Black Friday vs. Buy Nothing Day


I’m off for the Thanksgiving holiday — my favorite time of year. I’ll be hanging out with family and friends, and hope that you do the same.

Here are some things to consider during the next few days:

  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to set ground rules for your family’s holiday gift exchange. Will you be drawing names? Setting price limits? Giving gifts only to children? Be sure everyone’s on the same page for the Christmas season.
  • Holiday bonuses will soon be appearing in paychecks everywhere. I recommend spending a few minutes to decide what to do with the money. You don’t need to set a budget — though it couldn’t hurt — but at least make a plan for spending and saving.

Also, now’s the time to decide whether you’ll join the fray on Black Friday — or opt out by making it a “buy nothing day”.

Black Friday

A new study from the American Research Group shows that “shoppers around the country say they are planning to spend an average of $983 for gifts this holiday season” — the most since the start of the Great Recession.

Planned spending for Christmas 2017

For many people, the Christmas shopping season starts this Friday. The day after Thanksgiving — now dubbed “Black Friday” — has become something of a ritualized cultural experience, and one of the biggest shopping days of the year. (It’s not the biggest shopping day of the year, but it’s in the top ten.)

Buy Nothing Day

While some of my friends subscribe to the “take the day off to find bargains on Black Friday” school of thought, I’ve traditionally sided with another camp. On the day after Thanksgiving, I observe Buy Nothing Day.

For the past 20 years, I’ve elected not to shop on Black Friday. It’s one way for me to avoid consumerism. I don’t begrudge others their bargains and shopping fun, but I choose not to participate. This year will be no different.

Buy Nothing Day 2017

Regardless which path you plan to pursue — Black Friday or Buy Nothing Day — please spend responsibly. Buy only what you need and can afford. Don’t be lured into impulse purchases. Avoid debt. And most of all, enjoy the spirit of the season.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be back on Monday.



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What to do if you’re the victim of identity theft)


Text fraud alertLast month, Kim was a victim of identity theft. Somebody used her debit card to make a large purchase of cosmetics.

The thief first tried a couple of test transactions for amounts of $0.01 and $0.00. (How is a $0.00 transaction even possible? I have no idea.) When those worked, she went all-in. She charged $555.90 to the account.

Fortunately, Kim has an excellent bank. USAA both phoned and texted to let her know something seemed suspicious. Then, over the next week, they worked with her to keep disruptions as minimal as possible.

In the end, nobody knows exactly what happened. How did the ID thief get Kim’s debit card info? How were they able to buy $555.90 in cosmetics? What’s to prevent this from happening again? All that’s certain is that Kim lost a great deal of time (but no money) handling this hassle.

Credit Where It’s Due

Since the incident, I’ve been coaching Kim on what she can do to protect herself. We’re not taking a comprehensive approach (as suggested in this very thorough identity theft resource at the Personal Finance subreddit). I don’t feel like this event warrants more than increased vigilance. To that end, we’re taking three specific steps.

  • First, it’s important that she check her transaction history regularly. Money nerds like me do this several times each week. Kim isn’t a money nerd. All the same, I think it’d be smart for her to go online and scan her account statements every Saturday morning.
  • Second, I showed her how to access her free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. The U.S. government has mandated that consumers be allowed to view their credit reports from each of the three major reporting agencies once every year. If you’d like, you can obtain reports from all three credit reporting agencies at once. Or, you can stagger your requests, possibly requesting one report every four months from a different agency. (Kim’s credit report came back clean — nothing unexpected.)
  • Finally, I had her sign up for a free account at Credit Sesame. Credit Sesame is one of many online tools to monitor your credit score. (I like that it analyzes which parts of your credit score or strong and which are weak.)

Kim's credit score

We didn’t find any additional problems. The cosmetic purchase appears to have been a one-time thing. (Or maybe the quick action from Kim and USAA managed to prevent additional problems.) We’ll keep a close eye on Kim’s accounts for the next several months, though. If other problems occur, we’ll escalate the protective measures.

Sidenote
On a lark, I checked my own credit score with Credit Sesame. Drat! I came in at 810, fourteen points lower than Kim. As always, I’m penalized because I don’t have enough sources of credit. If I could get a mortgage (like I want), my score would be better.

My credit score

Still, I shouldn’t complain. My credit score has increased a few points this year. (My credit score was 804 when I got a new credit card in February.)

