3 Online Tools That Actually Help You Save Money

Generation Y was hit hard because of The Great Recession. Four years later and we’ve still got major credit card debt, student loans and underemployment. To make matters more interesting, many of us have decided to take on the route of entrepreneurship which can lead to unfixed income for quite some time.

Now, I’m not bringing this stuff up as a downer. In fact, when it comes to managing my money I’m somewhat grateful for The Great Recession for forcing us to really take a hard look at our finances while propelling us to create our own work.

For instance, as of late Gen Y has been dubbed The Frugal Generation and the Startup Generation. The Great Recession, financial hardship and our incessant urge to change the way we see work and life has caused us to rethink our relationship with money – and it’s mostly for the better.

So how exactly do we take the steps to save our money when we’ve got loans and debt? How do we put money away when we’re either underemployed or just figuring out the finances of our business? Fortunately, thanks the wonderful internet and some new financial tools, saving money has become easier than ever.

Impulse Save

A website that makes saving more fun than spending? Yes, please! ImpulseSave has been a hit since it came on the scene a couple of years ago and it’s no wonder – it takes the drudgery out of saving your money!

Roughly 20% of every person’s income goes into random things we either didn’t need or don’t remember buying. That’s a huge chunk of change when you think about it. What ImpulseSave strives to do is give you incentive to save your money instead of spend it. It does this by incorporating great graphics, social media and bank account to give you an experience that makes saving enjoyable.

For instance, my nasty habit is that I go to 7-11 on my lunch break and by some snacks. First of all, it’s horribly unhealthy. Second, I’m spending money when I don’t need to. With ImpulseSave I’ve curbed my awful 7-11 habit and instead have been putting the money I would have spent into a savings account. Over time it’s grown into a nice chunk of extra cash. Pretty sweet, right?

In addition you get your own social media page where you can interact with other savers and see what they are saving for and how they’re doing it. Overall it’s just a nifty little way to see how a few bucks here and there can really add up over time.

Coupon Cactus

I like to describe Coupon Cactus as Ebates meets Retail Me Not. Simply put, Coupon Cactus is a free online service that scours the web for sweet deals on products you actually buy. They even make the deal a little sweeter by adding in cash back as an option when you purchase.

Really great things is that unlike some other cash back or discount websites, Coupon Cactus has relationships with over 4,000 vendors you see all the time – from car repairs to internet service!

So whether you need a new outfit for work or need to get a better deal on cable, make sure to check out Coupon Cactus before spending too much money.

Lifecycle Funds

Lifecyle funds are fairly new on the investment and retirement scene, but they are something that can really help millenials set themselves up for financial freedom. Simply put, a lifecycle fund is like a mutual fund of mutual funds that automatically reallocates your investments according to your age. So, the younger you are the riskier the investments. As you get older the investments become more conservative.

I know what you’re thinking, “Amanda, I’m way too young to be saving for retirement” at which point I will interject and tell you you’re dead wrong. In fact, at this point in time over half of Americans don’t have enough money to live a lifestyle they are accustomed to once they retire. Think about it, do you really want to be middle aged and worried about not having saved enough for the Golden Years? It’s not a pretty picture.

Furthermore thanks to compound interest the earlier you start saving for retirement the more you will end up not only saving, but making – and you don’t even need that much money to start! All you need to do is set up your account for automatic investments (Say, $100?) each month and then forget about it.

Whether you’re employed by someone else or rocking your own business, saving money for retirement and on stuff you buy regularly is a key aspect to achieving financial freedom. What was once a complicated drag has now become easy thanks to the connectedness of our generation. Use these tools to your advantage as you start setting yourself up for the financial freedom you’ve always wanted.

Amanda Abella is a freelance writer and life coach based out of Miami, FL. She’s also the blogger behind Grad Meets World, a popular Gen Y blog that delves into life, money, career and happiness.

 

5 Success Tips from Award-Winning Entrepreneurs

5 Success Tips from Award-Winning Entrepreneurs

Every entrepreneur faces challenges, and many of them will tell you it’s how you handle those challenges that will determine success or failure as a business owner.

