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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Five work from home jobs to supplement your income

By Audrey Clark

What would you do with an extra $100, $500 or $1000 a month? Maybe you'd pay off a debt, or treat your family to a nice vacation, or buy a new vehicle. No matter what your financial goals are, they can become a reality if you start a side gig working at home in your spare time. Here are the top five work from home jobs that you can use to supplement your current income:

Self employment in the U.S.
Sustaining home business requires ongoing revenue
Become a freelancer- Though this term is often associated primarily with writers, other creative types can find freelance gigs in various fields including photography, graphic design, web design, and even consulting. Freelancing allows you to pick and choose the clients you work with, as well as set your own hours so that you can work as much or as little as you want. 

In order to get started, you might want to create a website that outlines what you do, shows off a portfolio of your work, and even testimonials from clients. And be sure to tell everyone you know about your new business in order to get referrals.

Sell gigs on Fiverr- At first glance, making five dollars for each completed gig may not seem like much, especially when Fiverr takes out its share. However, many people report to earning five-figures a month by offering "gig extras." 

Say you create logos, and you charge five dollars for a logo. You can then also extras such as: five options to choose from (ten dollars extra), ten options (twenty dollars), an editable file (ten dollars), or a guarantee to complete the job in just 24 hours (ten dollars). So what started as a five-dollar gig could end up clocking in at closer to $45. If you are able to complete five orders an hour, as US News reports that some sellers do, you could earn up to $450 for two hours of work each night.

Do medical coding and billing- While this job may require a specific education, medical coding and billing is a lucrative field. Because you can complete a certification from a vocational school in as little as 36 weeks, you can get started sooner rather than later on earning more money in a lucrative and growing field where you play a vital role and getting people the medical care that they need, all without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Tutor online- Thanks to the Internet, everyone can be a teacher. Some well-known tutoring services even hire non-licensed teachers, as long as they meet their other requirements. Sites like Web Wise Tutors offer licensed teachers the opportunity to work up to 20 hours a week, perfect for current or former teachers to do on nights, weekends and holidays. 

There's also a huge market for native English speakers to help non-native speakers improve their speaking and this can easily be done online via Skype. There's no shortage of websites offering to connect you with clients, but do your homework beforehand to make sure that they're legitimate.

Teach a course online- For a more passive approach to online teaching, create a course in an area where you're an expert on online learning portals like Udemy and Creative Live. You get to create content about a topic that you love such as Sweater Knitting Basics, Learn to Cook Italian Cuisine, Car Mechanics 101, and can get paid each time someone registers for your class. You decide the content, its structure and the price. Depending on the platform, and how the participants are acquired (through your referral link or from the site's advertising efforts) you'll receive a portion of the class free.

These are just five work from home jobs that thousands of men and women do to earn supplementary income. Whether your strengths lie in a creative, educational, or analytical field, there’s a job out there for you.


About the author: Audrey Clark is a skilled freelance blogger covering a range of topics from careers and finance to travel and leisure, along with everything in-between. When not writing, she’s always on the lookout for her next adventure. Connect with Audrey on Twitter and Google+.

Images: Idea Incubator LP; CC BY-SA 3.0; "Entrepreneurial activity in the U.S."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Outdoor lighting tips for added curb appeal and safety

Exterior home lighting
Well selected and positioned exterior lights can yield as much as 50% ROI
By Joan Silver

When executed well, outdoor lighting can greatly enhance the architectural detail of your home exterior and highlight landscape features, presenting your home in the best possible light. And, if your home is on the market, landscape lighting also adds value to it. For instance, an investment in outdoor lighting for upper-bracket homes can yield a 50% return. The reason why buyers, or your guests, appreciate homes with good outdoor lighting is not only because of aesthetics but, more importantly, because of the security it gives – against intruders and accidents, such as tripping or falling. Here are some useful tips in helping you plan and install your home’s landscape lights.

Mimick the moonlight


The key to effectively and beautifully lighting your home at night is to achieve a “moonlight effect”. Instead of aiming to illuminate the entire exterior of your home with bright light, plant lights strategically to emit that natural looking shine on particular features that you wish to highlight, as well as areas that will need illumination so that it is safe for you, your family, and your guests to walk around and towards your home safely while at the same time keeping it safe from prowlers.

Landscape Lights at Capitol Lighting

Use uplights


Create a dramatic effect with uplighting but remember to use it in moderation. It’s a great way to highlight trees and other architectural and landscaping features. Add uplights to plantings along a pathway to break up the “runway” look of having too many lights lined up alongside a walk.