Deter, Detect, Defend

If Kim’s situation had been more severe, we would have used the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s excellent site devoted to helping people recover from identity theft. The site includes a comprehensive list of steps to take if you believe your ID has been stolen. It will also walk you through the process of creating a personal recovery plan.



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Where to find affordable furniture


Furniture illustration

Where is all the good affordable furniture?” lamented Andrew Zaleski last week in an article for Curbed:

For many independent and smaller manufacturers, it’s difficult to create quality furniture at middle-of-the-road prices, something in between the Ikea items beloved by 20-somethings and the furniture on display in a store like Crate and Barrel. And consumers, who don’t always know that they have plenty of purchasing options beyond the flat-packed box, often have incorrect expectations of what it costs to make good furniture and what they should have to pay for it.

Modern consumers are used to buying almost everything via the web. They’re also accustomed to online retailers disrupting traditional pricing structures. But this new paradigm hasn’t transferred well to the furniture industry. Generally speaking, cheap furniture is cheap furniture. You get what you pay for. Buying online can’t change that.

Companies like Ikea can provide reasonable value at a low price due to economy of scale. Ikea produces mass quantities of each item, something that’s not possible for most furniture makers. But it’s not just quantity that affects price. The quality of materials and workmanship matter too. And for online furniture retailers, shipping becomes a huge factor.

The Curbed article never offers any clear action steps, but I had three main takeaways:

  • If you want inexpensive, Ikea is a good bet. The company offers high quality at low prices.
  • If you want quality, be willing to “invest” several thousand dollars in a piece that’ll last for years — maybe even a lifetime.
  • If, like most people, you’re looking for something in the middle, then shop at a local furniture store. That’s where you’ll find the best balance of quality and price.

When it comes to furniture, I’m generally a “buy it for life” kind of guy. To me, furniture isn’t a disposable product. Yes, I have plenty of Ikea items — I’m writing this while sitting on an Ikea chair at an Ikea desk — but I usually try to pick pieces that I think I’ll keep forever.

In the corner of my office, for example, is the easy chair I purchased in 1993 when Kris and I moved into our first house. In the living room, I have several expensive Stickley pieces that I bought at a 50% discount during the Great Recession of 2009. (This was my first experience with “predatory shopping”.)

Nowadays, Kim and I have two approaches when shopping for furniture.

  • First up, we visit local furniture stores that we trust. These are places that friends have recommended or that we’ve been happy with in the past. We steer clear of chain stores or places that advertise heavily, opting instead to go to places that seem to have low overhead and no salespeople on the floor. If we can find what we want at one of these stores, we consider buying it. (We ordered a custom sofa for our new house, for example. It cost less than $1000 but has great quality and is perfect for our space.)
  • Next, we visit our favorite consignment stores. We’ve found a couple of shops here in Portland that offer awesome used furniture for reasonable prices. (This is a great way to find pieces that might no longer be in style, by the way.)

Between consignment stores and local furniture galleries, Kim and I have been pleased with the furniture we’ve purchased in the past five years. We feel like we’re getting good quality and a decent price. I should note that we always look at Costco too, but haven’t yet bought anything there. (The prices seem fine, but we never like the styles.)

How do you find affordable furniture? Do you tend to aim for low price — or do you prefer high quality? How do you find a balance? Have you purchased furniture online? What was that experience like?



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Why Introverts Thrive in Online Business


Most people don’t understand introverts except, of course, introverts. But sometimes introverts don’t even understand themselves.

If you’re an introvert and feel like you could never be an entrepreneur, you don’t understand either yourself or entrepreneurial online business.

In fact, you’ve probably never realized that some of the most incredibly entrepreneurial people in the world are introverts. I mean, I just watched Mark Zuckerburg stand up in front of thousands to introduce new VR technology. I would never have guessed that man is an introvert.

Introverts like Zuckerberg and Bill Gates have been the backbone of Silicone Valley for years now. How did they do it? Not by sitting back and saying, “I can’t” that’s for sure.

While you might not build the world’s most successful social media outlet, you will succeed in your own way. Let’s look at how introverts can actually thrive in online business.

1. Why Are Introverts Actually Good at Business?

When I worked in social services, I knew an extreme introvert. She was an incredible person who hated small talk, loved solitude, and could only handle a certain quota of “people time” before needing to recharge.