Here, five tips for success from business owners who know what growing and winning are all about. Consider these words of wisdom from Entrepreneur Magazine’s Emerging Entrepreneur of 2011 Adam Nelson and Entrepreneur of 2011 award winner Lee Rhodes.

1. Put your networking skills to work. “Find people you can learn from,” says Nelson, founder and inventor of the Good Nite Lite, who first created his product to solve his son’s difficulties falling asleep. “What you may not need from them today, you may need tomorrow.”

2. Don’t be swayed by naysayers. When Rhodes was pushed by bankers and experts to start manufacturing her hand-blown glass candleholders in China to save money, the experiment backfired. “We lost a fortune,” says Rhodes, founder of Glassybaby, which donates a percentage of revenue to programs that help cancer patients. “I listened to people who didn’t understand Glassybaby. It’s all about the story and there was nowhere to fit ‘Made in China’ in my story.”

Related Video: Glassybaby Founder Lee Rhodes on Growth Mistakes

3. Keep taking risks. “Our personal motto is: ‘Fail cheap, fail quick,’” Nelson says. “Don’t be afraid to try.”

4. Hire your weaknesses. “Remember as an entrepreneur, you’re probably a big-picture person and the details aren’t as important, but they will be and it’ll come back to haunt you,” Rhodes warns. “If you’re not good at [something], make sure you have someone beside you that is, as you grow.”

5. Don’t be afraid to share your idea. “There’s always the opportunity where they may not be able to help you, but somebody else will,” Nelson says.

Are you already establishing your company as an industry leader? Consider throwing your hat in the ring to be considered for Entrepreneur magazine’s Entrepreneur of 2012 awards. Deadline is June 15, so act fast

 

How Google’s ‘Content Experiments’ Can Simplify Website Testing

How Google Content Experiments can Simplify Web Testing

Google Analytics has gotten a little more, well, analytical. The search giant recently unveiled Content Experiments, a new feature that works with a business’ existing Google Analytics account. It allows users to experiment with page layouts to find those that best accomplish online goals such as completing a sale, downloading a file or signing on to a newsletter.

Experienced Google Analytics users should find the Experiments feature familiar. It’s based ontools found in packages such as Google Website Optimizer, which is scheduled to be taken offline later this summer. Experiments is being rolled out now and Google says all users should have access to this free tool in the next few weeks.

Here’s a rundown of how business owners can start putting this tool to use for their websites:

Set up an experiment.
Google has placed Experiments under the “content” tab of the Google Analytics account, and serves up a simple four-step process in creating a test. All a business owner needs to do is input the Web address of the page to be tested, and then the variant pages. Simple names such as shop.com/store, /store1, or /store2 work fine.

Content Experiments can systematically test different page designs against each other to see which drive the most pre-defined conversions. Once the pages to be tested are selected and the goals in Analytics defined, Google provides a few lines of code to be added to the tested pages. Google then begins randomly displaying the variant pages and collecting data on which page designs are the most effective.

Businesses determine how much of their site’s normal traffic — anywhere from 10 percent to all of their regular visitors — they want directed to the various test pages. Content Experiments then generates comparative results in graphical and data format.

Use the data to create a more efficient website.
This new tool can display different variations of essentially any Web element — say a photo or bit of copy — and compare results. The more successful a page design is, the more that page gets displayed, leading to more efficient conversion rate to a business’ goals.

For example, you can create a number of different designs for an email newsletter sign up page and then test them against each other to find out which one generates the best results.

Who can benefit most?
Overall, Content Experiments can be useful for testing pages for which a business owner has a clear goal — such as a sales site or subscription service. Information-oriented sites such as a marketing page, or those with just a few visitors, might not get as much return from Experiments. Having a sizable number of users and clearly-defined goals are required for an effective experiment that tracks user engagement.

 

Got Investors? Now, How to Handle Your Salary

How Much To Pay Yourself In the Startup Stages

Most entrepreneurs depend on outside investment in the startup phase. Knowing what is reasonable to pay yourself when you are running on somebody else’s bankroll is a sensitive matter. Here are salary guidelines to consider for the different stages of your business.

Before outside investment: When you’re just launching, prepare to forgo a salary. “If they can live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or baloney sandwiches until the big promise comes in and they can make their gazillion dollars, all the better for them,” says Harry Schum, senior consultant with Compensation Resources, Inc., a human resource consulting company headquartered in Upper Saddle River, N.J.

