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13 Items You May Already Own That Will Help You Save Money

happy woman with raining moneyHave you ever created a comprehensive budget, started out following it religiously and then sort of let it slip away over time? No matter how good our intentions might be our willpower can sometimes just slowly fade away as we see that were not meeting our objectives. However, there are tools available that can make it infinitely easier for you to save money. Here are 13 items that can help you save money that you may already have around the house and, if not, many of them are very inexpensive.

#1. UV-blocking curtains

These curtains can dramatically reduce your heating and cooling bills. They are now available in a multitude of patterns and colors so you should be able to find ones at your local Lowe’s, Home Depot or even a hardware store that will match in your decor. If you live in particularly cold country put up liners in the winter to lock in heat even more effectively.

#2. Ceiling fans

Ceiling fans can help lower both your heating and cooling bills as they run counterclockwise in the summer and clockwise in the winter. This diffuses cooled or heated air so less energy is needed to maintain whatever temperature you desire wherever they are mounted. During times when heat is only moderate the increased airflow created by a ceiling fan might mean you wouldn’t even need to run your air-conditioner.

#3. Grocery and shopping bagswoman with a groceries bag

Why spend $10 for trashcan liners for your laundry room, bathrooms and guest rooms when you can use grocery bags instead? They’re generally the perfect size and reusing them is also good for the environment. When you made your purchases you paid for them so they cost nothing extra. You can even use those bags to clean up after your pet in your yard or the park or keep several in your car for emergency spills.

#4. Toilets with options

Do you think it takes the same amount of water to flush both your number one and number two? If you don’t think so, you’re right. It doesn’t. And the amount of water your toilets use each year just increases your water bill. You could spend $100 and get toilets that have dual flush options, which would mean you wouldn’t have to use extra water unless you needed it.

#5. A clothes drying rack

The one appliance that can really run up your electric bill is your clothes dryer. You can reduce that bill by getting a clothes drying rack and drying your clothes on it. You’ll be doing something good for the environment as well as saving money. You should be able to find a folding drying rack at your nearest home goods or superstore.

#6. Rechargeable batteries

How many things do you have around your house that just eat batteries? If you’re typical the answer is probably at least a dozen. There are flashlights, appliances, smoke detectors, cameras, TV remotes, radios and, of course, your children’s’ toys. While rechargeable batteries cost more and generally mean frequent recharging, they will save you money over the long term. And there’s an nice bonus. You won’t get that feeling of frustration when you find you’re out of some type of battery you need to replace the two that just died. And do remember to unplug your battery chargers when you’re not using them as anything plugged in will require electricity you’ll be have to pay for.

#7. A cooler

Will you be meeting with friends soon? Think about picking up items from the store and stock them in a cooler. You could then meet your friends at a garden, beach or park instead of spending money to meet at a restaurant. Many parks, aquariums and zoos allow you to bring a cooler stocked with food from home, which can save you a lot of money versus buying stuff when you get there.

#8. Coffee pot

Stop those daily runs to Starbucks or your favorite neighborhood coffee bar and you’ll save hundreds if not thousands of dollars. You could also have friends over and serve them freshly brewed cups of coffee in place of going out for costly weekend brunches.

#9. Crockpot

If you don’t believe you have time to cook and have been in the habit of picking up takeout meals on the way home, you could make that a thing of the past. Get a crockpot, toss in some meat and vegetables in the morning before you go to work, turn it on low and you’ll have a great meal waiting for you when you get home from work. If you have extra portions left over just freeze them for another day, which would mean yet another meal you wouldn’t have to cook.

#10. A blender

If you have or get a heavy-duty blender you can make your own juices, smoothies and if appropriate baby foods. You’ll both save money and get the flavor you like exactly right each time. You can lower your grocery bill even further by blending in-season vegetables and fruits.

#11. “Smart” power strips

If you run your computer and multiple devices such as a printer, a laptop and a stereo from your desk then a “smart” power strip is a must. It will focus power usage on the items that are in use and reduce the amount of energy it sends to the others, which means eliminating “ghost charges.” And while you might think that unplugging gadgets when you’re not using them to be a time waster you won’t think so when those charges aren’t so “ghost” and you see how much they increase your electric bill.

#12. Home entertainment subscriptions

Are you regularly spending anywhere from $15-$25 to see a movie on the big screen? A better alternative would be to have your entertainment at home through Netflix, Amazon Prime or some other entertainment subscription service. Plus, at-home entertainment can be a cool option for a fun evening with friends or a date night and will save all of you money.

