August - the month for meteor showers

Now it's not browsing the internet that will keep me up late it's the meteor showers! It's time for the annual Perseid meteor showers and I'll be wrapped up in a sweater and blankets watching the show!

Tonight is expected to be this year's maximum display - but the best times for watching will be from 1:57 a.m. until dawn at 4:45 a.m. so go take a nap and set an alarm! Of course, the number of meteors that you'll see will depend on the darkness of the sky; but under the right conditions you may see one or two per minute.

So, if you're in an area where the sky is dark why not enjoy the show!

A great new source for creating websites

Today in my travels around the internet I discovered a great source for creating a website or e-commerce site. It's an Intuit product and I had my website created in less than an hour - and I've tried other "do-it-yourself" products that had me tearing my hair out in less time than that! And even better was that the software was free and a simple 5 page website is only $4.95 a month to host! So check it out at www.intuitwebsites.com - I'd be interested in hearing if others find it as easy to use as I did.


Evolution of business models - is it inevitable?

Odd how often my husband and I will get into discussions (we often have differing opinions!) and then I'll find an article that pertains to what we just discussed.

Here's a link to MSN news that has stories about Martha Stewart's empire, WalMart's problems, etc.

Just the other day we had a discussion about internet marketing and he feels very strongly that it, too, will ultimately change. His point was that just like domain name sales, at some point it becomes a saturated market and it will fall out of favor; just how many people now could come up with 300 never mind 300,000 useful, relevant domain names that someone would want to buy? And his point was that as more and more people get online with affiliate sites, or selling things, etc. the markeplace will become so diluted that no one will be able to make enough money to make it worth it.

Now keep in mind this was the man who said video stores would never last!!! So sometimes he's wrong! But when I got into day-trading when the stock market was going crazy he just shook his head and said it couldn't last, the fundamentals of the companies were being ignored and at some point it had to come back to that. Then when I bought real estate during the boom he was there saying, "but it can't last, the economics of it don't support it."

So, is he right or wrong this time? And why?

New Facebook/Visa Partnership for Small Businesses

For anyone with an online business, here's some info - it's from June, so the offer may no longer be available, but it's still good information!

Visa Gives Away $2 Million in Facebook Ads

By Zachary Rodgers, The ClickZ Network, Jun 25, 2008
Articles | Contact Zachary | Subscribe to Newsletters | RSS Feeds
An oft-repeated bromide in social marketing circles is that advertisers should seek to create value for their constituents.

Visa has taken the mantra to heart, creating a Facebook app for small businesses and promising to give away $100 in free Facebook advertising to the first 20,000 proprietors to install it.

"At the moment, with the economy being a bit challenging, [small businesses] are looking for new ways to attract new customers," said Alex Craddock, Visa's head of small business marketing. "This is a way to help them do that... risk-free."

Visa worked with media agency OMD and agency of record AKQA to create the Visa Small Business Network app, which offers small business proprietors advice, resources, and the ability to search for and connect with one another. Among its specific offerings is a software toolkit from Google that melds free products including Google Docs, Google Sites and Google Calendar. Media partners including The Wall Street Journal and Entrepreneur Magazine will contribute advice and content feeds on financial issues related to running a business.

The Facebook effort is part of Visa's new U.S.-based ad campaign geared toward small businesses. Messaging is delivered in the voice of small business owners, and repeats the tagline, "We're anything but small."

"It can be a lonely walk as a small business owner," said Craddock. He added Visa's purpose with the Facebook application is to assist small businesspeople. "This in many respects is a product extension for us."

Visa is creating new online, print and radio ads to drive awareness for the app. Its online media buy will include ads on the Facebook platform.

Under the ad giveaway promotion, it will offer a total of $2 million in Facebook ad credits to small businesses that install the app. In addition to generating good will and brand equity for the credit card services giant, the move should benefit Facebook by generating new awareness and trial customers for its ad platform. "If the business owner finds value in it, they're going to want to keep doing it," Craddock observed.

