Personal Finance and Your Future: Your Retirement Account

Some people do not feel they have the money needed right now to live on. If you are employed, you should be thinking about your retirement. Social Security will not be enough. Your employer may not be offering you a pension. It is up to you to start looking at retirement right here and now, even if it means just a few dollars per paycheck.

Compound Interest

The sooner you start to invest in your retirement, the less difficult it is to accumulate the amount of retirement investment you need and want to have to pay for your expenses. The reason behind this is compound interest. When you put money into an account earning 2 percent interest, that 2 percent not only applies to the initial investment, but also to any interest earings you have in the previous period. For simplicity sake, if you have $1000 in a retirement account at just 2 percent interest, you would have $1020 after the first cycle. This time around, that 2 percent is applied to the $1020 and after the cycle ends, $1040.40. On a larger scale and with better investments, this build up in value over time is substantial. The sooner you start saving, the more time there is for compound interest to work on your behalf.

Types of Retirement Accounts

There are a number of retirement accounts available to you. Each one offers something different and is for a specific person. Take a look at a few of the options you have and their advantages.

401K: This common employer based account makes retirement savings easy. You choose the amount you deduct pretax from your paycheck and deposit into your retirement account. Like other employer based accounts, your employer may match any amount of that investment. Your money grows tax free throughout its lifetime until you start to withdraw it.

Traditional IRA:Perhaps your employer does not offer this type of benefit to you. That is no problem. You can set up your own IRA in a local credit union, bank or investment firm. You are able to deposit up to your limit (based on your age and the tax year) each year. The funds go itno your traditional IRA before taxation and you are taxed only when you begin to withdraw from your accounts during retirement.

Roth IRA: With a Roth IRA, the funds you put into your account are taxed prior to being placed into the account. Then, the funds grow tax free throughout your lifetime. You do not have to pay taxes later when you withdraw these funds. All of the funds within your account are in fact your own for retirement.

You Don’t Have Enough

Many people believe they just do not have enough money to start an IRA or a 401k and therefore they just do not believe they can put money away for retirement. Even a small amount per paycheck will make a difference in your future. Try for $20 out of your paycheck. Increase this as you get more comfortable with having less in your paycheck. Chances are good you will not notice it and it will provide you with an outstanding way to pay for your retirement expenses long term.

Going without a retirement account is not a good idea. It puts you in a position of having to worry about how you will pay your bills. Or, you could become one of the ever growing statistics in which elderly parents are relying on their children to care for them in old age. Start today to plan for your retirement.

Categories Personal Finance3 Comments

Save Money By Cutting Out The Extra

More people than ever are trying to save money. According to a New York Times report, more Americans are saving money now than they have been since 1993. People are putting away, on average 6.9 percent of their income. That is a great place for many to start, especially after the financial difficulties of the last few years. But, saying that you will save and putting this act into practice are two very different things. And, they can be incredibly limiting to those who think they do not have any money to put away. You do.

Save Money By Cutting Costs

The best way to save money is to have more money to put away. You could get an extra job (and this is something you want to consider if you hope to build your savings faster.) However, consider the following ways you can reduce your costs significantly and put those funds back into your savings account.

  • Do you work in the same five-mile radius as you live? If so, jump on a bike to go to work and leave the extra car at home. In fact, moving from a two or three car household down to a one or two car household could save you hundreds of dollars in interest fees (if you still have a loan) and hundreds of dollars on insurance costs, not to mention the discounts in fuel.
  • Find your money waster. This is the item that you buy every day or every week that you just do not need to. It could be that $5 gourmet coffee in the morning or the $10 a week you spend on soda at work. Cut it out. Put that money towards your savings. $5 a day savings equates to $150 a month for savings, or $1825 a year.
  • Eat out less. Buy a $30 slow cooker, start your meals in the morning in it and then skip the take out. This in itself can save most families between $50 and $150 a week in eating out. That is money to put into your savings account so that you can take a trip or even just pay down debt.
  • Cut utility costs. When was the last time you called your cable provider to reduce your monthly costs? Have you taken the time to consider bundling your services (phone, Internet, cable) into one to reduce your costs? How about the water bill? you can save hundreds by repairing leaky faucets and reducing shower time. A programmable thermostat keeps the home warm when you are home, but decreases costs when you are not. Unplug those electronics.