But she was the savviest business person on our team. And now she’s the head of social media marketing.

How do people like that become the Zuckerbergs of the world? They don’t fit the Hollywood picture of an entrepreneur.

Sure, some Joe MacMillans (Halt and Catch Fire) exist. But it’s the Cameron Rendons of the world who readily come to mind.

Why?

It’s their introvert qualities. Those qualities that set them apart from the rest of us.

1000 Years of Solitude? No Problem! I’ll Just Get This Project Done!

But it’s not about diligence. Yes, an introvert’s ability to be alone for long periods of time without any social interaction is a boon in the business world. But it’s more about how they approach a project or task.

An introvert uses their solitude for several things. Thinking, recharging, and observation.

Beware the introvert in a crowd. They may not be stimulated by the crowd the same way an extrovert is. But that allows them room to observe.

They may not speak much at a meeting. But when they do, it’s important and relevant.

If you’re an introvert, realize your potential. Even if you don’t speak up as much in a meeting, when you have an idea, don’t hesitate to raise it.

Introverts also tend to be detail-oriented individuals. They won’t hit execute until everything is worked out.

This is particularly useful when creating a business plan.

There Is No “I” in Team…Except…

When there’s an introvert in the team, the team functions better. An extrovert is watching the clock, waiting for that next social engagement. An introvert isn’t motivated by social engagements.

But they do make the best team players.

Why?

It could be several factors. Extroverts, being motivated by social interaction and by proxy competition, might not work as well with others as you would think.

But introverts don’t care as much about competing with their peers. The anticipation of winning doesn’t get their dopamine dripping.

Thus, introverts are more likely to be collaborative, more so than their extroverted peers. And if you’re attempting to start an online business with other peers, if you’re introverted, you’ll be the one to bring everyone together.

“I Can Touch My Toes…Figuratively Speaking”

If you think flexibility is something you need in a typical business setting, just wait until you start an online business. There will be some group activities or networking events.

But there will be long hours of solitude where you’re wrestling with yourself or your business.

You have to do both group-ish things and solo-ish things. And you have to be great at both.

That’s where the introvert shines. While they might not look forward to group things, they’ll do well there. And yet, they’ll be even better at working independently.

They’ll close deals faster, they’ll get things done, and they’ll enjoy the time they have to analyze and construct. This is the kind of flexibility that builds empires.

2. How to Leverage Your Introversion to Start an Online Business

So, you get why I’m excited about introverts (apart from the fact I’m married to one). But if you’re an introvert, you’re wondering how you can use your introverted powers to build your own business online.

There are a few things you can do to make it more likely for you to succeed as an introvert in a fairly extroverted world.

Choose Smallness

Mark Zuckerberg started out with a small idea. He wanted to connect people on his campus.

He was just a college student with a computer. He didn’t need a whole building full of employees yet.

And neither do you. Especially with an online business, you won’t have to scale up until you make enough money to do so. If the bigness of scaling up overwhelms you and makes you want to crawl into a ball somewhere, think smaller.

Your goal should be only your own success or the success of your idea. Worry about hiring employees later.

Partner With an Extrovert

You’ll be the yin/yang of business. A Moses with his Aaron.

If you can’t handle certain social situations, your extroverted partner will be right there to soak up the social energy while you plan ahead. A great team is about “covering weaknesses with strengths.”

Your analytical mind and observation skill will supplement their propensity to charge ahead without thinking. There are many ways in which extroverts and introverts complement each other.

Online Interactions Are Your Friend (Building a Website and Using Email)

The internet is the introvert’s best tool. You can communicate with the world without small talk or uncomfortable social interactions.

And your website will be your store-front. So, build a website and primarily use email to communicate. You can learn more here about where to host your own website and email server.

But email, Skype, and other messaging services will be your portal to the world. Even if you have to conference call with strangers, you can do it from the comfort of your own environment.

Conclusion: The Boss

When you build your own online business, you’re the boss. You set meeting locations. You determine how things are run.

This means you can build your business to suit your needs too. If you someday open an office, make it introvert-friendly. That’s one of the biggest benefits to starting out on your own.



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Make a smartphone expense-tracking app (even if you’re NOT a nerd)


A lot of Get Rich Slowly readers like to get their hands dirty. Instead of paying for an app, they’d rather build their own expense trackers and net worth calculators and other money tools.