To get through this period, you should have saved up enough cash to cover living expenses for between 18 and 24 months, adds Lori Hoberman, chairwoman of law firm Chadbourne & Parke LLP’s emerging companies/venture capital practice in New York.

Angel investors or friends and family pitch in: At a certain point, you’ll need funding, perhaps to build a website or a product prototype, and those initial investment dollars usually come from either friends and family or an angel investor.

A typical salary to draw during this stage is between $40,000 and $70,000 a year, says Hoberman. Ideally, keep living off savings during this time, but if that’s not an option then only take a salary to cover basic expenses, she adds.

Related: 3 Online Tools To Find Funding

Institutional investment dollars hit the bank: As you need larger amounts of capital, it’s more likely a venture capital firm will enter the picture, offering funding for a portion of the company. While you should still keep monthly expenses to a minimum, a reasonable salary is expected at this point, especially since you’ve gone without one for some time. “Don’t be a piggy about it. Figure out what you need. Build in a little bit of cushion,” says Hoberman. When presenting a business plan to a VC, under the expected expenses, list your preferred salary.

For example, a founder of a venture-funded tech startup in New York could be paid between $100,000 and $150,000 a year, says Hoberman. By the time the first round is over, the salary could go up to $200,000. If there’s a second round of funding, it rises again to between $225,000 and $250,000. Keep in mind, these estimates are for New York, where the cost of living is very steep compared to other regions of the country. And in Silicon Valley, where the entrepreneurship culture is focused more on stock ownership than financial compensation, Hoberman says the salaries will be slightly lower, too.

Related: Want to Raise Money With Crowdfunding? Consider These Tips

Of course, as a company continues to grow, your salary is more dependent on projected revenue and what portion of the company you still own, says Schum. To see what other, similarly positioned entrepreneurs are making, check out the Securities and Exchange Commission filings of companies in your industry that recently went public, says Schum. The SEC filings disclose how the top five executives are paid in the company.

 

Get the Job You Love: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Delegating

Delegate Your Way to the Job You Love

There’s a time in every new business when you have to don at least a dozen hats. It’s perfectly normal and comes with the territory of owning your own company. “Chief cook and bottle washer,” as the saying goes.

Yet, most entrepreneurs aren’t very good at recognizing when it’s time to move out of this phase and spend their time more wisely. Most people claim it’s about budget, but digging a little deeper often reveals another culprit: a hesitancy and confusion about how and what to delegate.

For many, delegating is a thorny issue that gets tangled up in feelings of control and perfectionism and trust. However, figuring out how to delegate effectively and comfortably is one of the most important lessons that an entrepreneur can learn.

The first step is to take an honest look at how you’re spending your time. Here’s a quick exercise to get you started: Consider what you like (and don’t like) to do and what you need (and don’t need) to do. Follow these steps to break it down, and then understand what to do with your results.

 

Review Your Responsibilities

Take a blank piece of paper and divide it into quadrants with a pen. Label one of the vertical columns “Like to do” and label the other vertical “Don’t like to do.” Next, label one of the horizontal rows “Need to do” and the other “Don’t need to do.” You should be left with four boxes, each representing a different category:

Screen Shot 2012 05 07 at 4.35.35 PM 300x200 Get the Job You Love: An Entrepreneurs Guide to Delegating

  • Like To Do & Need To Do
  • Don’t Like To Do & Need To Do
  • Like To Do & Don’t Need To Do
  • Don’t Like To Do & Don’t Need To Do

Next, spend 15 minutes thinking about the activities that make up your job and sort them into each of the boxes. Remember, the “need to do” bucket doesn’t refer to whether your business needs this task to be done. It refers to whether you, personally, need to be the one to do it. For example, sending a monthly newsletter is important for my business, but it doesn’t require me to be the one doing the assembly and configuration.

Once you have your activities distributed, you can more easily take stock of which tasks you should be spending your time on and which ones are weighing you down.

Now, here’s how you should think about each of them.