One of the biggest money savers is to have a budget. Work out a budget that you can live with and then stick with it. Do not rely on credit cards at all for your monthly costs. Rather, focus instead on a cash only budget. Give yourself money to eat out or for entertainment, but limit these costs so that you can actually be putting money away.

You can save a great deal of money by simply learning how to cut out the extras in your budget. However, to know what those extras are, you need to keep a record going of what you are spending money on. Everything from parking meters to the kid’s school lunches should be part of it. This gives you a clear idea of where your money is going. Then, you can cut out the extra and start saving money.

Categories Saving Money2 Comments

Before The End Of Year Tax Advantages

The end of the year brings new opportunities for next year. However, keep in mind that there is more work to be done right now. Some of these opportunities may spill over into next year, too. Taxes are coming. However, if you take a few minutes right now to consider any deductions you may be entitled to, you may be able to reduce the amount of tax you owe to the IRS. This is an excellent way for individuals to save money. In some cases, you are getting more back, too.

What Dedications Can You Take?

You do want to work with a tax professional who is willing to spend a bit of extra time with you right now (and there are many that will) to help you to minimize your tax liability. The following are a few of the tax deductions many people can take. Whether you qualify for them or not is determined through your tax professional.

  • Tally up your medical expenses. However, you do have to reach a specific limit, if you have been putting off a procedure or a doctor’s visit that would qualify, do it now. If you have spent enough on medical costs, you can deduct them. This includes things like crutches, hearing aids, contact lenses, medications and even prescription glasses.
  • Job seeking expenses may be a deduction. Tax code allows for any costs associated with locating a job to be included as a tax deduction. This cannot be your first job out of college and there are a few other qualifications. However, those who have spent a lot on travel expenses or other needs may be able to take advantage of this.
  • The small business owner has plenty of tax discounts available to them. Did you keep track of your mileage for business use? Do you use your cell phone for business transactions? Are you factoring in half of the self-employment tax paid as a deduction? Do you need specialized clothing not suitable to wear outside of the work place? Did you invest equipment into your business? These are all deductions you may qualify for.
  • Deduct gambling losses up to the amount of your gambling wins. You do have to have some proof of these losses to qualify for them.
  • Have you donated significant value to charities? If not, now is the perfect time to do so. Donate that car you do not use. Donate old items around the home. Get a receipt. Do take into consideration monetary donations as well. These all help you at tax time and do help those in need at the same time.

In addition to these tax deductions, do check out your investments. Have you invested as much as you can for the year? For those under 50 years of age at the end of the year, you can contribute as much as $5000 or the amount of your taxable compensation in 2009. For those over the age of 50, you can contribute $6,000 or the amount of your taxable compensation. Both of these go into your traditional or Roth IRA. If you have not contributed enough, now is the time to do so.

Saving money just makes sense. There is no reason for you to put more money into your taxes than is necessary. In fact, now is a good time to access just how much money you are giving to the government out of each check. If you are getting a refund, remember that this is simply an interest free loan you are giving to the government. Adjust your withholdings to ensure this does not happen.

Categories Taxes1 Comment

Be Ready For Change

The definitions of the financial classes are changing.  More companies are changing the definitions of their jobs as well.  With outsourcing and freelancing becoming a more viable resource, the job market and the jobs available are shifting accordingly.  This means even more upheaval for people who are unprepared for a quick change in their financial environment.

