruce Lee would call it, but again it's crucial to seek professional advice to avoid stirring the hornets' nest even more.

Have a contingency plan

As they say, you should hope for the best but plan for the worst. Should it all go wrong and you have to pull one of your products off the market, or pay a large settlement, how will you ensure you are able to carry on going strong without facing bankruptcy? Make this plan now so it doesn't catch you off guard should you need to use it.

About the author: This article is authored by Nick, a professional freelance blogger. He writes articles for Goldbach Law Group, a reputable bankruptcy attorney in Whittier. Nick uses his free time to indulge in reading and sports activities.

Images: Author owned and licensed 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Useful tips on how to pay off student loans

Student loan debt payoff tips
Student loan debt often takes decades to pay off
You’ve graduated at the top of your class and now you’re ready to start your new life in the glittery world of grownups. But before you transition from student to professional, you suddenly realize you have student loan debt to repay—and lots of it (lots!). 

As you scour your monthly statements, flipping from page to page wondering if the numbers are right, you are shocked to realize that you owe tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. And even more horrified when it slowly sinks in that you (and only you) are on the hook for the debt. 

For the next twenty or thirty years, you will be required to make student loan payments to a ubiquitous lender that you know only by the statements you receive in the mail each month—a daunting prospect, in deed.

If you’re like most graduates, you don’t know exactly how to pay off student loans. Do you try scrimping and saving, cutting back expenses on a month-to-month basis, in the hopes that you will eventually “pull-through?” Do you enroll in graduate school to buy yourself some extra time (as you pick up a lot more debt along the way)? Or, do you search for useful tips on how to pay off student loans quickly? Let’s see what your options are.

How to pay off student loans

You have a number of repayment options when it comes to paying off your student loan debt. The first option is to reduce your interest rate, if possible, by refinancing your loan at a lower fixed interest rate—because federal student loans have lower interest rates (compared to private loans), it may not be necessary to refinance them with a private lender. To do this you will need to contact lenders and inquire about their refinancing options.

Generally speaking, you always want to have the lowest rate possible for your student loans. But this can only happen if you are an informed borrower—and even savvier negotiator (if you, in deed, opt to refinance your student loans at a better rate). Lastly, you can also pay above your monthly payment amount, which may require cutting costs in other areas to free up cash. By putting more of your income toward paying down your student loans, you can lessen the term of the loan; thereby paying off the debt quicker and saving more money in the long term.

Additional information on how to pay off student loans

Learning how to pay off student loans is easy, but determining the best approach for your financial needs may be slightly challenging. As with any financial decision, you need to do the legwork. That means contacting lenders with questions, improving your credit score to increase your bargaining power with lenders, and committing to any budget that will ensure prompt payment of your student loans each month. For more useful tips on how to pay off student loans, visit www.CommonBond.co. This website provides information to students and graduates seeking to learn more about student loan refinancing and consolidation options.

Image license: Images Money; CC BY-SA 2.0

Genetically modified seeds: The big food debate

In 2013 it was announced that the population of the world is set to rise to over nine billion people by the time 2050 comes around. This inevitably means more mouths to feed and more food to generate. Once the number of people has increased to this significant milestone, more schools, houses, roads and villages will need to be built to cater for them – in addition to more jobs and bigger cities. We are all very aware that there are many areas of this planet where it is not possible to grow any type of plants or crops, due to harsh weather and climate changes. Bearing all of this in mind, where in the world are we going to find the space to be able grow all of these plants, grains, and other crops required to feed the ever expanding number of people?

Genetically modifed food is a controversial topic
Population growth requires innovation in food production

This problem has been one of the feathers in the cap of the campaigners for Genetically Modified food, in the big debate. Is this requirement going to be sufficient to thrust GM foods in to the main supermarkets in the future? How much do any of us know about the benefits and disadvantages of GM food?

The argument for GM food

Genetically modified foods are in the news more and more, as the debate over whether or not they are safe continues. Many people feel that we should be using these genetically modified plants; Owen Paterson (the environment secretary) has already made his views clear on using these types of seeds. He and many others agree that we need to be fully engaging in testing in order to forward the development of food production. We are all aware of the rise in population, and the agricultural industry has already increased its output over the past 50 to 60 years, and it doesn’t look like the trend for demand will slow any time soon. We are now finding that traditional ways of developing cereals is slowing down and that new methods need to be found – is GM the right format?

The planet is already suffering from drought, desertification, diseases and new pests being discovered daily! Not to mention climate changes and incidences of grand scale flooding playing havoc with crops as in recent weeks. By using GM in the production of food, we would be able to adapt the crops to flourish in whichever environments or habitats they needed to be grown in.

Is Britain being slow to catch on? Other countries like the USA, Canada and parts of Asia are already embracing this new system and are already reaping the benefits. Not only does going down the GM route provide more job opportunities, it’s also important to note that using GM can give great benefits to the environment as well.

For example, at the Rothamstead Research centre they are growing a wheat variety that smells unpleasant to aphids, which then prevents them from invading the crop. Because they don’t invade it, pesticides don’t have to be applied – which should be pleasing to most!

