Is email marketing right for your business?

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Today, nearly everyone has an email account. And, if you’re in business, n370001Bearly everyone could be your target market. Put the two together, and all your problems are solved, right?

The answer is “maybe,” if you do it right.

The broad definition of email marketing is the promotion of products or services via email. You communicate with current customers with their permission, or by “cold calling” potential customers from a purchased list. Your goal is to get them to buy something, buy more of something, or just stay loyal to your brand.

But, once you hit “Send,” you’re no longer in control. The email recipient could choose not to open your email, delete it, or decide to opt out. Maybe it ended up in the Spam pile. And, if the email IS opened, the timing could be off.

You have to reach your targets when they are ready to act, not when you are. It stands to reason, then, that holiday-related emails might draw a higher response than one you send in the middle of March.

And, speaking of timing, are you over-emailing? Are you bombarding digital inboxes with emails that are now the equivalent of paper “junk mail”? Worse still, are you in danger of violating the government’s SPAM act?

How should you approach email marketing? Take a look at what this digital marketing company spokesman considers 5 Brands That Get Email Marketing Right, from Amazon to Moosejaw Mountaineering!

Are you currently email marketing, but with limited success? Entrepreneur.com offers tips on How to Create an E-Mail Marketing Campaign That People Will Notice.

And, last but not least, comes this warning, when it comes to emails in general: Never substitute emails for good, old-fashioned common business sense, ever! Don’t send that email, pick up the phone.

Do you have an email newsletter for your business?

7 Tips for Protecting Yourself Online

Though the internet has many advantages, it can also make users vulneSecurity Button On Keyboardrable to fraud, identity theft and other scams. According to a Norton Cybercrime Report, 556 million adults worldwide were victims of cybercrime in 2012. The American Bankers Association recommends the following tips to keep you safe online:

1. Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.

2. Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

3. Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.

  • Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.

4. Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.

5. Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.

6. Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.

7. Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

Money Management Tips for College Children

Money Management - CollegeWhile the upcoming years will prepare you for your future, you don’t want to let financial difficulties weigh you down when you graduate. Which is why we have pulled together the following tips to put you, and keep you, on the right financial path!

Write it all down
Step one is create a budget. This is as simple as writing down your income (student loans, financial aid, employment pay and any help from family) and your expenses. If listing your expenses seems overwhelming – break it down to what you spend in one day and then gradually calculate the increase to a week and then a month. There are a variety of online money management tools – but a simple Excel sheet works just fine.

Prioritize
Organize your expenses into categories. Make a careful list of the essentials (food, books, health, transportation) and things that are optional (new clothes, concerts etc.). Then take a close look at both categories and see where you might be able to save. Ask yourself the tough questions – do you really need unlimited texting? Could you better utilize all the free communication channels like Facebook and email?

If your budget can’t balance and you are still in need of cash flow – consider these ideas to save and/or generate income or save money.

  • Sell your used books online
  • Tutor other students in your best subject(s)
  • Check with your school. Local residents and businesses often contact colleges when looking for “freelance” help with babysitting, dog walking, tutoring for children, odd jobs, special events, and the like. There may even be interesting part-time jobs available that will fit into your academic schedule.

Credit cards
By now most people are aware of the dangers of credit cards, but a credit card can be a great tool for building credit. That’s why we suggest for everyday expenses, use a debit card linked to your checking account, but have a credit card on hand for emergencies, or to make small purchases on a regular basis. Just remember to pay off the balance as soon as possible.

Keep track
Frequent attention to your budget and cash flow is crucial. As a general rule, the tighter your cash flow, the more often you have to monitor your budget. While daily management may seem like too much, a weekly check-in is a good place to start. Never be late paying your bills – added interest and fees can create additional expenses.

Available tools like Online Banking can help you keep track by allowing you to access your accounts and check your balances easily. E-mail alerts can also help you keep an eye on your accounts by sending you a notice anytime your balances drop below a certain level.

Communication
If you are getting help from home, be sure to communicate all of your spending activity and needs frequently. Do your parents (and yourself) a favor and show them how well you are managing your money – and theirs. Make your budget an open book.

For added convenience, consider linking your accounts so your parents can easily transfer money into your account when you need it.

Beyond monetary reward
Have you ever noticed that people who manage their money well seem so confident? By managing the money you have – you remove what could otherwise be an encompassing stress. Self-discipline and a respect for your financial limitations are empowering and free your mind for learning! Share your knowledge with your friends.

Summer Savings Tip: Turn off the lights!

