Friday Focus: Accokeek Foundation

Along the Potomac River just across from the historic Mount VernDSC_0915 Becky talks about watermelonson plantation sits Piscataway Park, a 5,000-acre span of natural landscape. The park is a product of a large-scale conservation effort begun in the 1950s, when rapid development threatened to
destroy the land. Today, the stewardship of the park is a joint effort between the National Park Service and the Accokeek Foundation, an organization dedicated to sharing the land and its heritage with visitors. This week’s Friday Focus is a conversation with Anjela Barnes, the Foundation’s Marketing Director, who shared some favorite moments and the Foundation’s plans for celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812!

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The Accokeek Foundation’s mission is to cultivate passion for the natural and cultural heritage of Piscataway Park and commitment to stewardship and sustainability. We were founded in 1957 to protect the view from George Washington’s Mount Vernon as one of the nation’s first land trusts, and we continue land conservation efforts today to ensure continued protection of the viewshed and the working landscapes in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Through a partnership with the National Park Service, the Foundation uses Piscataway Park to interpret agriculture and environmental stewardship to its 20,000 annual visitors, including school youth, local residents, recreational enthusiasts and D.C. area tourists. The National Colonial Farm, a well known historic farm museum established in 1958, demonstrates Maryland agriculture during the 18th century, and has been the backdrop for hundreds of school tours each year. The Ecosystem Farm, a certified organic 8-acre farm, teaches visitors about sustainable food production using innovative growing techniques. It is the goal of the farm to demonstrate a compelling variety of possibilities that inspire people to want to grow while creating a thriving, engaged community.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: There are so many favorite moments that it’s hard to choose just one, but I would say that the best moments come by way of the school tours offered to kids aged 13 or younger. Last fall, the organic farm we operate was host to a group of kids from D.C.’s Mundo Verde Public Charter School. The kids learned about what it’s like to be a farmer, where their food comes from and even helped to harvest carrots–a lot of carrots! For many of the kids, it is their first time visiting a farm, an experience quoted by one teacher as, “one they’ll never forget.”

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Because of recent federal budget cuts, including sequestration and the October shutdown, the Accokeek Foundation has been impacted by a decrease in federal funding. Support from private foundations and individuals help to provide the funds needed so we can maintain and provide an open space that is available daily and free for all to enjoy its beauty.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Yes. We’ve just launched a free monthly workshop series on Modern Homesteading which integrates classroom learning with practical, hands-on work on the farm. The series will be held on Sundays through the fall and will cover topics such as composting, permaculture design, kitchen gardening, canning and food preservation and seed saving. We are also in the midst of planning for a large public event on July 12. The event, “Celebrating with Pride on the Potomac”, commemorates the War of 1812 bicentennial with a visit to the Potomac by the Pride of Baltimore. The event will feature deck tours aboard the Pride, shore side captain talks about the life of a privateer, kayak tours by Atlantic Kayak Company, music and historic interpretation on the National Colonial Farm. Admission is $10 per person, and children 10 and under are free.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: There are many ways to get involved with the organization. Volunteering on a recurring basis is often the most rewarding way to get involved and give back by helping with the gardens, caring for heritage breed livestock, working the on-farm market or lending a hand during special events. Individuals and families can also join and become members of the Accokeek Foundation to support the natural and cultural heritage programs offered. Or simply visit, bring your family and friends, and enjoy the natural beauty of Piscataway Park, preserved and protected for generations to come.

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?

Young Adult Blog Series: Buying Your First Car

Car Care Tips to Save You MoneyOne of the first big financial steps you’ll likely take is making the decision to buy a car. Buying a car can be exciting, a little stressful and will have a big impact on your financial life. You’ll need to consider what you want, but also what you can reasonably afford. Owning a car doesn’t just involve making a monthly payment on your loan; you will also need to consider things like gas, insurance and maintenance before making a purchase. And always remember that a car isn’t an investment—it’s just a means of getting from one place to another.

Buying a car is essentially a three-step process: choosing the car you want, negotiating the purchase and actually paying for it.

Step One: The New or Used Decision
The automobile industry spends millions of dollars each year to bring you advertisements for sleek, shiny, new cars with countless features and custom furnishings. But as you can imagine, luxury comes with a high price tag, so as you begin your search be sure to set a limit on how much you’re willing to spend.

There are pros and cons to both new and used cars; new cars usually come with a warranty that will cover unforeseen expenses, but can be expensive. Buying used can be a cost-savings up front, but you’ll need to do extra homework on the car’s history to avoid getting stuck with a clunker. Sites like Carfax.com offer history reports that can tell you if a car was ever stolen, salvaged or recalled, so make that part of your research process. It’s also a good idea to have a qualified mechanic take a look at the car before you buy.

Step Two: Negotiating
Negotiating the purchase of your car can be the most stressful part of the process, particularly if it’s your first time. It helps to go in knowing the facts about the car you’re interested in and be firm on your price limit.

