Start an Online Business without Breaking the Bank

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But here’s the thing: Instead of jumping on the bandwagon to start an online business, make sure you do your homework first. Most people launch a product and market it later. Big mistake!

You want to do the opposite – study the market first, launch next. How? Since it’s going to be an online business, start looking at online forums, comment sections of your competitor sites and what people are searching in Google (using Google Keyword Tool).

Once you pass stage one successfully, you can think about launching a website/product/service. That’s where the real magic happens.

Here’s what comes next:

  • Writing content
  • Starting a blog
  • Having a presence on social media
  • Establishing an expert status for yourself
  • Email marketing
  • Outsourcing tasks you don’t have the time or inclination for
  • Following influencers closely
  • Launching a product or paid service

The list is unending.

It’s easy to get burned out in the sea of tasks and strategies when starting an online business. Thankfully, there are tools available to help you get off the hamster wheel and launch a successful online business.

The best part? You don’t have to spend a fortune on these tools. Here are eight tools to start an online business without breaking the bank: 

1. Hostt

An online business needs a website domain name and space to “host it”. Hosting is an ongoing expense for your business and it usually incurs a monthly cost with an option to pay it upfront on a yearly basis.

And that’s where Hostt.com is revolutionizing the hosting world. What I love about Hostt is that it offers free hosting for all your websites. They also have a 24/7 tech support and a cpanel that makes website management quick and painless.

There is no catch – no ads. The hosting is 100% free. They only ask you to have one domain name with them (which costs $13.95 a year).

2. WordPress/Shopify

Once your website is set up and hosted, you’re ready to install a CMS or a platform on which your web pages and content will sit.

WordPress, originally a blogging platform, is the most popular solution in existence today. Most top bloggers use and recommend WordPress. The best part? It’s free to use.

Once you have your website hosted (see #1 above), your hosting company’s cpanel should let you install WordPress using the “1-click install” functionality.

WordPress is great for any type of website; but, if you want to create mainly an e-commerce store (in other words, an online store with a checkout shopping cart), you have better options out there.

Although WordPress is pretty flexible and a full-blown CMS now, it was originally built for blogging, not for e-commerce purposes. If you predict having a large product catalog and lots of e-commerce relevant features, try a service such as Shopify.

Most e-commerce experts will advise you against WordPress for an online store. Shopify is highly customizable, robust and affordable for a professional shopping cart. There are other alternatives available in the marker too, so make sure you do your research before launching a web-store.

3. BuzzSumo

Once you have a platform ready, you need content. And not just any content but good, solid content one that your readers find educative, interesting and engaging.

BuzzSumo is a neat little tool that analyzes what works for your readers. It helps you find content and topics that will do best for your type of audience.

Just open their webpage and enter your main keywords in the top search bar. You can also add a domain name to see what’s working well for them.

BuzzSumo returns a list of articles with the number of shares (so you know what is popular and can get ideas from those topics for your own website).

Super-helpful from SEO perspective also. So go on, give it a try!

4. MailChimp

But you can’t just stop after creating juicy content. The next step in line is to promote your content and one of the best ways to do it is email marketing.

Mailchimp is an email newsletter service that is used by more than 7 million people. You can get started with their “free forever” plan if you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers and send less than 12,000 emails per month (which is very likely when you’re starting out).

To get add-ons such as autoresponders and delivery by time zones, you can upgrade for as little as $10 per month. I’ve been using MailChimp for years now for my own websites and that of my clients, and have no regrets.

5. Buffer

Apart from promoting content and educating your readers via email, you can also use social media to share and push your new posts out there.

Buffer is a nice little tool to schedule all your posts across different social media. The clean and easy to use interface is one of the reasons it’s so popular. What I personally love is their “Suggestions” tab on the dashboard.

Buffer scours the web for best posts on other websites that you can instantly use to share with your own followers. When I’m low on the shareable content reserve, this feature is super-handy – all I have to do is read the suggested article and (if I like it) click the link to share or schedule it for my own channels.