#13. A library card

family reading a bookThere is no reason these days to go to a Barnes & Noble and spend money buying books. And while it may be very easy and convenient to download e-books you can do without them as well by checking out books at your local library. Many of them maintain subscriptions to popular magazines and have DVDs available. You may not be able to check out the magazines but you should be able to take the DVDs home and enjoy a free movie with your friends or kids.

6 Ways To Give Yourself A Raise

happy woman with raining moneyIf you have one of those typical, 9 to 5 jobs you’re probably fortunate if you get one raise a year. And if you’re really good at your job you might see a raise of 2% or even 3%. That can be kind of disheartening. You work your posterior off for 12 months and then see your income increase by just a few dollars a week. As an example of this lets suppose you currently earn $65,000 a year. A 3% raise would be $1950 – before taxes. Divide this by 52 and that’s just $37.50 a week before taxes or hardly enough for dinner at a nice restaurant

But there’s an alternative. You could give yourself a nice raise practically immediately and here are six ways to do it.

Buy a franchise

You could make a big pile of money by buying the right franchise. This is where you pay to use an established company’s name, trademark and way of doing business. There are franchises available for health clubs, hair care studios, cleaning services, food and financial support services. As a general rule the franchisor will provide you with expertise in starting the business, marketing and managing it and with the requisite training. This makes it relatively easy for you to hit the road running. Of course, the good franchises require a minimum amount of cash to even begin the discussion. This could come from equity in your home, savings, your stock portfolio or 401(k). As an example of this, the Subway sandwich shop requires you to have $12,500 in available cash but your total investment to get one of these stores going varies from $92,050 to $222,800. On the other hand there are franchises such as YoNaturals that offers vending machines stocked with organic snacks and might be a better choice if you want a home-based business and not one where you’d be running a sandwich shop seven days a week. The important thing is to do your due diligence before you sign any franchise agreement. While one of these businesses is not a certain thing successful ones can easily generate six figures a year.

Share your expertise

One of the best ways to give yourself a raise is through part-time gigs you could do nights and weekends. Do you speak a second language? You could offer classes at your local community center or local library. If you’re great at math, physics or chemistry start tutoring and earn as much as $60 an hour. Are you a talented writer? Offer workshops on creative writing. When you stop to think about it the opportunities for these part-time jobs are almost limitless. With a little bit of effort you could generate as much as $500 per month and if you have mad IT skills you should be able to double that. Web designers can get anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars to create company websites and IT consultants generally charge around $80 an hour or more.

Get a roommate

This could be tough if you’re married and raising children but if you’re flying solo you might think about renting out your basement or spare bedroom. How much you could earn will depend, of course, on your town or city and the features you have to offer. However, it’s likely you could bring in $500 to $1500 a month and that’s without doing much of anything. Of course, you will want to be careful whom you take in. Be sure to do a criminal background check and get referrals from her or his former landlords. You should also check credit scores and confirm their employment yourself.

Become a public speaker

If you are scared of public speaking it would be good to get over this and do it quickly. People who can attract a crowd like politicians, celebrities and best-selling authors can get $50,000 or as much as $100,000 per speaking engagement. Of course, if you don’t fall into any of those three categories you might have to settle for $500 to $5000 per engagement but you will need to have a new and fresh topic or at least a new take on an old one . And be prepared to start speaking for free until you build a reputation. Think about your areas of proficiency to create subject matter. Don’t make the mistake of limiting yourself to motivation lectures or financial workshops. Think about your hobbies and how they might be turned into subject matter for seminars. You could sign up with a speaker’s bureau that would get you opportunities but they will take a cut of your fee, which will probably be 30%.

Make stuff and sell it on Etsy

This website now has more than 30 million members worldwide. It’s become a strong competitor to eBay but is different in that it specializes in handmade and vintage items. If you can draw, paint, sculpt, throw pots, crochet, knit or find collectible items from the 1950s and 60s you could make good extra money selling the stuff on Etsy. And if you can make really unique items you could price them really high because you would have no competition.

If the idea of making and selling things on Etsy appeals to you, here’s a brief video, courtesy of National Debt Relief, with 10 tips that could help ensure your success.

home with a dollar signEarn passive income

If your goal is to achieve financial freedom you need to find passive sources of income. This means things that generate income with very little involvement on your part. Examples of this include publishing royalties, dividends from equities, rental income and profit from business partnerships. Of course, it would require a large upfront investment to buy a rental property but the potential payoff can be huge. Also, experts say it’s best to buy multi-family units instead of single-family homes. If you were to buy a four-unit property you could make $400-$600 a month whereas a single-family rental would likely earn you only $100-$150 a month after property taxes, insurance and maintenance. Of course, over time your income should increase while your expenses remain about the same – assuming you get a fixed-rate loan to finance your purchase(s). And one of the best parts of this is that you would have someone else helping you pay off an appreciating asset.

