You’re The Spark

Building a camp fire is much like building a business.

Historians will argue and debate over when and where the first camp fire was built; however the one thing that historians, survivalists, cub scouts, boy scouts, hunters, and campers can agree on is, that to build a camp fire one must follow a process.

I am going to build our campfire today using a tried and true process:

Step One: Prepare the ground. Remove all excess debris, flatten the ground and build a containment wall.

In our businesses we should prepare our ground by making a plan, setting a goal (your containment wall), educate and train ourselves, obtaining the necessary licenses to operate our business, create a business name, create a logo, design and produce basic marketing materials (business cards, post cards, web site, facebook page, etc…).

Step Two: Gather tender. Tender is the smallest and driest fuel you can find. Such as, pine needles, cedar shavings, dryer lint, birch bark shavings, etc…

Tender is your family and closest friends. Tender is your parents, your kids, your aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, and your best friends. You’re the spark! Let all of these people know what you will be doing, where you will be doing it, and what you’re selling. These people should be easy to sell to. They should support you and promote you to their friends and to their relatives.

Caution: What happens when the tender burns out? how fast will it take for it to burn out? Anyone that has started a fire knows that tender will burn rather fast and if your not prepared it will burn down to nothing!

Gather kindling: Dead twigs that are no bigger than a pencil. Build this up in a pyramid sort of fashion. It should catch fire from the tender quickly.

Kindling is all the other people you know. Your friends, acquaintances, people you have done business with, high school and college friends, people on your facebook accounts, networking groups. Let these people know what you are selling and where you are working. Send them a card, call them on the phone, and or set up a lunch date.

Caution: Refer to the caution in Tender. Same thing

Step Three: Fuel – (From the Boy Scout Handbook) “Fuel wood can be as thick as your finger or as thick as your wrist. Use sticks that you find on the ground. Gather them from a wide area rather than removing all the downed wood from one spot.”

Your fire should be going well now. All you have to do is keep gathering fuel wood and adding it to the fire. Right? Yes and no! There is still a process. You want to gather wood from different parts of the forest. Don’t stay in one place. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Somedays you will find fuel close to the fire. Other days you will have to go to great distances to find it. The important thing is: LOOK! Wander the forest every day and every day gather the fuel wood! Its there! If you cant find it in a place that you have looked before, explore, take an adventure and look where you have not looked before! – Ron Smith

Social Media Tips from Lewis Howes – Five Ways Social Media Can Ruin Your Reputation

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ allow us to connect with the players in our market.  But, when used improperly, social media can be a dangerous platform for entrepreneurs to ruin their reputations.

Here are five ways social media users can destroy their online rep, and tips for steering clear of these costly mistakes:

1. Boring posts.  A boring post is anything that lacks your unique personality or perspective.  Giving a fresh perspective to an old topic or going against the status quo is what gets noticed.

So ask yourself how you can infuse your own character or sense of humor into each post.  This is the essence of branding.  The last thing you want to be is forgettable.

2. Disrespecting others.  Social media is not the place to work out your problems with people.  It’s no different than yelling insults at someone in public or raising your voice at a retail store employee.  Yes, it gets peoples’ attention, but that’s not the kind of attention you want.

Unfortunately, the higher you climb in social media, the more people will want to throw stones at you.  But don’t retaliate publicly.  Simply delete the negative comment, block the person and then decide if you want to address the issue privately, or just move on.

3. Failing to promote others.  When it comes to building your business and developing a powerful network, you’ll want to develop a reputation as someone who highlights others.  Not only does this give credit where credit is due, it also communicates that you’re secure with your success and have the ability to promote others in your industry.

Some effective ways to highlight others:

When someone gives you a great piece of advice, post it on Facebook or Twitter and tag that person.

Utilize the Endorsements feature on LinkedIn and begin endorsing people within your network.

4. Not replying to comments.  Not replying to comments on your blog or other social media is no different than starting a conversation with someone and then ignoring their response.  Actively monitoring comments and questions on every post can be time-consuming, but even posting one follow-up comment per post can show you care and that you’re engaged.

5. Being tagged in questionable photos.  Most everyone has been captured in a photo that should be titled, “This is not how it looks.”  As funny as some photos can be, think twice about allowing yourself to be tagged in questionable photos.  As a business owner or salesperson, be mindful of how you want to be perceived publicly.  Untag or delete yourself from any inappropriate photos.

Your best ally in creating an image that attracts the right kind of people and attention is to simply use common sense, which usually is not so common.  As long as you’re consistently infusing your unique style and communicating with the same class that you would in public, you’ll do just fine.

10 Things You Should Be Tweeting About

Apart from creating a vibrant branded Twitter account for your business, you should consider creating your own personal account on Twitter.  Fans and followers often want to connect with the person behind the brand.

Giving customers and prospects a glimpse into the entrepreneur’s life and mindset can allow them to cultivate a deeper relationship with customers separately from the brand.  The goal, of course, is to increase customers’ loyalty to your brand.

Here are 10 things every entrepreneur can tweet about, which can allow your clients and prospects to see another side of you:

1. Personal news: Share the big events of your personal life — vacations, weddings, births — the type of info you’d share with close friends.  It can help keep your followers feeling like they’re “in the loop.”  You’re also more likely to make a connection with followers who have experienced something similar.

2. Mistakes and lessons: Sharing mistakes and what you learned is a sign of growth, not weakness. Try doing a “What I learned this week” tweet and see how your followers respond.

3. Answers to questions: If someone asks a question on Twitter and you know the answer, share it.  This can also be a way to develop a FAQ within your industry, which you can later point them to via a link.

4. Links to articles: The key to sharing articles is to also include your unique opinion.  Let others know why you liked or didn’t like an article.

