How To Successfully Drive Business Change

As an owner looking for ways to improve your business processes and your business performance, you are no doubt on the look out for new ideas and strategies to implement.

How lucky you are that in this modern world there are so many ideas and strategies to choose from!

Of course as you mature as a business owner you come to understand that it is not access to new ideas that will make a difference in your business, it is your ability to implement those ideas and drive change that will determine how successful you will be.

In my professional experience as a business coach I have observed time and again that the most successful business owners are those that can embrace the need for change and find a way to motivate and empower their staff to drive the business improvement process.

But change does not come easy to any human– we all seem to have a fear of moving away from what we know, even if we understand that we could always be doing better!

One of the business coaching ideas I use with my clients is that your ability to make changes in your business life (and indeed your personal life) depends on the strength of your personal DVP formula.

What is the DVP formula?

It is a concept that says that successful change requires a high level of

1. Dissatisfaction;

2. Vision; and,

3. Planning.

What does that mean?

If you and your team are not really dissatisfied with your current position, why would you commit to a change strategy? Why change something if it isn’t broken? If you can live with the current position, or have lived with it for a number of years and the sky has not yet fallen in, there is no perceived need to adopt a different way of doing things– even if you understand that a change may lead to better results.

The trick then is to understand just how dissatisfied you and your team are in relation to a specific business process or financial outcome. If the drive to get to a better place is not strong enough, you either need to find a way to increase the level of dissatisfaction or accept that change will not occur and move on to another business issue.

The second element of your DVP formula is to make sure you have a very clear vision of what you want to achieve. Any change process you start without having a strong vision of where you want to get to is destined to fail.

Finally, once you have a strong desire to make changes to your current position, and you have a strong vision of where you would like to get to, the success or otherwise of your change strategy will depend on the strength of your plan to achieve the change.

So the DVP formula says that changing a business process is more likely to be successful if you and your team can develop a high level of dissatisfaction with what you are currently doing and currently achieving, and then develop a strong desire to get to a better place, and then develop an effective planning strategy to move you and your business to the desired result.

If any of these three elements are not strong enough, you are not likely to achieve the results you want.

How To Apply DVP In Your Business.

Experience has shown me that the best approach to driving change in a business is to engage the team early in the process.

Within a workshop environment, get your team to focus on the business process you want to change and fully discuss the negative impact it is having on the business as a whole and most importantly, on the individual team members themselves. List down everything that the group discusses– the more negatives they find the better!

From there your team should talk about the types of improvements they would like to see in the business and in the lives of the individuals and what the business would look like if these improvements could be made. The more you focus on the improved business results and the improved work life opportunities, the more you and your team will become dissatisfied with the current position, and the more likely you are to commit to a change strategy.

Again, use a whiteboard to list the benefits that can be achieved by making the changes. That list of benefits will ultimately define the vision of what you want to achieve. Using an open forum discussion process you should be able to develop a very clear understanding of what vision you and your team are willing to commit to.

Having developed a full understanding of your current position and a strong vision of where you would like to get to, it is then time to discuss ways that you can move your business towards the agreed goals. Brainstorming ideas will ensure everything is considered and ultimately this list of ideas can be distilled down to what is the most appropriate strategy for your business and your team at this time.

Follow this process and your ability to drive a successful change strategy in your business will be greatly improved.

Applying DVP To Your Personal Life.

Interestingly, this DVP formula is also amazingly effective in making changes to your personal life. Do you want to stop smoking, lose weight, or make a career change?

None of these things are easy to achieve, but how much easier is it when you become so dissatisfied with your life that you are desperate to make a change, when you have a strong vision of yourself as a non-smoker, a fitter person or working in a job you love, and with the assistance of a friend, mentor or professional you are able to develop and commit to a step by step plan to achieve success?

DVP Will Work In Your Business.

When I first discovered this DVP formula I thought it was theoretical rubbish!

Having applied it as a professional business coach over many years, and having applied it to some of my own personal issues over the years, I can assure you the DVP formula is very real and very effective.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/7462741

Conduct a Digital Audit for Your Business

A digital ‘audit’ can seem a daunting task but once broken down into stages the process becomes quickly achievable. This first planning step to take involves reviewing the digital health of your business and analysing your business’ current situation in terms of:

• Your business’ ability to handle change

• The online market place

• Your online and offline market position

• The external environment your are operating in

This is an opportunity to spot weaknesses in your business profile and marketing power online, so you can then build a marketing strategy based on your strengths as well as any opportunities to sell.

Don’t worry about your research findings. This is a useful business exercise not a personal comment. Better to find ways of improving your marketing situation online than to ignore the need to improve. Try to make a point of taking a bird’s eye view of your business as online audits are very useful if you respond with logic rather than emotion.

Remember, if you find holes in your business, you are not alone. Very common business audit discoveries include:

• The business hasn’t planned well in the past

• Not enough is known about a business’ customer groups (segments).

• Pricing is inconsistent with competitors

• Cash-flow is a worry and marketing budget isn’t enough to meet objectives.

• Brand, website and customer loyalty needs building

• Not enough is known about the potential of the internet as a tool for sales

• Business team doesn’t have much IT technical knowledge

It’s worth keeping in mind that if you are in a fast moving industry you will need to review your audit more often.

