5 Secrets To Refinance Your Student Loans – Zack Friedman

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With interest rates rising, there’s no better time to refinance student loans.

Student loan refinancing enables to you combine your existing federal and private student loans into a new, single student loan with a lower interest rate. As a result, you can lower your monthly payment and save significantly on interest costs, which can help you pay off your student loans faster.

(You can see how much you can save through refinancing with this free student loan refinancing calculator).

Here are 5 secrets to get approved to refinance your student loans:

1. Have a strong credit score

Lenders want to refinance student loans for borrowers with a history of financial responsibility.

One way they measure financial responsibility is through your credit score (or its underlying components). To increase your credit score, make sure that you meet your financial obligations and have a history of on-time payments. Don’t skip any payments and minimize your total debt as well as your credit card utilization.

If you don’t have a strong credit score, the good news is you can apply with a qualified co-signer, which can increase your chances for approval.

Insider Tip: Aim for a credit score of 700 or higher. However, lenders will refinance student loans for borrowers with credit scores starting at about 680.

2. Have a strong income

In addition to a strong credit score, student loan lenders want to ensure that you have stable and recurring income to repay your student loans.

How do you know if you have enough income to get approved?

Review your monthly after-tax income. When you subtract your monthly student loan and other debt payments, does a sufficient amount of income remain for other essential living expenses?

Insider Tip: If you do not have sufficient income after making student loan payments, you can increase your chances for approval with a qualified co-signer who has a strong monthly income.

3. Have no or limited other debt

Student loan lenders will evaluate all your debt – not just your student loan debt.

If you have credit card debt, mortgage debt or auto debt, lenders will sum all your debt payments together to understand your total debt obligations each month. The lower your monthly debt payments relative to your income, the better.

Insider Tip: This free lump-sum extra payment calculator can show you how much money can save by paying off some of your debt with a one-time payment. Pay off some of your debt obligations before applying to refinance student loans.

4. Have a relatively small debt-to-income ratio

Student loan lenders are interested in the relationship between your monthly income and your monthly debt obligations, which is known as your debt-to-income ratio.

For example, if you have $10,000 of monthly income and $3,000 of monthly debt expenses, then your debt-to-income ratio is 30%.

Insider Tip: The lower your debt-to-income ratio, the better. You can improve your debt-to-income ratio by increasing income or decreasing debt (or both).

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5. Be employed

It’s best to be employed with 1-2 years of work experience to maximize your chances of being approved for student loan refinance.

However, if you have a written job offer when you apply to refinance student loans (even if you are in graduate school or residency, for example), you can still get approved for student loan refinancing.

If you are unemployed or do not have stable, recurring income, it will be difficult to be approved for student loan refinancing.

Insider Tip: If you are unemployed or underemployed, your best option is to apply with a qualified co-signer with a strong credit profile.

Here’s a bonus tip: Apply to refinance your student loans with multiple lenders at once, not just one. First, it will only count as a single credit inquiry, and second, you will also maximize your changes for approval.

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53% of Small Business Owners Worry Over Cost of Healthcare – Michael Guta

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A recent survey of America’s small business owners suggests more than half or 53% count the cost of providing healthcare insurance for their employees as a key concern.

Worried About the Cost of Small Business Health Insurance

Healthcare costs eat up a huge chunk of the small business operation budget. According to the NFIB’s Index of Small Business Optimism, the biggest challenge for small business owners is healthcare. And the eHealth report, Small Business Health Insurance: Costs, Trends and Insights 2017 indicates close to 80% of small business owners worry about the cost.

While in most cases small business owners operate locally, developments outside their region and other macro trends may also have an impact. These issues include everything from higher healthcare costs to taxes and regulations which affect day to day operations.

In the press release announcing the SmallBiz Loans survey, company CEO Evan Singer points out how these trends affect owners. Singer explains, “The survey illustrates that small business owners are aware of macro trends that may impact their business. But their focus is instead on the day-to-day functions of running their company. And the great news is that the new tax plan is helping to drive immediate growth.”

The new tax plan is important to many small business owners too. According to the survey, 52% of respondents gave changes in the new tax law as a key business consideration. The new tax law has been cited by 35% of business owners as a driver for making changes in their operations, with 10% reporting they are making additional investments in new staff and equipment.

But challenges in recruiting talent also rate high. In this time of low unemployment, finding talent is becoming a big problem for businesses of all sizes. In the survey, 49% of business owners reported finding and hiring quality employees is a top concern. And when it comes to hiring new talent, for nine out of 10 of the respondents experience is more of a priority than education.

As it becomes harder to find qualified employees, 31% of respondents to the survey said they are willing to hire candidates with fewer qualifications and train them. At the same time, small businesses are providing more incentives, with 51% of owners offering flexible working arrangements and another 33% higher wages.

Regarding how small business owners feel about the economy, close to 57% of owners said they remain bullish, stating their outlook over the next 12 months was fairly positive or positive. And as some businesses look to grow, they will require funding.

Funding was another key issue touched upon. Securing this funding is getting easier according to 22% of respondents. But getting this capital has become more expensive, with 49% saying they agree or strongly agree the price of credit has gone up.

The survey was carried out from April 9 through April 17, 2018, with the participation of 289 small business owners across the United States. They were questioned on several subjects including financing, growth plans for the year, hiring, talent, and concern for their businesses.

