Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"...How That CAN Work For Me."

You’re reading the latest article by your favorite life coach, business coach, or some other expert. You believe this person has the expertise in a subject you want to learn more about. You plug through the intro and are feeling great about what you are reading. Either you already know this person knows their stuff, or you’re coming to know that fact quickly as you read.

Then, it happens. You’ve finished reading the part in the piece that provides the instructions you should follow and it’s time for you to take action and implement the expert’s advice in your own life. You trust the person knows what they are talking about and you know their method has worked for them, but as soon as that guru tells you to try the same exact thing, your mind instantly drifts to “Well, that worked for you, but there is no way that will work for me.”

It’s hard not to think that someone’s advice based on his or her own experience with the subject will never work for you, so you are not alone. Especially if you have tried similar things in the past, but did not achieve the promised results. And while you’ll soon see that I make this statement with tongue in cheek, I am here to tell you that you are 100% correct! In most cases, the same exact thing this expert did WILL NOT work out exactly the same for you. That is because you are a different person (each of us is unique, right?) and your circumstances, while possibly similar, are not exactly the same as their circumstances.

That being said, the point of this piece is not to discourage you by telling you that you are right in thinking someone’s exact advice will not work exactly the same way for you, but to tell you that you can still heed the advice, but first, must modify that advice just enough so that it becomes practical for your own personal scenario. Don’t just throw your hands up in the air and say “Well, that will never work for me!” but instead, pause for a moment and say, “Let me see how that CAN work for me!”

The shortest route from point A to point B is a straight line, and while that may be true, when you are driving, the route that takes the least amount of time from point A to point B can change based on the driver, the type of car they are driving, their personal driving style (and speed at which they are comfortable driving), traffic patterns at that time of day as well as the influence on the route by other drivers, such as the impact caused by an accident. And just like driving from point A to point B, you should keep in mind there is more than one way to get where you need to go in life, and the shortest amount of time to traverse life’s journey can boil down to the individual making the trek.

So, instead of immediately stomping your feet and saying there is no way the route that person took will ever work for you, keep an open mind, observe, contemplate, and then apply what you already know about the subject and yourself. Factor all of this together with the knowledge their exact route to success will not work exactly the same for you, but then apply their advice to your own situation, again by thinking, “Let me see how that CAN work for me.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Why You Should Skip That New Car In Your 20s

When you are in your 20s – early 20s if you skip college and go right to work – or maybe your mid to late 20s if you finish school before taking on that first full-time job – you are most likely going to find yourself earning more money than you ever have before in your life. While this salary will pale in comparison to the money you will most likely be making in your 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, etc., this new windfall in your bank account is very likely to get you thinking about buying a shiny, brand new car.

If you’re like me, you drove a few clunkers through high school and college, and the prospect of trading that money sitting in your account and that money coming in from those future paychecks for a new car is going to be a very powerful temptation.

But, while it seems like a pretty harmless financial choice because you’re young and have all those years of working ahead of you, opting for a brand new car at this point in your financial life can greatly affect the amount of money you can save and the dividends and investment gains you can earn over the course of the rest of your life.

If you insist on upgrading to a new vehicle, at least go with a pre-owned car because it will save you a lot of money up front and you won’t get hit that hard with depreciation – at least not as hard as if you buy a new car. But if you already have a car, and it’s not leaving you stranded by the side of the road once a month, it might make the most financial sense to keep the car you already own.

According to a study by the National Institute on Retirement Security, some 45% of working-age households have no assets in a retirement account, and those that do have an average balance of $40,000. The average price of a new car, according to USA Today is $33,560. How many of those households with no balance or below average balance in their retirement account have a brand new car that is costing tens of thousands of dollars? Take into consideration that most car purchases are financed, which adds financing fees on top of the price of the car, and consider the value of a new car drops 20% in the first year and by more than 50% by the fifth year, and you can clearly see how saving the money you would spend on a brand new car is clearly the better financial decision.

It is important to remember that your desire for that shiny, brand new car will definitely subside once you’re knee-deep in five years’ worth of car payments and an inflated interest rate. Plus, keep in mind that if you can pull together just $16,000 in five years (that’s $266.67 per month), and invest that money, even at a return of 7%, you would have $120,000 in 30 years. And 30 years from now, you most likely still won’t have that shiny new car you were just dying to get in your 20s.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Enterprises Need To Protect Customer Data

While I have been working in the cybersecurity industry for slightly over six months now, I recently read a CMSWire article from David Roe that still managed to surprise me a little. The article stated new research from the AIIM (Association of Information and Image Management) indicated that 26 percent of organizations have lost customer data in the past year – and those are the ones that know about it.