Consider your internal environment (factors you can control)

a. Decide what you want to get out of your audit, do you want:

• More effective business procedures

• Better return on investment (ROI)

• Market insights to plan campaigns

• Build customer relationships

b. Consider the success of what information you already have (and how it translates online):

• Internal written, digital or word of mouth data about customer service and productivity

• Any marketing strategy

• Business strategy

• Product development, customer service and communications systems

• What product / service distribution system and service network do you have currently? how would it have to change online?

c. Consider your current assets to help you decide how you will reach digital objectives. These include cash flow, business competencies and internal and external resources such as your:

• Management, employees, stakeholders, suppliers, partners, agency workers- their digital skills/ experience/ contacts/ goodwill and support

• Current Customers – their digital preferences (what they use in terms of hardware, software, social media, advertising, downloads, webinars, podcasts, games)

• Business budget (and partner business budget)

• Materials and technology

• Review all your marketing materials – what are they, how are they used? Are they cost-effective and what return on investment do you get?

• Brand, (including its character, business culture and location)

• Processes and systems, speed of operations and delivery to market

• Previous business activity, competitor and market research/insight, financial history, campaign results.

d. Define your current and target customers – by considering the things your regular customers have in common:

Tip1: Create current and target market groupings (segments) based on their buying behaviour and demographics. It can help to define each group as a person. For example, a live music venue may target someone like ‘Johnny’ who is 32, single and likes a pint with his mates at a club where he hears new bands and then uses his iPhone to download the tracks off iTunes. He’s an impulse buyer who responds to what he sees/hears.

Tip 2: Learn to use a search marketing tool such as Google Keywords SEOmoz, LongTail Pro or Market Samurai to find out what products, services, and information (relevant to your business) your target customers are they searching for online. There are plenty of tutorials available for each of these on YouTube or their respective websites.

e. What are your business’ planned objectives and KPIs? Have any been achieved online or offline? Why did they succeed? Do you have customer feedback? Especially review what plans exist to recruit, convert and retain customers?

Consider the marketing environment in which your business is located and your market position (on and offline)

a. How does your business brand (personality) and your products/services fit into the wider marketplace and how will it be affected by it? You may want to use a free survey design service such as Survey Monkey to ask current customers and prospects for their views on your business credibility, reputation, products / services and future online growth. This process also helps to remind customers of your brand and intention to trade online.

b. Consider your marketplace online and offline:

• What does your industry look like online?

• Who are your chief competitors? Are they the same offline? How would you describe their online brands, promotional techniques, customers? What’s unique and emotionally appealing about them to their customers? How can your brand be different and more appealing than theirs (without losing money?)

d. What market share do you currently have (shows how competitive you are)? You can define this as Value (your market sales revenue divided by the total market sales revenue available) or Volume (your market unit sales volume divided by the total volume of units sold in that market). You can also look at your relative market share against a market leader (your market share volume divided by the market leader’s share volume). Be careful of planning price wars on this basis though as they harm the pricing structure of the industry down.

e. What alternative partners and agencies exist in the online marketplace to help you with your supply chain, research, marketing, services, offers, weblinks, advertising etc?

g. Asses your business’ digital ‘marketing mix’- this is a combination of marketing factors that collectively represent your business online. They include where you can find your business’ brand online, how you promote your business, your current online pricing mechanisms, your products or services offered online, your representatives and processes online and evidence of your existence (for example, if you offer services do you display testimonials, awards, guarantees, transparent customer service).

h. analyse your brand’s market strength online:

• How will potential customers come in contact with your brand and what it means to them (logos, products, website, promotions, social network interaction, downloads, employees, email responses, purchase systems, after sales added-value services etc)

• How do you value those aspects of brand equity

• Are you planning to expand your brand/products/services

• Does your brand reinforce your business values

Consider the external environment (factors beyond your control)

a. Marketers use an analysis tool known as PESTEL (shortened to PEST) to consider the external environment within which a business operates and the factors which could impact upon that business’ goals.

PESTEL is an acronym that represents the words Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal. You can create your own PESTEL analysis by setting out these words and then bullet pointing with specifics that affect your business’ ability to achieve the aim of setting up and operating online.

A bullet point example under the heading ‘legal’ might be:

• UK Data Protection Act 1998

This is important as you will need to comply with this law to protect customers’ data you hold as a result of trading online (and offline).

You will probably be able to list at least 5 factors under each heading that are important influencers over your online success.

PESTEL analyses are useful as they can help you identify potential threats to your business or opportunities if they are considered in light of your strengths and resources.

b. Your online Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats can be expressed using an SWOT tool (you may well have carried out this exercise to create your offline marketing plan or business plan). A SWOT helps you take a bird’s eye view of your business, for you to consider how well you can compete, where your business is weak, where it could be threatened and then you can build a strategy for your digital plan.

It’s worth taking the time to learn how to do this specifically for your business needs and to avoid the pitfalls. For further guidance on SWOT development see this American site Smes internet marketing.

Audit summary

Now in light of your audit findings try to answer the following questions and see how they fit with any current marketing/business plan you have:

1. Which of your KPIs and objectives have you achieved already and which ones can you achieve as a result of your audit?

2. What does your SWOT/PESTEL analysis tell you about the potential for your business reaching and retaining target customers? What specific opportunities are there which are not inhibited by weaknesses?