Create a focal point


The main door is usually set as the center stage. Wall sconces or pendant lights on both sides of your home’s main entry add a welcoming appeal for your guests. You many also choose to have a flush or semi flush mount lighting fixture just above the door.

Incorporate a variety of fixtures


Although the primary lighting would come from spot and flood lights, installing a few other light fixtures such as area lights, step lights, bollards, or post lights create a beautiful scene aside from adding security to your home.

Stick to warm light


While there is a wide array of hues available for lighting, using a single shade of warm white light all throughout your home exterior makes for a sophisticated and appealing facade. Remember, you are showcasing your home and its outdoor features, not hosting a lights show.

Use a timer


Orchestrate with a timer and set your outdoor lights to start as the sun begins to set and turn off at midnight, leaving only the security lighting on. Automating this task keeps you from forgetting to turn your exterior lighting on or off at night and also ensures that there is outdoor lighting even when you are out or on a vacation.

Apply motion detectors


Motion-detecting security lighting installed near the garage, stairs, and pathway can help ensure safety and prevent falls and other accidents. In terms of security, this also helps keep intruders out. Another advantage would be its energy efficiency, as these are only activated when there is someone within the area and instantly turns off when you leave.

Outdoor lighting goes beyond showcasing your home and your landscape features. More importantly, it serves to ensure your safety and security. It pays to plan carefully and invest in the right lighting fixtures so that you are guaranteed to have a beautifully lit home at night that keeps you safe and secure.


About the author: Joan Silver is a known lighting expert from Capitol Lighting (1800lighting.com) and a fan of all things “lighting”. She currently provides customers and designers with robust information on their lighting needs.

Images: 1. Edu Nunes; CC BY 2.0; "3D Exterior House Sunset"; 2. SuperStrikerTwo; CC BY-SA 2.0

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A look at national defense spending

U.S. federal budget spending
Overall defense spending as a percent of the national budget has dropped around 3% in 2 years

Defense spending accounts for a substantial portion of annual federal spending. As America seeks to pave a way to its economic future, questions about how taxpayer dollars should be spent are debated. Whether or not the U.S. defense budget is too large is officially a matter for elected officials to determine. Since for much of recent history, Americans have approved of high military expenditures via their votes, the results have been for a large national defense budget if government is indeed representative.

Budget


In 2014, total national defense spending is projected to reach $626.76 billion per the DoD, down approximately 3% from the 2012 amount. In 2011, defense spending comprised around 19.6% of total federal outlays, and in 2014 that amount is closer to 16.6%. As a percent of gross domestic product, the total defense budget is between 4 -5%, which is near an all time low despite the large dollar amount. This amount is also projected to decrease to closer to 3 - 4% in the coming years.  

GDP


To further illustrate defense spending in proportion to economic output, U.S. gross domestic product for 2011 was $15.09 trillion per the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Since, the DoDs expenditures for that year were $687 billion, defense spending constituted approximately 4.6 percent of the GDP. In 2012, the GDP was closer to $15 to $15.5 trillion, making enacted defense spending roughly 4.2 percent of GDP. Thus, in terms of GDP, defense spending is a much smaller fraction than defense spending as a percentage of annual federal funds spent.

Employment


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The current goal of the Armed Forces is to maintain a force sufficient to fight and win two major regional conflicts at the same time." This goal means base active duty employment are forecasted to remain relatively consistent, especially since age restrictions cause frequent turnover in the industry. To illustrate further, the BLS reports the military recruitment must amount to 165,000 persons per year in order to replace exiting service personnel.

Debt


The U.S. national debt is very large and continues to grow. Currently, it stands at over $15.87 trillion per the Treasury Department. Economic growth has also been stunted recently, and this places more pressure on the government's financial resources. Moreover, as entitlement costs rise, unemployment remains elevated and industries struggle, fiscal policy becomes a mechanism for solutions. For such policies to be effective, they must balance national functionality with effective defense spending.

Image: Johnpseudo; CC BY-SA 3.0
"Inflationadjusteddefensespending"

Monday, July 28, 2014

How to ensure a successful IPO

By Linda A. Perez

Taking your company public with an Initial Public Offering (IPO) is a complex process. A successful IPO will enable your company to meet your strategic long-term goals, such as raising capital for growth or acquisitions. Ensuring a successful IPO involves careful planning. 
 
Initial Public Offerings
Companies become public via IPOs

Step 1: deciding to go public

The first step is making the decision to go public. An IPO is an investment--often a costly investment. Legal fees, accounting fees, printing costs, and ensuring you adhere to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations are all costs which must be considered before making the decision to offer an IPO.