Think about that for a second. Of all the companies out there that you do business with – the ones that have your name, your address, your phone number, maybe even a credit card number, or worse yet, your social security number – one in four of them knows for certain customer data in their possession has been compromised. Factor in those companies that don’t know but have already been compromised as well, and it paints an even scarier picture for us as consumers.

And if this statistic hasn’t floored you yet, let me share another sentence from Roe’s article: More than 36 percent of small organizations, 43 percent of mid-sized and 52 percent of large organizations have reported data breaches in the past 12 months.

See how this situation just got even worse? Which is more likely to have your credit card number or your social security number, the small organization or the large organization?

And to top it off, according to additional research from AIIM, not only are data breaches increasing with each passing year, they actually still remain nothing more than an abstract discussion point in most enterprises, according to Roe’s article. It seems that while organizations may care about security, their lack of understanding about what to do about it has them focusing on other things like theft by internal staff and proper disposal of obsolete electronics.

So, if I don’t have you scared enough about your personal information as it sits in the hands of the companies you do business with, let me share two more statistics from Roe’s article – only 13% of the organizations surveyed suffered data breaches because of straightforward external hacks, while 28% of data loss was due to staff negligence.

And what does the cybersecurity industry consider staff negligence? Well, while this can include things like leaving your laptop at a Starbucks while your operating system is unlocked or losing an external hard drive with customer information on it, most negligence constitutes employees clicking on something they shouldn’t have in an email they have received. Each of us can relate, as I am sure we have all ended up with a virus that forced us to either rollback our operating system to its last update or bogged our computer down so badly that we had to re-image our hard drive. But imagine that you made this little mistake at work and instead of it planting a virus, you were instead taken to what you thought was a company login page and typed in your corporate ID and password. Seem like something you’d never accidentally do? Well, good for you, but apparently 28% of people out there are still doing it.

While Roe wraps up his article by calling upon enterprises to better train their staff on how to better spot these types of false login page phishing attacks and working to make their employees more aware of potential threats like these, I am going to wrap up my article in a slightly different manner. Why? Because I believe that no matter how well you train your staff, and no matter how careful they are, there is still a chance they will accidentally end up on a fake login page and provide credentials to the bad guys. You can’t tell me that you don’t find yourself making little mistakes here and there when you’re tired at the end of a long day, or rushing to get something done. It happens to the best of us, and all the security training in the world isn’t going to fix that.

What will fix it, however, are cybersecurity solutions that take the human factor out of the equation. Still train your staff on security best practices and how to spot phising campaigns that are seeking to steal their login information, but back that up with an anti-malware solution that pre-scans every file on every endpoint before it executes and quarantines the files and user actions that seem suspicious.

It is time for enterprises to secure all of their systems and every endpoint from the little human mistakes everyone on their team is going to make from time to time by seeking out an anti-malware solution that actually stops these attacks before they can occur.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Knowledge Is Money

It's not Wall Street's fault you're not saving. It's yours! Sorry to be so blunt, but after spending some time thinking about a very reactionary response I gave when a financial industry veteran asked me what I know about banking, I came to the realization that many of us think Wall Street is hoarding all of the financial information and keeping it from the rest of us. Many of us think this is why it is so hard to get ahead financially, but I believe this is just not the case.

In my latest guide, I provide you with some reasons why it's not actually Wall Street's fault so many people have trouble with money, but actually our own. Then, I provide you with some easy steps to learn more about money and explain how this knowledge can help you get ahead.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why You Need Industry Pages On Your Website

There are two schools of thought when it comes to whether or not you should have separate website pages for the industries your enterprise serves.

One camp believes if you list out the industries you serve on your website, visitors who do not see their industry will assume you do not do work in their field and move on.

The other camp feels if you do not provide industry-specific pages, you are missing out on an opportunity to provide more in-depth information to potential customers that is geared specifically to them.

