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Choosing the right bank for your needs

If you grew up in the U.S. in the 1960s, the world of banking was much different than it is in the 21st century. Back then, most banking, whether business or personal, was very local, with the majority of working people, even those with high salary jobs, using savings and loan banks.

These banks made most of their money by making loans for local homes and businesses, with the amount of loans depending on the amount of deposits at the bank. If the local bank was in a relatively prosperous area, then the size of the loans and the amount of services that they offered would be quite a bit higher.

No matter how high or low the level of service, nearly all banking was face-to-face. It was very hard to do any kind of banking if there was not a branch office nearby. The idea of doing routine banking by phone was not offered for most depositors, and the concept of banking by computer only happened in science fiction.

Fast forward to 2012, and the situation is very different. While local banks and bank branches still exist, anyone in the U.S. can easily choose any bank in the country for their day-to-day transactions. You could deposit your paychecks in a Massachusetts bank, even if your job is in a nearby town. While you still may have to talk to a representative during the bank’s business hours, you can get 24 hour access to your bank online.

Where does does all these options leave the average individual or business banker? Simply put, in a very powerful position. Once you get beyond the idea that your bank has to be local, you can pick and choose the bank that works best for you.

Once you make this mental switch, you figure out ways to deal with having a non-local bank. One common tactic is to choose to bank with a credit union that allows you to use the ATMs of other credit unions without surcharge, or that may even allow you to do in-bank transactions like depositing paper checks.

Business cards and stationery products are cheaper online

Previous posts on this site discussed how various online tools such as virtual databases and podcasts can be an important component of any business or project. The key advantages are often lower costs compared to how such tasks were accomplished before the widespread adoption of the Internet, and the flexibility that the web-based processes offer.

While these advantages are obvious for things that were first created online, for example tools like Twitter, the advantages exist for decidedly low tech products business cards. In spite of the wealth of online methods for connecting with potential clients, customers, or partners, including very popular social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, success in business still often hinges on personal relationships. When meeting face-to-face, it may be second nature to exchange emails or phone numbers, but it always helps to back that up with something tangible like a business card.

No online description in the world can substitute for the feedback you get when you look at a new stack of your business cards for the first time. You often know, without having to put it into words, whether those cards will work for you. The logical conclusion is that the average person may have to try several different designs from different sources before settling on one that will work.

If you are planning to make several attempts at finding the right card, you should be systematic in your search for the best quality and the best value. It is easy to find low cost business cards online, and with a little bit of effort on a search engine it is easy to find where to find the cheapest business cards on the web. However, it isn’t so easy to find what business cards will work for you.

Once do find that perfect combination of price and quality, by all means keep using that company. If the price is low enough, get two or three different designs and use them all.

Using video podcasts as reputation builders

While making sales growing profits may be the long term goal of a business, part of that process involves developing a reputation that goes far beyond the customer base. One of the best online media options that individuals and large companies can use as part of the reputation building process is a podcast. Podcasting has been around forever (on the web, that means in the ancient times before YouTube), and can be used to inform, entertain, and especially to build an individual’s or an organization’s reputation at relatively low cost.

Podcasting has changed rapidly over the last few years, especially in the way that a podcast gets used or delivered. In the early days of podcasting, when just about every podcast was delivered by some kind of audio file, iTunes was one of the easiest, most powerful, and free ways for someone to offer both podcast content and an easy means for an audience to find and download that content.

However, podcasting is more than a technology or a distribution channel, it is a process of both creating and distributing content over a long period of time to an audience. A successful podcast increases its audience by making it easier for a potential viewer or listener to interact with that content.

Fast forward a few years, and podcasting is still around, but it takes a different approach to grow the audience and build a reputation. While iTunes is still a great way to get content out to the public, it is just one of many ways to get audio and video content out to an audience. A successful podcaster would use video sharing services like YouTube, as well as social media resources like Twitter and Facebook as part of its online marketing efforts, giving the audience multiple ways to discover more about that individual or that company, and to allow that audience to make an informed decision.

A podcast by itself will likely not be a useful tool for reputation building, but as a integral part of an online marketing effort, it can do a great job of adding a voice or a face to your reputation building efforts. The following video from Reputation.com is one example of how a company can use a video hosted on a third-party site to get its message across.

Using an online database in a virtual company

Zoho Projects

Zoho Projects

The modern corporation doesn’t look much like the corporation of the last century. Back then, in order get the work done, the people doing the managing, and the people doing the work often had to meet face to face to communicate effectively.