 

Like To Do and Need To Do (a.k.a. “The Good Stuff”)

This category should be the bulk of your job and how you spend at least 60% of your time. The items in this bucket should clearly draw on your strengths and represent the unique contribution that you make to your business. The more time you spend on these tasks, the happier you are and the more your business prospers.

 

Don’t Like To Do and Need To Do (a.k.a. “The Necessary Evils”)

These tasks are the necessary evils that come along with the job. Perhaps it’s the financial reviews that you find more tedious than informative, or the new business pitching that’s draining rather than invigorating.

Unfortunately, there will always be unexciting parts of the job that you can’t get around or ignore, but you can reduce their impact as much as possible. You can minimize the time you dedicate to them, increase your efficiency on them through training or coaching, or perhaps make them more palatable by shifting your thinking (or rewarding yourself!). All in all though, this bucket shouldn’t represent more than 25% percent of your time. Otherwise, you’re likely to be unhappy at work.

 

Like To Do and Don’t Need To Do (a.k.a. “The Guilty Pleasures”)

There may be some tasks that you continue to hang on to, but—if you’re really honest with yourself—don’t actually need to be done by you. Perhaps you get great satisfaction from writing out the chalkboard menu at your café or from selecting gifts that will be sent to your clients. And no, the business wouldn’t suffer if you didn’t do them, but you personally might.

As long as doing these tasks don’t have a significant downside (they’re too time consuming, have unintended consequences, or really would be better done by someone else), then go for it. But remember that, like most guilty pleasures, it’s important to keep them in check—and they shouldn’t take up more than 20% of your time.

 

Don’t Like To Do and Don’t Need To Do (a.k.a. “A Waste of Time”)

This is the delegation sweet spot. Ideally, this bucket should be totally empty. If it’s not, it’s time to consider how to lose these tasks as quickly as possible by deleting, delegating, or automating them.

Here’s how to attack this list:

  1. Identify the tasks that take the most time and contribute the least value. Ask yourself whether the business really needs these things to be done. If not, scrap them. If they’re not worth hiring someone else to do, then they’re likely not worth your time either.
  2. Look for “like tasks,” things that can be grouped into a cohesive category or role, like financial or administrative tasks. Then, think about how you can delegate these groups of tasks to an employee, virtual assistant, vendor, or intern.
  3. Investigate which of these tasks can be automated or streamlined with technology. For example, commit to retiring your convoluted expenses spreadsheet and converting to online accounting software. Or, develop templates for each of the emails that you find yourself writing over and over again.

Then, give anything you decide to leave on your plate an expiration date or associated revenue goal. For example, “I will place our weekly orders for no longer than three more months” or, “once we’re making another $1,000 a month, I will find someone to manage social media.”

But, also do this with caution. After all, any time you spend on these tasks is time that you’re not spending building and growing the business. Each work hour represents an opportunity for progress, and you want to spend that time doing what’s best for you and the company—not staying in the weeds.

Remember, the opportunity of entrepreneurship is doing work that you love every day on your terms. Considering all the time and energy (not to mention money) you’re investing in your company, you deserve nothing less than your dream job.

 

Show Me the Money: 7 Ways to Get Funding for Your Business Idea

Fundraising Types

Having a big, billion-dollar idea for a new company or start-up is great—but now what? You probably need a website, a tech team, some office space, and, of course, at least enough cash coming in each month to pay your rent.

Which means, you need money. Whether it’s a cool new app or a swanky café, most businesses and most entrepreneurs require at least a little bit of funding to really get off the ground in their early days.

As an executive member of BizFilings, I’m often asked by entrepreneurs for help finding funding. The good news is, there are quite a few places to get it (and many that are frequently overlooked). Read on for a first-time founder’s guide to where to look for funding, and which type might be right for you.

 

Begin With Bootstrapping

When first getting started, many entrepreneurs use “bootstrapping,” which means financing your company by scraping together any personal funds you can find. This typically includes your savings account, credit cards, and any home equity lines you may have.

In many cases, using the money you have instead of borrowing or raising is a great approach—in fact, some entrepreneurs continue to bootstrap until their business is profitable. This can be beneficial because it means you won’t have extensive loans and monthly payments that bog you down, especially if you run into snags along the way.