The Internet is a great resource for comparing prices. Check out sites like Autobytel and CarsDirect to get quotes beforehand. Don’t be afraid to share competitive pricing with your salesperson. While you negotiate, stay focused on the purchase price of the car you want and keep discussions about trade-ins or financing options separate. Be wary of expensive add-ons, too; often times, dealerships offer things like rust-proofing or extended warranties that are profitable for the dealer but can be very expensive for you.

Finally, if you feel that you cannot get the price you want or you aren’t being treated with respect, don’t be afraid to table the negotiation and take your business elsewhere. There are many dealerships out there who would love to have your business!

Step Three: Paying for the Car
When it comes to paying for your car, you have several different options.

The first and easiest option would be to pay cash in full, that way you’ll avoid any interest expenses. If you’re buying a new or more expensive used car, though, paying cash might not be possible. In that case, most people choose to make a down payment and then finance the rest of their purchase with a loan. You can take a loan through your bank or credit union, or through the dealership itself. If you’re not planning to finance through the dealer, secure your loan before you walk into the showroom.

Another option is to lease a car, which avoids the need for a large down payment. When you lease, you make monthly payments until the lease is up, at which point you return the car. The obvious drawback here is that you don’t actually own the car.

Whether you’re leasing or buying, be sure to fully understand the terms and conditions before you sign any documents.

Are you ready to take your first steps toward owning a car? Community Bank offers auto loans to help you finance your purchase. Stop in and talk to us anytime!

Young Adult Blog Series: Find Your Financial Co-Pilot

CoffeeWorkerIf you think of your financial life as one giant road trip with financial stability as the end destination, one of the first things you’ll need to do is find yourself a good co-pilot. Someone dependable, who will have your back if the going gets tough. Someone who understands you—how you operate, what your needs are—and someone you’ll enjoy having along for the ride!

In the context of finance, that co-pilot is your bank.
A good working relationship with a financial institution is part of a solid financial foundation, and it’s important to find the right one to work with. Depending on where you live, you’ll probably have several to choose from, so here are a few things to consider when selecting a bank:

• Location of branches and ATMs — While the days of traditional banking are giving way to online tools and mobile apps, it’s still good to find one that is conveniently located, in the event that you need to physically visit the branch. Also, consider their ATM locations in relation to where you live and work. Is there a branch ATM nearby? Many branches are also part of networks that don’t charge fees, so be sure to find out as you research different banks.

• Fairly priced products and services — Different banks will offer different accounts and services. Be sure to do a good comparison between banks you’re considering; take into account interest rates and fees associated with their various accounts.

• The overall “vibe” — Remember, you’re choosing a partner accompany you on your journey toward financial success. Interacting with your bank should be a positive experience, so be sure to find a bank that will take the time to understand your needs and genuinely wants your business. Trust your instincts—if you’re not getting the right feeling when you walk into a branch or speak to someone on the phone, find another institution.

When you walk into the branch, be prepared and know what you need, but also ask questions. Make sure you’re getting the products and services that are best for you. If you’re opening an account for the first time, you’ll need your Social Security number, identification and proof of residency. Consider signing up for some basic accounts and services: a checking account, savings account and ATM card are a good place to start. You could also consider enrolling in direct deposit to make it even easier to receive your paycheck.

Having all of these services under one roof and getting to know your personal banker can help keep your financial life simple, and can help down the road when you need other things like loans or mortgages.

 

Telecommuting: Is it good business for you?

There’s a popular trend that’s taking place in companies today; a growing number of employees are trading in their cubicles for their living rooms and working at home for at least part of the time. According to a report based on U.S. Census report statistics, 50 million U.S. employees hold jobs that can be conducted from home.

It’s easy to see why employees like working from home. They get to eliminate commuting time, save money on fuel and clothing, and gain valuable time in their personal lives. But what’s the impact for employers? Is allowing your employees to telecommute good or bad for your company? Here’s a look at the pros and cons:

The Pros

Increased employee productivity. Research has shown that employees who work at home are often more productive. When they are in the office, they have to stretch out work over an eight-hour day, whereas at home, they have an incentive to get their work done in less time. They also don’t have normal office distractions, such as socializing with co-workers and taking long lunches. Research has shown that employees who telecommute are also less likely to take sick days.

A valuable work/life employee benefit. One of the biggest benefits of telecommuting is that it reduces the time employees have to spend commuting to work, giving them more time in their personal lives. As a result, telecommuting can be a smart and cost-effective benefit for attracting and retaining employees, particularly those who have young children.

Cost savings. Telecommuting can impact your bottom line by allowing you to reduce expensive office space and other overhead costs, including office supplies and equipment.

Improved morale. Employees who have a work life balance are likely to be happier, and work harder to maintain their jobs.