There are some commercial, social and environmental benefits of GM food
Some genetic modifications are considered safe

There are also health benefits.  On instance is in the production of rice, whereby vitamin A can be placed into the grain. Vitamin A helps to maintain people’s eyesight, crucial in areas of the world with very little health care. Another example is the feeding of GM soya to animals as their food source - there have been no health scares associated with this as there have been of other methods of feeding livestock!

If we could make plants drought resistant that would be another way to help so many people. Alternatively, making crops water tolerant, given how our weather is at the moment, would be hugely beneficial. We don’t need a garden designer or landscaping developer to tell us that we are struggling in some areas of the country due British soil! In particular Essex, Northumbria and Cornwall are places which have received record amounts of rain fall are struggling, in addition to the case of the Somerset Levels which have just been devastated with flooding.

The argument against GM food

On the other side of the table are those who are anti any GM creeping in to our food supplies. ‘No’ says Peter Melchett, who is the policy director at the renowned Soil Association. Even though Paterson’s speech was powerful and had many important points, the only supermarket to respond was Waitrose. The overall consensus was that no supermarket would stock GM food unless their customers specifically ask for it.  While 61% said in a recent farming magazine survey that they would grow GM, only 15% said they’d actually eat it!

Some negative health effects have been cited as a disadvantage of GMOs
A majority of farmers surveyed would not eat GM food

It must be noted that on the World Health Organisation website there have been identified two potential public health risks from GM foods, and these are; the potential to provoke allergic reactions, and the possibility that genes could be unstable and so have varying risks.

Unfortunately until the farmers are willing to produce these GM crops in the varying conditions, and trial new modifications in different conditions, and until people are willing to buy these GM products, we won’t be able to come to any really valuable findings.  In the meantime don’t you think we should be at least testing these GM products to see if they actually have any harmful effects on humans? The question is, where do you stand on this debate? 

About the author: Karen is a keen grower of many vegetables which can be found in her vegetable patch at the bottom of her beautiful cottage garden. When she is not all ‘green fingered’ with her pals from All Seasons she enjoys spending time with her family and running her two businesses.
Image licenses: Charles Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0;, 2 & 3 Smart Photo Stock

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Are you falling for these 5 common money myths?

By James Pryor

Money. It’s complicated. And when it comes to spending yours, there are lots of bits of misinformation floating out there. Here are 5 of the top myths you shouldn’t necessarily buy into.

 photo money_myths_zps10cc5acb.jpg
Renters pay no property tax

Myth #1: You shouldn’t rent because that’s just throwing money away

The argument here is that if you are paying a monthly sum to live somewhere, you should be gaining ownership over time. Other people argue that if you’re renting then you’re simply paying off someone else’s mortgage. And neither of these arguments is completely false.

However, for some people, renting makes sense. For example, if you plan on moving within the next few years, it may not make sense to pay closing costs, realtor fees, and go through the hassle of trying to sell your home.

Also keep in mind that owning can prove costly. There are interest payments, maintenance costs, etc.

Myth #2: Higher price equals higher quality

 photo title_loans_zps4cf65b08.jpg
Value is evident in product or service quality, not price
“You get what you pay for” is the battle cry of many a person spending more money than they have to. True, in some cases that’s correct. There are times when it makes sense to spend a few extra dollars to get a higher quality item. However, this isn’t always the case. Why?
  • Disposable items are disposable by definition. In other words, you’re going to trash them after use—why pay more for something that won’t last anyway?
  • Take medicine for example—You have a name brand allergy medicine sitting next to a store brand. You take the name brand. Why? It’s the same thing. In fact, many store brand goods are the exact same as the name brand, just with a different label.
There are countless examples where higher price may not equal higher quality. Wine, chocolate, the list goes on. Do a little research, or even blind taste tests, before you spend more.

Myth #3: Title loans are bad financial decisions

Title loans often get a bad rap. Many people view them as traps for people who already have financial woes. They lock you in with a high interest rate and slam you when you can’t repay. However, the truth is that title loans aren’t bad for everyone. The pros to title loans include:
  • Credit doesn’t matter—Some people need loans but can’t get them due to past money mistakes. A title loan doesn’t factor in your credit score.
  • They’re quick—Sometimes you just need money now. However, most loan processes are not instantaneous. If you need quick cash, a title loan can help you accomplish that.
Want more info? Check out Title Bucks to find out how a title loan can benefit you.

Myth #4: There’s no need to worry about saving for retirement until I am older

 photo kid_counting_pennies_zps2bd34ca2.jpg
Saving early increases the financial benefits of compounding  
I think it’s safe to say that the average person has trouble saving. Especially young adults in their 20s, just entering the workforce. A lot of people would rather get instant gratification and spend their money now, rather than put it in a retirement account that they won’t be able to touch until they’re in their 60’s or 70’s.

Other people graduate college with copious amounts of debt and figure they should focus on debt payoff rather than retirement savings. They figure that after the debt is paid off, then they can start building their nest egg. However, they don’t realize that:
  • School loans are fixed—Interest rates aren’t going to shoot up on you in most cases. Those payments will remain the same until the day you pay them off.
  • Compounding interest is amazing—The power of compound interest is pretty much unspeakable. The longer you have that money in your retirement account, the more money you’re going to have on retirement day. There’s an excellent explanation of it here.