You must also consider your business goals. Is your company really ready for an IPO? Is going public part of your company’s long-term strategy? How will going public change your company’s existing culture and infrastructure? Will the transition from private to public be easy?
An IPO adviser can help your leadership team analyze your business goals. However, it’s essential that you choose an IPO adviser with experience in your industry, one with a thorough understanding of the specific markets concerned.

Successful IPOs all begin with an IPO readiness assessment. Will your company appeal to investors? What potential will future investors see? Will they expect continued, and profitable, growth? The IPO readiness assessment should also focus on the markets. Are market conditions favourable for your IPO at this time? Is the market ready for your IPO?

A professional readiness assessment will enable your team to finalize your plans, highlighting areas which may need attention before going public. This assessment is essentially a roadmap to a successful IPO.

Step 2: preparing the IPO

After making the decision to go public, the next step is preparing your IPO services strategy. What type of securities will you issue? How many, and at what price? Will you trade in Canada only, or list in the US also?
A meticulously-planned strategy is the key to a successful IPO. You must prepare your company, your leadership team, a timeline, and the actual IPO prospectus.

Prepare your company
 
Your IPO adviser will help analyze your management structure. What management structure will you have as a public company? A simple and flexible corporate structure is often recommended for this time of transition. Your corporate structure must be adaptable. Thorough preparation of the roles, reporting structures, and responsibilities must be done at this stage.
Prepare your team
A successful IPO service needs a team with specialized skills, skills from outside your company as well as your existing leadership team. Your IPO adviser will be crucial in assembling the team.

The underwriter is possibly the most important member of a successful IPO. The underwriter—often an investment banker—will help set the initial offering price, will help with the prospectus, and will help create enthusiasm for your stocks.

The underwriter will conduct a thorough review of your company—the underwriters’ due diligence.

IPO implementation
Effective underwriting help ensures the best value per share offered

Step 3: executing the IPO

Once your team is prepared, the next step is to create a prospectus. This document details your company for future investors. It is a key part of your marketing material. Your own team, your IPO adviser, and the underwriter will collaborate on creating the prospectus. The underwriter’s due diligence ensures that the prospectus consists of full, true, and plain disclosure.

The prospectus must be filed with securities regulators in the jurisdictions you plan to sell securities. The prospectus must be reviewed and approved by the SEC before being shown to potential investors.

While the prospectus is being prepared, a stock exchange listing must be applied for. Again, your IPO adviser can assist with the often complex regulations.

Once your prospectus is approved by the SEC, it can be shown to potential investors. Your IPO adviser and the underwriter will help prepare other marketing documents for your team to take “on the road”, and present your stocks to possible investors.

The price of your IPO is a key consideration. This of course depends on the market. How does the market regard your company now it’s about to go public? Analysis of market trends and activity will be part of your final negotiations with the underwriters. The day before stocks are issued, a starting price must be determined.

Once your documents are finalized and filed with the SEC, your underwriters can start selling your securities. The ideal stock price will keep demand slightly greater than supply, ensuring a continual upward trend. After the IPO, your stocks can be sold on the open stock market.



About the author: Linda A Perez has been in the finance industry for the past 2 years. She is presently working at a finance company in Canada. She has her interests in cooking, photography, craft and painting.  Follow her on https://www.facebook.com/linda.aperez.169

Images: Author/Publisher licensed

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why investors choose real estate

Real estate investing tips
Americans spend near 30% of their income on housing

Real estate investing has long been considered a more stable way of generating a return on capital and/or income stream. This is partly due to the relative consistency of the property market, but also to federally insured property loan programs and accommodative monetary policy.

Since shelter is a primary human need and because Americans spend around 30% of their after-tax monthly budgets on housing, allocating money for property is often a good idea over the long term.
 
How can property be invested in?

Real estate does not have to be invested in alone. Real estate investment groups and real estate investment trusts allow individuals to pool their money in order to make larger scale property purchases together. What is more, REITs pay dividends on real estate proceeds, which makes them particularly good for generating income cash flow via capital.

Who can invest in property?


Reasons to invest in real estate
Equity gains increase collateral
Anyone with some extra money who is looking to diversify their asset allocations or seek out a relatively stable return on investment can invest in property. For those seeking to benefit from the experience and know how of professional property resellers, additional investor opportunities are possible.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of property investing? 

Depending on when and where a property is purchased, acquiring a net gain often takes time. Generally, the longer capital is invested in property, the better the chance of price appreciation. 

There are also risks associated with real estate investing such as undisclosed maintenance or repair issues. Moreover, if major repairs are needed and an outstanding mortgage exists on the real estate, then the potential costs could far outweigh any financial benefits. 