Is Cash Slowly But Surely Going The Way The Dodo Bird?

woman with a full grocery shopping bagThe fact is that something between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species become extinct each year. Probably the most famous example of this is the poor Dodo Bird. According to the website Bagherra it once inhabited the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, where “it lived undisturbed for so long that it lost its need and ability to fly. It lived and nested on the ground and ate fruits that had fallen from trees. There were no mammals on the island and a high diversity of bird species lived in the dense forests”. For several different reasons most of which had to do with the arrival of humans on the island the 50-pound bird became extinct in 1681. Of course, this did not happen overnight as it took a number of years for the poor Dodo to disappear.

Is this about to happen to cash? The short answer to this is probably yes and the same thing could be said of credit cards.

The race to replace money at the cash register

The first player into this field was Apple with Apple Pay, followed very shortly thereafter by Google Wallet. Plus, there are other mobile payment devices such as Softcard, and LoopPay Card Case. The way that Apple Pay and Google Wallet work is very similar in that all that you need to do to pay for a purchase is pass the Apple or Android device past a scanner. Apple makes it even simpler if you have one of its watches as all you would then need to do is pass it in front of a scanner – eliminating the need to take out your Apple phone. In comparison, Smartcard and LoopChargeCase are standalone devices you must carry in your wallet much as you would a credit card.

The new player

Coin card There is a new player in the rush to replace cash called Coin. Its goal is to become the gadget that replaces all of your credit cards in a single device. One of the things that make Coin so practical is its very familiar form. Coin behaves and looks just like a credit card. It’s almost the same weight, size and thickness as the credit cards you’re currently carrying. It can be distinguished only because it has a small e-paper display that identifies the credit card you’ve currently selected. And there’s a small button. However, it’s flush with the surface of the card so that the whole thing looks like some kind of prop used in a movie. You would think that nothing that seems to be this two-dimensional could really host a display, a battery and the related electronics but it definitely does. On the card’s back is a magnetic strip along with a place for your signature and your pre-printed name. What it basically looks like is an all-black credit card without any bank logo.

Coin’s very easy to use

To use Coin all you do is press its button to wake it up. If your iPhone or android phone is close by you can unlock the card via Bluetooth. It holds the information for nine credit cards so you can either use your default credit card or cycle through the other eight and choose the one you would like to use to make your purchase. If you don’t have an iPhone or Android phone or just forgot your phone at home there’s an option for using a tap sequence, then swipe it or hand Coin to the cashier to be swiped.

The downsides

Unfortunately, Coin shares the same weaknesses as do virtually all the other cashless payment systems. Its the swipe and reader availability. Today, there are less than 300,00 retail outlets that can read these devices, which is the old drop in the bucket thing. Also, like with Apple Pay or Google Wallet, you really need to carry a backup credit card with you for those point-out-sale credit card readers that simply won’t work with these newfangled things. One friend of ours that had Coin found that on the very first day it worked only about half the time. It could not be read in a grocery store or by a parking meter or ATM. If you have a Coin and this happens to you and you have a backup credit card you’ll be okay. But this then brings up the question why have Coin?

Learning how to use it

People who have used Coin for some time have discovered the secret is learning how to use it. First, cashiers tend to be confused by its design and its success rate declines when it’s swiped the ordinary way. If you alert the cashier to what Coin is and have Coin swiped correctly the success ratio can be as high as 90%. If you get Coin and can have a success ratio this good or even higher then it can become relevant. It’s just much simpler and easier to have just one card and then press a button to make it act as if it were a different card then to carry five or six cards. It’s also more secure than most credit cards because it utilizes 256-bit encryption that protects all the cards it holds and it doesn’t display credit card numbers. Coin says that its batteries should last about two years in normal usage, after which you’ll have to replace the entire device at a cost of about $100. It can also be an expensive purchase if the magnetic stripe should stop working prematurely or it befalls some grisly fate.

Setting up Coin

This is also fairly straightforward. You pair the device with your phone (just a one-time deal) and then use the included credit card reader which you plug into the phone’s headphone jack and then swipe your credit cards into Coin. You will need to authorize your cards within Coin to prove that you’re their actual owner. Following this, you just put your credit cards away someplace safe and rely on Coin (plus maybe a backup credit card). Another important benefit of Coin is that it will store more than just credit cards, as it will also accommodate loyalty and membership cards. While it will only store eight cards at a time, its mobile app has unlimited storage so that you can swap your cards around at any time

It is it worth $100?