If you’re one of these nerdy industrious folks, check out how the anonymous bloggers at Waffles on Wednesday made their own free mobile expense tracking appwithout coding.

Waffles on Wednesday form

Here are the basic steps to creating your own customized expense-tracking app:

  • Create a Google Form to capture expense info. Customize the form to grab the info you want to track.
  • Create a spreadsheet to collect the information you enter on the form.
  • Save the form to your smartphone’s navigation screen for instant access. You can now enter expenses from your phone, not just your computer.
  • Go back to the spreadsheet and customize it to generate the reports you’re after.

Waffles on Wednesday spreadsheet

The authors built this tool to track business expenses, but the general idea is easily adaptable to tracking personal expenses. Over the years, readers have sent me a lot of personalized spreadsheets, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone convert their tool into a smartphone app! I love it.

Waffles on Wednesday app

I know this might seem pretty techy to some readers, but it’s actually not that complicated. If you’ve ever had to mess around with spreadsheets at work, you should have the skills to put this idea into practice.



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Why You’re Not Getting Kickstarter Backers


There are plenty of people out there with disposable income. About 30% of Americans have a discretionary income of at least $21,000 per year.

The higher the income bracket, the more people have to spend on things outside their needs. Now, some of this money does have to go into savings. But much of it goes to movies, furniture, and other fun things.

Yet, as someone who wants their Kickstarter campaign funded, you’re seeing none of that money. Of course, it’s not like you have a right to it. But you’re wondering why nobody is spending money on your campaign.

You wonder where the problem lies. Is your idea not good enough? Are your incentives lame? What gives?

I’m here to tell you that you’re wasting your efforts. That’s right.

But I’m also here to tell you how to start maximizing your efforts. What? Let’s examine what I mean.

1. The 80/20 Rule

If you’re a seasoned marketer, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. The 80/20 rule aka. the Pareto principle is something we all understand, right?

But the question is, do we all implement it?

What is the 80/20 rule? It basically states that 80% of your outcome usually comes from 20% of your efforts. Therefore, you should focus on the 20% that gives you that 80%.

But the eternal question is, how do you divine what 20% is effective? In essence, how do you trim the fat?

Ask yourself this question: who do you think will back your Kickstarter?

If you can’t even answer this question and you’re marketing with broad strokes, no wonder you have no backers! You’ve started a business without doing the proper research.

And, yes, you must look at your Kickstarter campaign as a business. A good business always starts with market research.

Rework the Sales Funnel Approach

One of the best ways to gauge interest and build a marketing pool is to build a “sales funnel.” Now, you’re not selling anything yet, so it can’t really be called a sales funnel. But we’ll use the same principles.

If you’re unfamiliar with a sales funnel approach, here’s how it works:

You want to turn leads into potential backers. And you want to sort serious backers from lukewarm backers (thinking the 80/20 rule here).

Start With a Landing Page

On your landing page, you give a little info on your product or service. Then you ask if someone would like more information about backing your future campaign. Then give them the option of receiving said info through an email.

All Superscreen had on their website before launching was this kind of information. And you can see for yourself that they’re a successful business.

A PPC Campaign

Next, you need to start an advertising campaign. The best way to get your idea in front of potential backers is through a PPC campaign.

Craft a great ad that includes a link to your landing page.

Video/Email

Lastly, create a video or a presentation you can send out in an email to your leads. In the video, give all the details of both your product and your campaign.

Below the video embedded in your email, ask for a commitment. Ask if they would join a special email list that gives a special incentive to back your project.

You can choose something small, a token or a patch, but these will be your super backers. Treat them well.

2. Remember, Failure IS an Option (And It’s Likely to Happen)

Alright, this isn’t a popular thought. But it’s true.

A failed Kickstarter definitely doesn’t mean a failed business idea. Only 36% of Kickstarter campaigns succeed. So, it’s wise to figure out a use for your campaign outside of funding.

If you’re selling a product, you will want feedback. And who else is better than a group of people already excited about your product?

They’ll be your core market anyways.

Even if you can’t make your Kickstarter goal, you create a community throughout your campaign. Your most ardent supporters will want to connect with each other.

A Facebook Group

If you know how to crowdfund using recent trends, you will have already started a Kickstarter Facebook group for your campaign. It’s only good form.