3. Who can you compete with and what are their weaknesses / strengths /plans? What specifically (within budget) will you offer customers that’s different from your competitors, offering greater value?

4. Can you summarise your target markets’ buying behaviour?

5. Are you clearer about what you need to produce and how you need to supply your goods/services online?

6. Have you got the clues you need to provide good customer service online in a way your current and target customers appreciate?

A Good Start-Up Is Necessary for Business

Starting a business can evoke a lot of emotions be it fear, anxiety, excitement, or sense of satisfaction. The intent and uttermost important goal is to make money and be successful. No one goes into business expecting to fail. It takes a lot of planning and arranging to get things going. While there are factors that will be out of your control, those that you can handle must be dealt with accordingly. Some people think that because they have a good idea or products that people want it guarantees success. However, they did not go beyond to think of how to advertise and promote their idea or products. Another overlooked factor is start-up costs. How are they going to pay for the expenses of the business until they get customers? Would you buy a vehicle with a bad engine even though it looks good? Just like a beautiful car with a bad engine, a business without good planning, sufficient capital, and other necessities for business works the same. The idea and products are great but the marketing, capital, search engine optimization for the website, and other factors(the engine) are not so well. A business(the vehicle) like this does not last long before you are fed up, in debt, out of money trying to fix problems, and ready to quit. That’s why a good start-up is necessary for business.

A good start-up consists of:

FIGURE IT OUT

Take time to think about what you would like to do. What are you good at and how could others benefit from it. Use your hobbies, interests, experience, and skills to your advantage. I am pretty sure more than a few business ideas will come to mind. When your mind begins to stream ideas, be sure to write them down. You may have a few ideas you find suitable for a business but I encourage you to stick to one. Take on one project at a time.

PLANNING

Once you are set on an idea, it is time to plan. A small business does not only have to get up and running, it has to compete with other well-known, maybe bigger, businesses within its industry. Planning is essential. A business plan is a directional compass. A good business plan could show both opportunity and opposition depending on how detailed it is. You can minimize risk monetarily and legally as well. Business planning will help you decide whether proceeding with your idea(s) are even worth it. A plan answers these questions too, “Is there a market for the product or service?” “Who is the competition?” “How much capital is needed?” Creating a business plan will be to your benefit most importantly because helps to get financing from investors. Business plans shows you have taken time to consider all or most of the aspects of owning a business and are serious about becoming an entrepreneur.

DO IT

You have the money to get started so, do it. If you have a testable product, do not be afraid to let people try it. Ask for feedback on services and product quality. For the duration of being in business especially while building a name for yourself, always look for ways to improve. Refer to your plan as needed. Execute your plan and you should be fine.

BE LEGIT

Whether your business is online or a storefront, you have to be legit. That means have ALL your paperwork in order. Make sure you have your licenses and permits before you begin business. For those that choose to start without it, get it ASAP. Not registering your business could result in fines or having your establishment shut down. Business filing is important. This is not to be overlooked or put off.

MARKETING

Promote your brand. The more people who know what you have to sell and who you are, the better. In my opinion, most small businesses fail because they do not advertise enough. Traditional forms of advertisement–newspaper ads, local phonebook, flyers, and handouts are okay. Advertising those ways are usually time consuming, costly, and bring minimal results. I believe the best way to market your products and services is online marketing. Internet marketing reaches thousands to millions of people a day. What I consider to be awesome is that you can target the market in which you wish to sell to. Target marketing brings to customers that are interested to what you have to offer, not those that are not looking to purchase or not in need of your service. Online marketing makes your service/products visible locally and regionally. That is a far wider range of exposure than what traditional advertising can bring and often times less expensive.

WEB DESIGN

Having a website is a must have for any business. When you are sleeping, it is working and advertising for you. No matter what time of day it is you could still make money. To setup a website is fairly cheap. You can do it yourself or have it professionally done for an affordable price. Most people, when they are looking for services and especially products, go to the web. The internet has become the most used source for information. Think about it. The phonebook is not extinct but the least used. Search engines–Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask are what is most popular and often used. Your business website should be listed there. Websites provide flexibility and convenience. People who do not have means of transportation to come to your physical location, work late, or live miles away have a way to still benefit from your product or service via your website. From your website, millions can get to know who you are, what you sell, what you do, compare, spread the word about you, and support your brand if they like you.

PAYMENT FLEXIBILITY

Make ways to get paid. Sure, you could accept cash only but what about credit card payments. How many people walk around with cash these days? Most purchases are made with a credit card because it is convenient, fast, and flexible for customers ( Accept Cards ). Yes, there are fees involved when accepting credit cards but it is well worth it. When a customer walks into your business they automatically assume you accept credit cards as a form payment. That assumption is acceptable because what credible business doesn’t… There is no place that I know that does not accept cards. SCENARIO: Customers come in and they look around and find something they like. The customer comes to the register to pay but only has a card. What then? The customer will either leave and you lose a sale(money) or walk around to find an ATM which would be a bad first impression for your business. If you do not want to accept cards, okay. Give your customers options though. At least have an ATM in the store for them to go to so that they are not too inconvenienced or compelled to walk away. You are in business to make money. The more ways for you to get paid, the better.