Would you spend $100 to replace your existing credit cards with a universal card that may work only 90% of the time? If you’re the adventurous type and generally carry four, five or more credit cards then Coin could be a good way to trim that down to just two.

As of this writing you can only pre-order Coin on its website for the discounted price of $55. However, this “beta Coin” offer is available to only 10,000 people. In addition, Coin is running into some problems due to the fact that so many credit cards are now going to an embedded security chip and it is not yet clear whether Coin can work with these new cards.

If you’d like to see a comparison of Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Paypal, here’s a short video that summarizes the differences and why you might want to choose one of them.

Tips For Managing Your Personal Finances Like A Business

Couple Using Laptop And Discussing Household Bills Sitting On Sofa At HomeAre your personal finances in a bit of a, well, mess? Do you have a tough time getting through till the next paycheck? Do you constantly wonder where your money’s gone? Are your creditors calling you over past due bills? Are you wondering if you’ll ever get your finances under control?

Learn from successful businesses

When it gets right down to it managing personal finances is not that much different than managing a business. Successful businesses must monitor their cash flow and expenditures very carefully. If not, they’re bound to fail. The same is true if you mismanage your cash or overspend. Do this and two things are bound to happen, both of which are bad. First, it’s likely that you’ll be racking up debt just to make ends meet. And second, you could end up having to file for bankruptcy, which would damage your life for years to comer.

If you would like to get out of your financial mess and get your personal finances under control here are six tips from the world of business that could get you on the road to an easier, less hectic life.

Reduce your overhead

When times get tough smart business people figure out ways to reduce their operating expenses or overhead. You could copy this by trading in your car for a less expensive, more affordable model or by moving to a smaller house. Other areas where you could reduce your overhead would be to cancel your subscription to that gym or quit eating out as much. While this might not feel very good at first, the long-term benefits will make these sacrifices worthwhile.

Create a business plan

Successful business owners understand that it’s important to have detailed business plans. These plans are helpful when trying to secure loans or investors. They also provide the company’s direction by defining its objectives and the steps that will be required to achieve them.

To be successful at managing your finances you will need to take a tip from successful business owners and create a plan to manage your personal finances. A spending plan or budget can be a great tool to help you understand how much money you have coming in vs. how much is going out every month. Creating a budget requires tracking your expenses for at least a month because it’s not possible to reduce your “overhead” or spending until you know where your money’s been going. At the end of that month you will need to divide your spending into categories such as housing, transportation, entertainment, clothing and so forth. Then carefully review each of these categories to see where you could make cuts so that you will have money to pay off debt, invest or save for retirement.

Here, courtesy of National Debt Relief, are tips for a type of budgeting called zero based budgeting.

Pay your employees first

Smart business owners understand that they need to pay their employees first – even before they pay themselves. When managing your personal finances you need to think of yourself as an employee and pay yourself before you pay anything else. You do this by saving or investing a percentage of your income every payday. You can do this almost painlessly by having money automatically withdrawn from your checking account and then transferred to your savings or investment account.

dollar sign at the end of the roadPut your money to work

When you invest your money you put it to work for you instead of you working for it. There are numerous ways available to invest money from buying property to stocks or mutual funds. If you don’t know what would be the best way for you to achieve your goals you should contact a financial advisor at your bank or ask your friends to recommend financial advisors they know and trust.

Insure against risks

It’s important for businesses to be insured against risks and the same goes for you. Business owners understand that a partner might die, an employee could be injured at a construction site or a customer might slip and fall. These incidences could spell the end of the business if the owner hadn’t taken steps to protect against them. You need to shield yourself against risks just as if you were a business. For example, if you are your family’s sole breadwinner you need both life and disability insurance. You should also have homeowner, health and auto insurance. While paying for these policies might be hard, things will be even harder if don’t have insurance and your home was to catch fire or if you were to have a serious auto accident.

Develop multiple income streams

Very few business owners put all their eggs in the same basket by having just one income stream. Bike stores sell accessories and offer services. Sporting good stores don’t just sell fishing tackle. They sell tackle, hunting equipment, kayaks, athletic clothing on and on. And convenient stores don’t just sell coffee. They sell literally dozens of different items.

What can you learn from this? You might want to think of other ways you could earn money besides your regular job. If you have a skill such as computer programming, accounting, marketing or graphic design you could put it to work and use the money you earn to pay down your debt or to save or invest. If you don’t have a marketable skill, don’t give up. You could get a part-time job working for a retailer like Staples or Home Depot. Thousands of Americans are earning extra money driving for Uber and Lyft. If you have a car and a smart phone this could be even better than working for a retailer because you can set your own hours. You could work whenever you wished and for as many hours as you choose. Many people are earning as much is $500 a week just for driving people around.