But, if you’re looking to scale your business quickly, it can be advantageous to bring in outside sources of funding. So, what happens when your funds run out, or you decide you need something more? That will ultimately depend on the type of business you’re building, but there are some common places to start.

 

Consider Friends and Family

Asking your friends and family for money might seem like a daunting prospect—but tapping those closest to you is often a good first step before getting external funding. And hey, it can never hurt to ask. While Aunt Irene is probably not in a position to finance your entire new social network for dog owners, she may be impressed enough to toss you a couple grand to help you get rolling (and join the site to find Fido some new playmates).

Before you ask your friends and family for money, though, you should have a business plan at the ready. This way, you can explain to them exactly what you’re selling, what you plan on charging, how you’ll make money, and whether you’re asking for a loan, an investment, or a gift (i.e., whether or not they should expect to get back any money they put into your business, and if so, how much).

 

Explore Alternative Funding Sources

If you’re looking for a relatively small amount of money (anywhere from $25 to $5,000), there are quite a few micro-loan organizations that lend to start-ups and entrepreneurs, such as Kiva and Accion. These websites cater to low-income entrepreneurs in the U.S. or those working for social good (and some only provide micro-loans to those living below the poverty line). But if you think you might qualify, check out their websites for more information.

Another alternative are the increasingly popular crowd-funding sites, such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, which provide you a platform to raise money from individual, small supporters across the web. You’ll set up a campaign and name a target amount of money you want to raise, as well as create perks for donors who pledge a certain amount of money. Then, you raise money for the campaign over a specified time period. With Kickstarter, you’ll only get to keep the money if you raise the full amount of your goal, but IndieGoGo will let you keep anything you raise (for a cut of the proceeds). For more info, check out our guide to choosing between the two and maximizing your crowd-funding campaign.

 

Next: If You’re Running a Small Business

Look Local

If you’re launching a small company (vs. a tech start-up that you see as the next Facebook), you’ll definitely want to check out your local small business development center. Many universities have one, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) alone has 63 across the country. Not only can these centers help connect you with groups of entrepreneurs for networking and angel investors for funding, they can help you determine what type of loans and funding you might qualify for and help you apply. Your local chamber of commerce may also be a treasure trove of information and guidance in terms of where to get local funding. Many large cities have programs and organizations that exist solely to bring business into the local community.

 

Consider Taking Out Loans

If you can show that you’ve started gaining traction and making money (and that a loan would help you earn even more), you may be able to qualify for a traditional bank loan. Many banks, such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, have recently announced increased commitment to small business. While each bank and individual situation differs, this may be a good bet if you’re looking to find funding between $5,000 and $500,000.

 

Next: If You’re Launching a Tech Start-up

Look to Angels

If you have a tech start-up, you’ll probably eventually need more capital to really get going—to hire people or get office space, for example—than bootstrapping and crowd-funding will afford you. You’ll likely need to reach out to outside investors. A good place to start is angel investors, usually established business professionals with high net worths who are looking to invest in promising companies. Typically, an angel will invest anywhere from $10,000 to a few million dollars.

To find angels, ask other entrepreneurs in your network, or check out the Angel Capital Association, which counts over 330 angel investor groups nationwide. You can also look at AngelList, a website that helps entrepreneurs make connections with interested investors. So far, the site has helped more than 1,000 start-ups get funded.

In addition to making direct loans, angel investing groups sometimes host events or competitions that can help provide new entrepreneurs with additional networking opportunities. Check your local community for these groups.

 

Venturing into Bigger Capital

If you’re looking for some serious funding (at least $1 million), you’ll need to turn to venture capital. Venture capitalists (VCs) are more likely to require an in-depth and airtight business plan, but they can also give you larger amounts of money.

VCs typically invest in a few different companies for their clients, and hope to make money off of one (or all) of them to pay back their client’s investments. What that means for you is that they see all kinds of businesses—and you have to make yours stand out. Also, you should know that VCs are looking for a return anywhere from 3-10 times their original investment, usually within the next 5-7 years, so it’s best to have an exit strategy in mind.

The best way to get meetings with VCs is through introductions from other entrepreneurs or investors—which means that if you’ve decided to solicit VC money, it’s time to leverage your contacts (and their networks) to see who you can talk to. Don’t have any contacts? It’s more of a gamble, but you can also browse the National Venture Capital Association website and pitch your business to the ones you find a connection with. While cold-calling a venture capitalist may not be the easiest feat, it’s somewhere to start.