The Importance of Business Valuation for Small and Mid-Sized Companies

Business valuation is an important aspect of owning a business, particularly for small- and mid-sized business owners. If, at any given time, a business owner does not have a fairly well-defined idea of what his or her business is worth, they are limited in what they can do to increase the value of their business over time. Preparing an exit plan is critical for business owners even when they do not foresee selling for many years to come because when that time comes, every owner wants to get the best possible price for their life’s work.

Ultimately, every business changes hands for any number of reasons – the owner or owners’ retire, profit fails to meet expectation, the owner becomes burned-out and desires a lifestyle change, one partner wants to buy out another, death, lack of heirs – you get the picture. In the meantime, determining the future value of the business begins with the value of the business in the current market to serve as a baseline.

Business valuation is best conducted by a team of professionals including a commercial broker, accountant, and attorney, all experienced at determining the market value of a business and how to improve that value. Business owners should take a hands-on approach to the process of business valuation so they understand how to maximize the future business value.

An initial valuation establishes a baseline from which the value of the business can be adjusted by different business decisions. Fundamentally, the appraisal process considers the current business assets, the value of the business to outside parties (including the brand, customer demand, and profits), and comparisons of a similar businesses in the market. This formula will differ for every business based on its size, location, industry, and more.

Included in the assets are hard assets such as the building (if owned by the business), machinery, technology, and such. In addition, less tangible assets are part of the valuation such as historical and projected earnings, size of the customer base and their buying patterns, patents, trademarks, copy writes, and brand value. Another aspect of the valuation process is identifying the unique advantages and disadvantages of a particular business such as how well the business has developed a niche for itself in the relevant industry, what kind of reputation the business has, and what the business on-line reputation is like.

The valuation methodology is based on the use of specific theoretical underpinnings and related formulas that your specific valuation professional adheres to. One you have arrived at a base line for the value of your business, you can address factors that will increase its value. If you do not plan to sell for some time, you should develop short- and long-term plans to increase the market value. On the other hand, if you are anxious to sell in the near future, your commercial broker can tell you of ways to increase the value over the short-term, before it goes on the market. The speed with which you want to sell will also play a part in the selling price you arrive at.

The Need for Human Trafficking Education in America’s Schools

Human Trafficking is the most critical and challenging social issue of our times and especially for America’s youth. Those most vulnerable to this debilitating and tragic crime are in our schools and youth organizations. They are our daughters (and sons), our nieces and nephews, and brothers and sisters, and they are often times hidden in plain sight. During the day they walk among us. We see them in shopping centers, in hospital emergency rooms, on hotels and motels, in our classrooms, and yes in our homes locked in their rooms pretending to do homework. But at night, there is a different story. While at night they are enduring repeated rape and violence at the hands of traffickers and johns, and parents think they are out on dates, at parties. Some even are coerced to sneak out the bedroom window after they are threatened with harm to their families by traffickers. The myth that they are always snatched (some area) is not the norm, it is the exception.

Traffickers use today’s cultural leniency to entrap the most vulnerable among us —

In the United States, the average age of entry into sexual slavery is 13, and about 80% of sex buyers do so for the first time before age 25. And while stats attempt at dividing youth into vulnerable and not-vulnerable categories, the truth is that there are no socio-economic boundaries that exempt any of our youth from this activity or this crime. We need to reach them with every opportunity available today. Children spend more waking hours during the week at school than at home where parents are often times at work when they get home. So it is natural that the most obvious venue for helping our children navigate this issue is in the classroom where romeo pimps know they can gain free access.

What makes all of our youth vulnerable is the modern culture in the United States and across the world that sanctions a hyper-sexualized climate that preys on youth. Today’s generation of children and teens are growing up with the mindset that sex any time and with anyone is normal. The thirst for material possessions and the need for an acceptable self-image plague society and have established a template for what deems acceptance by peers for inclusion into the “loved” circles of society. This is the challenge we face. All of our youth are targets and traffickers know how to use these tools to ultimately entrap them.

Romeo pimps that pursue girls and gain their trust; boy-friending and girl-friending by peers that strategically target insecure youth; social media that plays on the emotions of the one on the other end of a message or picture; and parties where victims drinks are used as an unsuspecting means of drugging and then the victims are raped – these are some of the most engaging ways that traffickers work.

A key to prevention —

Imagine the very real possibility of reaching the next generation with the proper tools to equip them to make wise choices? With this in mind, we can potentially end human trafficking in our lifetime. Getting education into America’s schools is paramount in working to make this a reality. Yet not many educators or youth leaders are equipped to teach their youth about this scourge, and the thought of creating a curriculum from scratch is too daunting on top of their many other responsibilities.

During the previous few years anti-human trafficking organizations all across the United States have taken the time to write curriculum and other programs that can aid educators in this mission, however getting them into the schools has been an uphill battle. Educators are overloaded with work as it is and to add yet another course to their already full plate has been next to impossible. While a few schools have opened their doors to an equally few organizations, we have not begun to make an impact the way we need to. Evidence proves that we must reach America’s youth to not only prevent them from becoming victims and traffickers, but to actually end this nightmare for so many of our children.

To mandate or not to mandate education on human trafficking —

While some states are passing legislation mandating education on human trafficking in their school systems, and others are tossing around the topic, we can’t address this fast enough. We have mandated education for law enforcement training, training for care givers, training for first-responders, but what about training to prevent victims! Why aren’t we discussing mandatory training for students who are the ones that this is all about?