Patience and persistence

Smart business owners understand that success doesn’t happen overnight. They know it takes patience and persistence to be successful. These are also essential in managing your personal finances. If they are in a mess or if you’re deeply in debt, don’t expect overnight miracles. You will need to develop your business plan or budget and then be prepared to stick with it for however long it takes to get your finances in order or to get rid of your debts. As the old saying goes you need to plan your work – or your personal finances – and then work your plan. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see immediate results. It can take years to build a successful business and the same can be true of your personal finances. Patience and persistence are the keys. Be patient with yourself as you may see only small degrees of change for the first few months that you’re on your “business plan”. And be persistent or determined about reaching your financial goals. Even Steve Jobs once failed but look where persistence got him. You may not become a millionaire but if you follow the tips you’ve read in this article you should be able to get your personal finances under control and your debts paid off. And wouldn’t that feel pretty darn good?

Credit Lessons Your Parents Forgot To Teach You

choosing between good and bad creditDid your parents have two “little talks” with you? If so, the first undoubtedly had to do with, well, we don’t have to tell you what it was about. But if you were lucky there was a second “little talk” about personal finance. Your parents might have warned you about not creating debt, about saving and investing and maybe even about the importance of budgeting. But even that talk about personal finance probably did not include some very important lessons about credit. Or maybe they did talk to you about credit but you just sort of tuned them out because it was boring or you didn’t feel it was really something you needed to know. In either event, here are six credit lessons that your parents probably forgot to teach you that you really should know.

Just a half-a-percentage interest rate reduction does matter

Your parents might not have told you this but when it comes opening a line of credit it’s possible to negotiate a better interest rate. You might not get exactly what you ask for but you and your lender could end up with an interest rate lower than what you were originally offered. This is a case where just a .5% interest rate reduction can actually make a difference. As an example of this, if you applied for a $1000 loan at 17% but then negotiated this down to 16.5%, you would save five dollars a month. That’s a beer, a latte or in 12 months, a pair of shoes.

Paying interest can be really, really painful

It’s just not fun having to make monthly credit card payments. But it becomes much more painful when you add interest to your balance. Most credit cards today have an interest rate above 12%. If you make just the minimum payment or, worse yet, carry balances forward from month-to-month it can get really painful. As an example of this if you owed $5000 on a credit card at 15% and paid just the minimum each month it will take you 56 months to pay off that $5000 and will cost $1974 in interest.

Using a credit card can protect you from fraud

If you are asked to name the safest way to make a purchase and your choices were credit, cash or debit what would be your answer? The odds are that you would say a debit card. But you’d be wrong. The best way to protect yourself from fraud is by using a credit card to make your purchases. The reason for this is if you became the victim of identity theft most credit card issuers will remove those fraudulent purchases as soon as you alert them to suspicious activities. Plus, they generally limit your liability to $50. If you use a debit card then filing a claim could be much more complicated and it might be two weeks or more before you’re reimbursed for those fraudulent purchases.

man jumping with a chart behind himGood credit doesn’t just happen

The harsh truth is that good credit doesn’t build itself. You need to be proactive. Getting and keeping a good credit score can save you a lot of money over the long run. If you have a good credit score you can lock down lower interest rates and make larger purchases such as taking out a mortgage. If your goal is to build good credit, you should start soon and start small. Make a few small purchases with your credit card and then immediately pay for them. When you make small purchases and pay them off immediately this will help you build good credit habits early on as well as a good credit score.

An even better idea is to start with a secured card. If you’re not familiar with this type of card it’s where you deposit money with a bank – usually $300 or $500 – and then use the card to make purchases until your balance reaches zero or near zero. At that point if you want to keep using the card you will need to deposit more money. There are two good things about a secured card. First, it prevents you from creating debt. Second, how you use the card will be reported to the three credit reporting bureaus and, assuming you use it sensibly this will help you build a good credit score.

Your credit limits aren’t just suggestions

When you got that first credit card and saw it had a limit of $2500 that was pretty exciting. Just imagine! You instantly had $2500 at your disposal, right? Well, yes and no. Just because you have a credit limit of $2500 doesn’t mean you should use it. Most financial experts say that you should keep your credit utilization or how much of your limit you’ve used below 30%. This means is that you should use only 30% of that $2500 or $1500 total. The reason for this is because your credit utilization counts for approximately 30% of your credit score. If your credit utilization were 40% or even 50%, this would definitely ding your credit score. Do the math. If you find that your credit utilization is above that magic 30% you need to either get to work paying down your balance or open another credit card so that your credit limit would go up accordingly.