The following table illustrates some of the potential benefits, pitfalls and hazards of real estate.

Knowing about local and regional real estate trends also helps maximize the potential of a good property investment. For example, in and around Silicon Valley, California, the price of real estate has skyrocketed per CBS Moneywatch. These increases in price are due to an imbalance of supply and demand from tech professionals and other home buyers. Purchasing properties in areas with high levels of economic activity and projected business growth helps ensure a wise asset allocation. According to data from Zillow, some areas that have had traditionally steady to strong real estate returns are listed below: 
  • Metro Washington D.C.
  • Silicon Valley, California
  • Manhattan Island, NYC
  • Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
  • Orlando, Florida

Real estate investing involves a substantial amount of financial planning, negotiating and market research. Although it is not for everyone, property investing does present a chance to diversify asset allocations and hedge against higher risk investments such as stock or options contracts. In any case, carefully evaluation of the real estate market and individual property units prior to investment is always prudent when attempting to limit risk and maximize return on investment.

Images: 1. MarkMoz; CC BY 2.0; “New Home”; 2. Merlin2525; OpenClipart.org, US-PD "House"

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Help finance Moneycation at Kickstarter

Hi everyone, and thanks for reading Moneycation. The current business model being used to provide you with all this valuable information is somewhat unsustainable. For this reason alternative funding sources are being sought; one such option being a 30 day campaign at Kickstarter. If you would like to contribute, please feel free to do so, anything from $1 up will be one step closer to the financing goal.

2014 interior design trends

Home showcasing and interior design tips
An appealing and high demand interior design layout helps a home sell

By Kelly Gilmour-Grassam

Whether you’re a keen follower of interior design trends or you are just looking for some inspiration when redecorating your home, keeping an eye on the latest looks is important to make your home stay at its best. A few key adjustments to the décor can really transform a room, for both modern and traditional properties alike. 2014 has seen some wonderful developments in interior design that can add heaps of flair, personality and taste to your décor. So let’s take a look at some of the trends that have come to the fore this year.

Warm metals


Revamp your furniture and doors by trading your stainless steel, silver and golden metals for warm ones such as brass and chrome. These traditional metals look effortlessly classy and are right on trend for interior design 2014. By replacing your door knobs, taps or cupboard handles with brass or chrome ones, you can give your home a fresh look, with minimal redecoration.

Bringing the outdoors, indoors


Although you might be a little put off from this trend if you have a flick through an interior design magazine or visit a show that takes it to the extreme, hear this one out. By bringing a few elements of nature and the garden inside, the effect is a rustic and harmonious finish to a room that can complete the décor. For example, a shabby chic watering can filled with wild flowers or an upcycled wooden piece of furniture will inject character into a room. 

Another option is to maximise the use of external doors to visually bring the outdoors inside. French doors really open up a room with light and the colours of the garden, if you have a great exterior to showcase.

Bold colours and patterns


No longer do you need to fret about co-ordinating your beige carpets with your brown sofa and pine doors. Colour has exploded onto the interior design scene, and with it a kaleidoscope of patterns to throw personality into your home. If you’re redecorating a room, don’t hold back from indulging in your favourite colours and mix and matching furniture, doors and metallics. 

A few key colours in vogue this season are bold colours such as hot pink, mustard yellow, bright blue and emerald green. Meanwhile floral designs and tribal prints are leading the way in the pattern department. The complement the bright colours and warm metals, dark woods are becoming increasingly popular to emphasise their richness.

When you go out with the old and in with the new this year, whether you’re redecorating completely or touching up a room, get creative with your home design. As a seismic shift away from the classic beige and stainless steel look has transformed the trends for the season, seize the opportunity to put your personal touch on a room. From doors to furniture to carpets and walls, there’s plenty of ways to make a room your own with the latest trends! Take the inspiration and make some change now.

About the author: Article by Kelly Gilmour-Grassam, weaver of words and lover of lyrics and other creative things.

Image license: PCross; CC BY-S.A. 3.0
"Postmodern Interior Design 1"

Friday, July 25, 2014

6 keys to better management of finances for small businesses

Small business financial management
Clear business plans help optimize and preserve capital
By Phil Steel 

Management of finances is the engine that keeps small businesses running smoothly. That engine needs regular tune-ups to make sure that the business doesn’t fail when the going gets tough. Don’t ignore the clunks. Pop open the hood and discover six keys to better management of finances for small businesses:

1.    Have a clear destination

Ensure you have a business plan, one that is backed up by financial targets, budgets, profit and loss, and cash flow forecasts. That business plan also includes your market differentiation – or unique selling points for why consumers should choose you over a competitor.

