« »

Friday, August 16, 2013

Making the most of your business's slow season

By Kelly Gregorio 

Throughout the course of a year, a lot of business will experience highs and lulls. Some months might be bursting with customers and sales, while others feel close to bone dry. As time has progressed you’ve probably even been able to anticipate when the wave will hit, and consequently, when the tide will recede.

When the slower months are upon you, chances are you’re exhausted. In desperate need for recovery, you might even take a little vacation, but don’t fall asleep on that lounge chair for too long! There is plenty to get done during your business’s slow season too. Follow these three tips and better prepare yourself for next season in the processes.

Get noticed 

Optimizing operations when business is slow is a chance to improve company performance
Business downtime is a marketing opportunity
While business was booming, your to-do list was likely growing. Plenty of things get pushed to the back burner during your busiest stretch, and marketing might have been one of them. Take advantage of your quieter days and jump on that social media bandwagon you’ve probably been neglecting.

Sure you’re on Facebook, but have you and your team made a Vine video yet? And ok, you might be on Twitter, but when was the last time you hosted a tweet up? Now is the time to engage with your digital reach; post insightful blogs or share some fun photos. Your storefront or site may be slow, but that in no way has to coincide with the amount of people that are thinking, talking and interacting with your brand.

Get organized

Speed up business cash conversion with tighter invoice terms
Improving efficiency during downtime pays dividends later
Now that things have calmed down you can get a jumpstart on the season ahead, numerically speaking. 

While in the busier months you likely “kept on top” of your numbers, now is the time to really study them. Take your accounting into your own hands, study your sales and make predictions for your next busy season.

You might also be concerned with cash flow now that business is not as booming. Consider tightening the terms of your invoices to keep funds flowing. Asking for a portion of payment upfront, rewarding early payments with a discount and penalizing those that come in late will keep some much needed working capital at your fingertips.

Get ready

Now is the time to clean house, make those renovations you’ve been meaning to get around to and replace any equipment that did not make it though your past season. Consider capitalizing on a discount by stocking up. Many suppliers will cut the cost of your staple inventory if you choose to buy in bulk.

Now is also a good time to reevaluate your staff. Make cuts where necessary and make room to welcome some new talent. Hire based on the needs that became apparent during your last season (marketing, customer service, etc.) Your slow season is the perfect time to implement some educational training on both duties and company culture alike.
Boost business with off-season fundraising and business streamlining
Restructuring human resources during business downtime allows ample time for training
As mentioned, cash flow may be an issue this time of year, so keep your options open. Fundraisers like crowdsourcing or lump sums like a merchant cash advance can get you the working capital you need now as a way to prepare you and your business for its booming future.

Happy slower season!
What other activities should entrepreneurs undergo when business slows down?

About the author: Kelly Gregorio writes about small business trends and tips while working at AdvantageCapital Funds, a company that provides businesses working capital. You can connect with her through the comments section of her daily business blog here

* Images: 1. Morguefile; royalty and attribution free 2. Lusi; RGBStock, royalty free  3. Deborah New; CC BY-SA 3.0

How to save money on electricity bills

By Morgan Johnes

There are a few easy tricks you can use in order to save some money on your electricity bills at home.

Finance additional energy efficiency by purchasing energy efficient equipment with electricity savings
Compound savings by reinvesting them in Energy Star products

Why should you reduce your electricity bills?

There are multiple reasons why you should try to reduce your electricity bills. On the first place, by doing that, there you will be left with some more money, which you can invest in whatever you find necessary.

On the other hand, by reducing the consumption of electricity at home, you will make you small contribution against global warming, because this way you will help for decreasing the carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

What can you do in order to save some money from your electricity bills?

1. Replace the ordinary bulbs with some energy-saving ones.

It is true that the energy-saving bulbs are more expensive than the ordinary ones, but they actually pay off the investment you have made in them pretty quickly. The truth is that they are about five times more efficient and “live” about fifteen times longer.

2. Replace your personal computer with a laptop

Laptops are not only more convenient to use than personal computers, but they also will help you save some electricity, and respectively, some money.

