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3 Main Ways to Market Your Small Business

Photo by Cohdra via MorgueFile

I started my own pet sitting business about 7 months ago.  It went from nothing to about $1500 a month since then.  I’m not a marketing genius or anything like that.  But I do have a solid work ethic, I love animals, and I try to make every pet sitting job go as well for my human clients as for my animal ones.  :-)   Here are the 3 main ways that you can market your small business:

Craigslist and Other Sites

I went to Craigslist first.  A professional posting that is well written and contains all of the major info is the best way to make a first impression on anybody searching your niche that has to decide between you and someone else that offers the same service.  My Craigslist posting contain my experience, services offered, general pricing, and the link to my pet sitting website and all of my other contact info.  I make sure to post in every category that may be searched for pet sitters.  I also repost at least once a week.  Altogether, about 95% of my jobs come from my Craigslist posts.

I also listed myself on Care.com (although they are not very respected overall) and Sittercity.com.  I splurged and spent $10-$15 on both sites to have them run their official background check too.  I’ve gotten a grand total of 3 jobs through those two sites.

Word of Mouth

As with all businesses, word of mouth is huge.  Happy customers spread the word and you get a better reputation and more calls.  I have personally received several jobs just because happy customers and family have told others about me.  The best way to get people to talk about you is to exceed their expectations.  I treat all of my pet sitting animals like my own or even better, lol.  I’ll also do little but thoughtful things around the house if I have any free time.  I just washed one person’s dishes since they had to leave hurriedly because her grandma was sick.  People appreciate thoughtfulness.

Print Advertising

I have business cards via Vista Print, magnetic car door signs, and I’m looking into leaflet design tips.  Overall, people may not call you because of your printed items, but they do shout professionalism.  My future clients seem to request my card sometimes just to see if I was taking it seriously enough to have cards printed.  It also helps that my cards have a memorable photo with me and a parrot on my head…

penny without words

What other tips do you have for us?

Changing a Need to a Want

Money Tree

The following is a staff writer post from MikeS.  He is a married father of 2.  So, with the cat, he ranks number 5 in the house.  He loves numbers and helping people. Please leave any questions or comments below for either Mike or Crystal.

I recently made a change to something I had previously considered a need, dry cleaning.  I don’t have to wear a shirt and tie to work, as my workplace is business casual, but I prefer it.  I have been wearing a shirt and tie for work since my internship in college.  I have also been going to the dry cleaners once a week.  In the last few weeks, I have been rethinking that habit.  I have the money budgeted for the dry cleaning expense, but I began to question whether that’s where I wanted my money to be going.

Expenses Trending Upward

Over the past several months, I have been seeing a couple of my expense categories trending above their respective budget allocations, namely food and what I call house.  Other than I think the kids are eating more, I can’t say for sure what is driving the increased food spending.  I just know it’s been about $25 a month higher on average.  The house category has also seen increased spending.  The house category could simply have been under estimated.  I have been in my current house for 3 years now and I still feel like I am trying to get a handle on the routine maintenance costs for it.  I have a good handle on the things that I know come up on a regular basis, but costs still seem to be outpacing my budget.  Again, it’s not a huge amount, probably in the $25 a month range.  Since, I won’t receive any salary changes until April of next year; something would have to change if I wanted to address the shortfalls.  It may have been Crystal, that triggered me to reevaluate my expenses, but I decided to look and see if there was anything that I could change.

Is It Really a Need?

As I stated earlier, dry cleaning has been in the budget from the beginning and I have always treated it as a need.  When I reevaluated my expenses, I questioned that assumption.  I was spending about $105 a month for dry cleaning.  In the beginning, when I was wearing suits, this made more sense.  All of my suits were dry-clean only.  Today, I simply wear slacks with a shirt and tie, none of it is dry-clean only.  The only thing preventing me from cleaning and pressing the clothes myself was me.  I started thinking whether the $105 on dry cleaning was really where I wanted the money to be going or whether there were better ways to allocate that spending that money.  It was then that I decided that I could clean and press my own clothes and reallocate the $105 to other areas.

