Stay Healthy and Wealthy

When you make those New Year’s resolutions, you’re thinking about fresh starts and the year ahead. What you might not realize is that some resolutions also could save money. Here are some popular resolutions that could help get you and your finances in shape in 2017.

Quit smoking: You can save money by stopping a pack-a-day habit, which can cost between $1,825 and $3,650 per year, depending on the cost of cigarettes in your area. Nationally, a pack-a-day smoker is going to spend an average of $2,000 annually on cigarette costs.

Set up and stick to a realistic budget: If you want to resolve to stick to a budget in 2017, you must start with a realistic plan. People tend to make financial resolutions the same way they do a weight loss plan. If you start with lofty goals they will be unachievable within a month. List your priorities for spending rather than restricting your spending. Focus on necessary expenses then include a certain amount for retirement savings. Then with the remaining money you have each month, set aside a little for enjoyment. It’s critical you have rewards in your budget.

Exercise regularly: You’ll save money in several ways with regular exercise. On average, Americans are spending $7,800 annually on health care, according to the National Association of Health Underwriters. But exercise brings real savings. “If people are eating right and exercising three times a week for 20 minutes a day, they see prescription costs decrease by 70 percent and medical costs decrease by 30 percent,” says Ric Edelman of Edelman Financial Services. Stop spending money recklessly: One of the best ways to stop spending your money recklessly is to track where it is going each month. Check with your credit union and download their free mobile budgeting app that shows expenditures by category so you can monitor your spending. A great way to get your spending under control is quit trying to “keep up with the Joneses”. If you want to fix your bad spending habits in 2017 start hanging out with other spendthrifts because you will likely become one yourself.

Eat healthier: A healthy eating plan can be as — or more — economical than fast food. It’s a total myth that eating healthy is expensive. Buy smaller but leaner cuts of meat, eat protein-rich beans and buy produce in season when it’s freshest and least expensive. A smaller amount of a leaner cut can slice your food bill and your bad cholesterol.

Build an emergency fund: Nothing takes the stress out of financial situation like spare cash. If you are among the millions of Americans that don’t have enough money set aside to cover unexpected expenses or emergencies, then you should resolve to build one in 2017. Experts recommend putting enough money in a savings account to cover six months’ worth of expenses in case of unexpected emergencies like job loss, maternity leave or medical issues. You can always apply a small amount of your paycheck towards this account, so you make sure it is hidden from you.

Pay off high-interest debt: Paying down credit card debt is one of the most popular short-term goals in 2017. Try focusing on paying off your high-interest credit card debt before other debts because it is more expensive. And, it you are motivated by seeing those results first hand, start by paying off your card with the lowest balance first so you can feel that sense of accomplishment. Create your estate plan: An important 2017 resolution would be to tie up any financial loose ends for your loved ones so they aren’t left trying to pick up the pieces. Make sure you have a will or trust that designates who’s in control of your assets. You certainly don’t want the state court system to make that decision for you. Don’t forget to designate a guardian for your children, and someone who will make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

Develop common financial goals with your partner: Many times finances are the biggest source of conflict between couples. It’s important that couples sit down and create a financial plan. It doesn’t usually work to try and manage their finances separately.

Any of these resolutions can help improve your financial security in 2017. I suggest tackling one financial tip each month so you don’t get overwhelmed. Then as you get accustomed to the new approach to spending and saving, add another. By the time 2017 starts dwindling toward 2018, you will find you’ve made progress on achieving your financial goals.

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National League Teams Already Have DH, So Why Wait?

After nearly fifty years, the experiment will finally be recognized as a success. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has hinted that the designated hitter, which the New York Times once called a “gimmick,” will be used in the National League.

It was in 1973 that teams in the Junior Circuit elected to have another player hit for the pitcher, a concept that most considered a short term effort to increase offense. History was made that spring when Ron Bloomberg stepped to the plate for the Yankees to become the first DH ever.

The DH quickly became a valuable tool for American League clubs, who went on to win five of the next seven World Series. Although the DH was not used during the Fall Classic, one must admit that it certainly proved advantageous in several respects during the season.

Because they did not have to bat, the American League pitchers were better rested with fewer bumps and bruises than their National League counterparts. The A.L. managers had happier players, since each team had nine starters and thus increased playing time for everybody.