 

Ready to Launch

Finding funding can be the hardest part of getting your business off the ground, but also the most rewarding. Once you’ve saved, gotten approved for a loan, or found other people to invest in your business, you can get back to—or start—your dream job! Though it can be a long road to success, finding allies along the way (whether they’re friends, angel investors, or venture capitalists) to help keep your business afloat can make all the difference in the world. Good luck!

 

5 Ways to Think Like an Entrepreneur in Your Career

5 Ways to Think Like an Entrepreneur

Starting and running a new business isn’t for everyone—but regardless of your career, there’s something to be said for the “entrepreneurial spirit.”

A little entrepreneurial zeal can give you a distinct advantage in your professional life, whether or not you think you’d ever strike out on our own. So how do you train your corporate mind to think more like a business owner? Try these five easy ways.

 

1. Get Passionate

Entrepreneurs tend to be immensely passionate about their work—and in the long-term, this is the key to career success and fulfillment in any field. So, if you’re spending most of the daydreaming about how you’d rather be doing something else, think about how you might be able to “pivot” your career. (Need help deciding if you’re on the right track? Answer these 15 questions to know for sure.)

Look for ways you can take what you have and put it to better use doing something else. Could you translate your position to another industry? Transition to another department in your company where your experience could be put to use? If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, don’t feel stuck. Instead, think about how you can apply your skills elsewhere.

 

2. Be Bothered by Inefficiency

Do you find you or your colleagues sitting around waiting for responses in order to move forward or entrenched in certain work processes that are too slow? Entrepreneurs don’t have a high tolerance for inefficiency—and because they don’t have corporate red tape to cut through, they can fix these types of problems quickly.

While you might not be able to do so at quite the same pace, think about the inefficiencies in your organization and consider whether there are places you could implement solutions (or at least recommend improvements). It’s a golden opportunity to create long-term value and to shine in your company.

 

3. Take on More Risk

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “more risk, more reward.” One thing that sets many entrepreneurs apart from the average professional is their appetite for risk. No, putting yourself out there isn’t easy—but a business owner knows that you have to give it a shot (or, many shots), and that you’ll scoop up bigger rewards when those risks pay off.

At work, start small by pitching new ideas or volunteering to take on a challenge or two that’s outside of your comfort zone. The potential payout—gaining new skills, getting a nod of approval from the CEO, or even landing a promotion—can be huge.

 

4. Brainstorm More

Constant innovation is crucial to a business’ long-term success, so entrepreneurs have to take time to let their minds loose and brainstorm new ideas. If you’re not used to getting those creative juices flowing, try setting aside some time to try out a few brainstorming exercises.

And, remember to have fun doing it! I love this quote from fellow entrepreneur Virgilia Singh:

Even the most complex form of innovation starts with a simple act: play. More companies are instituting sketching and white boards in their offices to encourage brainstorming, also known as the act of playing around with ideas.”

Schedule some time each week to really brainstorm about something that’s been on your mind. See what you come up with.

 

5. Don’t Limit Your Dreams

To me, the most important aspect of the entrepreneurial spirit is its boundlessness. Many people are conditioned, as they go through school and into the workforce, to be realistic and practical—but, what’s wrong with dreaming big? You’ll have to work for it, but, believe me, it’s worth it.

 

5 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Should Never Cancel On Exercise

As an entrepreneur you probably spend most of your day hustling, putting out fires, and more likely than not, sitting hunched over your dimly lit computer screen trying to figure out what you’ve got yourself into. Like many of the people reading this article (including myself), this is the life you’ve chosen, it’s not glamorous, but it’s what you want at this very moment in time and you wouldn’t want to have it any other way. As you well know, the startup lifestyle doesn’t afford the finer things in life: spending quality time with friends and family, a sense of financial security, and food not in ramen form. Among one of these things that the startup lifestyle doesn’t seemingly afford is the time to exercise. How could you when you’re pulling 16 hour days 7 days a week? This dogged commitment to working on your startup is honorable, but also in some ways a shame, because with just 30 minutes a day of exercise you can be a more focused, energetic and creative you. I believe that taking care of oneself only fuels our ability to dig deeper, to persist longer, and to give more to our co-workers, community, and causes. Exercise in fact might be the best investment you’ll ever make towards the success of your startup. Here are 5 reasons why you should never cancel on exercise.