The days of long tenures with powerful companies are all but gone. The time of getting a single job and working it until you retired or died is nearly at an end.  The market for jobs, an ever evolving and changing entity, has eliminated some jobs and created new ones.  This is wonderful news to the people who can evolve with the change and are ever increasing their knowledge base and their skills.  For those who are not so flexible, this could be a painful and depressing transition.

When the automobile became a household item, companies that manufactured traditional horse drawn carriages became obsolete.  All the people who had made whips, carriages, harnesses and fittings for that industry had to find other work eventually.  This is just an example of what happens continually in our marketplace.

One of the biggest changes in the last twenty years has been the increasing flow of outsourcing work. There is room for outsourcing in nearly every industry and for people who “get replaced” by cheaper contractors, it can mean devastating financial consequences.  No matter the job you hold, you need to be prepared for the next advancement in the markets.  Computers, networking, the internet and other technologies have caused the erasure of dozens of markets – but they have also created jobs in their wake.  Just like the carriage builder who left the carriage house and went to work for Ford, people today have to move with the existing tide.

One way of preparing for this shift is to hone your skills. Freelance markets are all over the Internet for people who have been laid off or their jobs have been eliminated.  If you have a marketable skill, considering a freelance career may be a good backup plan for you.  Learning a new skill or trade while you are still working your current job is never a bad idea either.  With a few exceptions such as the medical field, there is virtually no job that is one hundred percent guaranteed to never be outsourced.  Even a great many jobs in the medical field are being outsourced to talented and cheaper sources overseas.

Protect your investments and your future by investing in your education and your skills. Learning a new trade or revising your current one may be a bit of a task, but in this market, you are virtually forced to continually upgrade yourself.  If you have already felt the ax fall in your market, do not be discouraged.  A great deal of companies that are taking advantage of the freelance market will search out American freelancers to do their work.  Consulting is another field that will almost always be a viable option for those who wish to change venues.

Be ready for change, and you can soar into the next market shift!

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Personal Finance: Establishing the New Year’s Goals

With the New Year upon us, there are many things individuals and families need to take into consideration outside of the resolutions you may make to lose weight or to spend more time together. Everyone can utilize this time of the year to look back at their financial goals and look forward with new ones. Each person is unique: some want to save more; others want to pay down debt. There may be an important big purchase coming up this year. On the other hand, you may want to think about retirement a bit closer. The New Year brings opportunity. What will you do with it?

Minimize The Crush Of Debt

Beyond anything else, individuals need to focus on their debt. Not only does it physically tax the body through stress, but it is holding you back from living a debt free lifestyle. Consider the following goals to help you reduce your debt:

  1. Spend less overall. Find one way that you can spend 10 percent less of your budget.
  2. Avoid credit cards. Try to use a cash only system when purchasing anything. It will teach you how to be a better saver, too. Make the drastic decision to cut up credit cards if you cannot control spending otherwise.
  3. Pay an extra 25 percent on your monthly payments. Perhaps you are not sure you can do this. Use the funds you cut out of your budget to make it happen.
  4. Contact each of your lenders and request a rate reduction. They may say no, but they may say yes and a yes can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
  5. Commit to no new credit cards, loans, pay day loans or other debts in the coming year. This commitment to yourself could change your financial future.

Which of these (or all of them) can you tackle in the New Year?

Save More

The second most common goal people have when planning goals for the new year is save more money. Of course, this is a great idea. The problem is, many people do not actually put in place strategies to make it happen. Just saying you will save more money will not help you. Consider the following goals. Which can help you to get more money in the bank?

  1. Take the time to invest in yourself first. If you do not have a 401K or an IRA, or other retirement savings account, find out if your employer offers one. This money comes directly out of your paycheck, has tax advantages and it is not something you need to think about. Did you know you could withdraw from most accounts, without penalty for big expenses such as medical care and down payments on homes?
  2. Focus on the shopping cart. As you walk through the grocery store or department store, keep a calculator in hand. Each item that goes needs tallied as you go. Why bother with this? You are more conscious of how much you are spending. When you see the bill approaching your budget limit, take items out as you need to.
  3. Save more at home. Read up on how to be environmentally friendly and energy use conscious. Find ways to cut costs at home. Is your water heater set too high? Are you using too much electricity during the day? Will a programmable thermostat cut your bill?