Just remember that your opinion paints a public image, which means you should be cautious about which opinions you choose to share — ideally only those which are congruent with your market and your industry.  Keep the rest to yourself.

5. Pictures of unusual things you see: If something catches your attention, it’s probably going to catch the attention of others, too.  So why not share it?  This includes visually impressive products, food and architecture.

6. Wisdom from the book you’re reading: When you hit a “golden nugget” of wisdom in a book, share it.  It not only shows that you’re well-read but that you value wisdom.  Those are two things that can only enhance your reputation.

7. Interesting advertising: When a billboard or any other advertising catches your attention, take a picture and tweet it.  Everyone can benefit from seeing smart marketing.

8. Fun purchases: Sharing your recent purchases, such as music, video games or sports equipment can stir up comments and conversations from others that have bought similar items and enjoy the same kind of entertainment.

9. Share wisdom from outside the world of business: Quotes from sports heroes, military leaders and artists can teach us about innovation and leadership, which are essential to business success.

10. Your work: The greatest links you can share are links to your personal work, but don’t limit that only to what you do professionally.  If you have a hobby or passion for something creative, share it.

 

By: Lewis Howes, www.entrepreneur.com

What you should have on your website home page

In business, you only get one chance to make a good first impression, and your company’s website is no different. When customers arrive at your site they should instantly have a clear understanding of who you are and what you do. But statistics show that many small-business websites lack the basics, which puts them at risk of losing a customer with just one click.

The relationship between a customer and a business is based on trust. Is your website customer-friendly? Start with the five things that belong on the front page of every business website.

1. Contact information:

A recent survey by Chantilly, Va.-based local media and advertising research group BIA/Kelsey indicates that nearly 75 percent of small-business websites don’t have an email link on their homepage. And six out of 10 don’t have a phone number.
Minimally, your site should have a clear email link and a phone number. If you have a physical location, consider including the full address with the state and zip code, as well as a map and directions.

2. Images that represent what you do:

If you sell wedding cakes, for instance, the front page of your website should have a picture of one of your cakes. As basic as this sounds, many business sites use irrelevant graphics such as butterflies and family photos, or worse, no graphics at all.
But be mindful of how you display images. Think twice before making them spin or shake or do anything else that can be distracting or irritating.

3. Clear navigation with working links:

The front page of your site should have a clear navigation system either across the top or down one side of the page. The buttons should be clearly marked with words that correspond to the content on your site and help customers quickly find what they’re looking for. Also consider including buttons for shipping options, FAQs and background on your company.

It’s also important to click your links on a regular basis to make sure they all work, or use Google Webmaster Tools to identify any 404 errors. Broken links not only prevent shoppers from completing their orders, they can also make it appear as if you don’t care about your business.

4. An email signup box:

One effective way to encourage customer loyalty is with a regular newsletter. Put a signup box on the front page of your website and offer rewards, such as a discount on a future order to anyone who submits his or her email address. Services such as Mailchimp offer simple ways of doing this.

5. Social media links:

Help customers stay in touch by providing links to your social media accounts right on your front page. Use recognizable icons linked to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or LinkedIn. You can also use feed widgets to encourage instant follow-up as well as social media sharing.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn announced a new feature called Endorsements that gives users a simpler way to recommend their professional connections.

Until now, the primary way to suggest a friend or coworker for a job on LinkedIn has been to go through the process of writing a formal recommendation. Now, with the Endorsement tool, you can simply click the “Endorse” button to recognize one of your connections for a particular skill or skills.

When you look at a contact’s profile page on the social network, you’ll see a list of skills at the top of the page and be prompted to pick which ones if any you’d like to endorse. Similarly, if you scroll down to the Skills and Expertise section of their profile, you’ll have another option to endorse certain skills just by clicking a plus-sign next to each of the skills listed.

LinkedIn will notify the user by e-mail when he or she has been endorsed by someone and these endorsements will be displayed on their profile page. Users still have the option to write longer recommendations as well, but Endorsements may be more popular for more casual recommendations.

In essence, the Endorse button is really just LinkedIn’s version of Facebook’s “Like” button, but geared towards professionals. This is just the latest example of LinkedIn trying to boost engagement on the social network by taking a page from competitors like Facebook and Twitter. Earlier this year, LinkedIn introduced a Follow button for brands, similar to Twitter, and just this month the company rolled out a Facebook-style notifications system to keep track of network updates.

 

Free Phone Calls on LinkedIn:

Farewell, phone numbers. Plingm, the Swedish mobile VoIP app, takes the
innovation lead on smartphone communication and introduces free phone calls
for LinkedIn’s 151 million users. Without a single digit, Plingm users with an
iPhone can call their own contacts on LinkedIn directly.

Across the world, LinkedIn has more than 151 million LinkedIn users. Thanks to
an innovative back-end solution developed by Plingm, LinkedIn users can now
also call and talk to their LinkedIn contacts for free anywhere in the world.

“Mobile numbers are legacy. By using our LinkedIn calling feature, you can
always reach the person you want to speak to even if they switch jobs or
change their number,” says Pandelis Eliopoulos, co-founder of Plingm. “With
the growing use of social media, the possibility to call your LinkedIn
contacts directly without a phone number is a logical evolution of mobile
communication.”

How to do it

Download the Plingm app from the App Store and accept to connect with your
LinkedIn account. The app automatically scans and imports all your contacts.
Calls between Plingm users are free, regardless if you are in the same town or
on the other side of the world.

About the app

With the numbers steadily increasing and an impressive consumer rating on App
Store, the mobile VoIP app Plingm combines high sound quality with
user-friendliness. All calls made to other Plingm users are free, regardless
of where they are in the world, and there is no time limit. Calling with this
service instead of a traditional operator will save people large sums of
money, particularly on international calls. At a low rate, consumers can also
call friends not yet using Plingm.