Your credit score will ultimately depend on your financial philosophy

Whether you have a good or bad credit score will ultimately depend on your financial philosophy or whether you’re an ant or a grasshopper. If your approach to finances is that of an ant where you’re saving money, paying off your balances on time every month and have an emergency fund, you’ll ultimately have a very good credit score. It may take a while but it will happen. On the other hand, if you’re more of a grasshopper – if you spend money as fast as it comes in or if your approach to debt is that of Scarlett O’Hara and “I’ll worry about that tomorrow” – it’s absolutely certain that you will end up with a poor or bad credit score. And a bad credit score will cost you money in the form of higher interest rates, higher insurance premiums and might even prevent you from renting an apartment or house.

How Small Applications for Big Data Are Changing the Way We Live

small applications for big data

Mining, sorting and processing massive amounts data is an enormous, complicated and expensive undertaking that is usually reserved only for governments and giant corporations. But big data is now having a big impact on smaller operations, as well. So much so, that big data is slowly but surely entering our daily lives.

Wearable Big Data for Optimizing Performance

Once relegated to the well-funded marketing campaigns of mega-retailers like Target, big data is now so small you can wear it on your wrist. Smart watches and bracelets generate data on everything from the number of calories we consume to patterns in our sleep to our level of activity.

Jawbone’s Up band, for example, collects 60 years worth of sleep data every single night (along with a log of steps taken and a range of other variables) in an effort to identify patterns and help wearers live healthier lives.

Personalized Big Data for Individualized Medical Care

Massive health-care entities such as insurance companies have been among big data’s biggest beneficiaries. But it has largely been relegated to the corporate level — targeting customers, identifying fraud, marketing services, etc.

But now, big data has the potential to become so small that it can enter our bodies. Personalized big data is already used in baby-monitoring applications in hospitals. By collecting data from literally every heartbeat and every breath, NICU analysts are able to predict infections in babies a full day before they show symptoms.

Currently, drug makers are working on using big data to include every human being in clinical trials instead of just a small focus group, and geneticists are talking about using it to decode entire DNA strands in just minutes. That data can then be combined with the data from smart watches and other medical-monitoring devices to deliver personal diagnoses and treatments.

Downsized Big Data for Smarter Machines

Toyota’s well-known Prius hybrid — as well as Google’s not-so-mainstream self-driving car — features GPS technology and cameras that use big data to help the vehicle navigate without human interaction. Big data is used to read smart meters for water and electricity that instantly gather and relay information. They send usage reports to power and water companies, and tell homeowners when it’s the best time to take a shower.

Measuring Metrics for Website Optimization

If your small business or at-home operation uses Google Analytics, you’re already using big data. It doesn’t require expensive, complicated hardware or massive servers, just a Gmail account. Analytics enables users to extract long-term data to make data-driven decisions based on things like how visitors to their website behave, how social-media campaigns are working or how customers react when using mobile devices.

From at-home marketing businesses to the medicine we take to the cars we drive, big data is no longer a loosely defined, mysterious concept that is understood only by giant corporations. Like our computers and stereo speakers, big data is shrinking as technology improves. Big data is getting smaller — so small, in fact, that it’s entering our homes, our cars and even our bodies.

Social Self-Promotion 301: Social Media for Executives and CEOs

social media for executives ceos

Should CEOs take on the role of a chief advertiser? The answer might surprise you – executives who properly utilize social media have an incredible impact on the business they receive and how their employees feel about coming to work each day.

What Benefits Does Being On Social Media Offer?

  • Personal Connections: The sad truth is that many people feel that corporations are impersonal behemoths that are bent on making as much money as possible. Being a social SEO offers a more personal way of connecting with the people who might be buying your products – and they do it in a way that customers are far more comfortable with.
  • Employee Relations: As the leader of your company, your opinion has value – so you’ll need to be careful about what you say. However, imagine this kind of scenario – Bob’s been working overtime for the last month, putting together a creative collection of images that you’re going to use for a major advertising campaign on Instagram. Well, you’ve got your own Instagram account so you can see what your potential customers are seeing, and you walk into the office one day to see that things are finally up and running. Bob is going to love it if his manager lets him know that you saw the campaign and like what he did. With just a few minutes, you’ll be able to give a hard-working employee a tangible sense of reward and make them feel that all the effort is worthwhile… and that’s the kind of thing that motivates people to do their best.
  • A Professional Platform: Your social media accounts are a great way to talk about content within the industry, reveal major plans, and generally talk to an elite audience. You’ll stand out from the crowd and ultimately start to attract more business to your company as your following grows and your opinions are given more weight.