The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report states that the average age of a victim of human trafficking is 12-13. The at-risk youth are sitting in America’s classrooms. Why aren’t we going where the need is the greatest? Educating America’s youth is paramount in this mission to prevent more victims and to end human trafficking. There is an overwhelming number of advocates that have already written educational training programs and curriculum for the classroom: Aware Program in Vancouver, WA; My Life My Choice in Boston, MA; Blue Ribbon Week for 2nd and 3rd grade in San Antonio, TX; iEmpathize in Boulder, CO among many others. Collectively, there is a wonderful balance of material across the nation and no reason why every student in America cannot know about this issue and how to prevent themselves and their peers from becoming victims.

Heather Tuininga, Executive Director for Luke 1248 Foundation, after doing a full literature analysis, discovered several statistics about men who purchase sex. 74-86% of the men who purchased sex bought by the time they were 25 years old. She kept thinking “what if we educated all of the young men in this country under the age of 25 about the harms of human trafficking – to themselves, the women they are purchasing, and to their communities and the world? If we did, and none of them ever chose to purchase sex (or consume pornography) again, we could probably end the demand for sex trafficking in our lifetime. Wow!”

Of the many sources available to the schools, National Educators to Stop Trafficking (NEST) is another one of those sources. With over 40 combined curriculum and resources for fifth grade to twelve that will equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to stand up against sex trafficking, this on-line clearing-house serves to empower and equip educators by providing youth-focused prevention resources to those committed to eliminating sex trafficking in their communities.

Once educated, do youth have the ability to say no? —

America’s youth are amazing! They are socially conscious enough to buck the system; independent enough to stand up against injustice; and compassionate enough to care about one another. Youth today are astoundingly ready to make a culture that honors them and their unique contribution to the human race. One of the most profound misconceptions of young people is their intrinsic ability to rally around causes. You ignite a few and you ignite a generation.

Despite these tremendous qualities, there are some factual reasons that some youth are not able to make smart decisions. It is proven that our emotional make-up develops far ahead of our mental capacity to make decisions. Research shows that the ability to make choices by reasoning out consequences for making a wrong (or right) choice do not develop until the age of 23 – 25. Therefore, educating youth on this phase of development can make a difference. If they know the strategies that traffickers employ then they will at least have a better chance at avoiding some of the pitfalls, especially where interaction on social media is concerned.

Online Education – Advantages and Disadvantages

Online education is the method of getting education without any teacher via the internet. It is being delivered with the help of electronic media and Information & Communication Technologies (ICT). You can get education in the form of text, images, audio, video etc. in e-learning. You are free to study at any time in your home or workplace. It is the new technique of learning. Most of the schools, colleges and universities in India are offering online learning to their students. Online education is good to save paper. It includes multimedia learning, Computer Based Instruction (CBI) and Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL). It is best suited for flexible learning and distance education. Instead of traditional education like classroom, it includes new technologies like getting educational information via the internet. Online learning is also called computer based learning. Different types of educational technology tools & media are used for it. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is going to deliver e-learning classroom in each affiliated school for online education.

Advantages of Online Education

Online Education has many pros. It is helpful to get a better education than traditional learning methods. It is considered as the most convenient way to pursue primary and higher education. There is no need to travel to the college. Students can access their courses 24 hours in a day. It develops internet skills to the students. Students can get up-to-date content that is always available at the time of requirement. It supports faculty-to-students and student-to-student communication for better learning. Students have continual access to study materials. E-learning programs charge less than traditional schools. It offers comfortable learning environment.

Disadvantages of Online Education

Although, online education has many benefits and best fit for the 21st century, but there are some disadvantages that should be considered. One-on-one interaction is found in traditional classrooms, but in online learning, it is missing. Although, students can interact with teachers through email and any other electronic media, but actually talking is not present. For those students who can’t manage their time, online study could be disadvantages for them. Most of the students prefer to listen to the lecture of teachers instead of reading from text formats and it is also a big problem in it.

It is best for pursuing higher education. It has a lot of advantages and some disadvantages. Students should have a better understanding about it before taking decision to pursue an online degree.

Health Insurance in the Real World – What to Do After Graduation

Graduation from college is a vibrant and exciting time, full of adventure and yes, fearfulness. So many new choices and changes can be stimulating and thrilling but leaving some pieces of the past can be very scary. One of the things you leave behind when graduating is health insurance. Those great plans that the university offered or extended coverage from Mom and Dad’s policy helped you put off the insurance crisis for 4 years. But now you are in the “real world” and you have to find insurance. There are no Cliff Notes or Dummies books that are going to solve this problem for you. But there are people, like the professors who guided you through years of academia, who can navigate the world of health insurance and find the right health insurance for you.

With 7% to 8.2% of recent college graduates unemployed one year after graduation it may be time to consult a health insurance specialist. If you are still unemployed or under employed six months after graduation you may not be able to count on the possibility of an employer sponsored health plan soon. But that doesn’t mean you are out of luck. There is a big world of insurance out there and most of it doesn’t depend on employer offered health insurance.

A dedicated and committed health insurance specialist can help you find coverage that will meet your needs and stay within your budget. These professionals have experience with a wide variety of insurance products and companies. They know where to go to get the best rates and can advise you on the right coverage for you. Don’t worry about them passing judgment on you-they have worked with the entire spectrum of clients and there is nothing to be sensitive about if you haven’t found the right job yet. You are demonstrating good judgment and adult common sense by pursuing health insurance options.