Myth #5: Buying in bulk will save you money

Stores like Sam’s and Costco make lots of money off of people who fall victim to this myth. That’s not to say that you can’t get a good deal at one of these stores, but odds are if you’re a frequent flyer then you’re getting the short end of the stick.
What typically ends up happening  is:
  • People buy more of certain items than they actually need.
  • People buy perishable items in bulk that ruin before getting used.
  • People purchase items simply because they are a “good deal” rather than out of necessity.
The result of all of these is spending money you wouldn’t have otherwise spent. Not to mention, you’re paying a yearly membership fee to shop at these stores.

Of course, it does make sense to buy some items in bulk. Checkout this MSN blog for tips on which items make the most sense to buy in large quantities.

Remember, just because lots of people say it doesn’t mean it’s true. Be smart with your money!

About the author: James Pryor has always been a sensible man. So it only made sense for him to go into finance and help people be sensible with their money. If you need sound financial advice, he’s your source.

Images: Author owned and licensed

The benefits of becoming an electrician

Advantages of becoming an electrician
Electrical work is a well paying and in demand profession
Despite our dependence on electricity, we don’t think of electricians as an essential part of our daily lives. The truth of the matter is, if all electricians in the world suddenly decided to stop working, we would find our society quickly falling into a dark age, quite literally. Luckily a worldwide electrical worker strike isn’t very likely due to the many benefits that come from being an electrician.

Limited education

College simply isn’t for everyone.  Many individuals learn better with hands-on experience, or in a field where there is more practical application and less studying and testing.  If you choose to become an electrician, you can often start working immediately, rather than being forced to wait until you have completed your four years of schooling.  To become an electrician, you will be put through the process of becoming an apprentice, where you receive on the job training in your field.  Trade schools will cover basic electricity for the non-electrician to coursework on the Arc Flash Safety NFPA 70E standard.  Proper training is essential for your safety as well as those around you.  Concentrated training and certification programs allow you to earn money as you are gaining the knowledge and experience necessary for your future career.

Conditions for working

Many electricians are able to choose their own schedules.  You may choose to be self-employed and only take the jobs you would like to take.  When you work as an electrician, you are also not stuck behind a desk all day, but are able to work out in the field and move around throughout the day.  For those who prefer hands-on work and need variety, this is a perfect career.


The salary is a big benefit to becoming an electrician according to the Occupational Employment Statistics.  When compared to many other professions, most electricians earn solid and stable wages, without the need for a four-year degree or lengthy schooling experience.  When you work as an electrician, you may also have the opportunity to earn overtime hours, where you are paid time and a half for your work.  On average, most electricians make about $25 an hour, making this career a great choice for someone who wants a good salary without enduring four years of traditional school.

Job security

There is rarely a shortage of jobs for electricians.  When you choose this field, you will find that you always have options for where to work, especially if you are good at your job and receive additional training, such as electrical maintenance training.  Although you may have chosen this career to avoid school, any seminars or trainings you can attend make you more of a commodity in your field, and put you above any other applicants for jobs you would like to have.  With more information and training, you are better able to apply your skills to different types of jobs with different levels of difficulty.

Becoming an electrician

Any motivated individual who desires a good wage with job security and great working conditions, but doesn’t want to invest a lot of time and money in school should consider becoming an electrician.  This career path offers a stability that is rare in the current economic times, with a high amount of open jobs for those who are just entering the field.

Presented by American Trainco

Image license: Oregon DOT, CC BY 2.0

How the oil and gas industry works

By Amanda Daniels

The oil and gas industry is a complex one, but vital to the global economy. Oil served as the lifeblood of the economy for over 100 years and accounts for 2.5% of the global gross domestic profit (GDP). In addition, oil also accounts for one third of the world’s primary energy supply and that figure increases to half if you take natural gas into consideration.

It goes without saying that the oil and gas industry is essential to the livelihood of mankind; without it economies would not be able to grow and develop. In fact, if oil production and exploration were to suddenly stop, modern civilisation would certainly come to an end within months.

The transport systems around the world are heavily dependent on oil and gas as it powers 100% of all transportation forms. Transportation in turn accounts for one-sixth of the global GDP and thus a sudden stop in the oil and gas industry would have rippling effects in the transport industry, which could ultimately see detrimental effects on the global economy.

The origin of oil and its extraction process

Oil comes from the remains of small plants and animals that died in ancient seas between 10 million and 600 million years ago. These organisms sank into the sand and mud at the bottom of the sea after they had died, forming organic material. As time progressed, more layers of sediment were formed and, mixed together, formed shale or source rock. Intense heat and pressure were exerted on the source rock and resulted in the distilling of crude oil and natural gas. Over time, the oil flowed from the source rock and accumulated in limestone or sandstone, called reservoir rock. The reservoir rock, through movements of the earth, became trapped between cap rock such as marble or granite.

Approximately 95% of energy consumption growth is expected to come from emerging markets
Rising costs make oil exploration profitability less likely

Today, geologists survey land areas and find sources of oil using a variety of methods. Scientists also survey the area once it has been identified and conduct environmental impact studies. Once approved, a site is then prepared by a crew for drilling. The drilling process is made up of a few phases, but essentially, a hole is drilled to a specified depth, then tests are performed and if oil is found, a pump is attached to the well head and oil is pumped out.