Plingm develops innovative, people-friendly technology that enables people
cost efficient ways to communicate. The company was founded by entrepreneurs
from the telecommunications and Internet industry. Plingm is based in
Stockholm and active in 170 markets. More info on plingm.com .

The Ultimate Success Skill

This past year only one out of every 20 sales people has spent $25.00 or more on their own improvement!  Let me repeat it to make sure you read it correctly: In the last 12 months, only one out of every 20 sales people has spent $25.00 or more on their own improvement!  That’s based on lots of anecdotal evidence collected over the past 25 years of working with sales people.

Only five percent of my colleagues are sufficiently dedicated to their own personal growth and professional success that they will invest their own money in their careers.  That means that ninety-five percent are not sufficiently motivated to take their own personal development seriously.

I am convinced that the process of continuously improving — not only professionally in the core competencies of a professional sales person, but also personally — is the ultimate success skill for our time.

The ability to learn and grow in a proactive and disciplined way is several things:

A method to do better at your job.  Good sales people sell more than mediocre sales people.  Good sales people make more money, enjoy more success and greater status than mediocre sales people.  Good sales people work at becoming better.

A way to distinguish yourself from the masses.  Remember, ninety-five percent of your competitors and colleagues don’t care enough to invest in themselves.  When you do that, you separate yourself from the pack.

A minimal requirement from your employer.  I often tell my clients that every sales person — and every employee, for that matter — has two jobs: a).his job, and b) continually improving himself.  If someone is not interested in improving his skills, I don’t want him working for me, or for my clients.

An ethical imperative.  It is, I believe, immoral to not improve yourself.  Your employer has hired you not just for what you know and what you can do, but for your potential to know more and do more.  When you refuse to improve yourself, you rob your employer of some of the reasons he pays you.

That’s a lot of value wrapped up in a single, fundamental process.  You can see why I believe that the ability to learn in a focused, systematic way is the ultimate competency — the foundational skill that, if mastered, will eventually lead you to success.

I call this ultimate self-improvement skill for turbulent times and beyond “self-directed learning.”

Self-directed learning is the ability to absorb new information and to change one’s behavior in positive ways in response.  The key is behavior change.  Learning without action is impotent.  Knowledge that doesn’t result in changed action is of little value.  Constantly changing your behavior in positive ways is the only reasonable response to a constantly changing world.

For example, let’s say that you’ve read a book on advanced sales techniques.  That’s a good first step.  But, it’s one thing to read and understand the material in the book, and it’s another to actually use it.  It’s nice that you understand it, and it’s good that you think it may help you.  But that particular piece of information is worthless until you actually start using it.  When you change your behavior and incorporate those ideas into what you do, then you will have learned.  It is not until you actually do that new thing — ask questions more effectively, for example, that you will have learned.

Self-directed learning differs from the traditional approaches to training because it requires you to assume complete responsibility for your own behavior change.  The stimulus for the learning must come from within you.  You must develop your own learning program to expose yourself to new information and to change your behavior appropriately.

I firmly believe that the ability to take charge of your own learning, to consistently expose yourself to new information and then to systematically change your behavior in positive ways based on that new information, is the ultimate success skill for the Information Age.

If you can master self-directed learning, you’ll eventually master everything else that you need to be successful.

Prerequisites to Mastering Self-Directed Learning

Proficiency at the ultimate self-improvement skill demands some fundamental attitudes on your part.  I like to characterize those attitudes as being a “seeker.”

A seeker attitude is composed of several parts.  First, you must have an attitude of proactive responsibility for your situation.  In other words, you must believe that your actions have consequences and that, to change the consequences, you must change your actions.

This sounds so fundamental as to be ludicrous, yet it seems to be a concept that is foreign to much of the world’s population.  Most people tend to blame their problems on forces outside themselves.  Your parents didn’t raise you correctly, your spouse doesn’t understand you, your boss doesn’t like you, your customers don’t respect you, the stars are aligned against you, etc.  As long as you remain, in your mind, the victim of someone else or some outside force, you have no responsibility to change your own behavior.  After all, your situation isn’t your fault.

That’s the wrong attitude.  If you are going to be successful, you’ll need to begin with the conviction that your actions have consequences, and that you can change your future.  Once you get that, then you are ready to discover what actions will have the greatest impact on your success.

So, you must accept the responsibility for your own behavior as well as for the consequence of that behavior.

Next, sales people with a seeker attitude need to be open to new information.  One of the sure harbingers of pending failure is the attitude that you know it all.  Sales people who continue to improve themselves understand that they will never have all the answers.  There is always something new to learn. They become like magnets, constantly attracting new ideas, new perspectives, and new information to themselves.

Finally, a seeker has the ability to follow through on his plans.  You must have the ability to act on decisions you make and to become a creature whose actions arise out of conscious thought rather than unconscious habit.  In other words, you must have the strength to decide to do something and then to follow through with that decision and actually do it.

The sales people who attend my seminars are open minded, interested in outside perspectives, willing to learn, and committed to the growth of their businesses.  They’re seekers.

It’s interesting that this description only applies to a small percentage of the population.  It probably describes you, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  Take heart in that.  In a rapidly-changing world, the competent, self-directed learners will end up on top.  The fact that you’re probably one of them means that you’re already separating yourself from the mass of sales people who are more interested in maintaining the status quo.

Richard Gaylord Briley, in his book Everything I Needed to Know about Success I Learned in the Bible, talks about the five percent principle.  It holds that five percent of the individuals in the world provide success and opportunity for 50 percent of the rest of the population.  Applied to sales, the Briley rule would hold that five percent of the sales people in the world contribute 50 percent of the volume.