A good health insurance specialist will guide you through the various options and weigh higher premiums for lower deductibles and higher deductibles for lower premiums. Perhaps a catastrophic health care plan that will cover major illnesses is the best route to take. Your medical history and current health will be a major consideration and your health insurance specialist will guide you to the carrier that has the right plan for you. After all, the health insurance specialist’s career and success depend on building a satisfied customer base, not a one time sales commission. Health insurance specialists have made a career out of guidance and finding just the right coverage for you. They have researched, studied, and written about the world of health insurance and are not simply sales people. The difference is commitment, dedication, and passion to a seamless experience in obtaining health insurance.

When you had trouble in Calculus you didn’t go to your Accounting professor for help. When you locked yourself out of your dorm room you didn’t go to Campus Health Services for help getting back in. Going to the right person for the right help is one thing a college graduate knows best, so use this knowledge to go to the right person for health insurance help. Don’t go to your best friend, or the newspapers, or the yellow pages. Do your research and find the best health insurance specialist you can and let them help you navigate Health Insurance 101. With the right information, direction, and guidance you will pass with flying colors and make the passage into the insured adulthood in a way that will make Mom and Dad proud!

Effective Home Improvement Tips

If you are planning a home improvement project for your own home you need to take a step back and spend some to think over the entire project. When you are looking at improving your home it does not need to be as expensive and difficult as a lot of people might have made you think. There are a few things that you can do to make your home improvement project a lot easier and less expensive.

First of all you need to be sure that you do research on the project that you are planning. One of the best places that you can begin your research is through the world of the internet. There are a variety of different articles that you can read that will help you plan out your home improvement, and also some have step by step instructions that you will be able to follow as well. You can also locate plans for various projects online as well. You can also make a trip to either your local library or bookstore.

You will be able to find a wide range of books on all types of home improvement projects along with step by step instructions. A final place that you can do your research is through your local home improvement store they will be able to help you with useful information, show you various DVD’s on different types of projects, and they will even have pamphlets and books available as well.

Next you are going to want to consider if you feel that you can do the project on your own or if you feel that you will need the help of a professional. There are DIY kits that are now available for a wide variety of different projects and they can be found at your local home improvement store. However, you need to be sure that you will not only have the skills but also the time needed to complete the project. If you are able to perform as many of your home improvement as you can on your own you stand to save a lot of money.

If you feel that you cannot do some of the home improvement projects in your list you will need to find the help of a professional. You can find many of these through your phonebook or you can even do a search in your local area through your internet. You need to be sure that you are sticking to your local area however because, you will be able to see other homes that they have worked on and you will be able to have a faster service time.

After you have done all the above steps you are now ready to sit down with the professional, if that is how you are doing your project, and develop a plan. The professional that you choose should be able to give you an initial idea of how the finished project will look along with a basic price. You need to be sure that you are looking over their quote carefully to be sure that everything in the basic plan is included.

You need to be aware however, that this is just an estimate of how much the project is going to cost the final cost will vary slightly. Also if you are performing a big job then you should have a contract drawn up between you and the contractor. Even if you have tight budgets when it comes to home improvement you deserve to have a finished project that is high quality. If you take the time to consider the above steps you will achieve that goal every time.

The Benefits of a Travel Cot

When travelling with a baby or even visiting friends or family for the day, a significant number of people still don’t use a travel cot.

Whether they sleep with their babies in their beds or use other people’s cots – both of which are widely discouraged by the Foundation of the Study of Infant Deaths – there are still a massive amount of people not using an essential item for your baby’s happiness and safety.

And it doesn’t have to be expensive. A basic travel cot can cost as little as £25 and will support you and your baby for years and years.

A Safe Place For Your Baby To Sleep

The key benefit of a travel cot is that it gives your baby somewhere safe and familiar to sleep when you are away from home.

As parents, we all understand the importance of our babies getting regular and good quality sleep, yet the time that sleep is interrupted the most is when you are away from home – a time when you want your baby to have a sound sleep more than ever.

A key reason babies do not sleep when they are put to bed outside the home is because they are unfamiliar with their surroundings.

Especially when they are very young, a babies’ sense of smell is far more developed than their sense of sight. Therefore, by placing your baby in an environment which smells familiar and then looks familiar with use, you are more likely to ensure that your baby gets a good solid sleep even when they are away from home.

By using a cot that has been kept in your home and has sheets that have been washed in the same way as their own cot sheets, the travel cot will quickly become familiar to your baby and will become a home away from home, making them more relaxed and happier to sleep.

When you use a travel cot regularly, the baby will understand that when you they are placed in the travel cot it is a time for winding down and going to sleep. Giving your baby this ‘breakout’ from new experiences and bonding them back to something familiar will give them the opportunity to relax their senses, reduce their excitement levels and go sleep far quicker.

In fact, some mothers will use their travel cots as a chill out space for their babies and when they become over excited in a new environment, place them in their cot for a while, just so that the baby can regroup, recharge and relax away from all the new stimulants which can become exhausting.