Although this is the time of year to be thinking about tomorrow, make sure you put your New Years plan in place today. Write it down. Give yourself specific goals to reach per week or month. As you go along, you will find yourself spending less, paying down debt, and putting more money away so you can achieve your long-term goals.

Categories Personal Finance, Saving Money3 Comments

The right to say No – Assertiveness in Business

Having a constant flow of interesting work was important to Malcolm.  He was always on the lookout for a new project that looked sexy and would reflect well on him.  Malcolm’s problem was the enormous workload that he ended up with.  He often missed deadlines because he was trying to do too much and found it really difficult to say “No”.

Although Malcolm’s problem was mainly self-made, a great many people in commerce and industry are over-stretched because others impose additional tasks on them, assuming that, if they are not saying “No”, they must be saying “Yes”. However, for so many people, saying “No” has negative implications and is not something they want to do for fear of being seen as uncooperative.

Yes, assertiveness is a skill that is still pretty rare, mainly because it is often mistaken for aggression.  To be clear aggression is the use of verbal, emotional or physical force in an unfriendly way to manipulate another person to comply with your requests.  The effect being that the other person feels that their rights have been violated.  Assertiveness, on the other hand, is the understanding and defense of your own rights.  Assertiveness is designed to protect your rights as an adult individual.

Examples of individual rights include:

1. I have the right to make mistakes and to take responsibility for them.

2. I have the right to change my mind.

3. I have the right to judge whether I am responsible for solving problems of others.

4. I have the right to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand” or “I don’t care”

These examples are all illustrations of a healthy adult-adult relationship with yourself not to mention an adult-adult relationship with others. Many non-assertive situations are caused by one person taking on a child-like role, acting as the victim.  This has the effect of pushing the other person in the relationship into a parent-like role where it is easy to be controlling, judgmental and critical. An aggression-compliance relationship is difficult to avoid leaving both parties feeling unhappy about the outcome.  Yes, it’s true; not only does the compliant person feel their rights have been violated but the aggressive person will feel they have, in some way, been manipulated.  “You were asking for it!”, “I had no alternative!” or “You made me do it!” are all common excuses used by aggressive people.

Malcolm had not given himself the right to say “I’ve changed my mind”, “I made a mistake” and “I need some help”.  He often felt trapped in a device of his own making and his child-like vanity was driving him to be involved in more attractive projects in order that he would look good.  Unfortunately the worker in Malcolm was not as productive as the salesman in Malcolm made him look.  In effect he was violating his own rights, manipulating himself in a way that is encouraged in today’s cut-throat business world.  Malcolm needs to look after his own rights because no-one else will.

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Instant Dinner Party: How to Entertain when You Don’t Have the Time

Entertaining on a Time Budget

In our society of power breakfasts, endless meetings and overfilled schedules, it seems as if no one has the time to entertain guests except for special occasions.  Don’t let the fact that you’re on a limited time budget keep you from enjoying the company of your friends and family.   With minimal planning and preparation, you can host a dinner party on a day’s notice.  Use these tips to plan a get together that will give you and your guests a welcome respite from the rat race we face everyday.

Planning – Keep it Simple
Planning your meal shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.  Get a piece of paper and write down these 3 things:

  1. Number of Guests – Include all possible guests, including significant others.  It’s always better to have too much than too little.
  2. Time Frame – You’ll want to decide what time the guests should arrive and what time dinner will be served so that you’ll know exactly how much time you have to devote to preparation.
  3. Menu – Arguably the most difficult aspect of any dinner party, remember to keep it simple.  Stick with dishes you are familiar with and that can be prepared quickly.  If you’re stuck on this step, some menu options will be provided later in this article.