Unsurprisingly, those who complete a business plan are more likely to secure a loan, secure investment capital and see growth in their business. If you have a clear destination, you are also less likely to react in a knee-jerk manner to short-term problems.

2.    Know your financial status

Make sure you know how much money you need to make in order to break even and how much you have to spend to run your business on a daily basis. 

Don’t put off paperwork: organize receipts, monitor sales and stocks daily, and keep records up to date weekly. Failing to do this, could mean a mess at tax return time. If your finances are disorganized, you may lose money by forgetting to invoice a customer or by paying interest on an overdue bill.  

Monthly tasks can include reviewing sales against targets and reviewing bills to see where cost savings could be made. Also, make sure you check your accounts payable and the number of days these accounts are outstanding. Sometimes the gap between when money comes into the business (invoices are paid) and money goes out of the business (rent, bills, employees, etc.) can push profitable businesses under. Careful book-keeping and accounting will be your savior.  

3.    Control your stock

Buy only the stock you need, so your working capital is not tied up unnecessarily. According to a 2012 study of small US businesses, poor inventory management is #4 among the reasons why small businesses fail (after lack of experience, insufficient capital and poor location).

4.    Reduce expenditures

You have control over the fixed costs (property, equipment, etc.) so try to reduce them, without reducing customer satisfaction. For example, try working with free and open source software, instead of buying expensive, proprietary software. Or, try virtual meetings via Skype, instead of travelling long distances.

Similarly, avoid large capital expenditures until your business is firmly established. For example, rent a storefront, rather than buy a place. Reimburse mileage for employee car usage at work rather than purchasing a company car. These options help reduce regular business costs and don’t require you to invest large amounts of capital upfront while the business is less secure.

The alternatives, although appealing, may be too big of a big financial risk to small companies in the first few years. Among to the same US study, over-investment in fixed assets is #5 among the top 10 reasons why small businesses fail.

5.    Don’t spend. Invest

Choose where you do spend wisely. Think about whether the purchase will directly help you increase your business or quality of your work. If it does, it might be a worthwhile investment.
Expenses that could help you increase your business include a well-designed website to help you promote your business, a visible blog, a booth at an event where your target audience will be, or smart sponsorships in your community.  

For greater quality at work, you could invest in some help: administrative, financial or service area-related. The result can be increased business productivity and better organization. Attending a conference related to your business can also help increase your focus and give you new product/service ideas and business contacts. Lack of experience is the #1 reason why US small businesses fail. You don’t have to go it alone and you might be better off investing in some help.

6.    Don’t bury your head in the sand

Choose to chase debts and work out taxes so you meet the tax deadline and don’t lose money paying interest. At the first sign of trouble, get financial advice! Don’t even wait until then but seek financial advice at any time from your bank advisor or a financial consultant.


About the author: This article was written by Phil Steel, an outsource consultant  who offer  services like bookkeeping, accounting, audit, payroll management, and much more, for fast growing companies to meet their financial needs.

Image: Pixabay, US-PD

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What are some of the regulations that come with being a public company?


By Jeremy Benson

Going public is a multi-step process that requires a lot of paperwork. This part of the process often attracts the most attention by companies considering going public – a major venture that is best done with the outside help of a company that is wise and experienced in the ways of bringing about a public offering.

As a quick reminder, remember there are usually five steps to launching an IPO.

IPO regulations
Launching an initial public offering often requires underwriting and planning

Starting preparation

Done a half-year before the filing date of the IPO prospectus, this stage includes creating or refreshing a business plan, choosing underwriters, reviewing accounting practices and other considerations.

Preliminary prospectus

The prospectus should be pushed through a number of drafts to work out any kinks and identify problem spots before the regulator would. Once this step is done, you can begin publicly marketing your IPO.

Review period

This waiting period occurs while the preliminary prospectus is being vetted by securities regulators. It usually takes at least a month, with any issues identified.

Final prospectus

Once any issues raised by regulators are addressed, you can file the final prospectus.

Closing date

This is when the action finally starts, with the listing confirmed securities are issued and trading then begins.

That’s all well and good, but many companies can forget that going public entails several new disclosure requirements. Remember, a public company has to open itself up more to the public!

The main idea here is that companies must report their financial information. This material will be made available to all investors, and the result is a level playing field for those deciding what shares to buy. The required documents will be available electronically through a website called SEDAR.

A public company will have to follow through and make the following information available to the public.