A complex network of oil and gas transportation routes and pipelines deliver oil to people around the world. The natural gas pipeline distribution network is so extensive in the US alone, it can stretch to the moon and back seven to eight times. That isn’t the only fascinating fact - around 40% of cargo at sea at any given time is oil. Here’s the killer, the total amount of oil transported via sea every year is higher than the mass of fish in the sea. Yes, the ocean isn’t full of fish, it is full of oil – even BP agrees.

The money in oil

Stereotypically, riches are associated with oil companies, but while there is a bit of truth in this, the profit made by oil companies is not as exponentially high as thought. They do make profit, but they have big expenses to account for too, the biggest of which is the rising cost of exploration and development – which has a 50-90% chance of being unprofitable. Then there’s the cost of mistakes. On average, oil companies only make a profit of around $20 per barrel. This is next to nothing, particularly in a highly competitive market where a product is interchangeable with that of another company. The way oil companies survive is through strategic oil partnerships. This allows them to grow in size and allows for associated risks of operating in the industry to be spread across a wider base.

Future forecast: 2035

BP recently released a report giving an outlook on the industry into 2035. It projects that that global energy consumption will rise by 41% by 2035. Around 95% of this growth is expected to come from emerging markets. Advanced economies such as North America, Europe and developed Asia will grow much more slowly. In the later years of the forecast, a decline in demand is expected which is likely to impact the oil and gas industry significantly. For now, the need for oil and gas (?) is there and markets attest this.

About the author: This article was written by Amanda Daniels. She's always had a passion for words and when she's not writing, she'll be reading.

Image license: Joshua Doubek; CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Three ways to improve your business with VoIP technology

Business competition is facilitated by VoIP technology
VoIP helps businesses increase profit margin
By John Bowie

If you have a business with traditional phone systems, you might want to transfer to a VoIP technology system instead.

In case you are unsure of what a VoIP system is, here is a brief rundown: It is a technology which ensures telephone calls can be made from your computer networks through the internet. They support real-time and two-way transmissions of Internet Protocol.

So, why would you want to convert to a VoIP technology rather than use your traditional phone system to overall benefit your business and its efficiency? Here is a bit of helpful information which can help you to determine for yourself.
  1. VoIP offers a significant cost savings when compared to the conventional phone system, especially when it comes to phone calls that are long distance. It can help you save a considerable amount due to the following reasons:
      2. Portability usage

Your company can benefit from VoIP solutions because phone portability is an outstanding feature of this remarkable technology. When compared to traditional or legacy phone lines, there is a limit of transportability. With VoIP, you can:
  • Provides number mobility.
  • Allow the phone to contain the same number nearly everywhere, so long as it has appropriate IP connectivity.
  • Businesspeople can bring their IP phones anywhere, especially during traveling, which is quite convenient for those extraordinarily important calls.
      3. Superior media services

A legendary or traditional phone service provides only two different features: voicemails and faxes. During this time and age, communications are evolving in ways we may have never predicted; but with VoIP technology, you can perform a plethora of exciting media tasks, such as:
  • Acquire the capability to send instant messages to fellow coworkers.
  • You can make voice or video calls when necessary.
  • VoIP technology allows the incredible option of transferring images when needed.
  • Providing a multitude of media options for users to enhance and create new markets (especially in the field of communications).
  • VoIP allows mobile usage for employees, which can increase communications and overall business information.
Traditional phone systems are more expensive than hosted VoIP phone technologies. You will save significant sums of cash, which is always a bonus for businesses. Your company will have unlimited access to nationwide calls—whether or not it is inbound or outbound—and has no setup fees whatsoever. VoIP technology does not require a contract whereas traditional phone systems do. If improving your business with a new technology, it’s a wise decision to consider VoIP technology.

About the author: John Bowie is an expert in the VoIP field, working in an office in San Diego. In his spare time, he enjoys writing about technology and VoIP systems to inform others. He graduated from USC in 2002.

* Image license: Duchesssa, RGBStock royalty free

Financial Conduct Authority

U.K. Financial Conduct Authority
London's Business District is regulated in part by the FCA
FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) is a quite famous regulatory body stationed in the United Kingdom. It has also presented an opportunity for centralising the financials of the UK-based organisations. On operations grounds, it is an independent body which is working as part of United Kingdom’s government and drives the funds with charging some fees to the member of various financial services industries. Apart from that, the body is also responsible for regulating conducts of numerous wholesale and retail services firms within the United Kingdom.

Considering the very functionalities of firm, it has been powered by the FSMA act which gives the FCA four statuary based objectives to pursue so as to enhance the functionality of the UK based financial markets and firms. The four objectives include, market confidence, financial stability, mitigation of financial crimes and most importantly consumer protection. Objective of market confidence ensures that the strengthening of bond between the financial institutions and UK government. It also seeks to facilitate better understanding of UK financial systems and its related statures. Financial stability is also another core function which serves as a proponent for enhancing the sense of protection for investments in UK markets. Moreover, it also serves to facilitate the structural stability of UK financial system. Consumer protection is another core concern which is quite commonly raised before subsequent investments. Hence, security of consumer information is one of the core concerns which are addressed on the very same FCA Compliance and Authorisation platform. Furthermore, mitigation of financial crime risks is also quite crucial for enhancing the confidence of consumers and establishment of ties between government and financial firms.