3. Unplug your chargers

We all know that when plugged in, chargers actually consume some energy. And still, very few people bother to switch them off. Let's be honest that this may actually nothing, but if millions people start doing that, the benefits will be significant enough.

4. Start buying energy-saving devices

All electronic devices sold on the market have a indication showing what their energy class is. The letter “A” means less energy consumption, and respectively, less money spent on electricity bills. The least efficient devices are marked with the letter “G”. So, keep that in mind the next time you are buying some new appliances for your home.

5. Do not leave your appliances and other electronic devices on a standby mode

Before leaving the house, do not forget to turn off your TV from the wall outlet. This, of course, applies also to all other appliances and devices that you are not using. Remember that the little red light that indicates they are ready to use waste enough electricity.

6. Put the electric appliances properly

Remember that in order to save some money from your electricity bills, you need to choose an appropriate place for every one of your electric appliances at home. For example, you will save some energy if you do not place the refrigerator near the stove.

7. Try to be economical when cooking

There are some simple rules that will help you save some money from your electricity bill:
  • do not heat the hot plates in advance;
  • use pots, bowls and containers that are the same size of your hot plates'
  • choose a stove with a fan, because it reduces electricity consumption by almost 20%;
  • use a microwave when possible.
8. Fill your dishwasher properly

Remember that putting too many dishes make the dish-washing process harder. However, if you don't overload your dish-washing machine, you can turn it on a lower temperature, which will help you save some electricity.

9. Choose lower temperature when washing the laundry

Choosing a lower temperature mode is also recommended when you are washing the laundry. In addition, there are some washing machines that are provided with a certain energy-saving programs. If your washing machine is one of those, remember to press this button every time you use the machine.

10. Use the dryer as a last resort

A good trick you can use is to start using the dryer at the lowest temperature for about 20 minutes and then leave the clothes dry by themselves. This way you will not only save some money from your electricity bills, but you will also shorten the time ironing usually takes you.

About the author: Morgan Johnes loves to write articles about money and finances. His company End Of Tenancy Cleaners London has years of experience in saving money.

* Image license: Morguefile; royalty and attribution free

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sources of college funding: The little-known alternative to a Coverdell ESA

By Jenni Wiltz

College Fund
Life insurance is a college savings instrument
Between 2000 and 2011, college expenses at public schools (including room, board, and tuition) rose 42 percent. That’s according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which also reports that a single year of undergrad expenses at a public college will set you back $13,600. If you’re wondering how to help your child deal with these astronomical costs, you might have looked into Coverdell educational savings accounts.

Coverdell accounts are special educational savings vehicles that help you sock away money for your child's educational expenses. You might hear them compared to 529 plans, to which they’re quite similar. But are they the best idea in terms of a savings plan? Is there a way to make your money work harder for you?

What tou get with a Coverdell ESA

According to the IRS, Coverdell accounts allow you to deposit up to $2,000 yearly into an account where your child is the beneficiary. You have investment options to help that contribution grow. Stocks, mutual funds, and CDs are all common choices. You can’t deduct your contributions on your taxes, but the government is giving you a bit of a break. The money in your Coverdell account will grow tax-free until your child needs it. As long as the total sum of what you take out is less than your child’s overall qualified educational expenses, he or she won’t pay a dime of tax.

What you don’t get with a Coverdell ESA

Because this money is in a government account, you have to abide by the government’s approved list of educational expenses. The IRS code stipulates that college students, for example, cannot use this money for transportation expenses (although transportation expenses are allowed for primary and secondary school students). They also cannot use it for computers or software, unless those items are required by the college. Since most colleges offer computer labs, these items are rarely required.

There’s another consideration. What happens if your student drops out…or decides not to go to college at all? If life takes them in a different path, what happens to all that money? To avoid any IRS taxes or penalties, you can roll one child's Coverdell account over to another child. If the account still has money in it when your child reaches age 30, it will need to be distributed to close the account. At that point, the money that account has earned in interest is taxable, plus subject to a 10% penalty.