Improved Creativity

At their core entrepreneurs are creative beings. They create businesses that solve people’s problems, and products and services that create profound economic, cultural, and social value. As Dr. John Ratey concluded in his work Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, exercise has a tremendous effect on your ability to not only think and solve problems, but also to create. In addition, other studies have shown that every dimension of cognition, including creativity, can improve by exercising. Does 30 minutes a day of exercise sound too steep of a proposition in return for improved creativity?

Increased Energy

When you need a boost of energy you probably reach for a cup of coffee or an energy drink right? The thing about coffee and other stimulants is that eventually you come crashing down entering a vicious cycle where the solution to your crash is more caffeine and sugar. Wouldn’t it be better to have a longer lasting type of energy with no crash? Then look no further than exercise. Exercise helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your body and improves the efficiency of your cardiovascular system. Ultimately when your heart and lungs are operating more efficiently, you have more energy to put out fires and keep going. Exercise adds more energy by expending energy, slightly counter intuitive, but it works.

Increased Focus and Concentration

Studies have also shown that regular exercise can improve your ability to focus and concentrate. Here’s how it works: concentration occurs when the brain’s prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls high-level tasks) is filled with the right bodily chemicals, particularly dopamine. When you exercise you naturally flood your prefrontal cortex with a chemical concoction that improves focus and concentration. When you have lots of things to do, and have tons of deadlines hanging over your head, exercise induced focus and concentration can go a long way in keeping you on task to ship what needs to be shipped.

Live Longer

Research has shown that regular physical activity can add extra years to your life. With the short amount of time we all have on this earth a few extra years is pretty significant. Living longer means more time to bring awesome ideas to life and to solve the problems that matter the most to you. To an entrepreneur there is nothing more exciting than the opportunity to create something that not only solves a problem but creates a lot of value for everyone involved.

Improved Sleep

In a Stanford University Medical School study, older and middle-age subjects reported sleeping better when they added regular exercise to their routine. After 16 weeks in a moderate intensity exercise program, subjects were able to fall asleep about 15 minutes earlier and sleep about 45 minutes longer at night. How many hours of sleep do you get a night? I’m going out on a limb here and saying 8 or more is out of the question, with 5 to 6 (or less) being right on the money. We all know that sleep is essential to doing good work, and as studies have shown time and time again, exercise can help get you to sleep faster and for longer, keeping you alert throughout the day and better prepared to tackle the next task of moving your business forward.

The most common excuse I hear why entrepreneurs, and for most people for that matter, don’t exercise is that they just don’t have the time. I want to contend that you don’t have time not too. Regular physical activity makes us more energetic, creative, and focused. For just 30 minutes a day, what entrepreneur wouldn’t want all that?

Kevin Asuncion is the founder of Movemo, a health and fitness company that teaches and empowers those who move our world forward to live healthier so that they can increase the positive change they make in the world.

 

5 Questions You Must Ask Your Credit Card Processor

5 Things You Need To Ask Your Credit Card Processor

When starting a business you’ll likely end upaccepting credit or debit cards, which means hiring a third-party processing firm to manage the transaction between you and the card giants.

Visa and MasterCard manage the overwhelming majority of the credit and debit card network but don’t work directly with business owners. They outsource sales and customer support to processors, says Amad Ebrahimi, founder of MerchantMaverick.com, a credit card processing comparison and review site. Processors are also commonly known as merchant account providers or aggregators.

“The seller has more information than the buyer, so anytime you have a situation like that, it is like a used car sales lot,” Ebrahimi says. As a result, these aggregators are often criticized for confusing merchants with complicated payment schedules and fees.