In order to meet the very requirement of compliance on every scale, it was required to introduce compliance consultants as a core player in market. Compliance consultancy firms surely play a vital role in sustainability of FCA Compliance and for providing implementation of these rules at ease.  These firms offer a great deal of services to their clients including advice of overall process, research of markets, supervising trading activities, assessment of EU directives, monitoring of compliance, and training of personnel to name a few. These audits are carried out as per the nature of package taken by the industry. However, on successful completion of this audit, the company has been provided with a detailed analysis regarding the findings, propped by a number of corrective measures which can induce a sense of financial viability in the fiercely competitive UK market.

FCA authorization and regulatory compliance also seeks to monitor these compliance consultancy firms to provide top-notch quality of financial services to companies willing to invest in UK-based markets. Keeping an eagle’s eye over the situation is also one of the crucial roles of company. FCA does not authorise to use their resources as per capital standards. It makes the firms to report FCA on regular basis to promote transparency of funds. Also, maintenance of regulatory compliance is another core aspect of FCA operations, it grants the FCA due rights to visit firms without any notice (and even on ad-hoc basis) for checking the records as well as clients information. This enhances the FCA’s perspective in promoting compliance policy all across the board. Treatment with client is another aspect which does not go un-noticed from FCA’s officials.  

>All in all, FCA is a financial monitoring hub for evaluating the organisations firms’ performance in providing services to their clients. The organisation has also facilitated ample grounds for creating a financially viable environment for economical growth.

Image license: Colin Smith; CC BY-S.A. 2.0

Tips to help you choose the best health insurance plan

Healthcare planning tips
Healthcare options include bronze, silver and gold coverage
By Leanne White 

Now that the Affordable Care Act has given people even more choices when it comes to health insurance plans that will cover everything from annual check-ups to exams by specialists and even prescription drugs, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. Rest assured, though, that by searching through your options using the following tips, you'll choose the best plan that’s right for your needs.

Learn the heavy metals

One of the first things that you'll notice while shopping for a health insurance plan these days is the fact that every plan is listed as either bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. You'll probably immediately wonder what this means, but it's simpler than you think. Without going into too much detail, all you basically need to know is that a bronze plan will be the most affordable plan, and it will cover 60% of your costs. The somewhat more expensive silver plan will cover 70% of your healthcare costs, while the even more expensive gold plan will cover 80%. And, finally, the most expensive and most desirable plan would be a platinum level plan that covers 90% of your costs.

You'll notice that, whether you're searching through plans made available through your state government or you're searching for options from private insurance companies, all of the plans will be categorized in this manner.

Basic core coverage

No matter what plan you choose to go with, you can expect to get coverage for basic services, such as maternity and newborn care, prescriptions, emergency and lab services, and preventative and wellness checks. And the other good news is that pre-existing conditions have no bearing on the coverage you can receive or what you'll be expected to pay. Again, the difference is how much of the cost you'll be responsible for, depending upon what level of coverage you purchase.

Making the right choice

Keep in mind that, the better the coverage, the higher your monthly premium will be. On the other hand, if you go with a cheaper plan that offers a lower monthly premium, you should expect to pay more when you actually do get medical care.

So how do you decide upon which plan is really right for you? There are several things that you need to consider. For example, if you suffer with a chronic condition that requires frequent trips to the doctor or specialist or that requires you to continually refill prescription medications, you should opt for the plans that offer more coverage so that you pay less every time you go to the doctor or get your medicine. On the other hand, if you are fairly healthy and you basically just go to the doctor once a year for a wellness check or when you come down with the flu, you can go with a plan that will allow you to pay a lower monthly premium and save money that way. And no matter what plan you choose, if you have extra services like a prescription discount card from AffordRX.com, you can save extra money. 

About the author: Leanne White is a freelance health blogger who understands how difficult it is to understand the new rules regarding healthcare in the US. She wants to reassure everyone that it's easier than it looks and that there's a plan out there for everyone. Getting the right healthcare plan will give you much-needed peace of mind. 

Image license: 401(K)2012, CC BY-SA 2.0

Monday, February 24, 2014

Use a marketing automation system to boost sales

Online marketing techniques
Online marketing solutions encourage customer conversions and brand awareness
When businesses and consumers seek products, it is expected that many will turn to the web to shop or find detailed information to help them make informed purchasing decisions. Whether the need is for a service like consulting or business equipment, there will likely be several website visits to compare products or services and their prices. A company that sells what customers need must be aware of the best marketing strategies to guide a customer from being a browser to a buyer. This is where a marketing automation system makes the difference.

Automated marketing is the process of nurturing potential customers by providing information of interest that businesses and individuals can access through various Internet technologies. This information might highlight a product or a service. By using an automated marketing system, a business can monitor a potential customer’s online behavior to further define which strategies are best for nurturing a customer to the point of closing sales.

How exactly does a marketing automation system work? It is more than sending weekly email blasts to potential customers. Email is one strategy, but marketing automation includes using various modes of contact to reach potential customers. For example, as part of its marketing automation system, a company might host a website with information that is helpful to businesses. A potential customer might visit a page for weekly updates, which tells a company that there is interest. The company can use this information to generate and nurture sales leads, and these sales leads become paying customers.