6. ClickMeeting

If you are in a freelance/service-provider business model like I am, you have a constant need to communicate with your clients or collaborate with your team all over the world.

ClickMeeting is a platform to meet and record audio and video conferencing with your clients (for up to 25 participants). It’s perfect for briefing and presentation purposes. You can also brand all your meetings and impress your clients like a pro. Plus, they have a translation service if you’re exploring international markets.

They also offer a sister-product called ClickWebinar to conduct virtual trainings (for up to 1,000 participants) and webinars with your audience.

7. FancyHands

Let’s face it – despite all the tools in the world, you will still need external help. That’s where services such as FancyHands come into picture.

FancyHands brings you a team of virtual assistants who can do a lot of things at less than $1 a day, if you’re using their basic plan that costs $29.99/mo.

Here are some services for which people have requested in the past (as per the company’s website):

 My co-worker is in the hospital after a bad car accident. Can you call the gift shop there and ask them if they sell fun things to do to pass the time that they could send in a gift basket type of thing to him? Crossword puzzles, trashy magazines, stuff like that. I’d like to spend about $50. If they don’t do that sort of thing, please find a place that can.

Please make a lunch reservation at Barolo under my name for Friday at 1pm and call Jennifer Wilson’s office and let her know that the meeting is confirmed. Please add it to my schedule as well.

Please fill me in on the top 5 trending topics on Twitter today, both worldwide and locally in Los Angeles.

A fun way to get your time back, right?

8. Xoom

I saved the best for last – getting paid. Xoom is a perfect alternative to Paypal. Where Paypal is notorious for charging hefty transaction fees (try this calculator to find how much you’re being charged), Xoom charges a flat fee of $4.99 for up to $2,999.

With their 24/7 customer support and faster money transfers, Xoom is one of the easiest ways to send money.

Your Turn

Are you starting an online business? Which one of the above tools is your favorite? Would you like to add more? Tells us your thoughts in the comments below.

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How Will Millennials Get Into the Housing Market?

Don’t be surprised if the housing market gets tighter next year. The country’s largest generation — millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 — are expected to enter the market for homes in big numbers.

In a recent survey at the National Association of Realtors’ Realtor.com website, 61% of millennials surveyed said that they plan to go house shopping next year. Millennials account for more than 75 million Americans and they represent the largest generation in the country, now outnumbering baby boomers by about half a million.

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Only about a third of millennials have reached the prime home-buying age of 31, so if they begin entering the housing market next year, they could become the driving force for home sales for the next decade or longer.

But they do face some hurdles. Among these is existing debt, more than likely student loan debt. Another is stagnant wages. A third is stricter loan underwriting standards. And, fourth, home prices keep rising.

A new study from Fitch Ratings calculates that someone repaying student loans on a monthly payment of $203 qualifies for a loan amount $45,000 lower than a person with no student loan debt. A monthly payment of $400 reduces mortgage loan capacity by about $89,000.

Because home ownership has historically been the single best wealth creator for most Americans and an important driver of U.S. consumer spending, the longer a person delays buying a house the more significant the foregone home-equity creation. Yet home ownership rates for Americans under 35 has dropped from around 44% in 2004 to 34% this year, the largest decline among all U.S. age groups.

About 42 million Americans face student loan debt totaling nearly $1.3 trillion, an average of more than $30,000 per person, and, according to Fitch, “rising monthly repayment requirements are eating into prospective home buyers’ cash flows.”

Wages have not kept pace with the increase in student loan debt. Fitch notes:

Nominal wages for recent university graduates rose by 13% between 2007 and 2015, but average student loan balances for all borrowers surged 60% and national rental prices increased 22% over the same time period.

Loan underwriting standards have tightened to the point that first-time buyers now need a credit score of about 745 in order to qualify for a mortgage. In 2000, a credit score of around 715 was needed.