With the development of the Internet, and more importantly the continuing reduction in the cost of the hardware and software that makes up the Internet, many of the basic administrative tasks of a company can now be outsourced to a remote labor pool at a much lower costs. Hoever, those remote workers still need to be able to share key company resources, and to do so simultaneously.

Take one small example, maintaining a basic database of customers, suppliers, products, and services. For smaller companies, this can often be done on a handful of spreadsheets or a basic database program. While it would be easy to do this on any laptop computer, when the information has to be accessible to a widely dispersed set of workers and managers, a company would need a virtual database that anyone in the company can access at any time.

One example of this kind of virtual database capability is offered by the Zoho company. Their project management software allows a company to have several users simultaneously update a database from several remote locations.

This kind of capability can even eliminate phone calls and emails. If a company also took the time and effort to develop systematic procedures for editing the database, employees from different time zones or even different continents would be able to perform their tasks without constant input from management.

For a company that intends to leverage the power of the Internet to get work done, it makes sense to design basic administrative and record-keeping tasks around this kind of online database.

Analyzing The Making Home Affordable Program created by Obama

The Obama administration created the Making Home Affordable program in 2009 to help homeowners who were threatened by foreclosures from the housing market crisis. The homeowners were underwater, and their mortgage costs were more than the falling housing values. They could not sell their homes without being in debt to the banks. Many of them had lost their jobs and were trapped in foreclosures because the banks had refused to make loan modifications.

The Making Home Affordable program consisted of two components: the Home Affordable Refinance Program and the Home Affordable Modification Program. Republicans did not support the program claiming it led to deficit increases. They argued that the homeowners should have been held responsible for the signed mortgage contracts.

HARP allowed qualified homeowners who had mainly kept up with payments to refinance Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans into fixed-rate, 15- or 30-year low-interest mortgages. Four million homeowners were expected to qualify for the program, but by mid-2011, only 900,000 had successfully used it.

HARP was reformatted into HARP 2 by November 2011 with major changes that included no loan-to-value ceiling, no credit score requirement, faster underwriting and less restrictions as long as one was current on their mortgage. HAMP had been fashioned for those homeowners who had experienced a financial hardship, their mortgages exceeded 31 percent of their income and they were at risk of foreclosure.

Through early 2012, there has been a better response to the more flexible HARP 2. It appears that improved publicity has brought in more homeowners and, importantly, more responsive lenders. Major banks, feeling possible profit losses, had been initially slow to process HARP.

By the end of 2010, a quarter of all homeowners were underwater. Real estate researcher Zillow reported that at the end of the first quarter this year, 15.7 million people were underwater, representing one of every three homeowners. Foreclosures have been served on 2.5 million homes and 4.5 million homeowners had stopped paying mortgages.

The Obama programs began tenuously and in a contentious atmosphere of heavy criticism from Republicans who did not want to allow funding. Costing nearly $50 billion, the programs are expected to help some two million homeowners by year’s end and possibly many more.

Making a smartphone app isn’t as easy is it seems

In the last few months, the level of excitement in the software side of the high tech industry has reached a fever pitch at the IPO end with companies like Facebook and Groupon, and enterprise software companies like ERP software, but it has also gotten a bit crazy when it comes to much smaller scale software projects such as smartphone apps.

Whether an entrepreneur trying to make a decision about creating an app for the Android market, the iPhone market, or a web-only app, many of the problems are similar, among them are the following:

  1. It is tempting to fire first and aim later: While it may be a bit daunting to make a sophisticated app, anyone who is familiar with the basic programming to make a web site work can take on the technical challenge of writing the code for an app. The problem is that just because a programmer can create an app doesn’t mean that they know about all the things that go into creating something that people will find useful.
  2. It isn’t just a smaller screen, it is a whole new world: A smartphone screen isn’t a smaller version of desktop or laptop screen, and it is not an iPad. The average person uses a smartphone in ways that are very different from how other devices are used. The behavior of someone who graduated to a smartphone from older online access technologies. Anyone who doesn’t take the tine to really thing through what they are doing may end up with a product that works well but doesn’t work for the user because it wasn’t built to around how the user want to use it.
  3. If you don’t make a move you may get left behind: Smartphone use has taken off like a rocket, and shows no sign of slowing down. While it may encourage an entrepreneur to do something now, it may be much better in the long term to understand the overall process of creating something useful for the consumer instead of just getting something to market.