A marketing automation system does not replace a company’s sales staff. Marketing automation turns the marketing staff and sales staff into a team that enhances the sales staff’s ability to close sales. This means that marketing automation a win-win for everyone involved. Marketing automation uses tools such as digital forms that may be completed by a customer to request information.  Using automated marketing as a means of cultivating or nurturing good relationships with customers has many advantages.

Automated marketing allows a company to observe a potential customer’s digital habits so they can deliver the types of information to customers that will help them decide to make purchases without feeling pressured. There may be links to various items of interest and as the customer clicks on these links, a company observes the actions to determine when he or she is ready to buy. At that point, a salesperson might follow up with a customer to discuss products and answer questions.

A system for marketing automation not only generates new business, it builds customer loyalty. The same strategies that are used to bring customers to the point of purchasing can be used to stay in touch with customers after the sale, which can result in repeat business.

Many organizations can benefit from marketing automation, including sports teams, retailers, and non-profits. The key is to choose a marketing automation provider that offers the service and support necessary to make your campaign run seamlessly. This means selecting a provider with platforms that will integrate with your current software system.  When choosing a marketing automation system provider, look for a company with the capacity to design a system that will work with your company’s needs and one that has a reputation for providing excellent technical support.

Image license: TopRank Online Marketing, CC BY 2.0

5 companies that go the extra mile

It’s no secret that customers want to be loved. Their biggest priority is to receive a quality product at a great value, but what keeps customers coming back is service that makes them feel appreciated. To cover your bases, make sure you’ve got knowledgeable staff and support, and a website that’s easy to navigate. Companies like Target, Etsy, iTunes, and Instant Checkmate offer an intuitive, simple setup for things like product comparisons, shopping carts or subscription cancellations.

Once you’ve got your basics down, add some extra perks. Here are five companies that go the extra mile, in simple and sensational ways, to make their customers happy. 

1) Taco Bell

Taco Bell branding
Taco Bell literally went 400 extra miles to deliver its services
Here’s a case of a company going the extra couple thousand miles. When word spread that Bethel, Alaska was getting a Taco Bell, people were ecstatic. Considering the closest fast food restaurant was 400 miles away, this was news worth salivating over. But the rumor wasn’t true, and Bethel’s heartbreak called Taco Bell to action. They airlifted a taco truck into Bethel with 950 pounds of beef, 300 pounds of lettuce, 150 pounds of cheddar cheese, 500 pounds of sour cream, and 300 pounds of tomatoes. How many tacos does that make? Ten thousand tacos. The real question is how they evenly divvied out 10,000 tacos to a town of 6,200.
Mellow Mushroom Pizza differentiated itself via flexibility in its business model
Custom delivery shows customers a business cares

2) Mellow Mushroom Pizza

A soldier’s wife was also a devoted pizza lover. Knowing she’d appreciate some pizza while he was on duty in Afghanistan, he emailed the pizza chain to ask if they could send a special delivery to Jacksonville, FL for her birthday. Mellow Mushroom delivered the man’s wife a heart-shaped pizza and balloons. Now that’s true love. 

3) Tide 

Community service brought Tide brand to the forefront
When Hurricane Katrina hit, among the slew of problems it created was that New Orleans residents returning to destroyed homes also had no access to clean clothes. Tide outfitted a truck with 32 washers and dryers. It drove to selected communities affected by the hurricane, inviting residents to bring two loads of laundry per day while the truck was in town. Tide staff washed, dried, folded and wrapped the laundered clothing each day. While they can’t show up at every major disaster, Tide’s Loads of Hope has washed over 30,000 loads, and covered ground from the U.S. to Haiti.

4) Whole Foods

Whole Foods marketing
Whole Foods offers unique customer service as part of its brand
Just try walking into Whole Foods without getting a little giddy. Between the free samples, the aroma of fresh-baked treats, and the abundance of goodies you’ve never tried, Whole Foods knows how to appeal to your senses. 

They’re a supermarket chain that doesn’t feel anything like the stale, badly lit, confusing atmosphere of their competitors. But the real appeal of Whole Foods is their over-the-top service. Ask a guy at the fish counter where the beer is. He’ll not only tell you where to find it; he’ll escort you to the beer aisle, and he’ll tell you about his favorite brew along the way. (Speaking from personal experience here.) You’ll never get a response of “Aisle 9” and a finger point. Employees’ support and smiling faces will lessen the sting of your hefty grocery bill. 

5) Sweetgreen

Sweet Green marketing
Sweetening people's day sets Sweet Green apart
This chain of restaurants dishes out healthy, local foods in the DC area. To keep up their goal of brightening people’s days, they created “Random Acts of Sweetness.” On a rainy day, they’ll put a shower cap over bike seats and slip a gift card underneath. 

Or they’ll put a gift card next to a car’s parking violation to lessen the disappointment of someone coming back to a parking ticket. Playing off the idea of reciprocity, Sweetgreen gives a little to their customers, and gets a lot in return–like 300 percent growth each year.