But in the group, start encouraging potential backers to give you ideas on how to improve your product. The more backers feel involved in a campaign and in product development, the more they will be willing to spread the word.

I can tell you from my experience outside of Kickstarter campaigns (mostly with Beta testing for Virtual Reality games), inclusion in the process is a powerful motivator. It motivates people to spend money and it motivates them to spend time giving valuable feedback.

Even if you don’t make your goal, you’ve created a loyal audience. And that’s before you’ve even launched a product! Even established brands would be jealous.

3. Research Could Open Up the Flood Gates

Just like in real life, it’s all about who you know. And if you’ve identified your super backers, then there might be someone worth knowing among them.

Be on the lookout. Open your ears.

Not only will your backers love to criticise your product and make it better, they might think of new ways to use it.

This will open up new marketing avenues. You may even find a whole new market for your product or service.

Also, you might find that someone among your super backers could be an asset to your team. While you might not be hiring new people yet, you could see the talent to nab once your product or service takes off.

It’s All About Focus

The 80/20 rule, the sales funnel approach, a Facebook group…all of these have one thing in common. They shift the focus away from you and your product and toward your backers.

Kickstarter campaigns have a nasty reputation for not delivering on promises. And for this reason, a lot of people are hesitant to back projects or report on them.

If you can show your potential backers that they are the center of your attention, you’ll more than likely succeed. You can at least get them on board for your future success.

If you want to learn more about what it means to be a successful entrepreneur, check out Shoemoney’s story.



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There are pros and cons to everywhere


Kim and I moved to our new home in West Linn on July 1st. Although we’re only 8.5 miles (and about twenty minutes) from the condo we owned in Portland, I haven’t been back to our former neighborhood since we moved. Yesterday, I decided to spend a few hours hanging out at some of my old haunts.

I stopped at the “pot shop” to pick up some sleeping aids. I bought Tally new chew sticks from the pet store. I spent half an hour browsing at the used book store for sci-fi classics. And I stopped to drink a glass of wine at the bottle shop. It was fun to be back in Sellwood once again, if only for a few hours.

While I was sipping my pinot noir, a friend came in. “It’s good to see you,” she said. “How’s life in the new house? Do you miss Sellwood?”

“We do and we don’t,” I said.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, there are pros and cons to every location, right? I don’t think there’s any one perfect place to live. I miss this wine bar, for instance, and being able to walk to all of the different restaurants. But I don’t miss the traffic and the crowding and the high cost of living.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” my friend said. “But I couldn’t live where you do. I don’t like to drive. I gave up my license three years ago, and I never want to get it back. I like being able to walk for everything.” She has a perfectly valid point.

Driving home, I thought more about our conversation, about the differences between where we live now and where we lived six months ago.

Our new home

Pros and Cons to Everywhere

As an adult, I’ve had six different homes in 25 years: the small house in the small town, where Kris and I moved after we got married; the big house in Portland that she and I bought in 2004; the apartment in downtown Portland that I rented after our divorce; the riverfront condo I bought in 2013; the condo that Kim and I rented in Savannah, Georgia; and now this cottage on an acre of land outside West Linn.

I’ve loved aspects of each of these places — but there have also been things I’ve disliked about each location.

Here, for example, are the pros and cons of living in the condo:

  • Advantages of the condo. Extremely walkable neighborhood. Extensive parks nearby. Great view of river and city. Direct access to city-wide bike path. Close to public transit. Lots of people to hang out with. Condo maintenance was generally hassle-free.
  • Disadvantages of the condo. Dense vehicle traffic — even on weekends. Large vagrant population, including chronic drug use and increasing property crime. Expensive grocery stores. High fixed costs (HOA, property taxes) even though condo was owned free and clear. No place for pets to roam. Way too easy to opt for restaurants instead of eating in. At 1560 square feet, the condo felt too large. Too many people all around.

Looking at that list of pros, it’s clear that the best part of living in Sellwood was its proximity to everything. The two biggest downsides were the high cost of living and the population density.