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What to do When Your Customers Ask For a Discount & Why You Shouldn’t Give Them – Steli Efti

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Everybody wants a deal. Especially your prospects. And while you probably think giving 10% or 20% off isn’t a big deal, giving discounts just to win business can cost you more than money. It can kill your company.

Sure, you probably think I’m being dramatic. You’ve been giving discounts for ages and your revenue and customers are still growing. Right?

The problem is, when your company culture is a discount culture you might win a few battles, but you’ve already lost the war.

SaaS companies today don’t win on being cheap. They win on being valuable.

Let’s start off with the obvious: The SaaS landscape today is more crowded and competitive than ever. You know that when a prospect is talking to you, they’re also talking to your competition. And somewhere in the negotiation, that prospect is going to ask you for a discount.

And so you think “If this customer is willing to offer their solution at that price, I can too, or even a little lower. Just to win the business.” The problem is, once you start down this path, it’s almost impossible to get off it.

You’ve positioned your company as being the cheapest solution, rather than the most valuable.

Want to get better at handling discount requests and other objections? Get our free objection management template!

When you offer discounts, that’s all people think about your company. We’ve seen this exact situation happen in the consumer goods space. The market gets so crowded and undifferentiated that customers will only pick either the cheapest option or the brand they know and trust.

In SaaS, the only way to win on price is to be free. And you can’t build a company like that.

Instead, I truly believe the winning SaaS companies of today and tomorrow will win on value and they’ll win on brand. And you can’t have either if you’re just trying to be the cheapest.

Discount culture creates a weak sales force (and a weak brand)

When you give discounts, you’re setting the wrong example for your team. Instead of going out and selling on your solution’s value and your brand, your salespeople will become transactional. They’ll just give the prospect information and then offer them whatever they want.

Worse than that, your sales team will start offering discounts without even being asked! I’ve seen this happen so many times at SaaS companies and it drives me crazy.

A sales rep is talking to a prospect, they qualify them, there’s a match, they can really deliver value. And when the prospect asks about pricing, the sales rep preemptively goes: “Well, this is our price. But I would give you a good discount.”

Wait a minute. Nobody asked about a discount!

This is a weak sales culture. Your sales reps will always use the easiest tools available, and when they see discounts being given they’ll start to abuse them. They’ll start to think: “Everybody thinks everything is too expensive. Every buyer wants the cheapest, so before they ask, let me just tell them I’m going to give them a discount.”

All of a sudden one of the most vocal voices of your brand—your salespeople—are weak. They’re cheap. And that’s going to reflect on your brand at the end of the day.

You can’t scale because you don’t know what a customer’s actually worth

The other huge issue with discounts is that they make your business completely unpredictable and unscalable.

Instead of a Basic, Pro, and Business plan where you know how much revenue you make for each, you’ve got Customer A with a 12% discount, Customer B with 14%, and Customer C with 2 free user accounts. Good luck trying to build models or forecast your future revenue or even figure out what’s going on with churn.

Those discounts are going to undermine your entire financial structure because you don’t know what a customer’s actually worth. If they remove or add seats, you have no idea what that means in true revenue or churn.

It’s going to cause problems for your support team, your success team, and your marketing team. Even your product people are going to get angry because they’ll have to build all these backend solutions to keep track of billing on all your different discount cases.

You’ll piss off your customers when they find out you’re charging them more than others

Let’s say a slightly larger company aggressively negotiates a big discount. A few months later, a smaller company comes are your sales rep says “this is the best discount we can give. I can’t go any lower.” I guarantee at some point your customers are going to talk to each other. And when they do, the second customer is going to be pissed.

And rightfully so. You lied to them. You betrayed them. And they have every right to get loud and aggressive and drag your brand through the dirt and tell everyone they know about how terrible you are.

This doesn’t mean you can’t give discounts. You just have to do them right.

If you’re just giving our discounts willy nilly, you’re going to get burned. You’re going to destroy your brand, piss off your customers, and create more headaches than that little bit of extra business is worth.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t give out any discounts. You just have to make sure when you do, you do these two things.

First, make sure you’re getting something in return

The problem with discounts is they create abusive customer relationships. Your customer comes in, demands a bunch of things, and you give it to them just for a bit of business. Instead, you need to ask for something in return. This creates a healthy, reciprocal relationship.

In SaaS, that means asking for:

    1. Prepayment: When a customer agrees to sign a long-term contract or prepays for an entire year, you can absolutely give them a discount. You get guaranteed income and predictable cashflow and they get a break on the monthly price. We offer customers of our inside sales CRM a 10% discount if they pay annually instead of monthly.
    2. Case Studies: Trading a bit of a discount for marketing materials is also a good deal. Feel free to offer a discount if a customer is willing to spend a few hours on the phone with your sales team to make a great case study and do some co-promotion.
    3. Referrals and reviews: You can also offer discounts for connections and leads. Ask for a positive review on a specific platform or give discounts if they connect you with other people in the industry who could be strong prospects.

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Second, make sure your discounts are standardized

If you are giving out discounts, you can’t have any flexibility or offer customization. Your sales reps can’t just give them out however they want. You need to have set, predetermined discounts for each of the deals you’re offering.

For example, you could offer 10% for a case study, 15% for prepayment, and 20% for a referral that leads to a new customer. That’s it. There’s no 12% or free seats on offer.

But Steli, what do I do if a customer says they’re not going to buy if I don’t give them a bigger discount than I want to?