Fitch is not particularly upbeat about the home-buying situation facing millennials. The firm sees student debt as an enormous albatross for recent and future college graduates. Potential home buyers will struggle to repay their student debts because wages aren’t growing fast enough to keep up with college costs, and that will force recent graduates to rent for longer before considering a home purchase and that, in turn, will leave the millennial generation out of the housing-based wealth economy.

The survey we mentioned at the beginning of this story noted that 61% of millennials plan to look for a house next year. The same survey also revealed that 73% of all respondents who are considering buying a house have been considering it for less than three months. Will they get discouraged the further along they get?

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An Alexa-enabled Home Robot

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Home robots are very interesting devices that appeal to children as well as adults (especially geeks). We’ve seen quite a few of them recently, with the charming Asus Zenbo leading the pack.

If the Zenbo, which will retail for $599 when it hits the market, is out of your price range, you might want to consider waiting for the new kid on the block. Omate, the company behind the Rise and TrueSmart+ smartwatches, recently announced its Alexa-enabled robot that goes by the name of Yumi.

The device, which looks very futuristic, is essentially an Android tablet with a set of wheels that responds to your voice commands, thanks to Amazon’s Alexa. On request, it will provide you with the weather forecast, play a song you want to hear, tell you what time it is, and answer any other random question you might throw at it.

A 5-inch 720p screen serves as the face of the robot and is able to show different expressions. It also boasts a 1.3GHz quad-core Cortex-A53 processor, 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, dual stereo speakers, and a 3,500 mAh battery. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have avoidance sensors, so there’s a good chance it will eventually crash into a wall or fall down the stairs. It does, however, have a 5-megapixel “ultra pixel” front-facing camera above the display, but because the head of the device isn’t able to tilt, you’ll have to place the robot on a higher surface to use it properly.

The Yumi robot will be available on November 15th through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, with shipments starting in March 2017. Available in black or white, it can be yours for $369. But if you’re really interested in getting your hands on one, we suggest you head over to Omates’s website to get an early bird discount, while you still can.

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Nearing retirement – should you downsize to a smaller home?

As retirement approaches, your lifestyle and priorities begin to change. Chances are the days when you wanted more space– the sizable dream home with the backyard big enough to entertain a growing family – are long gone. Instead, many retirees are looking for convenience, simplicity and accommodations more suited to their needs as “empty nesters.” As you approach this new life stage, take time to assess how your current living arrangements suit your changing lifestyle.

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Here are five questions to consider as you decide whether downsizing is right for you:

Does your home still have the right feel?

A big house that was perfect for a family may seem overly spacious with just one or two inhabitants. It may be time to consider a change if you find that there are under-used rooms in your home or if you’re ready for a new environment. However, if you are enjoying the freedom more space brings, then your current house may be just the right fit. That might also be the case if your home is a gathering place for extended family and friends.

Is the upkeep sustainable?

In general, a larger house requires more work and regular investment. As you move into retirement, you may want to reduce the stress of cleaning and home projects. If working around the house and yard is something you enjoy, it may make sense to stay put. But, a smaller home will likely be less of a burden, especially if it’s move-in ready.

 

Are you ready to de-clutter?

Moving to a smaller space is a reality check for many people. All of the things you’ve been accumulating and storing for years probably won’t fit in a smaller home if you decide to downsize. That means you need to spend time going through your personal belongings to determine what’s of real value and what can go. This can take time, so it’s a good idea to get started well before it is time to move.

 

Are there cost savings?

In many situations, a larger house can be sold for a price that is higher than the cost of a smaller home. This could result in a smaller (or no) mortgage and potentially some extra money in the bank. But it is not always so simple. There are costs associated with buying, selling and moving into a new place that could impact your retirement savings if you’re not careful. Evaluate how downsizing would affect your budget and review your situation with a financial professional before taking action.

 

Where are you spending your time?

If your retirement dreams include traveling, visiting family or owning a vacation property, you may be away from home more often in retirement than you were in your working years. Having a smaller home that is easier to maintain could make sense in these situations. Alternatively, you may be looking forward to staying put and finally having time to enjoy the home you worked so hard to maintain over the years.