Redistributing

The first two things to account for were easy, food and housing.  I will begin to allocate an additional $25 each month to each category.  This should hopefully bring those categories back on budget.  The next allocation was to additional savings.  I will be adding $25 to the monthly amount that I send to my Vanguard brokerage account.  That will bring that amount to a total of $75 a month.  I then decided to up our allowances, or “fun money”, by $25 a month.  I’ll allocate $15 to myself and $10 to the wife.  Yes, this is certainly a want, but I reason it that I am doing something to earn it by washing and ironing the clothes myself.

Constantly Changing Budget

My budget never seems to remain the same during the course of a year, which is a good thing.  As my opinions change or evolve on what I believe the best use of my money is, my budget reflects it.  I certainly don’t make daily or even weekly changes, but a few times a year seems to be the norm.  This helps me to stick to the budget as I believe it gives me the best chance to achieve my goals.

Saving Money Everywhere We Can

cash 2

Mr. BFS and I just made the appointment to have our cable cancelled this coming Sunday night.  My discounted rate was expiring and I was not okay with the bill going up to $170 just to tape our shows.  And we’re making other cuts too.

Utilities

Our water bill is pretty much set since we aren’t allowed to shop around.  Same goes for our natural gas bill.  But I do find the best electricity rates that I can at the end of every contracted term.  I don’t even need to look at cool things like an energy conversion calculator to know that for every 1 cent per kilowatt hour that I save us, it’s like putting $15 into our pockets.  I have been able to consistently keep our rate between 8.5-9.5 cents per k/h for the past 3 years.  :-)

Extras

We generally spend on things that make us long-term happy but cut things that don’t affect us anymore.  Our next plan of attack is to transfer our cell phone service over to Ting Wireless.  Sprint has been charging us $150 a month for years for our unlimited everything plan, but I am sick of contracts and their pretty bad customer service.  Ting and Republic seem to be where the party is at now, and Ting will accept our phones (at least, I am 99% sure they will).

Altogether, we should be saving at least $60 a month by cancelling cable and $40 a month by switching to Ting (hopefully).  That’s $1200 a year that I can put towards our Roth IRA’s or even the vacation fund…SCORE!

What have you cut back on lately?

 

Four Essential Things Needed for an Overseas Trip

After getting kicked out of St. Blaise's church because SOMEONE didn't have their shoulders covered, we decided to go to the friendlier confines of Motovun.
Last month, my wife and I returned from 9 days in Croatia, with a brief stopover in Munich. We took our nine year old daughter on her first real vacation. It was her first time flying, and her first time leaving the country. Needless to say, I think she (and we) have a great deal of new and lifelong memories, mainly from our daughter meeting her extended family for the first time.
Croatia

Since I just got back, I’ve been thinking about the things we brought, and the things we didn’t. As usual, we traveled with one bag each (I’ll talk more about this below). This means that packing has to be light, both for weight’s sake, and not to draw the wrath of the airlines, who do everything they can to get extra fees from you.

When away from home for a good amount of time, the key is to balance necessity and comfort with the very real and very important notion that this is an opportunity to get away from the objects that fill our homes. Even if you are staying in a luxury hotel, 10 days away from home is a chance to restart your life in a new place in new circumstances. In our case, we rented, along with 3 other couples, a luxury villa. It had 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, an in-ground pool, sauna, full kitchen, etc. Though this might sound expensive, when split amongst the guests, it was cheaper than staying in a hotel for the same amount of time. The only trade off is not having maid service or continental breakfasts, but the communal cooking and providing our own food also saved us a great deal of money.

Based on our experiences, here are some things you should bring on an overseas vacation.

One Reliable Mobile Phone-GSM Network

If you live a modern life, you need a mobile phone. Chances are you left a family behind that may need to contact you. When on the road, you will need a way to call for help should your rental car break down in the middle of nowhere. To serve this purpose, I brought my old iPhone 3G3, which was top of the line in 2009, but has long sat in our junk drawer. I’ve saved this phone specifically for this purpose, because as you can see in the heading for this section, the phone should be a GSM Band or Dual Band, meaning it has a removable SIM card. This allows you to purchase a cheap SIM card in your destination country, and have a local number and data access. CDMA network phones, like Verizon, may not be a good choice.