There’s always going to be someone who wants more. But you have to draw a line in the sand.

If they’re not willing to work with you, they’re most likely not your ideal customer. At Close.io, we’ve told thousands of businesses “No” when they asked for bigger discounts.

And you know what’s funny? They all get angry. They all scream and yell and tell you there’s no way in Hell they’re going to buy from you at that price. But in my experience, about 50% of the time, they become customers anyways.

It’s just the way they negotiate. They’re trying to get the best deal for their business and you have to respect that. If you have a strong brand and can show the value you provide, there’s a very good chance they’ll choose you anyways.

Of course, there’s one big exception to all of this: Enterprise

As you can tell, I’m sick of seeing discount culture in SaaS companies. But there is one big exception.

If you’re selling to enterprise clients, the way you handle discounts is going to be completely different. You can’t just give them a price and say “this is what it is,” because that’s just not how they work.

Most enterprise companies have a procurement department whose entire job is to get discounts. They have a discount quota to meet, and if you won’t play ball, they’re not even going to consider you.

That’s just the way their organization is built and you’re going to have to go with it if those are your ideal customers.

If you’re trying to win with discounts, you’ve already lost

If you don’t value your solution, your customers won’t either.

So, if you feel like you absolutely have to offer some sort of discount, make sure:

  1. They’re standardized (and don’t budge!)
  2. You’re getting something equally as valuable in return

Sell your prospects on value first and make the discount an added bonus. Not only will this give you a stronger brand, but it will set you down the right path for real, sustainable growth.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure by your donations – Thank you.

 

13 Self-Defeating Mantras Successful Entrepreneurs MUST – Larry Kim

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Stop sabotaging your own best efforts with negative self-talk. It takes almost no time to find articles and stories that will tell you about the good habits or motivational mantras of people who have achieved success in their chosen field.

But, as interesting and inspirational as those articles can be, they only tell half of the story. Many people will read them and instead of being inspired, come away with a dejected and defeated feeling.

“I’ll never be like those successful people,” they say to themselves. “They’re way more committed than I am.”

That’s negative self-talk. We’re all guilty of it from time to time.

There are at least four different types of negative self-talk: filtering, personalizing, catastrophizing and polarizing.

Habits of Unsuccessful People

Here’s a sample of some of the things we may say to ourselves, created by Visme.

1. “This person is always doing this to me…”

This is two forms of negative self-talk in one sentence. It’s filtering because the speaker has filtered out anything positive about their situation and magnified only the negative. And it’s also polarizing, in that the person sees only bad or good (bad, in this case). There’s no middle ground in this sentence.

2. “Great, now my whole day is ruined…”

Catastrophizing is taking one negative situation and exaggerating its effects on the big picture. It could be something as insignificant as getting your coffee order wrong, and yet you’ll let it bring you down to the point where the expression becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. “She/he does it just to upset me…”

This is personalizing, and it means that you’re making something all about yourself (or another specific person) even when it’s really not the case. Remember, most people you encounter really don’t have the time or the desire to go out of their way to target you and make your day miserable.

4. “I totally suck at this…”

Sure, you may run into difficulty with something, but you do yourself no favors when you characterize your situation as something that you “totally suck” at, with no allowance for the possibility that you truly aren’t as bad as you tell yourself.

5. “I’m always in trouble…”

No one is ever “always” in trouble, but thinking that means you will act like it,and acting like it may actually mark you as the type of trouble that no one wants to be around. You can change that!

6. “There’s no way this will work…”

Again, a comment like this leaves room only for negativity. And, why bother to do something if you’re already convinced that it’s doomed to failure? Don’t fall into that mind trap. Whatever it is, give it a try. The outcome may pleasantly surprise you.

7. “No one bothers to tell me anything…”

When you put yourself in the middle of whatever you think is wrong, it becomes easy to identify only with negative situations. Worse, you’re also minimizing your own importance to what’s going on around you. Instead, look for ways to be part of the solution.

8. “It’s impossible…”

We’ve all used this one, right? But few things truly are impossible, unless you convince yourself otherwise, which is exactly what this remark is designed to do. Think instead of why something is or should be not only possible, but probable.

9. “I’ll never be good at anything…”

It’s likely that most of us have been here at one time or another. There’s no allowance for the potential good that can happen. The truth is, we’re all good at something, and many things. Negative self-talk keeps us from focusing on those things. Don’t let it.

10. “They don’t appreciate anything I do…”

The thing you do might well be appreciated more than you know, but for whatever reason, you’re not seeing or hearing it. Rather than convincing yourself that your efforts are for naught, you could ask someone for feedback.They’ll notice and, hopefully, appreciate your initiative.

11. “Other people can do this… I’m such a loser…”

‘If you’re struggling with a particular task, you probably have different strengths that you could focus on instead. And you should consider that other people may not find things as easy as you think. If you find yourself in the same boat with someone else, you could work together to figure out how to help each other succeed.

12. “No one is ever going to want to hire me again…”

A task or a job may not have worked out the way you wanted it to, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of the world. You can take a step back, focus on the things you do well, and start again. No one ever said the road to success was a straight line!

13. “I’m completely alone and no one is ever there for me…”

It may seem like this at times, but you don’t want this to become another self-fulfilling prophecy. A poor attitude really does seem to succeed in keeping us walled off from other people, particularly people who could help us to find a way out of our rut. If you want a friend, you have to be a friend. Reach out. Ask for help if you need it.