Image licenses: Anthony92931, CC BY-SA 3.0; 2. Sam DeLong,  CC BY-SA 2.0; 3.Gary Seidman, CC BY-SA 2.0; 4.  M.O. Stevens, GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0; 5. Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0

Hospitals and debt collectors begin fight against medical bill collection laws

The Affordable Care Act affects medical billing practices
By Kenneth Gray

As medical billing and payment procedures are rapidly changing to adjust for the mandates set forth by the Affordable Care Act, the ways in which medical debts can be collected.

As this shift in policy brings about changes that allow more leniency for patients dealing with medical debt, legislation requiring more allowances for the payment of bills has been passed and continues to be proposed.

In reaction to new and proposed changes, many healthcare providers and debt collection agencies are making efforts to counter the effects of new laws and regulations. Two of the largest agencies in health care and debt collection: Healthcare Financial Management Association and the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals have formed an alliance to formulate ways in which they may take action to reverse trends toward giving more leniency to patients in medical debt.

While no legal regulations seem to be proposed by the agencies, action is being taken to help allow healthcare providers to recoup more funds or to ensure that they are payed the bills they are due.

Increased payment at offices

As patients begin to be less accountable for charges they incur, a growing number of offices are requiring higher portions of payments at the time of or even before a patient’s visit. In cases where a procedure is not an emergency, many doctors and hospitals may estimate not only a patient’s co-pay, but also the actual out of pocket expenses associated with their anticipated care.

This serves the dual purposes of ensuring that funds are recouped by doctor’s offices at the same time that patients are made as aware as possible of the actual costs of the treatment and procedures they are about to receive.

Payment throughout treatment

In addition to requiring patients to pay certain fees prior to being seen, many hospitals have begun to require payment throughout the duration of a long term treatment.

This somewhat new trend has been the subject of some criticism by those who argue that bringing up financial matters may be somewhat counter to the healing process, but advocates for hospitals have argued that even if payment is not demanded during a patient’s stay, taking steps to clarify the degree to which a patient must pay for their bills out of pocket is responsible and beneficial to both the patient and the healthcare provider.

Finding solutions for all parties

The primary goal of the Affordable Care Act is to make healthcare more accessible and to reduce instances of major financial problems like bankruptcy in connection with unpaid medical bills. Lawmakers hope that expanding coverage to previously uninsured patients will help keep medical costs manageable, which will ideally result in less delinquent bills and fewer unpaid services.

This will no doubt require effort made by the patient, as well as insurance companies and hospitals to make sure that there is as much clarity as possible when it comes to the costs associated with the unavoidable and often costly expense of healthcare. With clarity and responsibility comes a better experience for all parties.

About the author: Kenneth Gray has spent decades working the field of medical billing and is always happy to answer questions about health insurance or medical bills at A-Fordable Billing Solution.

Image license: Rytyho usa, CC BY SA-3.0

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Hurricanes are not only dangerous, but expensive

Hurricane Damage
Onshore hurricanes cost nearly $200 million for preparation alone

By Andrew Winston

We all know that hurricanes are dangerous. Even if you don’t live in an area that’s prone to these types of horrifying storms, you at least understand some semblance of how bad it can be from watching the news or talking to friends or relatives who have had to live through one.

In the blink of an eye, a hurricane can rip families apart and destroy the work of a lifetime.But while we always need to consider the human cost of such storms, that can’t be done without dealing with the other kind of cost – the one we define in dollars and cents.

According to the military’s own “Hurricane Hunters,” each hurricane that makes landfalls means about $193 million in preparation expenses for the U.S. government, and that’s not counting any damages done to businesses or individuals by the storm or any general clean-up costs. Often, total expenses end up being in the billions.
Who pays for that?

Who foots the bill depends on many factors

Property & Casualty Claims Lawyer
Businesses do not necessarily qualify for hurricane emergency relief

Emergency relief is almost always paid for by regular people like you and me, either by the government stepping in to help and using our tax dollars or agencies like the Red Cross soliciting donations to providenecessary help to victims. But what about when it goes beyond that?

Say you own a storage business that suffers serious damage and clients’ possessions are ruined. Or you’re a homeowner and your house is flooded. It would be nice to believe that you can just file a claim with your real estate insurance company and expect to have everything covered, but usually that’s not the case. Quite frequently, it gets a lot more complicated.

Take the example of Christie’s storage in Brooklyn. This is an incredibly well-known business, and their Brooklyn facility housed many rare and expensive works of art before Sandy swept through the area, cutting a swath of destruction. Unfortunately, part of this destruction was causing some areas of their warehouse to flood and ruining many irreplaceable works of art. Who’s responsible?

At first glance, it would seem like Christie’s should pay, because the artwork was housed on their premises. Insurers for numerous artists whose work was housed there agree and have filed lawsuits against Christie’s. They even use emails from Christie’s to clients stating that they were raising artwork off the ground to protect it as evidence that not enough was done.

Christie’s, however, argues that their contracts with clients clearly state that the clients are responsible for any damage and that they are required to get their own insurance to protect their business. Is this a case of company negligence or one of insurers desperately trying not to shell out millions in claims?