You will also notice that I said “reliable” – there’s a reason. It was not until I was lost by myself in the twisty Croatian city of Pula that I discovered my iPhone could not hold a charge. I had driven into Pula by myself with the specific mission of buying a phone card, and overestimated my familiarity with the city. Like a dumbass, I left my GPS and phone charger at our accommodation. After driving around for an hour, I went to a grocery story to buy a SIM card. The man, speaking no English, handed me a piece of paper after taking my money. I realized he had sold me a minutes-refill, and not the actual SIM card I needed. After finding an employee who spoke English, I then realized they did not sell the actual cards, and could not give me a refund. They did direct me to a news-stand that sold the cards. where I could buy one and use the paper/code to recharge it. After driving there, the lady (who also didn’t speak English) told me she had a SIM card, but did not accept credit card or Euros. In my haste in being lost and late to meet the car rental guy, I had forgot to withdraw some local Croatian Kuna from the grocery store.

Back I went to the grocery store for $20 in cash, then back to the news stand where the same woman proceeded to…sell me another paper recharge. Apparently she misunderstood me. In broken Croatian I asked her where I could get the “kartica” and she directed me to another news stand. They did have a card, but to add more tragedy to this story, I had no small pin with which to open my SIM card tray. After five minutes of futility, I found an old ball point pen in the rental car, and took it apart, MacGyver style. I straightened out the spring, and it worked! Of course, I poked it into my finger first, drawing blood.
Moral of the story: make sure your phone works ahead of time, and that you bring your charger.
This story makes a nice segue to…

GPS

In addition to this phone, we brought our Asus Tablet, which was preloaded with a cached-map GPS app for Croatia, meaning we could have turn-by-turn directions without the need for a Wi-Fi connection. I will recommend that you to bring a separate device to use for GPS, one that isn’t connected to a data network. This is because using GPS data can kill your minutes or cost you quite a bit of money in data fees. By preloading maps onto your device, they can be used without the need to be connected to a network. If you don’t have the ability to do this, I would suggest paying the extra money to a rent-a-car company. Ten dollars a day is worth the peace of mind, and it will probably save you a bunch of lost time that could be better spent enjoying your vacation.

One Bag Only

I’m not afraid to say that if you can’t go on vacation with just a carry on, there is something wrong with you. I’m not talking about a tiny handbag, but rather something like the eBags Weekender, specifically designed to maximize space while still complying with airline carryon restrictions. As I mentioned earlier, airlines are getting more stingy every day, and if they make you stick your bag in their sizer, they might get you. To make sure they don’t, check in online ahead of time or use a kiosk so you don’t have to talk to airline staff, and make sure your cinch straps are tight and shoulder straps are tucked away during boarding. It’s best to keep your bag out of their sight until the last possible moment.

By having one bag, things are less complicated, especially on an international trip. You are free to scope out standby options for different flights without worry that your already-checked bag will be lost. Also, you don’t have to spend an extra 45 minutes after the flight staring at a sleeping baggage carousel, wishing it would start spinning.

Every time I go overseas, I use less and less bag space. Even this time, I packed lighter than last time, and still didn’t wear everything. If you stay somewhere that has a laundry option, you can bring even fewer clothes. Vacation should be about spending as much time in your swim trunks as possible anyway, so who cares what you wear?

An Open Mind

The most important thing you can bring is an open mind, meaning that even the best laid plans will fail. This is what I tried to remind myself as I aimlessly drove the winding streets of Pula, lost in a country where most people don’t speak my language. As you can see from my experience, unless you make the journey part of the trip, rather than something standing in the way of your trip, you will become disappointed, especially traveling five or six thousand miles.

In this day and age, traveling somewhere with a language barrier, you can’t afford to be trapped with no information, unless you are traveling by yourself. In our case, I had visitors who were counting on me to guide them around and solve our logistical problems. Next time I do this, I will make damn sure I’ve got a better phone and link to immediate information, if only to maximize the time I can spend unplugged, next to the pool.

Financial Ombudsman reports few complaints about payday lenders

Pounds

Craig Morgan is a London based freelance writer covering every aspect of personal finance news. He has been published on many of the UK’s most authoritative websites and one day aspires to break into mainstream financial journalist.

Pounds

 

Given the reams of bad press surrounding the payday lenders, you would expect an accompanying torrent of complaints from customers who have received a level of service that has fallen far below their expectations. However, the latest review from the Financial Ombudsman shows the number of complaints they have received this year falls well below the amount many industry commentators might expect.