Downsizing doesn’t need to be rushed. Consider your priorities and if you decide to downsize, give yourself plenty of time to do it right.

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Questions to Ask Before Deciding on a Real Estate Agent

 

Roughly 5 million residential real estate transactions were conducted in 2014. Of those, nearly 87 percent involved real estate agents, who can help both buyers and sellers of residential properties save time and maximize the value of their home. Before deciding which real estate agent might be the best fit for your needs, you might want to ask yourself—or your agent—the following questions.

1. ARE THEY LICENSED?

Real estate agents licensed by state property boards are usually expected to complete regular training courses and abide by board-approved practices. Agents affiliated with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) are also bound by the organization’s Code of Ethics, which are intended to make sure real estate agents follow NAR’s approved protocols for home sales.

2. HOW MANY HOMES HAVE THEY SOLD IN YOUR AREA?

Because neighborhoods often have their own unique traits when it comes to advertising benefits like school districts and property values, you’ll want an agent who has successfully completed several transactions in the area you’re considering. For sellers, an agent with experience in the local market will know how best to appeal to buyers most likely to complete a sale.

3. HAVE YOU VISITED AN OPEN HOUSE THEY ARRANGED?

One of the better ways to assess an agent’s ability to move a property is to visit an open house to see how they handle prospective buyers. An impressive presentation means they’re likely to devote a similar amount of energy to your own transaction.

4. HAVE THEY WON ANY AWARDS?

While it’s not necessary that an agent’s office be packed with trophies, third-party recognition for outstanding sales or customer service can be a good sign that the agent is proactive and attentive to their client’s needs.

5. DO THEY HAVE THE RIGHT CREDENTIALS?

Agents often come with designations that might resemble a word jumble until you get familiar with details. An Accredited Buyer Representative has had additional training in representing those in the market for a home; a Seniors Real Estate Specialist has had experience working with buyers over the age of 50. Get to know an agent’s abbreviations and find out if they specialize in your situation.

6. HAVE THEY SOLD A HOUSE SIMILAR TO YOURS ALREADY?

As a buyer, you’ll want an agent familiar with the specific type of home sale you’re interested in. That means experience in navigating the details of federal loan programs, dealing with military financing, or having sold more residential properties than commercial. Buyers and sellers of private properties can also have a variety of special interests depending on the type of home being targeted. Rural homes, for example, have different details to work through compared to historic properties or condominiums. You’ll want an agent who has experience dealing with your specific case needs.

7. HOW MUCH DO THEY COST?

Agents typically receive a percentage of the sale price from the seller. Ask for specific amounts (typically three to seven percent), along with other closing costs. Sellers should also know whether an agent charges a fee for things like staging (dressing the home for viewing), photography, and other attempts to stand out in the market.

8. DO THEY HAVE REFERENCES?

Hiring an agent should be like hiring any other employee: You’ll want to know that they have gotten the job done previously. While you can look at online reviews, it shouldn’t be a problem for an agent to provide contact information for buyers or sellers they’ve worked with so you can benefit from their perspective.

9. WILL IT BE A TEAM EFFORT?

Keeping homes visible in the market, analyzing new listings, and communicating to clients requires a lot of leg work, so many agents have workers who assist them in keeping on top of their workload. At the same time, you don’t want an agent who will use assistants to pass along information. Make sure the agent will make keeping you informed their first priority.

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Upgrades to Make Your Home Smarter

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What’s the Origin of Jack-O’-Lanterns?

The term “jack-o’-lantern” was first applied to people, not pumpkins. As far back as 1663, the term meant a man with a lantern, or a night watchman. Just a decade or so later, it began to be used to refer to the mysterious lights sometimes seen at night over bogs, swamps, and marshes.

These ghost lights—variously called  jack-o’-lanterns, hinkypunks, hobby lanterns, corpse candles, fairy lights, will-o’-the-wisps, and fool’s fire—are created when gases from decomposing plant matter ignite as they come into contact with electricity or heat or as they oxidize. For centuries before this scientific explanation was known, people told stories to explain the mysterious lights. In Ireland, dating as far back as the 1500s, those stories often revolved around a guy named Jack.