According to Facebook, approximately 80,000 small businesses already have a presence on its site.

It took me a while to find where this deal was offered, but here is the link:

First HELOC's, now Credit Card Limits are getting reduced! Watch your FICO scores DROP!

Well, now that people are getting their HELOC's rescinded (heard a horror story from my friend of a woman who was in the middle of a full kitchen remodel; totally torn down to studs then found her HELOC was yanked!)

The same friend was telling me that American Express just lowered his credit limit from $25,000 to $8,500! He's had it for 7 years, never been late, always paid it off in full. He called and tried to get it reinstated and they refused.

Just saw an article on it and here's a quote - the bigger (??) issue is what all of this does to your credit score, so take heed:

"Here's how that happens: Let's say a cardholder has a credit limit of $10,000 and a balance on the card of $4,000. The card company worries that large balance may increase the prospects for default, so it lowers the credit line to $5,000.

But in doing that, it completely changes what is known as the credit utilization rate, raising it from 40 percent to 80 percent. That is then factored into the calculation of one's so-called FICO credit score, which measures creditworthiness, according to Craig Watts, a spokesman for FICO-creator Fair Isaac Corp. "

Here's the link to the full article:


I found it interesting that one of the banks that are doing this is Washington Mutual, already known to be pulling HELOC’s.

This situation is troubling on a number of levels. It seems like a fast-moving downward spiral that is going to have far, far reaching effects. e.g., I’m OK with holding my own right now, even holding non-cash flowing properties. But take away any of my credit and I could be in a very bad situation.

BTW, another friend got her $100,000 HELOC “rescinded” by National City Mortgage last week. She’s sick about it, mainly because she knew I had suggested taking it all out in putting it in an interest bearing account, just in case, but she didn’t act. She had another smaller one that she immediately took and put away.

Millionaire's Index is down - I didn't know they had one!

Just read this - anybody out there in this group?????

Millionaire Index Rises a Bit

American Banker | Thursday, June 5, 2008

By Matt Ackermann

Investor confidence among millionaires rose slightly last month, according to a survey by Spectrem Group of Chicago.

The millionaire investor index rose 5 points, to minus-9, returning to neutral territory from mildly bearish, Spectrem said Tuesday. In April the index hit a record low of minus-14 and fell below the Spectrem affluent investors index for the first time since its inception in February 2004.

Despite last month’s increase, the millionaire index stands at its third-lowest level ever, Spectrem said. The affluent investor index, which measures the outlook of households with $500,000 or more of investable assets, was flat at minus-13, its second-lowest level ever, in mildly bearish terrain. The index hit a record low of minus-20 in March and matched its current level in April and January.

A Good Laugh for the Day!

Well just when you think you’ve heard everything about telemarketing I think this story may top them all!

We were visiting our daughter yesterday at her apartment. Her boyfriend went down to the garage to get something out of his trunk and came back with this experience.

He was in the elevator and the phone started to ring. He answered it and a female voice asked if “John Jones” was there. You can imagine his puzzled look as he replied, “Noooo, it’s just me here in the elevator,” thinking that someone had been in it before him and had a problem and used the phone.

Even after hearing that comment she went on to say, “Oh, well you must live in the building, would you be interested in subscribing to the Los Angeles Times?” “Uh, I’m in an elevator, thanks but NO.”

We all fell over laughing when he came back in and told us what just happened to him!

Financial Literacy for Our Children

This is such great news - but it will take work to make it useful. For those of us who are passionate about education, childhood education and financial literacy for our kids, think about getting involved in this at your local school. “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.”

Financial Literacy, Chapter 2: The Classroom Is The Branch

American Banker | Monday, July 7, 2008

By Joe Adler

WASHINGTON — A new Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. rule could make it easier for students to hone banking skills alongside English and math, while giving banks a possible path to underserved areas.