I believe that these five percenters are active, self-directed learners who maintain the seeker attitude I’ve described.  And I believe that you have the potential to be a five-percenter for the rest of your life.  The starting point is the cultivation of the seeker attitude.

Given this set of attitudes, you can begin to master the procedures and disciplines that will characterize you as a self-directed learner and equip you to be successful in our turbulent times.

Core Strategies for Self-Directed Learning

If you have the right attitude, you’ll find the following two strategies to be powerful ways to practice self-directed learning:

1. Inject yourself into learning opportunities.

There are two parts to the learning equation.  The first is to constantly expose yourself to new information, and the second is to change your behavior in positive ways based on that information.

For example, reading this article is a way to expose yourself to new information.  So is reading a book, listening to a podcast or CD, attending a seminar, etc.  That’s the first half of the process.  If you now make changes in what you do as a result of it, you’ve accomplished the second half.

The second part rarely happens unless the first part precedes it.  So, to put the whole process into motion, you must regularly expose yourself to new information.  To do that, you must inject yourself into learning opportunities.

Remember that it’s not enough to go to a seminar once a year, or read a book every now and then.  Learning should be a regular part of your work week.  I’d like to see you do something to exposure yourself to new ideas every week.

Reflect on your failures.  You’re probably thinking, “Where did that come from?”  I have learned that my failures, both as a sales person and in my life in general, have provided me with my most intensive learning experiences.  In fact, I remember all my failures far more vividly than I remember any of my successes.  As I thought about each one of them, I discovered what I had done to produce that failure, and I made specific decisions to change to prevent them from happening again.

Personally, I think that this practice has been one of the key reasons for the success that I have enjoyed as a sales person.  You can do the same thing.  You are going to fail from time to time.  Everyone does.  The most important part of failing is taking the time to reflect on the failure and to learn from it.

2. Question everything.

There are two big obstacles to learning that are especially typical of sales people.  The first is “stuck in a rut” behavior.  The second is the tendency to over-rely on assumptions.  The cure for both is the same: to question everything.

Stuck in a rut behavior evolves out of an attitude that you already know enough.  If you’re content and smug about your current situation, you’re not going to be open to new information.  This satisfaction hinders learning because it hampers the motivation to learn.  Without the motivation to expose yourself to new information and seriously consider changing your behavior, the necessary changes won’t happen.  You’re stuck in the status quo — oblivious to the need to move out of it.

One of the best ways to pry yourself out of a rut is to begin to ask yourself questions.  Question everything you do.  Is this the best way to present this product?  Should you be calling on this customer once a week?  Are you presenting the right solutions?  Do you really know your customers as well as you should?

The other major obstacle to learning is the tendency to do your job based on unchallenged assumptions.  This occurs when you operate on the basis of an assumption that you’ve never really thought about.  For example, you assume that two or three competitors are quoting the same piece of business you are, so you discount deeply.  Or, you assume that your customers always know exactly what they want, so you don’t take the time to question them.

Because you work on an assumption instead of taking the time to verify it, you make decisions that are inappropriate.

The solution is the same as getting out of a rut.  Question everything.  From time to time, stop and ask yourself what assumptions you’re working on, and then question those assumptions.  You’ll often find that your assumptions are in error, and the decisions you made that relied on them were also in error.

 

By: Dave Kahle, www.davekahle.com

 

Google Calendar

Google Calendar has become the standard for Web calendars. It allows you to share any event with others and sends reminders to any device you own. Scheduling events with friends, family and co-workers is a breeze.

You can manage your calendar on any device, as well. Unlike other calendars, you’re not locked down to your email client or a website.

7 reasons to use Google Calendar

Organizing your schedule shouldn’t be a burden. With Google Calendar, it’s easy to keep track of life’s important events all in one place.

1. Share your schedule
Let your co-workers, family, and friends see your calendar, and view schedules that others have shared with you. When you know when everyone is free or busy, scheduling is a snap.
2. Get your calendar on the go
With two-way syncing to your mobile phone’s built-in calendar or a mobile version of Google Calendar that’s made for the small screen, you can access your calendar while you’re away from your desk.
3. Never forget another event again
Customizable reminders help you stay on schedule. You can choose to be notified by email or get a text message sent right to your mobile phone.
4. Send invitations and track RSVPs
Invite other people to events on your calendar. Guests can RSVP to your events by email or via Google Calendar.
5. Sync with your desktop applications
Access your calendar however and whenever you want by syncing events with Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCal and Mozilla Sunbird.
6. Work offline
Know where you’re supposed to be even when you don’t have internet access. With offline access, you can view a read-only version of your calendar no matter where you are.
7. All this is free?
Yep.

Fall Home Maintenance Checklist

Fall is here: Time to get your house in shape for the cooler months ahead.  Although autumn can be one of the busiest seasons for homeowners preparing for winter, it’s also the best time to take advantage of the moderate weather to repair any damages before the first frost sets in.  Here are some home maintenance ideas that will keep your home running in peak condition all winter long.

Exterior maintenance

Check the foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping.

“Caulking and sealing openings is one of the least expensive maintenance jobs,” says Michael Hydeck, Hydeck Design Build, Inc., Telford, PA, and national president, National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI).  “Openings in the structure can cause water to get in and freeze, resulting in cracks and mold buildup,” he says.  “Regardless of whether you live in a cold or warm climate, winter can bring very harsh conditions resulting in water or ice damage.  A careful check of the outside structure combined with inexpensive maintenance can save you money in the long run.”