Once you have this information, you can do an inventory of your kitchen and decide what you need to purchase.  Create a shopping list being sure to include any decorations and beverages along with the food you need to buy.   Organize the list so that you can move quickly through the store.  You should be able to locate everything you need at any major grocery store.

Invitations – No Need to Be Formal
If your guest list is small,  you can call each guest to issue a personal invitation.  If you’re planning on a larger group, or if you just don’t have the time, email comes in very handy.  There are several invitation based websites that can be used to great advantage when planning a dinner party.  Just fill in a few fields and you’re a click away from reaching all your guests.

Decorations – Nothing Fancy
Sticking with the theme of keeping it simple, decorations needn’t be too elaborate.  Simple candles and fresh flowers are always a great way to go.  Fresh flowers like Astromeria can be purchased very cheaply at most grocery stores.  While not necessary, having a linen tablecloth is always a nice touch and doesn’t require more than minimal ironing.

The Meal – Options and Suggestions
If you don’t know what to prepare for your meal, here are some suggestions for elegant and easy to prepare recipes that will impress your guests.

Beverages – The easiest way to handle beverages is to set up a bar/beverage area where guests can prepare their own drinks.  That way if you are putting the finishing touches on the meal, you won’t be interrupted every time a new guest arrives, you can just direct them to the bar.  Be sure to include ice and glasses with your choice of beverages in the set-up.

Appetizers– Nothing could be easier than providing appetizers like selected cheeses with crackers or a vegetable tray with dip.  If you have the time to cut your own vegetables, you can save money, but precut vegetable trays will save you time.  Pre-made spinach or artichoke dip served with a hearty bread is also a good, quick appetizer.

Salad– Pre-prepared salads come in very handy if you’re on a time budget and can be augmented with fresh vegetables of your choosing if you have the time.  To add a dash of class and yum factor, add French fried onions and cheese (feta is usually a good choice) to your salad.

Sides – The simplest and quickest side options is the basic baked potato.  To create a restaurant quality baked potato, wet the skin of the potato and dip it in sea salt.  Then wrap each potato in paper towel before microwaving it.   After cooking, firmly roll the potato before removing the towel to pull the potato away from the skin. Cut each potato once down the center and it’s ready to serve.  Rice and flavored rice packages are also make quick and delicious sides.

Soup – Many restaurants and restaurant supply companies offer delicious frozen soups that can be quickly heated up for a delicious soup course.

Entrees– There are many recipes available for meat, poultry, seafood and pasta dishes with quick preparation times.  A search of the many available recipe sites on the internet can provide you with a recipe that fits your taste.  Here is one such simple and elegant choice:

London Broil w/Garlic Au Jus

Hands-on preparation time: 20 minutes
Actual time to prepare – 2 hours

Ingredients:
1.5lbs of 1 ½” – 2” thick London broil (top round)
2 cloves of fresh garlic
1 can beef broth
1 cube beef bouillon
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup butter
¼ cup water

1)     In a small saucepan, boil the beef broth, bouillon and brown sugar for 15 minutes to reduce it.
2)     Remove the broth mixture from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes
3)     Create a marinade by adding the garlic (pressed or diced), lemon juice, and olive oil to the broth mixture
4)     Marinate the London broil for 1 hour at room temperature
5)     Retaining the marinade, broil the meat on a roasting rack for 8 minutes on each side
6)     Remove the meat from the oven and allow to sit for 8 minutes
7)     Meanwhile return the marinade to the saucepan, add water and butter and bring to a boil
8)     Carve the London Broil into thin slices on a slight angle, cover with Au Jus and serve on a platter with the remaining Au Jus on the side.