The agency said last month that banks can operate inside schools, taking deposits and making loans, without seeking branch approval. Though the exemption applies only to programs where the bank’s “primary purpose” is teaching financial literacy, and current school branches are rarely profitable, bankers see a clear benefit.

Students work at the branches as tellers, in some cases earning a wage, and sign up as customers. Parents and teachers typically can bank there, as well, and in immigrant communities in particular, the programs act as customer outreach to families not served by a traditional bank.

“We found that some of the kids were cashing their parents’ paychecks,” said James Maloney, the chairman and chief executive of the $81 million-asset Mitchell Bank in Milwaukee, which runs a full-service branch at South Division High School there. “We feel that if we can get the kids in an unbanked family banking, the parents will soon acquire some of those skills.”

Dory Rand, who has consulted for organizers of in-school programs in Chicago and California, said the FDIC rule, which resembles one the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued in 2001, will persuade more banks to participate. The rule responded to some bankers’ confusion over whether a branch application is required.

“It encourages more banks to do this kind of partnership to help reach unbanked and underserved communities in a really safe and familiar setting of a school,” said Ms. Rand, the supervising attorney for community investment at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago.

The rule’s language leaves room for banks to include school programs in their growth strategies, she said. In addition to the convenience an in-school banking location offers parents and teachers, she said, students working as tellers inside the school can become a bank’s future work force.

The FDIC rule says literacy is “the ‘primary’ purpose,” but “it doesn’t mean you can’t also have a business purpose to get customers and deposits,” Ms. Rand said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the primary purpose is education.”

Cardinal Bank of McLean, Va., opened its first school location in 2005 in an elementary school without seeking branch approval. Like most programs, the branches are supervised by actual bank officers. In Cardinal’s case, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders help run the branches, and each is associated with an outside branch that processes the transactions.

Members of the school community can make deposits, but withdrawals are not allowed for security purposes. (Students can withdraw money at other bank branches.)

Interest on certificates of deposit is on the decline, but the Cardinal Financial Corp. unit is offering a 5.25% rate to students through its “Kid’s Club” program for depositors 17 or under with $1,000 or less in their accounts. The program currently has $250,000 of deposits in 1,140 accounts.

Kevin Reynolds, Cardinal Bank’s president, said the school program’s goal is to “teach students the importance of savings, so they understand financial needs versus wants.” It also seeks to teach “financial terms like interest rates, compounded savings, and budgeting.” However, “it’s a two-for if I can get school faculty or parents also to open accounts,” he said. “That’s an added benefit.”

Mitchell’s program is closer to a full-service branch. The school bank has approved branch status from the FDIC and offers every product available at the bank’s other branches, including an automated teller machine. Students help staff the location, but the branch is open to the general public.

Mr. Maloney said he would have still sought branch approval even if the FDIC rule had been in effect when the program started.

“We wanted to get away from the idea that it would just be kids playing ‘bank,’ ” he said. “Unless you say you’re going to be a full-service branch, my opinion is that the program is going to devolve into that, and the kids aren’t going to get a real live experience.”

Mr. Maloney said the program largely has paid for itself, as deposits raised through the branch — about $870,000 at one point, a large chunk of it from community donors — have funded quality assets and led to a growth in customers. In its first five years the branch made over $300,000 of loans to parents and school staff members, and it conducted over 300 transactions a month.

“We’ve seen a great increase in our customer accounts at our main bank since we opened” the school program, he said. “Even though we have a lot of small accounts, we’re acquiring customers every day, and we think it is directly attributable to having this school branch.”

Others emphasized the cost of operating a school program and said they doubted it could ever produce a direct financial benefit for the bank.

Mr. Reynolds said Cardinal Bank participates in the program mainly as a community service. The main bank has “42,000-plus accounts,” so “I don’t think we’ve gotten a sizable increase” from the in-school branches.