Public information financial reporting regulations
Public companies typically have multiple financial reporting requirements

Financial statements

Annual financial statements must be made on or before the 90th day following the end of a company’s most recently finished financial year. This document breaks down the company’s financial position (aka its balance sheet) covering its assets, liabilities and ownership equity. It also contains a statement on a firm’s comprehensive income, which includes income, expenses and profits. Finally, it will also have to contain a cash flow statement, detailing cash flow activities, especially investing and financing actions.

Interim financial statements must be made on or by the 45th day following the end of a quarter.

Interim statements, however, don’t need to have been audited, although it’s recommended that they do go through this level of vetting. Most public companies are required to have in place an official audit committee for this purpose.

MD&A

Accompanying financial statements is the Management Discussion & Analysis (MD&A).

This is a clearly written explanation from company management on how it performed for the given financial period (the year or the quarter). More than just repeating the company’s financial performance, it should have a narrative that lays out the view of just how things went from those with their hands on the management levers.

The point is to provide information for investors so that they can gain an understanding of the company’s financial situation, any changes in its financial position and how its operations are performing. In other words, it is the context for the hard numbers that the financial statement contains.

However, though the MD&A accompanies a firm’s financial statements, it is considered separate to those statements. But just as financial statements must be approved by the board of directors, so too must the MD&A.

Forward-looking information

The public will be keen to study financial modelling and corporate growth strategies of the company in which they have made their investment. Publicly listed companies are encouraged to provide this information in their public disclosure. The forward-looking information is to lay out, on a reasonable basis, where the company sees itself going financially in the coming quarters and years. This means that any assumptions underpinning this best guess at future revenue must be clearly identified and explained.

Breakdown of executive compensation

Shareholders must be informed of how much some of a company’s executives are getting paid. All compensation for a CEO, CFO and three other top-paid executive officers must be disclosed when the compensation is north of $150,000. Compensation includes not only pay but also shares rewarded to them, along with any other options or perquisites.

Reporting material changes

If a company experiences a sudden shift in its business operation or capital that could be fairly expected to impact its share price, then this must be made public in a news release no fewer than 10 days after the change occurred. Even if this is the result of a decision by a company’s board – and not from the at-times wild swings of the economy – it still must be disclosed.


About the author: The author of the article is Jeremy Benson. He writes about finance, mortgage and Canadian law. Blogging is one among his greatest passions. Follow him on Twitter@jeremybenson19

Images : Shutterstock, royalty free

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How to get an internship in finance

Internships in finance
Making a good impression is key to landing an internship
By Harry Price

In today’s employment market, getting your foot in the door can be extremely difficult. You will often hear “We feel you haven’t got enough experience” or that they have found someone with relevant skills. It is very competitive and you will be up against people with a bit more experience than you.

How do you get that experience? For students straight out of university, there is the option of internships. In this setting, you will learn from experienced specialists in a professional environment. It is a very useful opportunity for a student to get a feel and have hands on experience in their chosen profession. However, competition for internships can be intense, especially in the finance sector. Knowing what to do to increase your chances of being taken on for an internship is vital and makes all the difference in being chosen over the average Joe. Acquiring an internship position may lead to full time employment.
Here are some essential tips that can help you beat the competition;

Check your resume/CV

An obvious tip. Sending a CV filled to the brim with spelling and grammatical errors will get it sent straight into the recycling bin. Ensure you have a proper format, with relevant and recent experience at the top and go back from there. Telling the truth is important as well, an employer can tell whether you are lying. Be honest, stretching the truth on previous roles can get you rejected. Include relevant experience employees frequently want to know and be prepared to answer questions.

Emphasise experience

Highlight any marketable skills that could be relevant for the position; writing experience, ability to communicate are all important for the finance sector. Remember, internships are also about learning, so emphasise that you are willing to learn new skills. If you find that you lack in experience, consider opting for volunteer work to build up a portfolio and gather references.

Network and research

Look into a firm that might interest you or that caters to your chosen career path within finance. Networking with people within the financial recruitment sector can be beneficial.  They can give you some guidance about which companies would suit you, or that are taking on interns. LinkedIn is an excellent tool to network, providing you with information and connects you to financial recruiters, who can keep you up to date on opportunities. Researching a particular company that interest you can help you at the interview stage. Knowing who they are, their strategy and the products and services they offer.

Internships happen all year round. Even if they are not advertising, it is worth dropping a company speculative email. Chances are, they might find you interesting and willing to take on as an intern. Getting that foot in the door and impressing them during an internship may lead to full time employment. Financial Recruiters have an extensive network of contacts and can provide you with a wealth of knowledge of how best to approach a firm with regards to internships. Click here for further information.