Negative self-talk gets in our way, gets into our heads, and distracts us from our goals. It convinces us that there’s no point in trying, because we’ll probably just fail anyway. We’ve all experienced those feelings.

But we forget that failure is an important element of success.

‘It teaches us what works and, equally important, what doesn’t work. It teaches us that nothing worth having will ever come easily.

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Why Bioplastics Made From Seaweed Could Be Indonesia’s Answer To The Plastic Pollution

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The impacts of global plastic use have reached an alarming level. Based on the latest data, 9 billion tonnes of plastics have been produced since the 1950s, creating 7 billion tonnes of waste. Plastic waste not only damages the environment and threaten animal life but also harms human populations.

One of the most dangerous elements of plastic waste is tiny pieces of debris known as microplastics. These are damaging the environment, mostly the ocean, and in much greater amounts than originally thought. A recent study shows the number of microplastics has reached up to 51 trillion particles, or 236,000 metric tonnes, globally. These tiny particles can end up in people’s stomachs via drinking water or eating seafood, which could present health risks.

Various attempts to minimise plastic use have been introduced. One involves developing plastic materials, known as biodegradable plastics or bioplastics, that decompose naturally in the environment.

My research aims to show how seaweed can be the best material for use in bioplastics. This article argues that Indonesia can play a key role in developing seaweed-based plastics.

Policies against plastic

A number of countries have recently introduced policies to encourage the use of degradable plastics and recycling to minimise plastic use.

The UK will ban all sales of single-use plastic, including plastic straws and cotton swabs, next year.

Cities in the US have declared war on plastic straws. Seattle has launched a campaign dubbed “Strawless in Seattle”, while New York is considering a ban on plastic straws.

In 2017, Kenya introduced the toughest plastic bag ban with a penalty of four years in jail or a $40,000 fine.

Finding solutions

However, it is impossible to stop plastic use.

So far, plastic is the most convenient and versatile material for various purposes and brings huge benefits to our lives. People’s continued dependency on plastic has encouraged the rise in the production of plastic now and in the future.

The plastic industry is huge and is expected to continue expanding. In 2014, the plastic packaging industry was valued at US$270 billion and this is projected to increase to $375 billion by 2030.

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One way to control plastic use is through recycling. However, things are not as easy as expected. Plastic products come in a hundred or more varieties. These variations are so huge that it is difficult to sort them out for the recycling process.

Therefore, only about 9% of plastic waste is recycled. Around 12% is incinerated. The rest ends up mostly in landfills or the ocean.

Bioplastics offer an alternative. The bioplastics are commonly made from plants or bacteria and are more environmentally friendly as well as sustainable.

Strong demand for bioplastics

The global bioplastic production capacity will increase to 6.1 million tonnes in 2021 from 4.2 million tonnes in 2016 due to people’s increasing awareness of eco-friendly products.

People have started using bioplastics in their daily lives, with uses ranging from shopping bags and disposable housewares to electronics.

Big brands such as Coca-Cola, Heinz, Unilever, Nestle, Danone and Nike have started using bioplastics for their packaging.

Why seaweed for bioplastics?

The materials commonly used to produce bioplastics are corn, sugarcane, vegetable oil and starch. However, using these ingredients for plastics has raised some concerns.

First, the production of bioplastics requires a huge investment in the land, fertilisers and chemicals. Second, the use of these plants for plastics will trigger a competition between plants for food versus plants for plastics, which will lead to food price hikes and food crisis.

Seaweed is so far the best candidate for bioplastics as it manages to answer both of the challenges above. First, it is cheap. Unlike other terrestrial plants, seaweed can grow without fertilisers. It does not take up huge space on land as it grows offshore. By using seaweed for bioplastics, the production of agricultural commodities for food will remain intact, so no food price hikes nor food crisis will occur.

Indonesia’s key role

Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world and two-thirds of its territory is water. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest seaweed producers, accounting for more than a third of global seaweed production. Indonesia’s seaweed exports were valued at around US$200 million in 2014, with production reportedly increasing at about 30% per year.

Indonesia is also the world’s largest producer of red seaweed, whose carbohydrate element is the key ingredient for bioplastics.

A recent report suggests that Indonesia is a highly suitable place for red seaweed farming due to its climate, nutrients and geographical conditions.

Indonesia is also one step ahead of other countries in developing seaweed-based plastics. Indonesian start-up Indonesia Evoware has invented cups and food containers made from farmed seaweeds and sold them commercially.

The invention shows seaweed’s huge potential as an alternative material for bioplastics. More research is needed to ensure that seaweed-based plastics can be applied to other plastic products. In the future, we hope that seaweed-based plastics will be comparable with conventional plastics.

With its potential, Indonesia should play a key role in developing ecofriendly-plastics from seaweed to avert a global plastic crisis. When water bottles or shopping bags from seaweed-based plastics become waste, we will have nothing to worry about as the waste will just go back to where it came from.

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Crisis Planning: How to Publicly Respond to Business Problems

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In the past, PR agencies focused on crisis communications, and they were able to specialize in it because the crises were so few and far between. Today, somebody can be upset with a flight, a hotel stay, or a Crock-Pot killing a fictional TV character and take to Twitter, Facebook, or any social network where the issue can become blown out of proportion.