I made a similar list of pros and cons for our current house:

  • Advantages of the country cottage. Beautiful park-like setting just 25 minutes from Portland. Quiet yard and neighborhood. No issues from population density (traffic, homelessness). Fixed costs are much lower; so are discretionary costs. Room for animals to roam. At 1235 square feet, the house is smaller than the condo and feels more “livable”. Nearby multi-use trail. Kim and I both love the vibe of the home and property; this place feels like home to us.
  • Disadvantages of the country cottage. Relatively isolated so little interaction with other people. Neighborhood isn’t walkable for errands. (It’s plenty walkable for pleasure and exercise.) No quick access to public transportation. House has required extensive renovation, and there’s still more that needs to be done. Severe rodent infestation.

The two biggest advantages of living in West Linn are the lower costs and the increased connection with nature. The trade-off, however, is that we’re farther from conveniences like grocery stores, gyms, and restaurants. We drive more often.

Everything Is a Trade-Off

The older I get, the more I believe that the ideal home doesn’t exist. Not for me, anyhow. And not for Kim.

“You know what I wish?” Kim said a couple of weeks ago. “I wish that we had this house and this property but that it was located in our old neighborhood. That’d be perfect. We could still walk everywhere and do everything, but then we’d have an oasis to come home to.”

Right. That would be awesome — but I’m still not sure it would be perfect. And it doesn’t exist. If it did exist, it would cost a fortune.

Everything is a trade-off. If you want land, you have to look outside of the city, which means you’re not going to be in a walkable neighborhood. If you want a place with low maintenance, you’re probably going to be in an HOA (for both better and worse). If you want someplace inexpensive, you’ll likely be located farther from amenities.

When choosing a place to live — or making any big life decision, really — it’s important to ask yourself two questions:

  • What am I giving up by making this choice? What am I sacrificing? What am I gaining? Are the compromises worth it?
  • What else could I do with the same time and money? Are there options that appeal to me more?

Kim and I decided that at this stage in our lives, we didn’t need the easy access to bars and restaurants. We wanted a place where the animals could explore the outdoors, and a place where we could save money. We’re happy with our country cottage despite the constant construction and the ongoing rodent infestation.

What kinds of compromises have you made to live where you live? What did you give up? What did you gain? If you could design a perfect home and neighborhood, what would it look like?



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How to Automate Your Passive Income


What if you could make money without even lifting a finger? We call passive income “passive” but we all know it’s not truly and absolutely passive.

There will always be some work involved, right? But what if there were a way to make your passive income actually passive? Would you do it?

Today we’re going to talk about how it’s possible to completely automate your passive income.

1. Wait, How Can Income Be Passive?

Most people trade hours for dollars. Even when creating a product, most people value their product by the time and effort put in to build it.

But passive income is a completely different mindset. You’re no longer trading hours for dollars, you’re trading value for dollars. And you’re doing it in your sleep.

The goal is to make enough money to fund your life or supplement your income without having to remain on the mouse wheel. It’s the mouse inventing a motor that runs the wheel for them.

2. Enter Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is one of the easiest ways to generate passive or almost passive income. What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is essentially cheap advertising for productized businesses. A business will give an affiliate marketer a percentage of a sale if the marketer can get someone to buy the product.

It’s as simple as dangling a product link in front of the eyes of potential leads and customers. But most of the time it requires some sort of packaging. This could include a blog or an email or a podcast or video.

3. Affiliate Marketing Through E-mail for Passive Income

While some affiliate programs will require a website to even open an affiliate account (I’m looking at you, Amazon), others do not. And if you find an affiliate that does not care, you’re on your way to automated passive income.

E-mail is an easy thing to automate. Even the content can be outsourced.

It can be a completely laissez-faire experience.

But let’s forget about passive income for a minute and talk about pure return on investment. Even if you aren’t looking for passive income and want to start your own business, email marketing is highly influential.

How does 320% more revenue sound? Email marketing can up your revenue by exactly that much. And it’s less work than most outbound marketing techniques.

4. How to Build an E-Mail List

Before you even begin automation, you need to figure out how to accumulate email addresses. One of the easiest ways to do this is through a sales funnel.

This is a simple two-step sales funnel, but it will absolutely work to start building a list for your e-mail marketing efforts.

A Website

First, build a simple website. It only has to be one page. A landing page.

On the landing page, you promise some sort of benefit for signing up for the email list. This could be a short e-book or some sort of promotion for your affiliate program. But it has to be interesting enough to bait people into giving you their email and signing up for your list.

One thing you could do if your affiliate program is small enough: write the head of your affiliate to see if they would allow you to run a giveaway. They might even give you their product or a gift certificate, at least.