To prepare for this complex marketplace, here are five questions to ask to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

1. Is there a cancellation or early termination fee? Ideally, you want a processor that won’t charge for this. But if you must pay a fee for leaving before your contract expires, it should no more than $200 to $400, says Phil Hinke, the founder of MerchantFeeSavers, dedicated to helping business owners understand the industry. Hinke also warns business owners to avoid processors that stipulate a “liquidated damages” termination fee, which means you’ll be charged for the estimated amount of the full contract, if you cancel before it expires.

Related: Most Retailers Saving Big on Debit Card Processing Fees

2. Is the payment processor compatible with your online shopping cart? Some processors have proprietary software that may not work with your online shopping cart, so check this before you sign up. The software that connects your online shopping cart and your processor is known as the ‘payment gateway.’ Ebrahimi says most processors work with a company called Authorize.Net, which has fairly universal software.

3. Is interchange-plus pricing an option? If the answer is no, go elsewhere. With interchange-plus pricing, you can see exactly what MasterCard or Visa charges (the interchange fee), plus what you’re paying the processor. If you’re locked into a tiered-payment system, however, fees are not as easily identifiable: You could be charged one of three different fee levels for each transaction, depending on the type of card (i.e., airline credit cards cost more per swipe than standard ones) and how it’s processed (i.e., if the customer is present, it’ll save you in fees). Processors can more easily overcharge you in this pricing structure, without you recognizing it.

Related: Crunching the Numbers on Mobile Payment Systems

4. What fees will I be charged aside from the cost of each transaction? Processors may tack on annual or monthly fees, regulatory fees, compliance fees, and statement fees. Be sure to ask about this upfront. Hinke says these fees generally shouldn’t total more than $200 per year for brick-and mortar-merchants — and no more than $300 annually for ecommerce retailers because of additional service fees associated with the online shopping cart.

5. What customer support is available? You are going to need help when, for example, your terminal malfunctions. Look for a processor that offers phone support available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, says Ebrahimi.

Finally, don’t be talked into leasing a terminal, which is the machine where customers swipe their cards to pay. Hinke says he has seen novice merchants lease a terminal for as much as $139 per month, when purchasing one would only cost between $200 and $350. If you decide to buy, Hinke says to chose a terminal that can be used with different processors – such as VeriFone or Hypercom brands — should you need to change service providers.

 

How the New Google+ Local Tab Could Influence Local SEO

How the New Google+ Local Tab Could Influence Local SEO

For local-business owners, the results of Google’s new Google+ Local tab will go well beyond the social network’s increased social features. All the data compiled under the new tab — which is dedicated to providing information and ratings on local businesses — will be indexed by Google. The new Google+ Localpages will give businesses a better opportunity to be ranked in the search results, as well as the ability to harness social proof from their customers to drive internal Google+ recommendations and future business.

But to do so you’ll need to do more than simply sign up for a Google Places for Business listing. There are specific actions to take in order to maximize the local search engine optimization (SEO) benefits of the new Google+ Local for your website. Here’s a few to consider:

Related: Google+ Adds New Local Listings Tab for Businesses

• Claim both your old Google Pages listing (if you haven’t already) and your new Google+ Local page. Google+ Local listings are essentially replacing the old Pages listings. Because the transition hasn’t rolled out to all users yet, participating on both sites until the shift occurs can help insure that your online presence remains consistent.

• Link to your new Google+ Local page from your website. Doing so can get the ball rolling, conferring both a local SEO benefit to your business’s website, as well as the social boost you’ll secure by exposing your existing customers to your new Google+ Local web presence.

• Set up your Google+ account. Again, if you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to get active on Google’s social network. Set up your own personal profile, begin adding friends, family members and customers to your circles, and start sharing content on the site.

One of the biggest benefits to this transition will be the enhanced social sharing features available within the Google+ platform. You can only take advantage of this if you’re active on the network.

• Contact all Gmail users on your email lists. Filter your email marketing list to create a sub-list of subscribers with Gmail accounts, and then send this group a message informing readers of your new Google+ Local page. Politely request that they “+1″ your page or add you to their circles, as social signals like these are playing a larger role in SEO than ever.

• Move forward with traditional local SEO best practices. As of now, it doesn’t appear that this interface update has significantly impacted the organization of the search engine results pages. So while it’s important to undertake the actions described above to maximize your local SEO benefits, it’s also a good idea to press forward with any existing marketing campaigns that follow current industry best practices