Today, everybody has a megaphone because of social media. Before, if you were upset with somebody or something, you told your neighbor, your friends, and your family, but your message was contained to about 30 people. Today, you can be upset about something and share it with thousands of people.

In this environment, it’s important to identify an issue versus a crisis. You have an issue when somebody is antagonizing you or pushing your buttons, but their comments aren’t going to go anywhere. On social media, issues are common and might be painful for a day or two or maybe even a week. But as long as the comments don’t cause reputation or money loss, it’s an issue, not a crisis.

A crisis has the potential to cause a stock price decline or a loss of customers, revenue, or reputation.

A crisis causes adecrease in customers revenue and reputation. Three downward-trending lines in gray, orange, and green respectively with the words Customers, Revenue, and Reputation.

Issues and crises exist on a spectrum, where a troll creating an issue might be a level 1, and the money or reputation loss is a level 10. You need to think about how you respond to each level in between.

I ask whether the Cambridge Analytica story would be a level 10 crisis for Facebook. Gini says she would categorize that crisis as an 8 or 9 because the whole world is talking about that story, so Facebook has taken a reputational hit. However, after Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, stock prices went up. Because Facebook isn’t losing money, the crisis isn’t a 10.

Listen to the show to hear Gini and me discuss how well Facebook handled the Cambridge Analytica crisis.

How to Handle Issues

Gini was recently in a Facebook group conversation with Jay Baer and Mitch Joel about whether to respond to trolls who leave negative, one-star book reviews on Amazon. Mitch Joel suggests not responding because his book won’t be for everybody. However, Jay Baer thinks you should respond to them in order to hug your haters and make them feel warm and fuzzy.

From a crisis perspective, Gini leans more toward Jay Baer’s perspective. Although you’re not necessarily going to change the mind of a troll, a negative reviewer, or the person who’s upset with you, your response can incentivize other people who see your response.

Because people can leave negative things online anywhere at any time, how you respond can mitigate the situation. Gini recommends leaving a professional, non-emotional response one time. If the troll comes back, you can say, “I’d love to have this conversation with you offline. Let’s connect via phone, email, or wherever.” However, don’t continue the conversation via social.

Respond to troll comments with a single professional reply. Illustration shows gray laptop open to screen with dark blue speech bubble that says Troll comment and royal blue speech bubble that says Professional Reply.

If the troll keeps coming back, just ignore them. You’re not going to change that person’s mind, and they may continue to come back. Your one response is for anyone else who reads the negative review. You want them to see that you’ve addressed the comment and tried to be professional about it. Let the rest of the world see that you’re the one who is rational.

Weigh all the possible outcomes of all possible scenarios.I then ask how you predict whether an issue will blow over or escalate. Gini says you do this through your crisis communication planning, which involves looking at every scenario, how many people it will impact, and how you’ll respond. A troll is one person causing an issue; however, involvement of 100 people is a higher-level issue or crisis. Your planning helps you navigate these questions.

I share a story from the early days of Social Media Marketing World when a song we posted on YouTube was picked up by Gawker, which wrote an extremely negative review. Suddenly, the video of this song was trending in the top 10 on YouTube for all the wrong reasons, we were on VH1, and the media was reaching out wanting to talk to the employee who was part of the song.

After a lot of internal communications and talking to Gini, we decided to let the issue ride and not speak about it publicly because it was primarily people making fun of a piece of content that we produced.

Gini remembers how we discussed that this issue wouldn’t hurt our reputation or financial position. The people interested in this issue weren’t potential society members or event attendees, because a customer supports you. The outside world had seized on the issue for no real reason other than to make fun of social media marketers.

After letting the issue ride, it didn’t seem to hurt us at all. That’s an example in which talking about the issue would have helped it continue.

Listen to the show to hear more about how we handled negative reactions to the song.

Employee-Related Problems

Sometimes, an internal company issue like an employee’s behavior or the company’s financial problems become public issues, too. How you handle these issues depends in part on how transparent you are with your organization.

For instance, Buffer is known for opening up its doors and windows and letting everybody see everything. So if Buffer were having internal issues, like serious financial problems, Gini would recommend disclosing those problems because doing so is consistent with the way the company does business.

The Buffer web page for radical company transparency has a dark background with the text We Try Our Best To Live Up To Our Value Of Default To Transparency. Here's An Overview Of Everything We've Made Transparent At Buffer. A blue Learn More button appears below the text.

However, most companies aren’t as transparent as Buffer, and for those companies, the level of transparency they need depends on the situation.

As an example, an employee at Gini’s company was accused of plagiarizing somebody else’s content. After the employee assured Gini the content wasn’t plagiarized and Gini compared the two articles, Gini talked to the accuser and stood up for the employee. However, 2 months later, Gini discovered clear evidence that the employee actually did plagiarize the article.

After discovering this evidence, Gini decided to respond both privately and publicly. Working closely with her attorney to avoid unnecessary liability or other legal issues, Gini apologized to the accuser and let him know the employee had been let go. She also wrote a case study for her company’s blog that explained what happened. After Gini got in front of the problem, it completely went away.

Employees’ public commentary on hot-button issues via their personal platforms can also impact your business. Gini says how you handle an issue like this also depends on the specifics.

When an employee blends business and personal content, the issue becomes kind of blurry.However, if an employee uses a personal page or social profile to discuss the company, the employee has crossed the line from the personal to the professional. You have to be careful with freedom of speech; you can’t fire somebody for a personal post on a social network. However, when the employee blends business and personal content, the issue becomes kind of blurry.