Install storm windows and doors and remove screens.  Before storing, clean and repair screens, spray with a protective coating and place in a dry area of the basement or garage.

Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings.  According to Carl Minchew, director, Benjamin Moore Paints, “Peeling paint is a sign that the existing paint film is failing and can no longer protect the siding of the building.  Left uncorrected, the siding itself will deteriorate, leading to expensive repairs in the future.”

Make sure the roof is in good shape.  Inspect for missing and loose shingles.  “Ice, rain, snow and wind combined with rapidly changing temperatures and humidity wreak havoc on roofs,” says Jay Butch, director, contractor programs for CertainTeed Roofing.  “Your roof is your first defense in protecting your home.  Without it functioning properly, water damage can occur.  This causes deterioration to insulation, wood and drywall, making electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems vulnerable.  It’s better to proactively deal with repairs in the fall than to discover a leaky roof during a snowstorm.  For safety’s sake, have a licensed, certified roofing professional check the condition of your roof.”

After leaves have fallen, clean out the gutters and downspouts, flush them with water, inspect joints and tighten brackets if necessary.  Clogged gutters are one of the major causes of ice dams.  Replace old or damaged gutters with new ones that have built-in leaf guards.

Weather-strip your garage door.  Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight to prevent drafts and keep out small animals.

Inspect your driveway for cracks.  Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer.

Interior maintenance

“Heating and cooling amount to 47 percent of the energy costs in your home.  Proper sealing and insulation can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs, or up to 10 percent on your total annual energy bill,” says Katie Cody, spokeswoman for Lowe’s.  “Air leaks from windows and doors are easy to find by moving your hand around the frame.  Applying weather stripping and caulk to these areas will help cut down on drafts.”

Have your heating system checked by a licensed heating contractor.  Heating systems will use fuel more efficiently, last longer and have fewer problems if properly serviced.

Get your woodstove and fireplace in working order.  Gary Webster, creative director of Travis Industries, suggests that you examine your wood stove or fireplace insert’s door gasket for a tight seal.  Also clean and inspect the glass door for cracks and have the chimney cleaned by a licensed chimney sweep.  “A clogged chimney poses the risk of a chimney fire, which can be ignited by burning creosote — a combination of wood tar, organic vapors and moisture buildup,” Webster says.

Change the direction of your ceiling fan to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.

Test and change the batteries in your smoke and carbon dioxide detectors and keep extra household batteries on hand.

Check basement windows for drafts, loose frames or cracked panes.

Vacuum internal parts of air conditioners.  Remove units from windows or wrap outside box with an approved tarp or plastic air conditioner cover in order to prevent rusting of vital parts.

Clean your humidifiers regularly during the heating season.  Bacteria and spores can develop in a dirty water tank resulting in unclean moisture misting out into your room.

Yard and garden

Organize your garage.  Clean and store summer garden tools.

Clear leaves from lawn, reseed patchy areas and plant spring flowering bulbs.  If deer are a problem in your area, start deer-proofing by covering plants with netting and chicken wire.

Prepare your yard equipment for storage.  This includes draining fuel from all gas-operated equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers and chain saws.

Check to see that all of your snow equipment is up and running before the first flurry falls.  Organize your snow clearing gear.  When snow arrives you’ll want to have shovels, roof rakes and snow blowers where you can get to them.

“Be careful where you store equipment,” says Travis Poore, The Lawn Ranger, a Home Depot Community Expert.  “An outbuilding may not be as well insulated as a garage incorporated into a house.  Equipment that is stored out in the elements, exposed to heat and cold extremes, can develop problems when the gasoline can no longer vaporize and flow into the combustion chamber of the engine.”

Drain garden hoses and store them inside.  Also shut off outdoor water valves in cold weather.  Any water left in exterior pipes and faucets can freeze and expand, breaking the pipes.

Inspect and fill bird feeders.  Keep in mind that once you start feeding birds you should continue on a regular basis throughout the winter months.

Fertilize the lawn with a high phosphorous mix to ensure healthy grass in the spring.

Porch and deck

Check the supports, stairs and railings on porches and decks.  Make sure the handrails can support someone slipping on snow or ice.

Clean porch and deck furniture, and look for any needed repairs.  Cover and store outdoor furniture and barbecues in a protected area.

Make sure all soil is emptied from pots and planters.  Dirt left in clay pots will freeze and cause the pots to crack if left outside.

Preparing your home for the winter months ahead will make it just a bit easier to get through and save you money in the long run.

By: Barbara Winfield, www.bobvila.com

7 Ways to Keep in Touch with Past Clients

In real estate, there’s a fine line between keeping in touch with your past clients and becoming that annoying pest who’s always calling, e-mailing, or mailing.  So how do you make sure you aren’t annoying and stay within that helpful professional or friend zone?

“It’s all about making it personal, making it magic, and making the experience unforgettable so that two or 10 years down the road they’ll remember to call you,” says real estate pro Cheryl Hanna with Keyes Co. in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and also a frequent blogger about customer service issues for Service Untitled.

There are plenty of ways to keep in touch without turning them off, such as through memorable gifts and personalized cards, or even sneaky ways to get connected to their voice mail without risking interrupting them with a phone call.

A lot of it comes down to intuitively judging what your clients want in a relationship with you after a transaction, Hanna says.  For example, is your relationship more of a friendship or strictly professional?  How do they prefer to be contacted — which of them are phone persons and which are e-mail types?

Something else to keep in mind: They probably want you to stay connected.  The odds are in your favor that past clients will use you again.  Eighty-four percent of sellers say they are likely to use the same agent again or recommend that agent to others, according to the 2010 National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.  But if you disappear into the shadows following a transaction, will they really call when they — or their family and friends — need you?