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household dedicates about 5% of its energy budget to lighting.Summer Savings Tip: Turn the lights off

It’s an easy budget to start trimming, and here are tips to get you started:

Make the switch
Switching to energy-efficient lighting is one of the fastest ways to cut your energy bills, and you have lots of choices, including halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Energy-efficient bulbs may cost more than ones you’re used to, but you’ll save over their lifetime.

Visit Energy Star to find the right light bulbs for your fixtures.

Off vs On
Think twice about that old electricity myth that says it uses more electricity to turn a light back on than it does to keep it on. Today’s basic wisdom suggests that, depending on the type of light, you’re apt to save by turning it off, no matter how short the duration before you’ll be turning it on again.

Time out
Use timers and motion sensors to automatically control the amount of electricity you use. Dimmers also provide savings.

Natural light
Take advantage of daylight by keeping your curtains, blinds or shades open, or using curtains that allow daylight in. When you’re decorating, remember that lighter colors reflect daylight and enhance available natural light in a room.

Crunch the numbers
Curious how much you might save — in terms of dollars or energy — by turning off the lights when you leave the house? It could add up. Check out this breakdown at The Simple Dollar.

Find more tips!
Looking to save even more? Visit websites for your local utilities, including the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), for more energy saving tips on everything from appliances to heating and cooling.

Is your family good about turning off the lights?

Staying Safe on the Move

Job opportunities, proximity to loved ones, milder temperatures or a simple change of scenery. Whatever the reason behind your next move, if it requires tHome Buyinghe help of a moving company, be sure and do your homework before packing up your bags. Unfortunately, there are a number of fraudsters looking to take advantage of consumers in their hurried and hectic state.

Moving fraud

Moving fraud can take many forms – whether theft, ransom, unscrupulous pricing practices or clever, sub-contractor swindling operations. What’s worse is that these unlicensed companies and scam artists are growing in number. http://www.bbb.org/us/article/moving-scams-still-a-problem-for-many-41632

Proper precautions

Before bringing in a company to give you a hand with your haul, simply begin by asking your friends and neighbors for any recommendations. Try accruing a list of four to five companies to ensure a competitive price. If you’re still in need of additional options, take to your favorite search engine. Once you build your list of four or five companies, click on over to consumer review site Yelp to find out what others may think. Finish your preliminary search by checking for any complaints on file with the Better Business Bureau.

You’ll want to call each business to verify the information on the company website and to arrange an on-site estimate at your residence. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/moving-scams-5-tips-to-avoid-moving-fraud/ Upon arrival, go over the details and don’t be afraid to ask any and all questions you may have with the agreement. Lastly, ask for a copy of “Your Right and Responsibilities When You Move,” a document which you are entitled to receive from the company by law. http://www.movingscam.com/articles/how-to-find-a-reputable-moving-company

In addition to these precautions, the Department of Transportation maintains a list of moving company red flags, https://www.protectyourmove.gov/consumer/awareness/protect/red-flags.htm while ProtectYourMove.gov https://www.protectyourmove.gov/consumer/awareness/checklist/movingchecklist.htm is home a to a handy checklist with everything you need to know from planning right through to moving day.

Recourse

If you suspect a scam call the police immediately. And victims of moving fraud are encouraged to file an official complaint with the National Consumer Complaint Database http://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov/ to assist in the investigation and help prevent the same company from committing similar crimes against others in the future.

Big Savings for Small Business

Are you a small business owner looking to maximize your margins? Are you trying to realize opportunities to save 75779888registerwithout disrupting your day-to-day processes? With a little creativity and thrifty thinking there are ways you can save without sacrificing efficiency or quality.

Smarter Spending

Used cars cost less than brand new models, and the same is true for office equipment. The next time you’re looking to pick up a printer/copier or conference table opt for a “pre-owned model,” and pay a fraction of the new sticker price. But before heading over to Amazon, eBay or a local office e-tailer, check out these tips http://www.nfib.com/article/buying-and-selling-used-office-equipment-52144/ to help guard against potential scams.

Other discount options exist in the growing number of surplus stores like Overstock.com http://www.overstock.com/, which resell outdated or previously unsold inventory from brand names and top retailers.

DIY Marketing

Of the many advantages of social media, it’s hard to ignore one very appealing fact – the price. All the major channels, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., are free for businesses to set up and maintain a profile. Using social sites as promotional vehicles for your latest products and services also improves your search engine rankings and therefore the likelihood of attracting more prospects.

Public relations opportunities are also monetarily attractive options. In addition to drafting and distributing your own press releases in conjunction with events or promotions, consider making senior managers and other specialists within your organization available for interviews and speaking opportunities. The benefits extend beyond the free press coverage, as your business will be seen as a go-to resource flush with industry experts.