Generally, you start by talking to the employee. Remind them that because they post about the business on their personal profile, they represent the company, especially to customers and clients who are connected with the employee via their social profile. When an employee mixes business and personal content, they need to know their opinions can misrepresent the company.

To avoid confusion, you can insist employees add a note to their personal social bios that explicitly states their posts do not reflect the opinion of the company. When you ask employees to do this, you might also explain that the company avoids certain topics to remain inclusive of customers or clients with different viewpoints. Most people are pretty receptive to this request.

When an employee in a leadership position at the company or a thought leader your company works with makes a public mistake, the things your company does to manage its reputation when it’s not in a crisis help the company overcome these situations. When you consistently work on building and maintaining a good reputation, people are forgiving when you make a mistake. We are all human.

For instance, when Gini publicly stated that she made a gigantic mistake about the plagiarism issue, her company had fierce, engaged, loyal brand ambassadors who came to her defense.

Listen to the show for examples of hot-button issues employees might be discussing via their personal social media profiles.

Leadership and Company Transparency

Because marketers often want leaders of the company to be more transparent, I ask Gini for her thoughts about encouraging transparency. Gini says when she’s encouraging a new client to be more transparent, she starts by suggesting the executive or CEO walk around the business.

An executive can actually walk the manufacturing floor and talk to the people who work there.

To illustrate, at a manufacturing company, the executive would actually walk the manufacturing floor and talk to the people who work there. For a virtual organization, the executive can pop into Zoom or Skype with somebody on your team once a week or once a day. At a retail location, the executive talks to employees who work on the floor.

When the company leader first starts doing that, people are self-conscious. However, this regular interaction allows the company leader to hear what challenges and issues employees are having in the tactical environment. The leader also becomes a much more transparent, approachable boss, and that’s what you want.

Gini adds that convincing a company leader to try this approach isn’t easy for internal employees. Typically, convincing a leader to be more transparent takes an outside counsel. People like experts better than whomever they have on their team, which is dumb but it’s how humans are. If you’re having trouble making this happen, try bringing in an expert from outside the company.

Transparency can ake the form of lunch and learns.For one of Gini’s biggest clients, this transparency takes the form of lunch and learns. Every quarter, employees elect 10 colleagues to have lunch with the CEO. During this lunch, the employees and CEO can talk about anything and everything.

At first, these interactions between the CEO and employees were awkward because people either didn’t want to say anything or weren’t sure the CEO was open to hearing their challenges, issues, or ideas. However, after 5 years of the lunch program, people feel more comfortable. They discuss their ideas and challenges, and the CEO fixes them.

After the company leader starts talking to employees regularly in this way, these interactions foster transparency and authenticity in the company leader’s public communications, too. The idea is that the employee interactions help the leader become more familiar with talking about what’s happening in the company, whether that’s good or bad.

I mention my live video about Facebook algorithm changes on January 11. In this video, I shared my concerns that the changes could be the beginning of the end for exposure in the news feed. Although some critics thought I was fear-mongering, most people appreciated hearing from me because they respected the company.

I never could have done that live video if I hadn’t been practicing and talking publicly about things transparently through our live show. That practice helped me share an opinion that resonated with our audience. And because I was able quickly to go live and talk about my honest feelings about this situation, that video was watched almost 600,000 times and resulted in press opportunities.

Gini says that such transparency is rewarded. Moreover, it makes great content and sets you apart from everyone else because you have something unique to say that not everybody else is saying.

Also, Gini emphasizes that there’s a difference between being transparent and being antagonistic. Transparency is sharing the opinion that the Facebook algorithm changes might actually be a bigger deal than we think. Being antagonistic could be lambasting Facebook and suggesting everyone delete their account.

Listen to the show to hear Gini and me discuss more about encouraging company leaders to be transparent.

Crisis Planning

You can’t develop your crisis plan when you’re in the middle of a crisis. It’s too late because you become emotional in the moment. You’ll respond differently than you would if you had a plan.

A crisis plan is like an insurance policy in two ways. First, as soon as you have a plan, Murphy’s Law says that you won’t have a crisis. More importantly, if you do have a crisis, you avoid paying a crisis firm a gazillion dollars you don’t have to manage the crisis or floundering through the crisis yourself. To create a plan, you develop scenarios, prepare messaging, rehearse and role-play how you’ll handle them, and revisit the plan every quarter.

Brainstorm every single scenario that could possibly happen.Scenarios: To develop your crisis scenarios, involve a handful of people. A smaller business might involve customers, friends, advisors, mentors, and so on. A bigger company needs to involve people from different departments who can bring multiple viewpoints to the process.

For at least 2 hours, ask your group to brainstorm every single scenario that could possibly happen. These scenarios might include trolls who are after your company, public intoxication of the CEO, or extramarital affairs. You can use the experience of other businesses, too. For example, what’s your company’s version of Crock-Pot being accused of killing a fictional TV character?

After you develop your scenarios, organize them into levels from 1 to 10. After you assign each scenario a level, determine what escalates a scenario from level 1 to level 2, and so on. When your group is done with this phase, your team of people can go back to work.

Prepared messaging: Your company’s lead marketer or communicator needs to build an unpublished landing page or microsite that can be published the moment you become aware of a crisis. The messaging would be generic, and you can add details later. The generic messaging includes a note that you’re working on the issue, what you’re doing, and when people can expect an update.