What Are The Problems?

The biggest problem, of course, is that you probably don’t have the time to dive into social media whenever you want – you literally hire people to do that for you. However, you don’t actually have to post things when you create them. Scheduling posts in advance – and using automatic software to put them up – allows you to create a long buffer zone that ensures a steady stream of content will be posted even when you’re busy with actually running your company.

You’ll also have to develop the right type of personality for use online – and it needs to be distinct from what the rest of your company is doing. To succeed in social media, most companies need a steady stream of entertaining and interesting content. However, that’s not what you should be doing – don’t try too hard to be funny, don’t be rude, and above all, avoid discussing controversial subjects. Nothing will ruin you – or your company – faster than an insensitive statement you’ll never be able to forget.

How Can You Get Started?

You should already have people who are experts in social media. Talk to them about your desire to set up a CEO page, and have a few meetings about your goals and what you actually want to accomplish. Most CEOs put up pages on LinkedIn, for example, but that may not be right for you. Listen to your people, have one of them proofread your content before it’s posted, and don’t be afraid to see what other CEOs are doing with their own social media pages. You won’t become (or remain) an industry leader just by copying what others are doing, but there are lessons you can learn before you get started, especially if you haven’t used social media very much in the past.

Try to give yourself at least three months of preparation time so you can ensure that you have plenty of content and a good plan in place for when your page goes live.

Finally, remember that social media shows its true value over time. As a CEO, you can expect to be noticed more easily than many other kinds of accounts, but it may take half a year or more before you’ve got the kind of following you really want to have. Don’t stress out if growth seems slow – it always does, and your tech team can help you figure out whether or not things are actually wrong (and what to do about it if there is a real problem).

Multi-Screen Marketing Strategies for 2015

multi screen marketing strategies 2015

One screen just isn’t enough.

More and more Americans are regularly bouncing between different devices to disseminate and absorb information, as well as to communicate. Sometimes we move from one device to another, sometimes we use multiple devices at the same time. Sometimes we’re using one device to enhance the experience of another, and other times we’re just absorbing multiple streams of media through multiple devices for no reason at all.

It’s called multi-screen usage, and it’s a behavior that is growing and changing. It is changing how we send and receive media and information, changing how marketers and advertisers target us and changing how makers of devices and services are moving forward with their future plans.

Multi-Screen Usage: How The Devices Break Down

The grandaddy of all devices is the smartphone, which is the Jack of all trades. It does everything pretty well and is always available. We stare into it more than even the good old TV.

Television comes next. It is on even when it’s just background noise or if we’re paying attention to other devices. Laptops are work and productivity devices that we use for specialized tasks. Tablets are entertainment devices and command the least of our attention. Like smartphones, we often “stack” tablets with other devices, like when you browse the Internet on your tablet to expand on something you just saw on TV.

Evolution of a Multi-Screen Culture

As early as 2012, Google described a “multi-screen world” in which “cross-platform consumer behavior” was driving everything from advertising to media. It divvied up the phenomenon into two main categories:

  • Sequential screening: Moving between devices.
  • Simultaneous screening: The use of multiple devices at the same time.

To this day, most simultaneous screening continues to consist of television plus another device. Nearly three-quarters of smartphone owners use their phones while watching TV. When it comes to sequential screening, search is the most common bridge between one device and another. Although individual “interactions” with our televisions last longer, our smartphones are the backbone of our digital worlds. We use them more times per day than any other device, and they are the most common jumping-off point for multiple-device usage.

2015: The Year of Second-Screen Ads?

The dominance of multi-screen usage is not lost on advertisers. Most of us own smartphones, and most smartphone users browse while watching TV. It has been predicted that 2015 will see the rise of second-screen ads. This technology uses mobile-based advertising synching and listening programs to detect an ad on a television. When it does, it then beams a follow-up ad to the same device that detected the original television ad.

Multi-tasking has reached new heights. Not only does TV no longer dominate our attention, it can barely keep our attention where it’s on right in front of us. The nearly perpetual use of multiple devices throughout the day, every day is permeating nearly every aspect of our digital lives. If the smartphone is the central hub, tablets, TVs and laptops are the extended spokes. No one knows what 2015 will hold for sure, but one thing is certain — one device is no longer enough.

How Safe Are You From Hackers?

are you safe from hackers

As technology becomes increasingly integrated with our daily lives, the question becomes ever more prevalent: how safe is our information? After a number high-profile celebrities recently became victim to a team of hackers, many internet users have begun to raise concerns about web security. Until global action is taken, however, it is up to us to protect our own data as best we can. To help keep your private information private, keep the following secure internet usage tips in mind.