Go green to save some green

According to PC World http://www.pcworld.com/article/257306/how_to_save_money_on_printing_costs.html, each sheet of printed paper costs about 10 cents, and that figure jumps significantly with respect to color. When you multiply that by the number of pages printed by each employee over the course of a year the expense grows exponentially.

Opt to “go green” and digitize whenever possible. In lieu of mailing or faxing inventories and purchase orders, send them via email. The same applies to inter-office communications, why print when scanning and sending does the trick. If you’re a brick and mortar business, try offering your customers the option of an e-receipt instead of a printed version. In addition to saving on ink, toner, paper and machine maintenance, your business will also benefit from the goodwill generated by your eco-friendly initiatives.

An even simpler, low-tech opportunity can be found by examining your overhead…lights that is. Replacing your incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient LEDs or compact fluorescents can result in a savings of up to tens of thousands annually. http://www.cnbc.com/id/100863041

What tips or tricks have you used to save your business money?

Look Before You Give: Beware of Charity Scams and Solicitations

There’s a great feeling that comes with giving back, and contributing to help others. And with advances in technology over the past few years, giving to your favorite charity, organization, or cause is now easier and more convenient than ever. But technology has also brought a negative side to charitable giving – it can turn your generosity and kindness into an opportunity for fraudsters to take your hard-earned money.

So how can you protect yourself from becoming a victim of charitable fraud? The Federal Trade Commission offers these tips:

Watch for red flags. While fraudsters have become more sophisticated and use a variety of methods to solicit funds by phone, mail, or online, there are some warning signs to look out for. Beware of organizations that –

• Request cash-only donations.

• Fail to provide information on their organization, including their mission and how your donations will be used.

• Cannot provide proof that your donations are tax-deductible.

• Pressure you to make donations.

• Ask you to wire money or express unnecessary immediacy in receiving funds.

Do your homework. Take these simple steps before you dish out any money or provide your credit card number to anyone:

• Get the full legal name of the organization and conduct an Internet search using the company name and words like “scam,” “fraud” or “complaint.”

• Call the charity to verify that the request for donation is legitimate. This will protect you in the event that a fraudster calls you or sends you an email pretending to be from a reputable charity.

• Contact the National Association of State Charity Officials to see if the charity is registered with a state.

• Find out the percentage of your funds that will go to the actual cause or fundraiser.

• Visit the Internal Revenue Service to see if your contributions are tax-deductible. Note there is a difference between an organization being tax-exempt versus offering tax-deductibility on contributions. Tax exempt simply means the organization doesn’t have to pay taxes.

Be a smart giver. Once you’ve verified the organization is legitimate, take these steps to protect yourself:

• Never send cash. It’s much safer and easier report contributions if you pay by check or credit card.

• Keep track of all your donations.

• Set aside a charitable budget to ensure you don’t give away more than you can afford.

Give back by reporting any scams If you think you’ve been a victim of charity fraud, take a moment to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. That simple step will help you give back by ensuring other innocent donors aren’t victimized

Hot Tips for Summer Vacation Savings

Summer becomes a hot time to give yourself and your loved ones a badly needed break. But with rising food, fuel, and hotel costs, for many people, a summer vacation may seem out of reach financially.

Rest assured, however, there are some ways to cut the cost of summer vacation and ensure you get your time in the sun.

• Be flexible – it pays. If you’re open to trying different vacation spots, you’ll increase your chances of saving money. For example, look at both lake vacations and beach locations for the best deals, and make your decision accordingly. Having flexibility on your vacation timetable will also make saving easier, especially if you choose a cruise, which can offer significantly lower rates during summer season.

• Stay out of the hot spots. While a lot of us love to be where all the action is, vacationing in crowded “hotspots” can cost you a lot more. By staying away from these locations, you won’t just avoid crowds and traffic; you’ll save money.

• Cash in your rewards. Do you have a credit card that offers travel rewards? Summer is a great time to cash in. You may be able to reduce or eliminate the cost of hotels, airfare, entertainment, and rental cars. Plus, if you stay at the same hotel or use the same airline, you can earn rewards that can be redeemed for next year’s vacation. How’s that for smart vacation planning?

• Get a vacation rental. One way to save significantly on your lodging costs is to rent a condo or cottage. Research has shown that renting homes is a lot more affordable than staying in hotel rooms. Plus, with a home, you’ll have more room and privacy – always a plus when you’re traveling with children.