Also, make sure you understand how Facebook Live works, so if you need to have your executives on video talking about things that are happening in a generic way, you can do that immediately.

For both the website and Facebook Live messaging, make sure your legal team preapproves what you’ll say so you don’t have to wait hours for legal approval when you’re in the midst of a crisis.

In case the crisis takes down your website or your main way of interacting with your audience, make sure you have different places where people can get information, based on whatever your crisis is. For instance, how often do people go to Facebook to complain that Twitter is down?

Role-play: Gini believes that role-playing is the most important part of developing your crisis plan. It also helps you manage your reputation and communicate transparently. In a role-play, you actually conduct an interview or pretend an angry mob is coming after you. This practice will truly prepare you for the crisis and take the emotion out of your response.

In other words, you want to identify the key people who’ll publicly respond in a crisis and rehearse what they’ll say in the event that a scenario actually occurs. Then, if the crisis occurs, the spokesperson is responding to the crisis based on the plan, not how they feel at the moment.

Another part of role-playing is learning to handle questions. To illustrate, when Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, he knew how to respond to questions he didn’t have an answer to. His messaging was well-prepared, and nothing seemed to faze him.

Review: After you develop the whole plan, you review it once per quarter. The goal isn’t to repeat the entire process but to make sure the messaging is updated. Gini strongly recommends role-playing each quarter, because role-playing media interviews is beneficial even without a crisis. For example, role-play can improve live and recorded videos, speaking engagements, and so on.

Listen to the show to hear Gini and me discuss bringing in a professional to help with crisis management.

Discovery of the Week

Lately offers a cool online scanner that helps you review the consistency of your branding across social media platforms.

The Lately Consistency Scanner page has a green background and two text boxes, one for a website address and another for an email address. Above the text boxes is white text that says How Effective Is Your Marketing? Next to the text boxes is a black button that says Scan My URL For Free.

To use Lately’s Consistency Scanner, enter your website and email into the online tool. It then displays your profile picture, bio, and naming scheme on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and so on and gives you a grade on how consistent these elements are. With the report, you can easily see how to adjust your social profiles so they’re more consistent.

If everyone who reads our articles and likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5, you can donate us – Thank you.

5 Reasons Alibaba Is Just Going to Go Up From Here – Natalie Walters

Alibaba founder Jack Ma celebrate onstage during Alibaba's annual party

Alibaba (NYSE: BABA) has reported over 50% revenue growth in the past eight quarters. The Chinese e-commerce giant just won’t stop growing, and investors are taking notice. Alibaba’s stock has gone up about 122% in the past two years, including a 63% climb in just the past year to a still relatively cheap $196.61.

But despite the run-up, Alibaba still has plenty more room to run. For the upcoming fiscal year, the company is guiding for another impressive year of revenue growth of 60%. And while Alibaba still relies on its e-commerce platforms for the bulk of its revenue, its other projects are showing healthy growth and will contribute more and more in the coming years.

1. Alibaba’s revenue growth is strong

Alibaba’s revenue growth has been the highlight of the past two years, with each of the eight quarters showing over 50% growth.

Its annual revenue gives a better picture of how the company’s growth has really taken off in the past two years. For the past four fiscal years ended in March, Alibaba has reported revenue growth of 45%, 33%, 56%, and 58%, respectively. As you can see in the chart below, that means Alibaba’s revenue has more than doubled since 2015 from $19.5 billion to $40 billion.

 Fiscal Year  BABA Revenue Growth  BABA Revenue
 2015  45%  $19.5 billion
 2016  33%  $15.7 billion
 2017  56%  $23 billion
 2018  58%  $40 billion
 2019 (expected)  60%  TBA

Data source: Quarterly earnings press releases.

And Alibaba is expecting revenue growth to continue this exciting trend with 60% growth for fiscal 2019. If you were to exclude the consolidation of food delivery platform Ele.me and logistics network Cainiao, revenue growth is still expected to be over 50%.

But even 50% growth might be a low estimate, because Alibaba tends to be cautious with forecasts. For the 2018 fiscal year, Alibaba originally guided for 45% to 49% revenue growth before revising it to between 55% and 56% growth and, ultimately, hitting 58% growth. And for the 2017 fiscal year, Alibaba originally guided for 48% growth but ended up hitting 56% growth. So as high as 60% and even 50% revenue growth might seem for 2019, they may actually be low estimates.

2. Alibaba’s New Retail initiatives are taking off

Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma believes he can help save brick-and-mortar stores by giving them a “New Retail” makeover that combines the best of offline and online shopping. This is important for Alibaba’s growth because e-commerce still only accounts for 20% of shopping in China, while offline accounts for the other 80%, according to eMarketer. So Alibaba needed a way to gain access to those brick-and-mortar sales it had been missing out on.

By helping physical stores move online, Alibaba is attempting to digitize all of China’s retail market, Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsai said on the latest earnings call. If the project continues as planned, Alibaba’s total addressable market (TAM) will one day be all of China’s $5 trillion retail market, according to Tsai. This presents a huge growth opportunity for Alibaba to expand its TAM.

Right now, Alibaba’s main New Retail projects include Hema supermarkets, Intime department stores, and Tmall Import. For the last quarter, Alibaba said its China commerce retail segment’s 56% revenue growth to $6.4 billion was largely a reflection of the growth in its New Retail projects.