Easy To Use

These days travel cots are so compact and light that it is easy to take them with you wherever you go. It can easily fit in the back seat or boot of the car and is far less cumbersome than the average travel system. And when you arrive, compact travel cots take only a couple of minutes to set up and take up little space, which means you can usually fit them in a friend’s bedroom or in the corner of a hotel room and you will always have an environment for your baby that you know is safe, comfortable and familiar for them to be in, making the chances of them being happy with their environment even greater.

And if you find that even a standard lightweight travel cot is still too heavy or if space is at a premium, you can always opt for a pop-up travel cot. Usually contained in a bag about the size of a large shopping bag, a pop-up travel cot takes seconds to put up and weighs less than an average large shopping bag making it an ideal cot to take to more remote places or when you will be moving around more often.

Helpful in the Home

Even when you are not travelling and are at home, a travel cot can still be incredibly useful.

When you first bring your baby home, your baby will sleep for a significant amount of the day at a time when you may not feel ready to be going up and down the stairs to tend to your baby. By placing your baby in the travel cot downstairs for daytime sleeps your baby is able to have their own safe sleeping environment within easy sight and reach of you whatever you are doing.

It is also thought that by differentiating a baby’s daytime sleep from their night-time sleep by using a different environment, such as their travel cot in a lighter room than their nursery, babies become used to the long night-time sleep a lot quicker and will sleep through the night at an earlier age.

And when your baby is not sleeping, your travel cot can also be used for a safe place for the baby to play. Whether you are keen to protect your baby from pets or boisterous siblings, or just want to keep them and their toys from straying, a travel cot provides a safe and solid surrounding for your baby, to ensure they can relax and play with ease.

Internet As a Business: You Must Follow Accepted Business Practices and Laws

You have always had this dream to have your own business. More importantly, you want a business that gives you autonomy, only requires an hour or so a day, you have the freedom to do as you want, and the time to do it. So you got this email that offers you a free website that will run on autopilot and make you thousands of dollars a day. You have visions of doing web administration as a business that will bring you those riches and fulfill your dream.

OK. So there was some exaggeration in that free website statement, in fact, it was all hype. The hook is that word “free”. Yes, they are offering you something for free – a $14.95 domain name and a free website design. What they don’t tell you is that the “upsells” are what get you. This free website is yours for only $37. What part of free didn’t they understand: you cannot charge $37 for something that is free. (There are choice words for someone who makes statements like that, ENTER YOUR WORD HERE _________.)

A Domain Name is nothing but a name. A Domain Name does nothing unless it is associated with a website design, or a better way of describing a website design is a container in which the content of your website lives. The free website design is thrown together in minutes by an experienced web developer who already has several hundred templates in his back pocket that require only several minutes of customization to make it unique for your needs.

The website design needs to be installed somewhere, either on your own “server” or on a managed host. So, minutes after you signed up, you are hit with the first upsell. First, for the free domain name, you want privacy so that anybody with a browser cannot find out your home address, telephone number, and breed and color of your dog. That privacy will cost you $10 per month.

The next upsell is for Domain Hosting. Your website needs a computer connected to the internet on which to run. One option, only for the brave and not-so-bright techies that believe they can do this themselves, is to:

  • Take an old computer,
  • Throw a network card in it,
  • Load it up with every disk drive from every old computer you own,
  • Download a free image of some flavor of Linux,
  • Fire up a free Apache web server and
  • Download a free copy of WordPress.
  • Connect that puppy to your router,
  • Get the dedicated IP address assigned to you by your internet carrier, and

BOOM! You have a working website.

NOT!!! The reality of this scenario is that you will have a HUGE learning curve to do simple things in LINUX. Every time you install a new software package or change an option, there is a great likelihood that you will spend your weekend either trying to fix what it broke, or reloading LINUX to start from scratch. You should also be prepared to dedicate a great deal of all this spare time you have after quitting your job because this new website will make you rich, learning about system administration tasks such as backup, restore, firewalls, security… You get my drift.

WordPress is a very cool web framework that has LOTS of free templates and plug-ins. But WordPress also has a learning curve associated with it. So at this point in your DIY strategy, you are several months into this and still don’t have a working website, still trying to find good content to put on your website, and haven’t made a dime from this thing they call Affiliate Marketing, yep, the thing that was going to make you rich in the first place.

Strategy Two: Punt

You now decide to suck it up, and pay the piper for that hosted domain. Well, it is not good enough to pay month to month for this service, because they warn you that the “Search Engines”, around which everything on the internet is driven, do not look kindly on short timers: they want a website that promises to be around for at least the next several years, so the hosted domain marketing team has now sold you at least a two year hosting package, with add-ons that include backup and restore services, additional security, a package to get you free links, a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) package, and free something or other that may as well be a partridge in a pear tree, which is only $1500 to renew after the first year.

The guy that charged you $37 for your free website, once you tell him the details of your new hosted domain, three days later is telling you that your website is now ready on your hosted domain using your domain name, “AnotherSucker.com”. When you bring up your website for the first time, there are three articles, or “posts” that look really good. The deeper you dig, you see that you bought a website loaded with posts that start out “Ipson Lorum… “. So where is this content you were promised? Well, that is another $97 for the magic tool that generates this wonderful free content from now into oblivion. Pretty good deal: $97 for the tool that generates free content.