Legend Has It

As the story goes, Stingy Jack—often described as a blacksmith—invited the devil to join him for a drink. Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for the drinks from his own pocket, and convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin that could be used to settle the tab. The devil did so, but Jack skipped out on the bill and kept the devil-coin in his pocket with a silver cross so that the devil couldn’t shift back to his original form. Jack eventually let the devil loose, but made him promise that he wouldn’t seek revenge on Jack, and wouldn’t claim his soul when he died.

Later, Jack irked the devil again by convincing him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit, then carved a cross in the trunk so that the devil couldn’t climb back down (apparently, the devil is a sucker). Jack freed him again, on the condition that the devil once again not take revenge and not claim Jack’s soul.

When Stingy Jack eventually died, God would not allow him into heaven, and the devil, keeping his word, rejected Jack’s soul at the gates of hell. Instead, the devil gave him a single burning coal to light his way and sent him off into the night to “find his own hell.” Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has supposedly been roaming the earth with it ever since. In Ireland, the ghost lights seen in the swamps were said to be Jack’s improvised lantern moving about as his restless soul wandered the countryside. He and the lights were dubbed “Jack of the Lantern,” or “Jack O’Lantern.”

Old Tale, New Traditions

The legend immigrated to the new world with the Irish, and it collided with another old world tradition and a new world crop. Making vegetable lanterns was a tradition of the British Isles, and carved-out turnips, beets, and potatoes were stuffed with coal, wood embers, or candles as impromptu lanterns to celebrate the fall harvest. As a prank, kids would sometimes wander off the road with a glowing veggie to trick their friends and travelers into thinking they were Stingy Jack or another lost soul. In America, pumpkins were easy enough to come by and good for carving, and got absorbed both into the carved lantern tradition and the associated prank. Over time, kids refined the prank and began carving crude faces into the pumpkins to kick up the fright factor and make the lanterns look like disembodied heads. By the mid-1800s, Stingy Jack’s nickname was applied to the prank pumpkin lanterns that echoed his own lamp, and the pumpkin jack-o’-lantern got its name.

Toward the end of the 19th century, jack-o’-lanterns went from just a trick to a standard seasonal decoration, including at a high-profile 1892 Halloween party hosted by the mayor of Atlanta. In one of the earliest instances of the jack-o’-lantern as Halloween decor, the mayor’s wife had several pumpkins—lit from within and carved with faces—placed around the party, ending Jack O’Lantern’s days of wandering, and beginning his yearly reign over America’s windowsills and front porches.

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How Do Streets Get Named?

 

 

For the most part, real estate and subdivision developers have the privilege of naming new streets in the United States. The name is submitted to the town or city for review, at which point the public service departments, such as police, fire, and the post office, are given the opportunity to veto the name if they feel it creates any confusion.

“The developer submits street names to the city through the relevant departments for review. The building, engineering and public works departments all comment, but the departments that have the most input and veto power are police and fire. The concern here is that the street names are unique and intelligible enough for them to distinguish and find a street and property in an emergency.

While developers can feel free to submit any name they’d like for a new street, such as the name of their child, it typically doesn’t work out because cities have guidelines and standards for certain areas that require street names to be of a specific theme.

This is why, for example, you see a large quantity of streets named after trees in one particular section of Philadelphia, or all 50 states represented in street names in Washington D.C. If the proposed name of a new street does not fit that theme, there’s a good chance it will be rejected, but how strict these policies are depends on the individual town/city. If you happen to be a developer (or decide to bribe one) and want to name a street after yourself, you’d have better luck in a newly developing suburb than you would in an established city.

With that in mind, here’s some food for thought: The names of trees and numbers make up the greatest number of street names in the country, and the most popular U.S. street name is “Second” or “2nd,” because “First Street” is often replaced with “Main Street” or something similar.

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