About the author: Harry Price is enjoys spending quality-time with his 3 dogs, training for the most extreme marathons and volunteering at his local charities on his time off



Images: 1. Geralt, Pixabay US-PD; 2.  author owned and licensed 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Newsletter: U.S. marijuana's financial future

Monday, July 21, 2014

Boosting conversion rate and ROI with split testing - Mastering the basics

Did you know that you can run a split test showing statistical significance - but see no increase in performance? Why is this the case?

More and more companies are taking a data-driven approach to their marketing, sales, and even their content marketing. However, I find that, while more and more people are measuring and getting strong results, there isn’t a lot of material covering the basics and nuances of testing.

In this article, I’ll cover the basics of split testing in detail, including how to be absolutely sure that your tests are producing real results and how to truly calculate the ROI of your testing.

What is split testing?

At its most basic level, split testing is a systemic way to determine how variables on your website affect conversion and performance. Note that it’s not meant to be a random process, but rather a method - in practice, it’s a combination of art and science.

I’m sure that many of you have run through split tests before, but even with that, let’s walk through a simple A/B test from Ion Interactive:
Conversion rate and ROI split testing

In this test, the main variable being tested is the headline design. For best practice, all other variables are kept the same on the page so that we can isolate the impact of this *one* change.

Splitting traffic & measuring results


Now that we have our testing versions, how do we split traffic between these two sites? How do we determine at a certain level of confidence that one version of the site is performing better than other?
Determining whether your split test was truly significant seems simple, but often is not!

1. Statistics (Chi Square)

The standard approach is to compute a chi square test - specifically, a slightly modified form of a chi square test called an N-1 Chi Square test. (This kind of stats geekery is the reason why most CRO professionals tend to be math geeks at heart). Here’s an example of how it works:
  • The original design had 20,000 unique visitors converting at 5%. This led to 1,000 total actions/mo
  • We run a split test using 50/50 traffic: 10K unique visitors to the control and 10K unique visitors to the test.
  • We determine using 1 month of data that the control is performing at a conversion rate of 6% vs the original performing at a conversion rate of 5%.
Armed with this data, most people will do the logical thing here and simply plug these numbers into an A/B testing calculator, where they’ll get an output showing 99.98% confidence. 99.98% confidence?? Boom! Are we done?

2. Measuring real revenue

Just because a statistics formula shows a high level of confidence does not mean that you will see a true revenue uplift.

While it’s extremely likely that you achieved a lift, remember a few caveats:
  • These tests are based on a chi-squared distribution. I will not get into the heavy math details here, but remember that while this distribution is a “natural phenomenon”, it is to some degree arbitrary.
  • These tests are based only on current traffic and not on future traffic. I can’t emphasize this enough! If you traffic sources change, you may have a different set of “eyeballs” on your page who are looking for different products or who value different elements in design. In this case, you may have lifted conversion for your original audience, but you didn’t necessarily lift conversion for the audience going forward.
IMHO, the absolute best way for you to run split tests to determine real revenue uplift is to do the following:
  1. First, run a split test and get a statistical significance above 95%
  2. Then, push your winning version of the site live to >50% of traffic and double-check that you are still seeing a lift.
Using a “double-check” can slow down CRO, but when a small % increase in conversion rate can drive such a high revenue impact for your site, it’s worth it to be absolutely sure that you are seeing true revenue uplift.

If you do not do this, you’re going to risk running into a few problems that you can’t explain. For example:

Last month my conversion rate was 5%. I ran a split test showing a 10% uplift at a 99% confidence interval. But, now that I’ve put the test live, I’m only seeing a 4.5% conversion rate. What happened?
Can you see clearly what happened now? It’s one of two things - either:
  • Your traffic sources changed, and you are no longer seeing a lift, or
  • Your landing page is still performing better than the original, but the “base conversion rate” changed. This means that there is something else going on that’s lowered conversion - such as bad PR, poor website speed, etc - so while the new site is still performing better than the old, your total conversion rate has still dropped.
In either of these cases, you would be better off doing a “double-check” on your new page to determine absolutely that revenue has been lifted. Otherwise, you’re not going to know what happened.

Calculating ROI


Like anything else, the time that you spend optimizing your site is an investment, as is any development fees or consulting fees that you use while getting a conversion uplift.

So, let’s say that you’ve run a test showing a 10% lift at 95% confidence. You’ve double-checked the lift and you are seeing at least a 10% improvement. Great! Now, what was the real return on all that time?