 The Cons

Decreased personal interaction. The most successful companies are those that foster a spirit of collaboration and teamwork with employees. Having employees physically separated can limit their personal interaction.

Reduced control. When your employees aren’t physically present, it’s more difficult to monitor their work and progress. You can counter that by arranging to have in-person meetings from time to time and regular check-ins.

Security risk. At many companies, employees have access to critical and sensitive data. Providing remote access to this data on their home computers or allowing them to bring home confidential information can put the security of your information at risk.

Do your homework before allowing employees to work from home.

For more information on telecommuting, including helpful strategies, check out these articles from Monster.com http://hiring.monster.com/hr/hr-best-practices/workforce-management/employee-benefits-management/telecommuting-strategy.aspx and Mashable http://mashable.com/2014/01/27/employees-work-from-home-considerations/

Starting on the Road to Financial Security

CarAsk ten people what it means to be financially stable, and you’ll likely receive ten completely different answers. But whatever your personal definition of financial stability might be, the most important thing is making it a reality.

Reaching a point of financial security is a process that takes time, effort and yes, a little sacrificing. The results are worth it though, and starting early can give you a huge leg up down the line.  To get you started, here are 11 good financial habits that can help put you on the road to financial security.

1. Be organized. Keep your financial records together and figure out an organizational system that works best for you.

2. Use direct deposit for your paychecks. Direct deposit is a faster, safer way to have your paychecks delivered to you that a printed check. Plus, you can elect to have a portion of your check deposited into a savings account, which is a great way to ensure that you’re always saving!

3. Start saving for retirement. If your employer offers a retirement plan, contribute as much as you’re able. Remember that retirement savings deductions are taken pre-tax. If your employer doesn’t offer retirement options, consider starting an IRA for yourself.

4. Set up an automatic savings program. Commit to having a set amount of money transferred to your savings account each week, even if you can only save a small amount. Every dollar makes a difference!

5. Do a monthly budget. Take a good look at your income and monthly expenses. Write down the monthly expenses that you have: rent, student loan payments, bills, etc. Once those expenses are taken out, figure out how much you can afford to save, and how much you’re going to allow yourself for miscellaneous expenses. Discipline yourself to stay within your budget, especially when it comes to entertainment and leisure expenses.

6. Create a personal balance sheet. A balance sheet helps you calculate your net worth—the difference between your assets and your liabilities. It’s a good practice to update your balance sheet at least a few times a year so that you always have an accurate idea of where you are financially.

7. Use credit cards wisely. Credit card debt can add up quickly and can put you in a tough financial spot. While it’s tempting to be able to buy things today and not worrying about paying until tomorrow, remember that “tomorrow” will inevitably come and you’ll need to pay your balance. A good practice is to make sure that you can always pay your balance off in full each month, that way you’ll never get hit with high interest rates. If you think you’re likely to carry a balance month-to-month, be sure to shop for a card with a good interest rate.

8. Make credit card payments promptly and pay more than the minimum. If you find that you are carrying over a balance on a credit card, make every effort to pay more than the minimum—not doing so can lead to trouble for your credit score, and can increase your monthly payments in the long run.

9. Reconcile your checking account monthly. Keeping a close and careful record of your transactions will help you to ensure that you always have enough funds in your bank account and avoid overdraft fees.

10. Review all your bills and statements as soon as you receive them. You should make a point to look at your bills and statements as soon as they’re available to check for any discrepancies and see if any action is needed.

11. Get smart! Take every opportunity to boost your financial literacy—check out financial columns and blogs for the latest advice, and don’t hesitate to talk to your banker or financial advisor if you have questions.

 

 

 

Financial Education Blog Series: Young Adults

They are the generation that came of age in a time of economic uncertainty: young adults, between ages 18 and 25, dubbed “millennials” by the media.

For them, student loan debt, underemployment, the rising cost of living and the never-ending pressure of consumer culture have shaped their financial experience thus far and will likely have a far-reaching impact on their financial futures. And while information is more accessible than ever before, studies are mixed on just how much of it millennials are digesting when it comes to financial literacy.

Over the next 12 weeks, the Community Bank blog will take a look at financial issues facing today’s young people, from establishing credit to buying a first car. We’ll provide some tips and strategies for saving, investing and planning for the financial future. Whether you’re starting your first 401k or just saving your pennies for a rainy day, we’ll help improve your financial-know how!

What’s your financial IQ? According to a recent FINRA study, only 24% of millennials were able to answer four or five questions correctly on this Financial Literacy Quiz. See how you measure up!

Business: Learn (and Earn) Through Customer Analytics

Learn through customer analyticsWhat are the most heavily trafficked pages of your website? Can you predict what items are going to be flying off your store shelves this season? With the help of analytical tools and techniques your business can leverage insights from your customers’ behavior and historical preferences to make better decisions and become more profitable. Continue reading