“Bluntly, it would be difficult if you looked at it from a hard-core standpoint of return on investment,” he said. “Would you be able to … make a full-service branch bank within an elementary school profitable? I think you can do it in a university setting, or in a school that has a campus environment.”

David A. Remijas, the chairman and CEO of Park Federal Savings Bank in Chicago, said it partnered with Curie High School there on a program after other institutions had declined.

The FDIC’s change would “eliminate one step,” but the programs have to be about financial education, because creating a growth opportunity for banks is a challenge, he said.

The Park Federal branch received approval from the Office of Thrift Supervision, Mr. Remijas said. The branch offers deposits and withdrawals, and loan referral forms can be processed by the full-service branch a half-mile away. At its peak, the school branch had only 270 accounts, but three student tellers have gone on to full-time jobs at the thrift.

“The purpose is financial education, so if anything, it probably operates at a loss,” he said. “We get some grant money that helps out a little bit, but it’s pretty much an expense item. I don’t know if there’s a lot of incentive out there for other places to open them up.”

But he said the thrift also hopes to establish relationships through the school branch with families that have been outside the banking system.

“There is a large immigrant population, and they’re wary of the U.S. banking system,” Mr. Remijas said. “Our original intent is it would be a good way to reach the parents through the students. A lot of times it’s the students who are bilingual. Information, whether it’s financial information or other types of information in the area, is actually funneled through the children.”

Writing a Business Plan

I just want to remind people of the importance of actually writing a Business Plan for each and every one of your potential businesses. The process of doing this will make you think it through thoroughly and prove its validity (or not!).

When we started our main business over 20 years ago we only had $10,000 in the bank, a new house with a big mortgage (we didn’t expect my husband to lose his job out of the blue), a 9-month old baby (I had closed my 7-year old business to be a stay-at-home mom) and my 74 year old mother had just moved in with us. Knowing very specifically how we were going to start a business, what we were going to do to attract and keep customers, and more importantly what the cash flow would be, was essential. We couldn’t afford any surprises…we had no cushion, no room for error. And believe me, when that first box of inventory came and my husband had his hand poised over the check for all of that $10,000 we had in the bank we looked at each other and at least had the knowledge that we had thought it through and were pretty sure it would work. Informed risk is the only type of risk that is worth it.

And, it will also point out (when you do a cash flow analysis as part of your business plan) what can be and is the death of many small businesses…too much success. If you don’t have the cash flow to sustain the growth you WILL go out of business. We had to hold back our growth for many years because we were too much of a risk to a bank to provide us with the LOC that we needed for the full growth potential of the business.

A great source of information on writing a business plan, and information on starting a business is at the Small Business Administration website - www.sba.gov

Setting up an e-commerce site the easy way

I came across this site in an article in "Internet Retailer," one of many magazines I subscribe to. In this economy there are plenty of people who want to sell something online, but don't have the time to figure out how to set-up a e-commerce site, not to mention the cost that's involved. I haven't had time to investigate this yet myself, but if you check it out, please let me know what you think of it and if you'd recommend it.

The Social Commerce Store Network - www.cartfly.com
"Cartfly turns the electronic shopping-cart concept on its head."
– Richard Morochove, PC World, January 28, 2008

I admit it, I'm an Information Junkie!

I love information, just ask my husband...there are magazines, newsletters and books all over our house, not to mention the internet articles I print so I can read them later. He knows better than to throw out anything; even junk mail might be of interest to me (I get ideas for ad copy, etc.)!

I participate in several online Forums, sometimes just to read, sometimes I post. I come across such a wide variety of interesting topics in all of this blitz of information that I decided to share what I find in a Blog. There will be links to articles and internet sites of interest, comments on a wide variety of things - no one area could contain my thirst for knowledge and information! News of the day, comments of interest on other sites, "how-to's" on saving money on most everything, tax savings and issues, information on starting a business - you'll never know what I might come up with to blog about!

So join me while I share "a little bit of this, a little bit of that."