Let’s say that you saw $10K in additional profit for $2K cost (including cost of time). You’d calculate an ROI of 4x in one-year. But, this # is likely wrong and understates the true ROI impact.
To really calculate ROI, there are a few very important questions that you need to ask yourself:
  • How long is this revenue lift going to last?
  • What is the Lifetime Value of the new customers that I’ve acquired?
  • How much are you spending on marketing?
I have a few tips for each of these:
  1. The uplift should last at least 1 year for a well thought-out experiment: Some companies - particularly startups - move so fast that a conversion increase may have to be retested every month. But for more traditional companies who have been in business for 10+ years selling a similar product, any conversion experiment should last for about 1 year.
  2. Customer lifetime value is more than you think: The vast majority of businesses underestimate the amount that they can spend to acquire a customer. For example, if you get one customer in the door, how does that affect customer referrals? Does having past customer success stories make it easier to acquire new customers?
  3. You’ll reduce your marketing costs: An increase in conversion rate will make your marketing more “efficient”. I.e. if you were to double conversion, you would cut your marketing in half, and this reduction would last for as long as the conversion increase lasted.
Truly calculating ROI in this case can get a bit complex, but what I want you to remember is that your true ROI from split testing and CRO is often much higher than you think.

Summary 

To accurately run a split test and measure results, you need to take a careful, well-thought-out approach to measurement. What split tests have you run in the past, and how have you measured results?

About the author: Andy is a nerd for split testing and landing page optimization. He currently works as a CRO expert and spends most of his free time keeping up to date with all the trends in online marketing. Follow him on Twitter @upliftroi to get practical tips on conversion rate optimization.

Image: Author owned and licensed

Should you buy with cash or lease your car?

By Matthew Hobbs

Your car is one of the biggest purchases you'll make, perhaps even second only to your home, and therefore it's essential to get the right make and model. However, before you start visiting the showrooms and booking test drives, it's essential to think about how you are going to pay for it, and what your budget is going to be. It could be a good time to buy, with car prices rising below inflation, meaning you could get more for your money, so you could look into buying or leasing a new vehicle. Here are a few of the advantages and disadvantages of paying up front or taking your car out on a leasing agreement so that you can decide what's right for you.
Rental car
  
Leasing agreements

Essentially, when you lease a car it's a form of long term rental, and some contracts have a certain mileage allowance. This means that as well as finding the right car for you, it's also essential that you find the right agreement to suit your lifestyle. Dealers will often have special offers, but it's essential to read the fine print. You should look at:

  • The initial payment or deposit
  • Monthly payments and whether they increase over time
  • Whether you can pay a lump sum at the end to own the car
  • How a high value car will affect your insurance premiums

Doing the maths


The best way to work out whether you'd be better off with a lease is to look at your usage and the value of the kind of car you will be leasing. Work out the cost of the deposit plus the monthly payments for the leasing term, and this will show you how much the car has cost to own in this time, minus fuel, tax, insurance and the usual running costs. To calculate how much the car would cost you in this period if you buy it outright, then you could look at the depreciation during these months, as this will essentially be how much the car has cost you. New and expensive cars can depreciate in value rather quickly, sometimes by as much as 40 percent, so do your research before you choose the make and model, and you can then decide whether leasing comes out in your favour. 

20 pound notes

Buying with cash


If you have the cash to buy a car outright then it can be tempting to empty your savings. If you use your car for a long commute or are generally a high mileage user then buying outright can sometimes make sense, as it means you're not locked into a contract. However, it can sometimes work out more expensive to own a car this way, and if you want to change your car every few years then you may lose out with the dreaded deprecation.

Those who decide to buy in cash will often find that dealers can be a lot more flexible with the price, and therefore they should do plenty of shopping around to see what offers are on. You'll often find deals such as free insurance, cash back, or other specials, but it's important not to get too sucked in by these offers, as they are often a way of distracting you from higher prices or worse deals.

Used cars


If you have the cash to buy outright then a used car might be an option for you. There are many sellers who put cars that are just a couple of years old, and you can haggle to get the best deal for your money. This can help you to get a great deal on a car that hasn't been used much, and this will help you avoid the major depreciation that happens at the start of a car's life.

It's essential to get the best value when you are looking for a new car, and this can mean choosing between buying or leasing. The best path for you will depend on what you want to buy, what your priorities are, and how much you will use your car, so make sure you do price comparisons and take your time to find the right vehicle.


About the author: Matthew Hobbs writes on a freelance basis for Leasing Options car leasing company, one of the most reliable providers of vehicles for rent in the UK. They partner with more than 30 different manufacturers to bring a wide selection to their clients.

 

Image source: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3434/3770340233_c2ef6cac78_z.jpg
 
Image source: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5014/5474194477_b8e8ccbb60_z.jpg