Find some inspiration in what other real estate professionals do, and apply it to your own customer relationships.

1. Deliver some news they can use

Clients won’t be so turned off when you provide them with useful information, such as the latest news of the community and the local housing market.

“The real estate market is tense in a lot of areas of the country right now, and many home owners are interested in information on the mortgage market, foreclosure information, or the value of the home they have now,” Hanna says.  “Everything you send out to a former client has to have some pertinent, valuable information to them,” otherwise they’ll disregard your messages completely.

For example, Desiree DiDonato with Century 21 Rauh & Johns in Sewell, N.J., likes to send her past clients a “hello” e-mail that includes home sales in the area where they own.  Or, she might call them with current rates on mortgages.

Or offer home maintenance reminders (e.g., changing out smoke detector batteries once a year), home design tips, or remodeling ideas (cite Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report) to show what remodeling projects offer the biggest return at resale).  You also can find helpful articles — on everything from home maintenance to selling advice — to send to clients at HouseLogic.com.

2. Offer an unusual gift

Shelley Tinnel with Boulder Bay Realty Group in Valparaiso, Ind., likes to make gifts memorable.  She’ll send past clients an odd gift usually at the beginning of every year.  Last year, she sent “dirty/clean” magnets for the dishwasher.  Or she has mailed rival sports team schedules so they can root for the other team; or once she sent bags of popcorn with stickers that say “Real estate is popping; give me a call.”

“Mostly they call to laugh, but they remember me,” Tinnel says.  “I love to get a smile or a kick out of people, and little odd items do the trick.”

3. Make your cards memorable and personal

Remembering important events in your clients’ lives and sending a card in the mail or a simple e-mail message can go a long way in building memorable relationships.

Hanna isn’t big into popular holiday cards because she says they get mixed up with everyone else’s cards and are quickly forgotten.  Instead, to stand out she likes to send off-season cards, such as “Welcome to Spring” or Thanksgiving cards.

Here are some more ideas:

Birthday cards with an extra touch: Vincent Prestileo Jr. with RE/MAX Hometown in Media, Pa., sends his clients a birthday card each year that includes a $1 scratch-off ticket.  And don’t forget Fido: Pet birthdays count too, adds Donna Mikesh with Century 21 Pro Service, Realtors®, in Johnson City, Tenn.

Home anniversary cards: Send out cards each year celebrating the anniversary of closing on the clients’ home.

Congratulatory cards: Remember graduations, wedding anniversaries, or a new baby in the family.

Important date reminders: Consider card reminders about daylight savings time or upcoming deadlines for home energy-efficiency tax credits.

Every month, Vicci Hall with ERA Real Estate Professionals in Ridgeland, Miss., will select 50 past clients with whom she has a close relationship and send them a special letter, which she calls a “Letter from My Heart.”  She’ll handwrite the envelopes to add a personal touch, and the letters will include inspirational stories or focus on a special holiday or event.  For example, she recently used breast cancer awareness envelopes and stamps and pink stationery for a letter to past clients to show them she also supports a cause that is near and dear to them.

“I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of positive comments and feedback from this letter,” she says.  “This contact with past clients ensures that they don’t forget me and also reminds them to refer me to friends and family.”

4. Give them a call

Sabena Branche with Pulte Homes in Newburgh, N.Y., likes to follow up with her clients with a phone call a few days after they move in to check on how the move went and offer her assistance if needed.

Phone calls for past clients’ birthdays or special days also can make a great personal touch.  But how about if your client isn’t really a phone person, but you still want that personal touch a voice offers?

Phone services such as SlyDial allow you to connect directly to someone’s mobile voice mail to leave them a message without disrupting them with your call.  You simply call the SlyDial number (267-759-3425) and then at the voice prompt, enter the mobile phone number you want to reach.  You’ll be directly connected to that person’s voice mail to leave a message.

5. Follow up with a survey

Hanna always uses customer feedback surveys following a transaction.  It’s a way to not only make contact with your past clients but also show them you care about finding ways to better serve them in the future.

Experts recommend sending customer-satisfaction surveys two to three weeks after closing.  Keep the surveys brief, asking your customers what services they liked and what needs improvement, Hanna suggests.  You can easily build your customer feedback surveys online, such as through SurveyMonkey.com, KeySurvey, FreeOnlineSurveys.com, or Zoomerang.

6. Make a social networking connection

Social networking sites online can make it easy to keep in touch with past clients on an informal and more friend-type basis.

Deb Counts-Tabor with Oregon Realty in Portland, Ore., makes sure to connect with all of her past clients on Facebook.  “I use it for everything, from knowing when a past client is having a baby to reminding folks to check basements during the first heavy rain of the year,” Counts-Tabor says.  “I’ve only lost contact with two clients in four years — I count the rest as friends.”

Tip: You can use Facebook’s friend lists feature to group your friends into customized lists (e.g. “first-time home buyers,” “past clients,” “industry contacts,” etc.) to better manage all your contacts on Facebook.  (You can put friends into multiple lists.)  By categorizing your friends on Facebook, you’ll then easily be able to view news feeds based on your contact lists or send messages to certain lists of contacts.  Just be careful what you call your lists — some friend lists can be made public and even notify your contacts about it.  Check your privacy settings!

Also, to stay on top of what your clients are doing online and find excuses to connect again, you can use plug-ins to your e-mail systems to reveal what your contacts are doing online.  For example, services such as Xobni and Rapportive create an address book of all your e-mail contacts and show you profiles of each contact, including their latest status updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

7. Get creative

Special events or extra helpful touches also can go a long way in getting your past clients’ attention and set you apart.  Here are three ideas:

Host a party: Counts-Tabor has created a Halloween tradition among her past clients.  She invites them to her home on Halloween for a party; costumes are optional.  The early part of the evening is kid-friendly with her clients’ children trick-or-treating; people at the party will take turns answering the door to hand out treats.  About 75 past clients showed up last year.  Counts-Tabor has also rented a hotel suite on the fourth of July across from where the fireworks in the city would be set off and invited all of her clients to watch the fireworks from there.