I think both sides make a great point, but I tend to feel there is a solution that renders both arguments mute. I propose there is a way to list industries on your site, but still provide an impression that if a visitor’s industry is not listed out specifically, you’re still equipped to handle their business. This can easily be accomplished through a link to an “Other Industries” page at the bottom of your industry list.

Go ahead and create an industry page for up to seven main industries, but then list out some of the work you’ve done in other industries on your “Other Industries” page. If you craft your message properly, in just a few sentences, you can show visitors you are equipped to handle either their specific type of business, or better yet, any new type of business that comes along.

Let me walk you through the process. First, let’s address the industries you should actually list out on your site. Spend some time researching which industries drive the most revenue for your company and which industries you anticipate will drive revenue in the future. Once you have a clear picture of which industries they are, generate a list of the top seven. Then, proceed to develop copy, images and other content that speaks specifically to the people in those industries. If you have done your research properly, this should cover a significantly large portion of your existing and future customer base. This should all be pretty easy to accomplish and most likely something you’ve done numerous times before in some capacity.

Now, let’s create your “Other Industries” page. Don’t simply put up a list of additional industries beyond the seven you’ve already listed, but instead, provide a clear and concise message about your experience in other industries and let your audience know you are confident you can translate your success to their challenges, too. Just remember to keep your messaging customer-focused and speak to learning more about their specific industry’s challenges once you have discussed their specific needs.

If possible, try to get some quotes from customers who are not in your seven main industries that can demonstrate how you helped them overcome some very specific challenges. Be sure to feature those quotes on your “Other Industries” page. If you can obtain some quotes that speak to how quickly you learned customers’ industry-specific challenges, even better. Be sure to develop content based on your individual company’s products, services and experience.

By following these simple content creation steps, you can have a robust industry-focused section of your website that not only highlights the main industries your company serves, but also lets prospects whose enterprises do not fall into those industries know you are more than capable of helping them solve their specific challenges.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Does Your Marketing Content Focus On Your Customers?

Do you think pro golfers with a spare Sunday relax by hitting the links? Think a professional racecar driver can’t wait to jump in his car and head down the coast? Think a content creator spends some of his spare time reviewing mass quantities of other people’s content and collateral material? Guilty as charged.

But when you love what you do like I do, you tend to find yourself doing it in your spare time. These spare time activities have provided me with great insight into the vast amounts of marketing content out there, and as an avid researcher, I have discovered an epidemic plaguing the marketing content of most American companies, especially smaller businesses that really can’t afford or are not yet ready for a large marketing team. To put it bluntly, American enterprises, so much of your marketing content is not focused on your customers…it’s focused on you!

Now, don’t get me wrong, you have a role to play in your marketing story, and you definitely want to tell your customers about you, but you have to remember that when a customer is searching for a product or service, they are mostly interested in how you can address the challenges they are facing. 

I want you to do me a favor and pull out your most widely used piece of marketing content, then read it while keeping these key questions in mind:

  • Is your customer the star of that piece, or are you?
  • Does the first sentence of the piece start with your company name?
  • Do a lot of the rest of the sentences in the piece also start with your company name?
  • Do the main points of the piece talk first about how you do something and what you know, then address how you can solve a customer’s challenge only after you’ve talked about yourself first?
  • Does the piece tell your customer which of their challenges you can help them solve and how you will do so, or does it tell them all about your company, your team, what your team knows, and how great it will be for the customer if they choose to work with you?
  • Is your content riddled with all of the fancy product, team and department names you’ve so cleverly come up with over the years?

See, if I’m your customer, what I care about is how you can solve my challenges and how quickly, effectively and reasonably priced you can do that. I don’t care what you call your product, teams and departments, how many degrees your executives have, or where they worked before joining your team. I don’t care how many offices you have, that you can trace your company’s roots back to the 1960’s, or how much fun your employees have working there. All I want to see is content that tells me what you can do for me. 

So, if you read your marketing content and find your customer and how you can solve their challenges is not the true meat of the story you are telling, it might be time to re-write that content so it focuses on your customer and their needs, not you and your story. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes as they read your marketing content and ask, “Why should I care?” 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Much Bigger Issue With Auto Financing

I recently read a local news article with the headline, “Toyota Must Pay $22 Million for Charging Minorities Higher Interest Rates”. The article went on to explain that the U.S. Justice Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reached a settlement with Toyota under which Toyota agreed to pay out the large sum to resolve allegations that it “discriminated against black and Asian/Pacific Island borrowers in auto lending.”