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Choosing the Right Bike for You

For the casual, recreational bicyclist, choosing the right bike can be confusing and even frustrating.  You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars, but you do want to make sure you get a bike of sufficient quality and comfort that you can ride it with pleasure for more than just a year or two.  You are somewhere in between the consumer who goes into a discount store and buys the glitziest bicycle available for the wad of bills in his wallet and the bicyclist who strolls into the best bike shop in town, hails all the employees by name, spends the whole rest of the day talking components and races and leaves the store at closing, starry-eyed but empty-handed.   Here are some helpful pointers to help you choose the right bike for your body and your purposes.

Before you even go near a bike shop, do some thinking. The most obvious choice you have to make in buying a new bike is deciding what kind of bike you want.  Road bike or mountain bike may seem the question, but it’s really a little bigger a question than that. Depending on your age, health, and intended usage, you may want to consider cruiser bikes, recumbent bikes, and the increasingly popular bikes known as hybrid or commuter bikes.

You want a road bike if you are involved in road racing, certainly. If your love is riding on trails, you will definitely want a mountain bike.  If your primary love on the trails is downhill racing, you will want a specialized mountain bike.  If you have physical limitations, find bicycling painful, or just have money to burn and a yearning for something different, you should check out recumbents.  If you just use a bike for pedalling around a basically flat town a few miles a day, perhaps you’d enjoy the fun of a single speed, fat tired cruiser bike.  And very many of you will be attracted with good reason to the hybrid or commuter bicycles that give you some of the advantages of all these kinds of bikes.

These hybrid bikes give you the wide range of gears riders learned to love with the advent of mountain bikes in the eighties, combined with the lightness and grace of the road bike. They are usually ridden upright, like the cruiser bikes, but don’t carry the weight or the bulk of the shock absorbing features of mountain bikes.  Their tires are somewhere between the skinny, lightly spoked wheels of a road racer’s model and the heavy knobbies of a genuine mountain bike.  These bikes are light enough to be fast on roads and stable enough to ride off-road on gravel or good trails.  They have a sufficient range of gears to get you up steep hills without walking and respond quickly enough to meet the demands of riding in urban traffic.

Once you know the kind of bike you seek, go into a few bike shops and talk to a knowledgeable bike seller. Amateur and casual riders often make the mistake of thinking the only size consideration on a bike is the rider’s height, but no good bike shop employee will let you out of the shop without paying attention to the unique aspects of your height.  A 5’6″ rider with long arms and a short torso will need a much different bike frame symmetry than a 5’6″ rider with short arms and long legs!  The length of the top bar on the bike, the adjustability of the seat post, the height of the stem that supports the handlebars, all these factors and more matter enormously to the fit of a bicycle and consequently to the pleasure or the pain you’ll find in riding it.  Manufacturers have varying frame geometries and models have their own variations.

You cannot really buy a bike intelligently at a discount store without knowledgeable employees or policies that allow you to test ride a bike before purchase. The only way to buy intelligently from a big discount store is to identify the right bike elsewhere and then purchase the same bike from the discounter.  Whether this is really fair to the bike shop that gave you the real service is something you have to decide for yourself.  You should never buy a bike without test riding it, and if you’re buying it as a present, without making sure the recipient has the right to return it if it doesn’t suit their riding needs.

Once you have done all this, you get to consider what is really the plum of your decision making process in choosing the right bike: the way the bike looks.  Bicycles are beautiful machines.  You should love not only the way you feel on it, but the way it looks as you fly down the hill on it, a blur of shiny colors and silvers and speed.

Categories Lifestyle & Culture1 Comment

Can you ever be prepared for child abduction?

The message that 9 year-old Carol brought home from school was depressingly predictable.  Two younger girls had narrowly escaped abduction the day before, so could parents please take extra precautions getting children to school and bringing them home.

Although every successful abduction is one abduction too many, there are some very large numbers published that probably need to be clarified a little. There is statistical information from the UK  that shows around one tenth of all reported abductions were successful and that a quarter are what they call parental abductions which could be classified more as custody cases than kidnapping.  Although every parental abduction is a painful event for the family involved, it shouldn’t add to stranger danger in the community.