Two of the most maligned sectors in the financial services industry are undoubtedly payday lenders and payment protection insurance. The payment protection insurance scandal came to light in 2011, and focused on the aggressive tactics Britain’s banks had been using to sell ineffective and inefficient payment protection insurance (PPI) policies for more than a decade. You might think this storm had largely been weathered, but as recent as March 2014, the ombudsman was still receiving 1,000 complaints a day about PPI mis-selling.

In total, the Financial Ombudsman has received 399,939 complaints about PPI mis-selling this year alone, adding to the millions of complaints it has already handled. How many complaints did the Ombudsman receive about payday lenders? Given the lambasting the industry has received in the press, you’d expect it to be about the same, even more. No. This year the Ombudsman has received a total of just 794 complaints about payday lenders, which is double the level of the year before, but still just a tiny fraction of the complaints received about PPI.

Is the payday loan industry cleaning up its act?

Despite the vitriol heaped on payday lenders such as Wonga, the UK’s largest, by the press, there is little doubt that the short-term credit industry is still going through a process of continuous improvement, as with any embryonic industry. The payday lenders have been subject to intense regulatory scrutiny in the past couple of years, firstly by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and then from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which has weeded out many of the less scrupulous firms.

The strict regulatory regime now imposed by the Financial Conduct Authority is responsible for over a third of the UK’s estimated 210 payday lenders exiting the market. Tough new rules also came into force on 1 July this year, limiting the number of times short-term lenders could roll over loans to just twice. There were also restrictions placed on Continuous Payment Authority (CPA), which means lenders can now only dip into customers’ accounts on two separate occasions to recover repayments. After this point, they must contact the customer directly.

Payday loan complaints in context

The annual review from the Financial Ombudsman (1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014) provides additional insight into the latest figures.

  • PPI accounted for 78 percent of all the complaints received. 22 percent of complaints were made about other financial products.
  • Current accounts were the second most complained about product, accounting for 17.5 percent of complaints involving products other than PPI.
  • Payday loans were way down the list of the most complained about products, behind mortgages, credit cards, point of sale loans, hire purchase agreements, buildings insurance, personal pension plans, mortgage endowments and motor insurance to name but a few.

Why are there so few complaints about payday loans?

Even the principal ombudsman, Caroline Wayman, is puzzled as to why so few complaints were made about payday lenders given the almost constant furore the sector attracts in the mainstream press. Could it be that the likes of Wonga and the other leading lenders have an efficient in-house complaints handling procedure, so much so that complaints are dealt with before reach they ombudsman? Perhaps the vast majority of the estimated 2 million customers who use the service of short-term lenders are happy with the level of service they receive? Or could it be the slightly less optimistic view that the act of complaining in itself is more of a middle-income, middle-aged affair than we might like to admit?

Have you ever had cause to complain about the service you have received from a payday lender? Did you make a complaint? And who did you direct your complaint to? We’d love to hear from you on this matter, so please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

Image Credit:  https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7112/7700155424_c243443afa_z.jpg

 

How Much will a Payday Advance Cost You?

Accounting

In today’s economy, it’s nearly impossible to find someone who has not been in a financial bind. Often times, people are able to tap into their savings accounts, retirement plans, or borrow money from family or friends to get through a rough patch, but not everyone is that lucky. Sometimes, people have to turn to personal loans and payday advances to make ends meet. Knowing when and how to use a payday advance can mean the difference between getting out from under a dark financial cloud and being hit by a hurricane of debt.

Getting a Payday Advance

Getting a payday advance is pretty straightforward. If you have a job and or verifiable income, you can get a payday advance, regardless of your credit rating. You can find hundreds of websites that offer online payday loans and can get you the money you need in as little as an hour, but typically it takes anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. If you go into a payday advance store, you can walk out of the store with the money within an hour or two, assuming you remembered to bring your checkbook, employment and income information, and identification.

The General Costs

Aside from the standard fees that are associated with a payday advance, potential borrowers need to expect to pay a rather large amount in interest. Depending on your credit rating (for some companies), the amount you want to borrow, and how quickly you end up being able to pay it back, borrowers should expect to see an interest rate of 200 to 500 percent. This is in addition to application fees and transaction fees.