The article also stated: “The agencies contended that the average African-American victim was obligated to pay over $200 more during the term of the loan, and the average Asian/Pacific Islander victim was obligated to pay over $100 more, because of discrimination.”

While I am definitely an advocate of equal opportunity and believe that one’s skin color or racial origin should in no way shape or form have an effect on the interest rate they would pay on a loan, the purpose of my article actually stems from the local news article’s second paragraph:

“Through the settlement, filed in Los Angeles federal court, Toyota agreed to limit the discretion of its dealers to charge interest rate markups on Toyota loans. The company also agreed that it will not increase the interest rates it quotes to car dealers in order to fund additional non-discretionary dealer compensation.”

I’ll explain that a little better in normal, understandable words in a second, but first, let’s also take a look at two additional paragraphs from later in the article which I’ve combined into one here:

“Toyota’s business practice, like most other major auto lenders, allows car dealers discretion to vary a loan’s interest rate from the price Toyota initially sets based on the borrower’s objective credit-related factors. Dealers receive greater payments from Toyota on loans that include a higher interest rate markup.”

So, what does all of this mean and why is this even more important than the settlement about racial discrimination in auto loan interests rates? Well, what this amounts to is the fact that Toyota, like many other auto manufacturers, provides a company-sponsored financing option for customers through their dealers. I’m sure you already knew that, right? What you probably don’t know is that Toyota’s financing arm provides a baseline interest rate that they want as compensation for making a loan to customers, but then, allows the dealer to add points to that interest rate, essentially raising the rate, at their discretion, and in fact, on top of that, provides dealers with incentives to charge customers higher interest rates.

Do you see why this is an even bigger deal than the race issue in this story? If not, go ahead and go back and read the previous paragraph again.

I am willing to bet that when you purchased your last car at a dealership and sat down with the dealership’s finance guy, when you were presented with an interest rate and a contract that showed all of those thousands of dollars in interest you were paying on your auto loan, you thought your rate was based solely on your credit score. I bet you had no idea your interest rate included additional points added by the dealer based on their perception of you, or any other factor the dealership decided to take into consideration.

Do you see what this means for the auto finance customer? If the dealership has hit hard financial times and needs more profit, they can charge you more in interest on your loan. Does the dealership owner need to put in a new pool at home so his kids stop bitching at him about being bored all summer? Well, then he can charge higher interest on your car loan to pull in some extra cash. And, of course, as the article reports, it was this discretion of adding additional points to the auto loan interest rate that gave the humans writing and approving the loan paperwork the ability to charge you more interest if your skin was a certain color, or if you had a certain last name or eye shape, or really, add additional interest if anything about you led them to feel you would have more difficulty paying back the loan.

Would I have paid a higher interest rate had I walked into the dealership in flip-flops, board shorts and a tank top instead of a suit, regardless of my credit score? Would I have paid more in interest based on whether I was sold the car by the salesman who was not my same race, or by the salesman who was my same race? Would I have paid more in interest at one dealership as opposed to another based on the color of my skin or the ethnicity of my last name? What this article and this settlement are saying is….yes.

I know the car buying process can be long and stressful, especially if you take the time to get the best price, look at a lot of different options, makes and models, but what this article tells me is that not only do we need to consider a car’s features, options, color, longevity, gas mileage, and repair and service costs, but we must also ask some very poignant questions of the dealership when it comes to financing as well. Ask the dealership what the rate from the manufacturer is and what their mark-up of that interest rate is, and be sure to ask them why there is a mark-up. Know your credit score BEFORE having the dealership run your credit and contrast and compare the interest rate that your credit score is earning not only with different manufacturers, but also different dealerships. Look into whether or not you can secure your own financing through your own bank so your interest rate is not at the whim of the manufacturer, dealer, finance guy or salesman.

While it is nice to see that Toyota is trying to take steps to stop discrimination and dealer incentivized rate increases in the lending process, the fact remains that as long as the major auto manufacturers continue these types of captive loan practices, consumers have a very real prospect of paying higher interest rates for reasons that are not disclosed to them.

I am hoping that after reading this article, the next time you finance a car, you’ll do a little digging on the reason behind your interest rate before signing that contract.