Discounting other types of abduction where there is an established relationship between the victim and the offender leaves around half of all reported abductions that can be classified as sexually motivated child abductions.  The target victim is, on average, 10 years old, male or female with fair skin.  That specification is a pretty close match for Carol and also Chris, who is two years older than his sister but equally blond and blue-eyed.

So, for what seems the tenth time this year we sit them down for a refresher discussion about strangers, reminding them to trust their instincts.  “If something feels wrong inside, it probably is wrong.”

We confirm that it’s OK to say “No” to an adult, to find a grown-up they know and trust and to tell all.

We encourage Chris to use his Taekwondo training and to kick out if he feels he is in danger and tell Carol to kick, bite and generally make a noise if she feels someone is trying to get her to do something she does not want to.

Finally we remind them that we do not have secrets in our family and if anyone tries to convince them otherwise, they are wrong.

The note from school has also reminded me to update the information cards I carry with me at all times.  Basically, for each child I have an up-to-date photograph in my wallet with the following details printed on the back:

  • Name and nicknames
  • Eye, hair and skin color
  • Height and weight
  • Identifying features (birthmarks, scars, physical characteristics)

Most abducted children are recovered or killed in the first 3 hours, so the first 15 to 30 minutes after a successful abduction are critical. If you can hand the police a photograph with all of this data immediately, they have clear information on which to make an identification.  Such clarity can be vital as parents of abductees are also very stressed at this time and are likely to be vague and disorientated, themselves.

It would be so easy to carry on believing that it will never happen to us but with the odds being about 1 in 7,000 there is more chance that my child will be abducted than me winning the national Lottery.

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Persuasiveness and Negotiation

Persuasion is a pretty basic human skill.  Small children learn how to use persuasive techniques to achieve all sorts of benefits.  They understand that parents need them to be pleasant, polite and friendly and for the small price of money, sweets or a toy they can benefit from a quiet life.  Admittedly a lot of childhood persuasion verges on blackmail “Give me a sweet or I’ll have a tantrum” but the basic building blocks are there.

Persuasive techniques in business may be a little more sophisticated but they center on the same structure:

  • what needs does the target have
  • what features does our offering contain
  • what is the overall benefit to the target

Whether you are considering the design of a web page, a mailing campaign or press advertising, the same rules apply; convince your target audience that you have listened to them and understood fully their needs.  Design your offering to ensure that it has features that satisfy their needs and have a list of these features available but most of all be clear about the overall benefit that your target audience will feel when they use your service or product.

In his advertising, Mac Davenport, an Illinois lithographic printer focuses the headline and the large print on “We deliver full color quality…fast”.  His full design to delivery service that takes the strain from the customer is detailed in the small print to demonstrate that his business provides features that meet the client’s every need from a printing facility.

Negotiation in the business world has become a science and an art form. Everything from how you prepare to what you wear has an influence on whether you will be more or less persuasive than your opposite number.  You should expect that he or she will be well prepared and ruthless in his/her intention to get the best deal for her/his company.

Your preparation for a negotiation should include:

  • Identify your goal – the real reason for the negotiation
    • Knowing the facts and having proof available
    • Agreeing (with your colleagues) your position and how much flexibility you are willing to demonstrate
    • Know which elements can be traded – e.g. faster delivery for higher cost, more features for a longer timescale, lower cost for fewer features.
    • Preparing outline contracts or agreement documents for signature

If possible, never negotiate when you are tired, always have a full stomach and an empty bladder and be comfortable.  Start and finish the meeting with a handshake and an honest, friendly smile.  Negotiations are seldom personal, they are a set-piece battle of the brains and you’ll always perform better if you keep that in mind.  If you like or dislike your opponent, you should put those feelings aside for the duration of the negotiation as they can adversely affect your performance in the “bullring”.

Auto salesman, Jake Robertson always puts on his negotiating hat to “get into” the correct frame of mind; it helps him to be resolute.

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