Now that the Commissioner has broached the idea of the DH across the board, players on the National League teams can look forward to similar happiness. Manfred declared that the DH in the National League could come as early as the 2017 season. bolder move would be to institute the DH this year, an idea which would intensify the season as well as increase what has been an embarrassing lack of offense over the past half decade. This would be particularly welcome now, since almost half of the teams in the N.L. find themselves in complete rebuilding mode.

Not only would using the DH help these clubs compete, but it would also increase fan interest during the rebuild. Most clubs already have players who fit the DH mold perfectly, and here is the list of those sluggers.

Braves: Nick Swisher

The veteran has been a clutch hitter with decent power and pop throughout his career, but he currently has no spot in Atlanta’s regular lineup.

Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter

Having Lucroy in the lineup without having to catch every day would certainly increase his production and career. He has already had experience at first, so he could occasionally allow Carter to get a defensive rest without losing his turn in the order.

Cardinals: Matt Adams

Adams would be the perfect DH, especially against right handers. A bonus for St. Louis would be using Yadier Molina as the DH against lefties, thereby preserving his health for a postseason run.

Cubs: Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler

Schwarber’s struggles in left were apparent in the playoffs last year, as he had been catcher for most of his career. With the DH in play, he could still catch on occasion and allow Soler to rest defensively.

Diamondbacks: Yasmany Tomas

The International free agent still has no true defensive home after an entire year in Arizona. He would be the perfect fit as DH, almost the Big Papi of the N.L.

Dodgers: Andre Ethier

Instead of trying to trade Ethier, as they have done for the past few winters, Los Angeles could have his quality bat in the lineup every day.

Giants: Buster Posey and Brandon Belt

The former Most Valuable Player and star catcher has already suffered several significant injuries behind the plate, so he has been used occasionally at first. Providing San Francisco with the option of the DH would help Posey’s production and lengthen his career, while allowing Belt more opportunities to spell the outfielders.

Marlins: Ichiro Suzuki

Another former M.V.P., Suzuki is still one of the most exciting players around. Seeing him bat every day would be a good reason for Miami fans to start coming to games. Mets: Wilmer Flores

Currently the fan favorite has no regular position, and he has enough power to warrant a role as the club’s DH.

Nationals: Clint Robinson

He is too good of a hitter to be a backup outfielder/first baseman, so Washington could really benefit from the implementation of the DH.

Padres: John Jay

He was acquired over the winter to be a backup outfielder, but a DH role could allow Jay to be a good veteran presence as San Diego undergoes a rebuilding year.

Phillies: Darrin Ruff

There is already controversy about Ruf taking playing time away from veteran All-Star Ryan Howard, a problem which the N.L. DH would immediately quell.

Pirates: Michael Morse

Had the DH come last year, the Pirates would probably have kept Pedro Alvarez. Nevertheless, Morse could fill a similar role in 2016.

Reds: Devan Mesoraco

Any doubt whether the catcher can fully recover from surgery to be an effective backstop, a situation that would leave Cincinnati without the All-Star’s valuable bat.

Rockies: Mark Reynolds

Reynolds, even though listed as a corner infielder, has always been the N.L.’s version of a DH. An edict from Manfred would simply make it official.

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Are You at Risk of Being “Uberized”?

If you’re like many Business Owners and Leaders you probably feel pretty good about the position you hold in your market… so did the taxi cab companies and drivers before Uber became a reality. Now they are scrambling and trying to find a way to survive… even to the point of trying to get political help in different cities to stay afloat.

Disruption and Commoditization have impacted virtually every industry today. There probably isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been impacted by a disruptive organization entering their market and stealing some of their market share. Uber is an excellent example but there are many others that have been equally disruptive. Companies such as LegalZoom have taken billions of dollars away from attorneys over the past several years. They captured and disrupted a document and transaction-based business and turned it into a commodity by substantially lowering the pricing of document preparation… impacting attorneys all over the country.

Amazon was an early disruptor to the entire book business… taking significant market share away from Barnes and Noble and Borders who were recognized giants in the book industry. And we certainly can’t forget about Blockbuster’s demise when Netflix entered the market. They were the unquestioned dominant leader in video rental and were virtually replaced overnight by an unknown company with a new disruptive business model that matched the needs of customers at substantial savings.