Hurricane Sandy
Extensive property damage is a common result of hurricanes

There are a wide variety of other Sandy-related cases as well that don’t involve typical property damage claims. Christmas celebrations lost in addition to the destruction caused to a home. Even people who have had to seek out help for mental health problems related to everything they went through when Sandy ravaged the area. How do we determine who pays for that kind of “damage”? Should property insurers who cover hurricane damage be liable for pain and suffering or medical conditions brought on by the bad weather in question? Or should it be covered by medical insurance because it’s a medical problem?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many easy answers, and too many people are discovering that their issues fall into a gray area that no one wants to pay for. Insurance companies are businesses, after all, and as much as they are there to help their customers, they also have to protect their bottom line.

You need to fight, and know the law

Insurance Claims Lawsuit
Challenging settlement offers may yield greater claims compensation

If you really want to make sure that you get the settlement you deserve from a home insurance company, it may be necessary for you to fight back a little bit and refuse their initial settlement offer. Insurers tend to lowball people initially in an effort to save as much money as possible, because they know that many of us will simply take what we’re offered – even if we think it’s too low – to avoid having to fight.

That’s why it’s so important to understand the law. If you know what your legal chances are at getting more money and winning your claim, you’re much more likely to avoid making errors that can cost you.

Those who live in the hurricane-prone North Atlantic basin should take special note, because experts believe that these storms have been getting stronger over the past several decades – even as storms in other areas of the world decrease in power.

Don’t completely lose hope, though. While hurricanes may increase in strength, we’re also improving our methods of how we deal with them, including fighting nature with nature. In the end, prevention and preparation may be the best way to protect yourself and limit costly damage.

About the author: Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”

Image license: Royalty Free or iStock source: 123rf.com

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Accounting mistakes small businesses make

By Phil Steel

No matter how small your business is, setting it up, sustaining it and keeping it profitable - is a highly challenging job!  

Whether you are a sole-proprietorship, a partnership or a privately owned company – if you want to survive, you will need to focus on more than just marketing! 

Irrespective of whether you run an online business, a small-scale manufacturing unit, a restaurant, a guest-house, a legal firm, or even a convenience store – without proper accounting, your business simply cannot succeed!

Common small-business accounting mistakes

Since, small business owners are more directly involved in the day-to-day functioning of their businesses; many may not find the time or have the inclination, to oversee accounting on a regular basis. This may lead to a lack of perspective, which may eventually result in the business becoming unprofitable, going broke and even bankrupt!  In order to guard against such horrific situations, it is necessary for owners to avoid some common accounting errors. ‘Using the wrong accounting method, combining personal and business finances, not performing basic account reconciliation, overlooking 'petty cash' reserves, not knowing the difference between profits and cash flow, and relying too heavily on a paperless environment;’ are among the top accounting blunders that small businesses make, says  dnbsmallbusiness.com

Bookkeeping errors that may be viewed as frauds

Strange as it may sound, even the smallest accounting error can prove fatal to a small business! Especially so, when it is viewed to be ‘intentional,’ or seen as an attempt at evading taxes levied by the government.  “One small mistake in recording a payment from a customer can lead to underpaid sales taxes ultimately resulting in unnecessary penalties and interest charges,” states C. P. Morey, on accountingweb.com. “Accounting errors and fraud are serious issues for all businesses, but they are especially challenging for small companies where cash is always a top concern. Errors and fraud undermine decision making, lead to financial losses and, in some cases, even force companies to lay off staff or shut their doors,” he cautions.

Not considering the financial impact of buying business assets

According to entrepreneur.com, when making a capital expenditure for your small business, you need to consider the short-term and long-term accounting impact it will have, finance-wise and tax-wise. “When you pay cash for a new server or piece of equipment, one of the benefits is that you can depreciate the equipment over time. But experts say dipping too far into cash reserves can put a business at risk in more ways than one,” it states.  “When making a major purchase, such as equipment, consider a short-term loan if purchasing with cash would put a serious dent in your reserves. Using a credit card is an option for items you know you can pay off in a few months, but beware of high interest rates. Leasing is also an alternative if, say, the equipment you're considering requires periodic updates or you need to use an item only temporarily,” it advises.

Internal audits that need to be maintained but are not

Small business owners, must focus on running their businesses and leave accounting to professionals and accounting specialists. However while doing so, they must ensure that, the accounting staff they hire are adequate in number and have the necessary qualifications, expertise and experience, relevant to their business. Speaking on this issue, Morey states: “small or even single-person accounting staffs and limited internal controls,” are responsible for small business accounting errors. The reason that ‘small businesses also are less likely to discover such errors, is because their financial audits are almost never performed,’ he rues.

Not asking your accounting staff or consultant to simplify accounting jargon

Many small business owners may not fully understand a lot of the accounting terms, norms and procedures, which their accounting advisor or staff member, discusses with them. In such circumstances, it is necessary to overcome their shyness and clarify doubts. Not doing so, leaves them confused and at a loose end! As Michael Di Lauro, author of ‘The Net Present Value of Life,’ states: “You’re a small business owner. You’re not a financial professional. And nowhere does it say you have to be up-to-date on all the latest accounting blather. Besides, buzzwords, jargon and fancy strategies are why you pay your accountant. Translating all that techno-talk into language you understand should be part of the package… Bottom line is, if you and your accountant speak the same language then she’s part of your team. She’s watching your back, and she’s providing advice you can bank on.”

About the author: This article was written by Phil Steel, an accountant who specializes in small business accounting and frequently writes on the subject as well.
Image license:Smartphotostock