Avoid Using the Same Password for All Accounts

69% of internet users will be hacked at some point in their lifetime. There are a few different methods of hacking, but one of the simplest and most common methods is the brute-force attack. In a brute-force attack, the hacker targets the victim’s passwords. To minimize your vulnerability to these forms of cyber attack, do not use the same password for multiple accounts. If you use a universal password and a hacker cracks it, you’ve just given them an all access pass to your identity.

Choose Your Password Carefully

It can take just ten minutes for an accomplished hacker to crack a standard 6-letter password. To make your passwords as hack-proof as possible, start out by combining two unlikely words, then add a capital letter and a punctuation mark. In doing so, you will make cracking your password a three year task instead of a ten minute one. As important as it is to create a password that is difficult for hackers to crack, avoid creating one that is overly challenging. If you have to reset your password frequently, store it on your computer, or write it down, then you also present a vulnerable front to hackers.

Be on the Alert for Scams

Some hackers access your computer and/or personal data through scams that disguise malicious content. Common e-scams you may see include the “FBI Moneypak,” which hijacks your computer by informing you that in order to unlock your browser you must first pay a pirating fine. Other scams you may come across will urge you to download new software (commonly spyware software, but Adobe Flash Player and Open Office phishing scams are also circulating). If your computer is hijacked, restart it it in safe mode, and then run an advanced anti-virus. Malwarebytes is a personal favorite of mine, but Hitman Pro also rates highly. If the attack has compromised your system to the extent that you cannot boot in safe mode, then load Hitman Pro through your USB.

Protect Your Sensitive Information

When you browse online, you leave a trail of information behind you that any hacker worth his salt can easily follow. To keep your sensitive data safe, do not post it online. Your credit card information should not be stored on your computer; a scan of your driver’s license should not be twiddling its thumbs in your email; and your home address and cell phone number should not be publicly displayed on your social media accounts. Minimize your vulnerability by avoiding storing sensitive information on your iCloud (and similar cloud storage services). Despite coming under fire recently after celebrity accounts were hacked for nude pictures, iCloud has not worked out the kinks in its security standards. To access your iCloud account, hackers need only know your security question responses, date of birth and email address.

The Content Marketer’s Guide to Getting Noticed When Everyone’s Trying to Get Noticed

content marketer guide getting noticed

With content popping up all over the web like viral graffiti, getting your content noticed has become more challenging than ever before. In fact, between the abbreviated attention span of the modern consumer and the excess of content spewed across the web every day, standing out in the crowd might seem like something of an impossible task. With the right formula, however, your content can finally move ahead of the pack and gain the attention it deserves. Tweak the playing field to your advantage today by checking out the following four content-crafting tips.

Create the Perfect Headline

No matter how great your content is, if your headline is dull or misleading, it doesn’t stand a chance. Your headline is the first thing that visitors see, so it has to be spiffy and intriguing enough to earn a more in-depth look. To create the perfect headline, ensure that your title accurately reflects your content, while simultaneously advertising it. Tell your viewers what your content can do for them. Will it teach them a skill? Help them to better themselves? Improve their sense of self? Can it do it all of this in as few as five paragraphs? If your content isn’t “educational,” then try appealing to reader emotion through your title. Shocking or emotional content is viral-fodder, so don’t be afraid to ham it up in your title.

Choose Your Content Format

Choosing the right format for your content can have a significant impact on traffic to your page. On average, 3000 to 10000 word articles get the most shares, while 0-1000 word articles get the least. When producing 3000-10000 word content, however, keep its readability in mind. Better to produce a short, snappy piece than to ramble on about nothing just to bring up your word count. To break up longer articles, consider adding images or short videos. Intriguing images will often drive traffic to content, even if the title or subject matter is somewhat lackluster. In longer articles, a clear, clean layout is also essential. Avoid long paragraphs, and break up your content with lists, bullet points, or links.

Cater to Your Audience

You can’t please everyone, so identify your niche and stick to it. Ask yourself who is viewing your content, and why. Pay attention to any feedback that your content generates, and keep track of what works for you and what doesn’t. If a particular post provokes a lot of positive traffic, then don’t be afraid to repost the same content at a later date to keep it current.

Stay Social Media Savvy

Instead of just sharing your content through social media, connect with your fans by interacting with their posts and comments and responding to their interests. Keep your Instagram, Facebook, Google + and Twitter accounts up to date, and link out consistently to your webpage, blog and other online platforms. If your social media accounts just aren’t generating the fan base that you want them to, then don’t be afraid to hire professional help. A social media manager can generate fans for you, while taking the stress of managing your social media accounts off your hands.

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