Even though these examples are in completely different industries there is one common thread that runs through all of them… they didn’t believe anyone could disrupt their dominance in their market. While it’s awesome to believe in your product or service, it’s dangerous to think there isn’t someone waiting in the wings to take away your position. Unlike any other time in history, we are now seeing new companies coming into traditional industries from many unrelated areas and establishing a disruptive model and capturing significant market share. This trend is only going to continue now that it has shown massive success over the past few years. So what can you do, as the leader of your business, to either avoid or minimize the impact of this potential disruption?

While commoditization is difficult to combat with products and services over a long period of time, there is at least one alternative that appears to withstand the test of time and delivers differentiation in the market… your CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

It is difficult to continually come up with new products and services to satisfy the ravenous appetite customers have today. Just when you think you have the best and leading edge product or newest service, someone comes in and “one-ups” you and takes away the leading spot. While you might remain there for some period of time, it is difficult to remain at the top for extended periods of time. Apple is one of the few that has been successful at this… but it took them many years of living in the shadow of Microsoft and others before they became the dominant leader. Today, Microsoft is in this unenviable position and trying to fight their way back to the top… especially in the race for the Cloud.

But these are behemoth companies… not the SMB market. They can throw billions of dollars at innovation and products and hope they find a winner. The small and mid-sized business (SMB) can’t be this frivolous with their cash and making too many product/service mistakes can wipe out a business before anything comes to fruition. The proven alternative to this madness is to focus on the ONE THING that is completely in their control to design and deliver… their CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.

Customer Experience has both short and long term advantages. It is something that can be created and implemented within the year but last for many decades to come when implemented properly. And by properly I’m not talking about telling all your employees they need to be nicer to the customer… that never works for the long term… every company can be nice to their customers if they try. This isn’t the answer… this isn’t the differentiator… but it’s on the right track.

Creating a customized CUSTOMER JOURNEY that is built upon a very well defined Customer Experience Process (something we call Customer Experience Mapping) is what allows companies to reap these rewards for many years into the future. Think Disney… they created “the happiest place on earth” and continue to deliver this experience year after year after year. This didn’t happen by holding a meeting and telling all their employees and characters to be nicer to their guests… it happened because they have a very well defined Customer Journey that is built on a foundation of a well-designed and executed Customer Experience.

Nordstrom did the same thing many decades ago. They started selling shoes… then clothing… all at high prices. But they started with a very distinct process inside the organization for delivering an incredible customer experience day in and day out. Zappos followed this same model… sold shoes… one of the ultimate commodities in the clothing industry… and they dominate today. They don’t give discounts and silly things like “one day only” sales (every day)… they simply deliver a remarkable Customer Experience to every customer every day… and their customers love to buy from Zappos. And it has worked out pretty well when you consider they went from zero to over $1 Billion in revenues in less than 10 years and were sold to Amazon for more than a billion dollars. Not a bad model if you ask me.

One way to avoid being COMMODITIZED and losing customers is to design something even new entrants can’t copy… the experience you offer. If your Customer Experience is so incredibly amazing and remarkable… WOW… every single day with every interaction, this creates immediate differentiation and a long tail of success. It is the ultimate weapon against commoditization or even new entrants into a market. For a new disruptive entrant to take away market share they would need to be so much better and cheaper than anything you offered… which is difficult to do today. And for those of you that are saying to yourself right now, “Yea but we’re different, we do a good quality job and treat our customers well so we aren’t at risk,” I would offer you some instant advice… take the blinders off and get real with looking at your business. This is living in a fantasy world… this isn’t looking at your company from the eyes of your customer… they are seeing something very different. And if someone came into your market today and offered a completely different (and awesome) experience to your customers at or below your price they would be gone in a heartbeat.

Achieving long-term dominance doesn’t happen by “being nicer to your customers” and thinking you have created differentiation… you haven’t. Being CUSTOMER OBSESSED and creating a process based CUSTOMER JOURNEY that has a well laid out and documented CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE PROCESS at the heart of it is what will help you avoid being “Uberized.” This strategy gives you differentiation, uniqueness, and a special place in your customers heart and mind… it gives you the “long tail” of success.