Help them get organized: To help your clients better organize their housing paperwork or prepare for tax time, create a binder containing copies of paperwork generated during the transaction, such as appraisals, inspection reports, warranties, and settlement statements.  For example, Mikesh of Century 21 Pro Service sends a letter and copy of her clients’ HUD form to them at the beginning of the year following their closing.  “The HUD form is greatly appreciated because of tax preparation, the fact that they have moved recently, and — in most cases — they’ve misplaced their paperwork temporarily,” she says.

Come to the rescue: Consider what information your past clients may need to make home ownership happier for them and put yourself in the “save the day” role.  For example, offer past clients a list of vendors — from handyman to electricians to plumbers — to help them with any home problem they may face.  Or, many home owners, despite having a drop in market value of their homes, have had to face rising property taxes.  You can help point them to information on how to appeal their property taxes.

Make Lasting Connections

Regardless what you do to keep in touch, be consistent in your contact.  Many real estate professionals use a customer relationship management solution, whether it’s an online or computer software program, to better manage all of their past contacts and set notifications to alert them to establish contact at certain times of the year.

Hall manages all of her past clients in a database.  She sends about 175 cards a month to people on her list, such as postcards for holidays or mailings that offers different types of advice like home maintenance tips.

“I’ve been doing this for about six months, and it is truly paying off now,” she says.  “I’m getting new business every few days, most of which is somehow related to this mailing list.  People on my list are referring me to friends of theirs, which is the idea behind it.”

Branche has a “Keep in Touch” program that goes into action immediately after closing for every client.  It includes mailings and e-mail from her every holiday, birthday, and anniversary of their closing.

“I have found being consistent with these actions opens the door to repeat business,” Branche says.  “Also, it allows me to continue building my referral base, which has created much more business to come directly my way.”

 

By: Melissa Dittmann Tracey, www.realtor.org

Sowing the Seeds of Green Renovations

Hey I am not the most environmentally conscious guy (I kinda say worship the creator not the creation) but there are a lot of good thoughts on Real Estate in the article and I thought you might enjoy it.  Hope you have a great weekend.  Jerry & Jordan Case

Green building and energy-efficient home upgrades do more than merely help the environment.  For homebuyers, energy-wise improvements can help reduce future utility costs and deliver a comfortable home with improved air quality and living standards.  In many cases, energy-efficient upgrades also can bring a home up to current building codes, increasing its value and, by extension, bolstering the value of the entire neighborhood by converting an old, functionally obsolescent home into an energy-wise, renovated home.

As appealing as a renovation may be, however, upgrading a home can be a difficult undertaking.  With that in mind, how can mortgage brokers and originators help their green-minded clients plant the seeds for success?  When it comes to upgrading a property with energy-efficient improvements, homebuyers need to know that it takes a team of informed professionals to help a project flourish.  Navigating the world of underwriting can be tricky business, however.  Even if a loan fits given parameters and guidelines at the time of closing, originators still can be held liable for mortgage-insurance rescissions and repurchase demands long after a loan’s closing.  When it comes to steering clear of underwriting trouble, brokers and originators must have a solid grasp on general underwriting processes and the many layers of due diligence that occur after a loan closes.

Mortgage brokers and originators should know what to expect out of the entire process when helping clients finance green renovations.  By working together, the right team of professionals can help their clients create energy-efficient, environmentally friendly homes that will decrease energy use while increasing value.

The Green Team

Closing any deal within the mortgage industry requires a degree of teamwork, but this is especially true when it comes to green purchases and refinances.  Homebuyers — and the originators who are working with them — should be sure to align themselves with an experienced, well-functioning team to ensure that their green deal doesn’t wilt away.

The green-buying process likely will begin with a qualified Realtor who can identify viable properties that meet the borrower’s specifications.  This person can estimate current market value and negotiate an acceptable purchase price and terms.  In today’s market, these professionals must be skilled negotiators in addition to being well-versed professionals when it comes to green homes specifically.

A general contractor who is a certified and experienced energy professional can act as a project manager for a deal, providing a viable project estimate and identifying available rebates and incentives.  Once again, experience is key.  With regards to green building and renovations, general contractors must work through a myriad of problems and bumps in the road, so it’s vital for this person to stay informed about the latest techniques and tools of the green industry.

Finally, there’s you: the loan professional who is tasked with providing realistic cash requirements and a fully documented pre-approval.  There are multiple energy-wise financing options in today’s industry, so it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of your borrower’s desired outcome and qualifying capacity.  This can be a great help in determining the best approach to your client’s financing options.

Invariably, many of your borrowers will be interested in either the FHA’s 203(k) loan program or an energy-efficient mortgage.  In working with these borrowers, mortgage brokers and originators should consider several key factors before the deal gets fully underway:

Is the borrower clear about the specific type of home that’s desired?

Does the borrower have a realistic expectation for the purchase or renovation, given the state of the housing market?

Does the borrower have enough cash for the transaction?  When working with the 203(k) program the loan amount will be determined by the lesser of two calculations: Either the sale price (or appraised value) plus rehabilitation and other allowable costs; or the property’s ultimate, improved value plus 10 percent.

For investors or flippers, a green property’s value and project cost obviously can affect the deal’s cash requirements.  For this reason, it’s important for the Realtor’s assessment of the property’s value to be as accurate as possible, and it’s critical to have a timely and realistic project proposal from the general contractor.  In other words, regardless of a deal’s specifics, communication and cooperation among the members of your green team always will be of the utmost importance.