• Dine in. Another advantage of renting a home is that you can make your own meals, putting more money in your pocket. If you plan on staying at a hotel, see if you can book a room with a stove or refrigerator to allow you to make your own meals and store snacks.

• Team up on your vacation. Invite family members or friends you enjoy spending time with to accompany you. With a vacation rental, you can split the cost of the home, making your vacation a whole lot more affordable.

These are just a few simple ways to save. Find more information on ways to save on vacation planning all year long with help from National Geographic.

The Business of Online Advertising

Learn through customer analyticsOne thing is certain about today’s consumers–more and more of them are spending more and more time (and money) online. If that’s where they are, shouldn’t your business be there too? If you’re a busy small business owner and not sure where to start with online advertising, here’s a brief background and a few best practices to get you digitally dialed in.

The Basics
Email marketing, display advertising, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, online video and social media marketing all fall underneath the digital umbrella. You can click here to for a quick reference guide http://www.quirk.biz/resources/emarketingone to find more information on the different channels and which are best suited to your current strategy.

And if you’re like most business owners, decisions about how to allocate limited resources will also play a significant role in which channel(s) to explore. This easy-to-read chart http://moz.com/learn/local/digital-marketing-options can help you compare options based on the amount of time and money you can expect to invest in each.

Best Practices Before Getting Started
As with any type of campaign, make sure you set out with a clearly defined goal. Whether it’s generating more awareness for your brand, driving traffic to your site or increasing sales be sure your objectives are designed to help you achieve a certain end.

Dare to be different, and don’t be afraid to try something a new. http://www.inc.com/ss/7-successful-viral-marketing-campaigns Take advantage of the ability to provide prospects with interesting and engaging content. Whether this is an interactive game, funny video, a little creativity can go a long way in getting you noticed by more users.

A great ad with eye-catching imagery, compelling copy or an irresistible offer is only the beginning. If you promise something in your ad, be sure you’re delivering on the other end through a custom landing page, a digital storefront or an information request form. The last thing you want is to get your prospects to act only to find the destination confusing or completely irrelevant. http://www.forbes.com/sites/drewhendricks/2014/02/28/5-landing-page-mistakes-that-are-killing-your-chances-at-conversions/ And it doesn’t end after “going live,” don’t forget to test your ad to ensure everything is working properly!

Measure Your Success
A challenge marketers face with traditional forms of advertising is navigating the murky waters of the measurement. This can make it difficult to determine the return on investment and overall effectiveness of a campaign.

However, you can track and trace you online efforts easily with the help of tools like Google Analytics http://www.google.com/analytics/. The wealth of information in these reports can provide you with data and insights you can learn from to help sharpen your strategy and improve your messaging and conversion rates over time.

Do you plan to include online advertising to help your boost your business’ bottom line?

How to set (and stick to) a budget

How much do you spend? How much do you earn? If one equals the other, you’re in trouble. And, if you spend more than you earn, you’re in really big trouble.

The solution? Set a budget, and stick to it!

The goal? Live within your means, avoid falling off a cliff and into debt, and start saving https://www.cbtc.com/personal/savingsTypes.aspx?id=14 – for emergencies, special occasions, and for your future.

Easier said than done? No. All it takes is a little time, a little patience, and a little commitment. And, taking that first step.

Getting started
Check these 8 easy tips for creating a personal budget http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2013/10/18/8-steps-to-creating-a-personal-budget. Pay particular attention to Step #8: “Don’t set yourself up for failure. Making sacrifices is part of managing expenses, but if you set restrictions too high and too soon, you will be less likely to follow your budget over the long term.”

The first step to successful budgeting is knowing, and tracking, where your money goes. You can do it with pencil and paper, or consider one of the personal finance software programs http://www.forbes.com/sites/moneywisewomen/2012/01/03/budgeting-software-options/ such as Quicken or Mint.

Setting priorities
The second step is to set priorities. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/money101/lesson2/index4.htm Try to cut back your spending to about 90% of your income.

Stretching that dollar
If you think it’s impossible to save anything, or to save more than you’re saving now, you might be surprised that it is possible and, maybe, painless. Here are 10 tips for saving on a tight budget. http://americasaves.org/for-savers/make-a-plan-how-to-save-money/saving-on-a-tight-budget

And, if you simply can’t image how to spend less than you’re spending now, start thinking about new ways to reduce your monthly bills. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/money101/lesson2/index5.htm

Sticking to it
Don’t get discouraged. If Plan A doesn’t work, come up with a Plan B to focus on your finances http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/budget/stick-to-a-budget .
Budgeting will be easier once you find the path that works the best for you.