Knowing When to Use an Advance

Payday Advances are not always the best solution, but for those who have no where else to turn, they can be a blessing. Ideally, you want to use payday advances as a bridge to cover the difference between what you have, and what you need. If you are behind on a utility bill and are a couple of hundred dollars short, then a payday advance might be the solution for you, just be mindful that it doesn’t turn into an unbreakable cycle. This often happens when a borrower takes out a payday advance to cover more than what is needed and puts them into a deeper hole than they had expected.

How to Avoid the Pitfalls

Once a financial emergency strikes, it throws everything into chaos. You’re stuck “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, as the expression goes. This normally ends up with more bills falling behind and the need for an emergency loan or advance becomes even greater. When you go to get a payday advance or loan, make sure you only ask for what you need. Often times, you will be told that a cap or ceiling limit that you are available for. Just because you are told you can borrow as much as $2.500 doesn’t mean you need to take it all. Only take what you need, and nothing more. Factor in anything else that is going to need immediate attention because most payday advance merchants will not allow you to increase the amount you borrow until most, if not all, of the previous loan is repaid. This helps prevent you from seeking other additional payday advance merchants to cover another expense, putting your further in debt.

While most people shy away from payday advances, when used responsibly, they can be an incredible tool. Research several payday advance or loan merchants prior to committing to one in specific and do not be afraid to ask questions, like, “what happens if you cannot make one of your scheduled repayments” or “can you extend the terms of your loan to give yourself more time to pay it back?” The more you know prior to accepting your advance, the better armed you are in regards to repaying your loan.

The American Dream

Money Tree

The following is a staff writer post from MikeS.  He is a married father of 2.  So, with the cat, he ranks number 5 in the house.  He loves numbers and helping people. Please leave any questions or comments below for either Mike or Crystal.

The headline, as designed, caught my attention. “The American Dream is out of reach.”  It being a CNN Money article, I was curious to see what is was about.  Apparently, CNN Money had conducted a poll and about 60% of the respondents said the American dream was out of reach.  I think there are a lot of pessimistic people in this country.

The American Dream

The simplest I way to describe the American dream is that children generally end up in a better position financially than their parents.  I am sure that is what my parents wanted for me and it is also what I want for my children.  Now, better is of course a relative term.  My dream is certainly not for them to become the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.  That would be nice though.  No, my dream is that they are more financially secure.  My hope is that I can teach them the necessary tools to achieve it.  I think in the future, the emphasis should be on how you manage your money, not necessarily how much salary you can earn.  I don’t think that was the case as I was growing up.

Now versus Then

I’ve talked about the differences between my parents and myself previously.  They were blue-collar hard-working people.  Learning that work-ethic from my parents and being blessed with a certain skill set, I have managed to obtain a nice white-collar job.  The job pays me quite well.  Not Bill Gates or Warren Buffet well, but well enough that my wife does not have to work.  The job alone has allowed me to be in a better position financially than my parents.  This is why I think it will require more than just a job for my children and other children today to end up in a better position than their parents.  There are more people today working in cubicles than ever.  Most of them are probably earning more now than their parents.  In addition to that, there are a lot more dual income households, which the article touches on, making it that much harder for children today to out earn their parents.

Keys Going Forward

The article only mentions this statement in passing, but I think it is probably the biggest key.  The article mentions that the savings rate today is low.  No wonder people think the dream is unachievable; they aren’t doing anything to achieve it.  They aren’t setting aside money for retirement, for college, for anything.  People are just consuming.  Companies have become very sophisticated at separating people from their money for the latest products.  Smart phones, TV’s, computers, cable TV and even cars are being advertised so effectively, that people feel they can’t live without them.  This means they spend their money on these products, instead of saving, and wonder why they can’t get ahead.  I have learned this lesson the hard way.  I was in a financial hole.  The only way I was able to dig myself out was to stop spending more than I made.  This has meant no smart phone, no new car, limited cable and until recently, no new TV.  Discipline is going to be needed to get ahead in the future.  Without it, people will go through life complaining how they never get ahead, all the while buying the latest fad.

My Hope

My hope is that my children are able to find a job that they enjoy.  I won’t even mind if they don’t go to college.  My plan is to have money set aside for them in case they do attend college.  I want them to start out in the best position that I can possible put them in. I don’t really care whether their job pays them a higher salary than what I currently earn.  I care that they will be able to manage their finances and be happy.  By accomplishing this, they will be able to achieve the dream.

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