Is there another option?

Other than 529s, which have many of the same limitations, you have another option. Permanent life insurance policies are a little-known way that parents are saving for tuition, providing a future inheritance for their kids, and subsidizing their own retirement, all at the same time.

Permanent life insurance policies build cash value over time. A portion of every payment you make is put into your cash value account. Depending on the type of account you have and your insurer, your options range from slow and steady interest-based growth to the risk (and potential gains) from market indexes. Like a Coverdell or 529 plan, your money grows tax-deferred.

When you pull out that cash value, you can take up the amount you’ve already contributed in premium payments, absolutely tax-free. That cash can be used for anything. You can give it to your student to pay for tuition, room & board, transportation expenses, or a computer. You can send them off with a new laptop, or a used car so they can come home to see you once in a while. You can’t do either of those things with Coverdell money.

There’s another advantage, too. What if your child drops out of college…or decides not to go at all? With cash value, you can then redirect that money to travel, starting a new business, or just use it to supplement your retirement. It allows you to support your children...and yourself...based on your needs now, not what you thought your needs were 10 or 15 years ago. If you need to repurpose the money in a Coverdell account, be prepared to pay tax on the gains as well as an extra 10% penalty.

Overall, permanent life insurance’s cash value gives you more flexibility to support your family in any endeavor they choose.

About the author: Jenni Wiltz blogs about insurance, finance, and retirement planning for WholesaleInsurance.net.
* Image license: Creative Commons image source

Think twice before forgetting about mobile phone insurance

If a mobile phone breaks the cost of not having it insured is higher than being insured
Mobile phone insurance replaces damaged phones
By Rob Rudd

Are you one of those people who looks at their bank statements and regularly culls the things that they don’t need? Magazine subscriptions, fruit of the month club and mobile phone insurance? Well, magazines and monthly fruit subscriptions you can do without, just go to the supermarket like everyone else.  But phone insurance, really?

You are right to keep on top of your finances and to make sure that you are not paying out for things you don’t need.  But phone insurance, now that you do need. 

We live in a world where accidents do happen. And if you are particularly clumsy, then they will probably happen a lot. 

Take these simple scenarios for example. How many of them have you been guilty of? Don’t lie, you will only be cheating yourself.

Phone in the bath

You’ve had a hard day at work.  You want to relax in the bath and unwind. As you sink into the bath and let the bubbles surround you, you reach for you phone.  Facebook has been calling you all day and you haven’t had a chance to update your status yet.  But, as you reach for your phone you accidentally drop it in the bath.  After you let a few expletives out you realise that your phone has switched off with no hope of turning back on.  Phone insurance would have been wise.

Crackle and pop

You’re out for a run. Phone is in hand and you are listening to some beats whilst you work up a sweat.  Next thing you know you have dropped your phone on the ground, and as you pick it up, you notice that the screen is cracked.  You can’t even make out how to call home let alone type a text.  Phone insurance would have been a great idea.

Drunk and disorderly

A night out with friends has been on the cards for a long time.  But in all the hype and excitement you leave your bag in the back of the taxi, along with your phone.  As you stumble through the front door you call the taxi rank to see if your phone has been picked up.  Alas, to no avail.  Phone insurance would have been a fantastic idea.

City slickers

The hustle and bustle of the city is what it is all about.  A busy day shopping, meeting friends and running here, there and everywhere.  Time to make a call.  But where is your phone? It’s been stolen.  A horrible feeling for sure.  But it will feel even worse when you realise that your phone isn’t insured.  Phone insurance would have been an amazing idea.

Mobile phone insurance is essential if you value your phone and your pocket.  Replacing a phone can be extremely costly.  Make sure that you take out the appropriate cover for your phone.  Chances are you have empathised with at least one of the situations above.  It can happen to you.  So make sure you do the right thing.

About the author: Rob Rudd is an experienced smartphone owner and has successfully both dried out several soggy phones and replaced cracked smartphone screens. He regularly writes for technology and gadgetry websites.

* Image attribution: ©A.W. Berry; licensed for use