I would strongly and passionately encourage you to learn more about why and how this is completely different than what you are probably doing today. If there was ONE THING TO FOCUS ON IN 2017 it would be to create a strategy based around a well-planned Customer Journey which incorporated an incredibly awesome Customer Experience by Mapping out all the experiences your customer will receive when they interact with your business (there are usually over 20 for most companies in the SMB market). If this is of interest and you want to learn more, let’s grab coffee and I can share how some of the best companies in the world have followed this path… for decades… and still dominate in their industries. I think you will find it a fascinating discussion…

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How Can I Set Up An Online Business?

If you’ve been considering setting up an online business you’ve most likely been motivated by sheer volume of buying and selling that is now taking place on the internet.

More and more people are buying products and services online. And if you set up your own online business you can claim your cut of this expanding marketplace. Here are the 5 steps to follow to set up an online business.

1. Pick Your Market

If you’re going to set up an online business your first task is to determine what type of business it’s going to be. Are you going to sell products or services? You can sell your own products or you can sell products produced by other businesses who will pay you commissions on your sales. Or you may choose to set up a membership website or offer teaching and coaching services online.

Getting a website online isn’t as complicated as you may think. Initially you’ll need to purchase a name for your website (known as a domain name). Next you need to ‘rent’ some space on the internet (known as website hosting). Lastly you’ll need a software package that will make it possible for you to put written text, images, videos etc onto your website. There are many website building programs available that make this whole procedure very easy.

3. Get Visitors To Your Website

When you website is online you have to get potential customers to visit it. There are two main ways to do this. You can use free website traffic techniques or paid website traffic techniques. Both have their pros and cons and the most effective traffic tactic to use a mixture of both.

4. Develop A Customer List

It’s doubtful that your website visitors will want to buy anything from you on their first visit to your website. They may visit your website and never return. But obtain a visitor’s email address with a special email capture form, you can remain contact with them via email. Your emails can keep them informed about your business and encourage them to return to your website. If you offer something of value for free in return for someone’s email address they are more likely to give you their email address. This can be something as straightforward as a free report or eBook that is relevant to your industry.

5. Provide Value

The content material on your website and in your emails, articles or blog posts has to be more than continuously trying to sell. When you provide high quality, useful information to your target audience will come to know, like and trust you. Your prospective customers will then be more willing to buy from you and continue to be as loyal customers for many years.

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10 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Change the Social & Economic Story

Men and women who create for-profit and nonprofit new ventures can and should do things of the kind that the President-Elect is likely to neglect, negate, or avoid. Entrepreneurs can quietly change the story, one organization at a time, whatever government may or may not do.

Here are ten ways venture founders can alter the course implied by what we know of Donald Trump’s intentions. They are all within our own authority, not those of government. We can:

  1. actively appreciate the economic and social needs of disadvantaged groups and consider how our own organization can make a difference-or start a new one that can; at least ensure that our own organization does not contribute to disadvantage;
  2. be inquisitive about rural and underserved populations adversely impacted by political, economic and tech change-and examine ways that our organization can make a positive contribution, including the offer of products, services or employment;
  3. create inclusive policies on gender, gender identity, race, national origin & religion; offer all employees dignity & respect, provide healthcare, parental leave, clear policies on sexual harassment, & the opportunity for participation in decision-making and sharing organizational success;
  4. take the opportunity to participate in the life of local communities to mutual advantage, through direct civic engagement, as well as supporting employee volunteering; become involved in community supported enterprises;
  5. evaluate all practices of the organization that may contribute directly or indirectly to climate change-and introduce ways that will reduce pollution; seek to be powered by clean energy and move to zero waste;
  6. ensure that the pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid members of the organization does not exceed 20:1 (as it was in 1965) to reduce financial inequity, given that the ratio between average American CEO pay and worker pay is now 303:1;
  7. re-examine the consequences of all purchasing decisions, in order to avoid pain and hardship, either in supplier organizations or the local and global community; research supplier behaviors on socio-economic parameters;
  8. commit to support the lifelong learning of all members of the organization, regardless of where they are starting or what position they hold-through internal development programs and external qualifications;
  9. employ socially responsible financial policies that do not disfavor any stakeholder, either close at hand or nationally, as well as avoiding immoral or self-serving practices, such as the avoidance of repatriating foreign profits;
  10. build a widely communicated progressive corporate story that is reflected through the behaviors of everyone in the organization and enshrined in all official organizational procedures; regularly monitor its reality.
  11. GEI scores 137 countries on 14 pillars of a healthy entrepreneurship ecosystem