So you sign up for the package, but before your mouse pointer trails even disappear from the screen, they are begging you to become a “Gold” Executive Member that gives you BETTER free content for only $495. And all the free content you paid $600 for so far needs to be noticed by the illusive Search Engines so that you get more Traffic, because as we all know, this is a NUMBERS GAME: of the total traffic, 5% will click on an affiliate ad; 2% of those that click on the ad will buy something; your commission on that something they buy is initially 3% of the purchase price, but the more you sell, they increase your commission.

Well, how do you get the most traffic? Easy, buy some “backlinks” to other sites (a $15000 value for $297), and create a mailing list from everybody that visits your site so you, too, can become a spammer for the ridiculously low price of $19 per month.

So, you do what you are told, sit through EVERY BLASTED HYPE VIDEO they offer as “training”, buy all the recommended packages, and even sign up for the “Platinum” Package for Personal Coaching that will guarantee your success, worth literally millions, but available to you for only $2,995.

You now need:

  • A graphics package to create your own “Viral” banners: $97
  • A Video Editing system that lets you create your own YouTube videos: $295 for 1 year
  • A free screen capture program that creates videos in XYZ video format. Of course, nothing on the web except Android phones and several desktops play XYZ video format, so you need a converter for XYZ to FLASH that is only $69. The add-on to make those videos so they can be viewed on an iPad is another $29, a one-time offer.
  • A mailing list program for $29 per month. Just for signing up, they too offer you another FREE WEBSITE.
  • A Webinar Recorder that allows you to teach others about your success in the weekly Webinars you conduct. $59 per month.
  • With all this stuff going on, you need to monitor this environment wherever you are, so you upgrade your smartphone to a 4H-capable phone (oh wait, that’s cows and sheep – I must mean 4G).
  • a $9.95 smartphone app that checks the status of your websites every 5 minutes, and allows you to automatically delete the 160 comments of spam you get every day on your new WEB EMPIRE.

A Pretty Dismal Picture, Right?

So, get out your calculator, and as they do with the annual “Cost of the 12 Days of Christmas” bits aired by the news channels each year, add all this up over a two year period, and create a baseline against which you can compare your actual costs for DOING THIS RIGHT.

There are several constants here: you still need a domain name and web hosting solution. You need to establish a NICHE, and PRODUCTS within that niche you are going to promote. You must get a source of content that describes the products you are trying to sell, discussions about the products, articles about how to use the products, feedback on how you can improve the products, and a business infrastructure to support the products and customer service issues.

What About, “Web Administration as a Business”?

By putting a website online, whether you know it or not, you have become a BUSINESS. You are spending money as expenses to a BUSINESS. Your income is considered BUSINESS INCOME. You may wear many hats, and must make business decisions as a principal, or proprietor of your business. You must keep records. This is a little more than you had planned. Your vision of just being a Web Administrator, that your only job is to perform the daily care and feeding of the technical issues and content has been smashed by all this BUSINESS STUFF.

These are the things the GURUS don’t tell you. Whether you have a legitimate product, or establish a website simply to do affiliate marketing or blogging, you need to establish yourself as a business. Simply hanging out a shingle is not enough. You need to protect your business and protect your new income (or account for your losses).

  • Decide on a company structure: Sole Proprietorship, LLC, Corporation, Partnership
  • Get a zoning permit and business license in your locality – required for most home-based businesses but blatantly ignored until other issues come up that require that business license.
  • Get a FEIN – it is like a social security number for a business entity
  • Get a state tax license and reseller certificate. Yes, Virginia, you are responsible for collecting sales and use taxes for items sold in your state. Some states require sales and use tax no matter where the buyer is located.
  • If you don’t have an accountant, GET ONE. Discuss your business structure, account structure, tax implications, filing requirements, and ongoing business bookkeeping requirements with a professional. Do this now to avoid last minute fire drills, penalties, and interest for ignoring these requirements or DOING THIS WRONG.
  • Be sure you are meeting state and federal requirements if you have employees. Paying someone “under the table” can put you, your business, and the employees in jeopardy with state agencies, Federal labor laws, the IRS, and open yourself to liability in civil and/or criminal litigation.
  • If you do not have an attorney, you may need one for establishing your corporate structure, researching regulatory compliance requirements, drawing up partnership papers, researching patent and copyright issues, etc.
  • Talk with your insurance advisers on whether business insurance is necessary. Some of the biggest causes of business failure within the first five years of starting a business are legal or criminal action, liability issues, and lawsuits regarding “ERRORS AND OMISSIONS”.

Talk with a BUSINESS CONSULTANT for help in navigating through these issues, and also guidance in creating the necessary BUSINESS DOCUMENTS:

  • Business Plan
  • Policy and Procedures Handbook
  • Employee Handbook
  • Corporate Documents: Minutes, Resolutions
  • Environmental Impact Statements
  • Emergency Procedures
  • Business Contacts and Mailing Lists
  • Advertising and Marketing Plan
  • Training and Certification

Talk with an IT CONSULTANT to ensure that the IT infrastructure is established, whether simply a PC and a website, the creation of a “Cloud Computing” environment, or building a datacenter.

  • System Documentation and Runbook
  • Backup and Recovery Plans
  • Disaster Recovery infrastructure and plans
  • System Hardware and Software
  • Network infrastructure, firewalls, and security
  • Application Software, installation, configuration, and training
  • IT infrastructure monitoring and reporting
  • IT Infrastructure, PC, and Application training