PPC

Once you have a website, you run a short but sweet PPC campaign. Advertise the benefit of signing up for your email list.

Read up on how to create a great PPC campaign. It involves running a couple of pay-per-click ads and writing stellar headlines.

5. How to Automate Your E-Mail List

After you have an e-mail list, it’s time to start sending out emails. But remember, the dream is to pretty much do nearly zero work to gain the income.

This means outsourcing as much as you possibly can.

Find an e-mail marketing automation company. These services are simple and easy.

We’ll use MailChimp for this, but there are other e-mail marketing services you can use.

Set up an Account

It’s free to sign up for most of these. But if you want more bells and whistles, you can pay for their packages.

MailChimp features great tutorials with their free account to help get you started. And it’s web-based, so you don’t have to download any software to get started.

Add to Your List

This is where that subscriber list you’ve accumulated through your website and PPC campaign come in handy.

You can set up as many lists as you need and keep growing your list here.

If you already have a list created, make sure it’s in a CSV file. Otherwise, you can connect your website page to MailChimp to make it easier to build your list.

And if you were already using a different email program before, it’s easy to transfer your entire list without requiring recipients to re-subscribe.

You can target certain people by splitting your list into segments. And you want to make sure you name your lists so you don’t lose track.

A Sign-up Form

If you hadn’t set up a landing page yet, MailChimp can help you do this. They allow you to create sign-up forms and place them on your website.

In MailChimp, you’ll find the “sign up forms” option in the editing menu for your list. This form should be fairly basic. People don’t like to give away too much information.

Set up a Newsletter

This might be something you could outsource down the road. Or you can outsource it immediately for completely passive income.

This is where you will place your affiliate links. But the newsletter should not be about the links.

You have to offer something of value to your subscribers. This means whole pieces of content and advice.

You can embed videos in emails or podcasts. But they need a reason to open the email. You’ll make zero income if you just send random links to people.

In MailChimp, you can automate your newsletters. Spend some time at the beginning of each month or quarter crafting all of your emails. And then set MailChimp to send out an email every week or every day.

Free Your Time

Automating your affiliate marketing efforts will open up your free time. You’ll have time for the important things in life.

If you want to learn more about affiliate marketing check out our other articles on Shoemoney.com.



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Earning millions of air miles by renting a new car every day


J.J. and the Hertz staff

I’m relatively new to the world of travel hacking, the practice of accumulating credit-card miles and points to get free flights, hotels, car rentals, and more.

That said, I know many folks who consider travel hacking a hobby, and use their skills to earn big rewards. It’s fun to listen to stories of the crazy things they sometimes do to earn points!

Yesterday, The Points Guy featured the story of J.J. Todd, the man who has earned 1.2 million United Miles since April by renting cars:

J.J. has been renting cars full-time since 2012. His car at the time broke down, and after completing a few calculations, he realized renting cars and earning airline miles with each rental would make more financial sense than owning a car.

When he learned that United and Hertz were teaming up for a bonus miles offer, J.J. sat down and did some math. He discovered that by renting a new car every day, he could buy miles at ~0.5 cents each, which is about 25% the value he places on them. He approached the staff of the rental agency to let them know his plans. With their blessing, he’s been stockpiling points while driving a different car every day.



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Dave Ramsey’s top 10 calls of 2017


Dave Ramsey sometimes takes a lot of heat. His assumptions on investing are, well, questionable. Plus, there are people who take issue with his version of the debt snowball, which focuses on repaying low balances first instead of high interest rates.

Quibbles aside, there can be no doubt that Dave Ramsey does a lot of good in this world. (His book The Total Money Makeover that helped me get out of debt a decade ago.)

I don’t listen to Ramsey’s radio show, but I took the time to view this 73-minute video clip featuring the top 10 calls from 2017.

Callers in this video include a couple who has $158,000 in debt but hasn’t paid their bills in six years, another couple with almost $700,000 in student loans, and a third couple who is homeless because of haphazard financial decisions.

Watching Ramsey patiently guide lost listeners through the dense jungle of financial failure is inspiring. I couldn’t do it. Even though I’ve done lots of dumb things with money myself, I’d get frustrated dealing with call after call after call from people who have made such poor choices. But Ramsey remains calm, patient, and interested.



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