Home-energy inspections

Mortgage brokers and originators also can assist their energy-minded clients simply by helping them understand some of the steps necessary for a green home renovation.  For one thing, in addition to advising their clients about funding and loans, originators can get their clients up to speed about a key part of the green-renovation process: the home-energy inspection.

A home-energy inspection is a great tool for diagnosing problems with a property and for planning cost-effective solutions.  These home inspections typically cost between $350 and $600, and it generally takes four to six hours to have a qualified energy expert perform the inspection.  Mortgage brokers and originators can help their clients know what to expect when it comes to this preliminary renovation phase.

For instance, before the day of the inspection, the inspector — i.e., a Building Performance Institute building analyst — will ask the borrower for a copy of the home’s utility billing statements.  These statements will contain information about the base amount of energy consumed in a period of one year.  The inspector also will ask the borrower to ensure that there are no fires in the fireplace and even will ask that the fireplace be cleaned before the day of inspection.  This is because the inspector will be performing air pressure testing, so it’s important for the home to be free of ashes and dust.

On the day of the inspection, one of the primary concerns is to check for ambient levels of carbon monoxide in the home.  Inspectors will examine the entire house, looking for drainage, moisture or other concerns.  The inspector also will want to talk with the home’s occupant to glean any information about areas of discomfort or other concerns that may relate to the home’s environment.

An exterior inspection will assess potential leaks coming from gas lines entering the home.  The inspector will look for structural concerns and take note of combustion appliance vents connected to the dryer, hot-water heater, fireplace and stove. In addition to these considerations, an exterior inspection may note any or all of the following:

The air conditioner’s size, make and model, which could reveal a problematic design that may inhibit air flow;

The condition of the windows and doors, particularly noting how tightly they shut or if there are any breaks in their seals;

The home’s landscape and grading;

Any moisture that may be present in the crawl spaces under the home;

The condition of the home’s electrical wiring and phone boxes;

The home’s total measurements.

The inspector also will identify the house’s insulation type, as well as its thermal boundaries.  Measuring the entire indoor living space and calculating square footage and volume will determine the minimum acceptable airflow.

Following the initial review, inspectors will perform combustion safety testing on all of a home’s combustion appliances.  This inspection records how the home performs under its natural pressure state.  Finally, by turning on and off the exhaust and other fans while opening and closing doors and checking pressures, the inspector will bring the home to its most negative natural pressure state to re-test and determine if combustible appliances are adequately carrying combustion byproducts out of the home.

Of course, in terms of energy-related issues and necessary repairs, each home will be different from the next — and the same certainly goes for borrowers and their budgets, as well.  Major problems can exist even in homes that seem to need only minor renovations.  Carbon monoxide, for instance, can be an invisible threat, as it has no noticeable smell or taste.

The home energy inspection is one of the single most important aspects of the renovation process.  While providing borrowers with qualified information about a home’s current condition, the inspection also ensures that the home in question is safe.  Borrowers should be advised to take their inspections seriously and, furthermore, should choose their inspectors wisely.

 

By: Susan Frost, www.scotsmanguide.com

Time for Presidential Candidates to Talk Housing

President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney should start talking about their housing policy intentions, experts in the industry said.

A group of associations, nonprofits and think tanks made speeches and conducted a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., late last month to elevate the housing debate onto the national stage.  They challenged political candidates to address the still ailing housing market as the presidential campaign shifts into high gear.

Both presidential candidates have been mostly silent on housing policy aside from Obama’s push to allow more homeowners to refinance and Romney’s comments early on the campaign trail to let the foreclosure process run its course.

Neither campaign, to date, has released substantive housing policy proposals.

“We are entering a critical phase of the presidential campaign,” said David Abromowitz, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. CAP and the National Council of La Raza, among others, sponsored the event.

In conjunction with the event, CAP released a set of seven housing questions it said it sent to each presidential candidate in a “Home for Good” campaign to bring more awareness to the still struggling housing market:

1. What will you do to prevent more unnecessary foreclosures and keep more families from losing their homes?

2. How will you address the problem of “underwater” mortgages?

3. How will you revitalize communities already hit hard by the foreclosure crisis?

4. How will you meet the pressing need for affordable rental housing?

5. What will you do to assure that working and middle-class families can achieve homeownership in the future?

6. What do you plan to do with the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and what will take their place in the mortgage market of the future?

7. How do you plan to protect households from predatory lending and discrimination in the U.S. mortgage market?

“We’ve caused extraordinary damage, my industry has,” said Mortgage Bankers Association President David Stevens, who spoke on a panel at the event.  “The question is, How do we get hope back into the housing system?”

Stevens said he doesn’t want to create irrational exuberance over recent good news about home sales and house prices, but rather seeks balance in the housing market, including a balance between homeownership and renting.

“Clearly we had too many people promoted into homeownership, and it disparaged and destroyed communities,” he said.

Homeownership needs to shift toward well-qualified borrowers with fully documented loans who can prove their ability to repay while balance on the renter side requires addressing a shortage of affordable rentals in key urban markets, Stevens said.

“I’m very concerned about the future of access to homeownership.  In the effort to eliminate risk and unfair practices of the past few years, we’ve moved too far,” he said.

First-time homebuyers, especially, could be locked out of the market with the movement toward requiring a 20% down payment and higher credit scores, he said.

Regulators and the housing industry must find a balance in which access to credit is not restricted, Stevens said.

“That’s the fundamental dialogue that we need to be having.”

 

By: Kerry Curry, www.housingwire.com

 

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