3. Alibaba’s international growth is heating up

Another area that holds huge growth potential for Alibaba is international markets. For the past fiscal year ended in March, Alibaba’s international commerce retail revenue shot up 94% year over year to $2.3 billion.

Alibaba is using its Lazada business to aggressively pursue the Southeast Asia e-commerce market. In the past quarter, Alibaba announced that it would invest $2 billion in the business, bringing its total investment into Lazada to about $4 billion. And Alibaba’s other main international business, Tmall Global, is the top cross-border e-commerce platform in China, according to Analysys.

4. Alibaba still has plenty of room to run in China

With a population of 1.4 billion people who are still gradually moving to online shopping, China still holds big potential for Alibaba. Last year, China as a whole saw an increase of 32.3% in online sales to $1.1 billion, according to the China Ministry of Commerce. And Alibaba’s Tmall platform that operates in China already claims 51.3% of all those online sales in China, according to eMarketer.

But with New Retail, Alibaba stands to benefit even more from China’s retail economy. The country’s total retail sales are expected to grow 10% annually to reach $7.2 trillion by 2020, according to the Ministry of Commerce. If Alibaba believes that whole market — both online and offline — can become its TAM, then that’s a lot of growth potential in the near future.

5. Alibaba’s cloud segment is on fire

Alibaba’s cloud segment has shown year-over-year revenue growth of over 100% in 10 of the past 12 quarters. For the year ended this past March, Alibaba Cloud’s revenue was up 101% to $2.1 billion.

Alibaba is currently the IaaS market leader in China, claiming 47.6% market share, but it’s also expanding internationally. This past quarter, Alibaba added a cloud data center in Indonesia, which brought its global cloud-computing presence to a total of 18 countries and regions.

The company has plenty of room to run here as well. Alibaba Cloud is the No. 3 worldwide IaaS provider but has just 3% of the market, compared to Amazon‘s (NASDAQ: AMZN) 44.2% and Microsoft‘s (NASDAQ: MSFT) 7.1%, according to Gartner estimates. But Alibaba Cloud is crushing both companies in revenue growth, which is a good indication that it’s working on taking away market share from these two leaders.

 

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U.S. Markets Hits 2-Month High: 5 Top-Ranked Growth Picks – Nalak Das

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Following the easing of tensions between the United States and China, U.S. stock markets hit a two-month high on May 21. Notably, President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports and retaliatory tariffs by China aggravated the market volatility which commenced in February.

However, the two rounds of meetings between the two countries’ high level delegates have prevented tensions from escalating. This positive factor along with robust first-quarter 2018 earnings and strong fundamentals of the U.S. economy signal the persistence of uptrend in the market. Consequently, it will be a prudent decision to pick good growth stocks at the moment to enrich your portfolio.

Wall Street Gains Big on Monday

On May 21, the Dow 30, S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite gained 1.2%, 0.7% and 0.5%, respectively. The blue-chip Dow 30 index gained 298.2 points to close at 25,103.29, its highest since Mar 12. The benchmark index S&P 500 closed at 2,733.01, the index’s highest point in almost nine weeks. Tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite also followed suit closing at 7,394.04. All three major indexes are currently in the green year to date.

Trade War Fears Ease

On March 2018, the United States levied tariffs worth $50 billion on China. Nearly 1,300 Chinese products which were utilized in high-tech sectors bore the brunt of the tariffs. China also retaliated by imposing tariffs worth of $50 billion primarily on U.S. agricultural exports. The Trump administration also gave indications of releasing a list detailing tariffs worth $100 billion on China, fueling fears of a full-fledged trade war.

However, on May 20, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the prospect of a trade war was “on hold” following two rounds of meetings between high-level delegations of the two countries. China agreed to buy larger amounts of U.S. goods, especially energy and agricultural products, in order to reduce $375 billion per annum trade surplus with the United States.

Robust Earnings Momentum   

First-quarter earnings results have been exhibiting strong momentum so far. Total earnings are expected to be up 23.9% from the same period last year on 8.5% higher revenues. This is the highest quarterly earnings growth pace in seven years. For full-year 2018, total earnings for the S&P 500 index are expected to be up 19.4% on 5.8% higher revenues. (Read more: Strong Retail Sector Earnings Growth)

A big driver of these positive revisions is obviously the direct impact of the massive $1.5 trillion (including corporate and personal) tax cuts. The full effect of the tax overhaul is yet to appear in the economy as the measures were implemented in January only.

Our Top Picks

Stock markets momentum remained largely unhindered despite recent volatility. Gradual fading out of trade conflicts, steady economic activities and business-friendly policies adopted by the government will pave the way for further stock market growth.

At this stage, investment in stocks with strong growth potential will be lucrative. Our selection is backed by a good Zacks Growth Score and a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

Our research shows that stocks with a Growth Style Score of A or B when combined with a Zacks Rank #1 or 2 (Buy) offer the best opportunities in the Growth-investing space. We have handpicked five such stocks with a Zacks Rank #1 and Growth Style Score of A.

The chart below shows price performance of our five picks year to date.

If everyone who reads our articles, who likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5, you can donate us – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

New Technologies Allow You to Do Business (and Compete) From Anywhere – Amarillo

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Everyone knows just how much of an impact technology has had on global business, but if there’s one segment that has benefited the most from technological innovation it’s entrepreneurs. With mobile phones, cloud computing, do-it-yourself accounting software and ubiquitous connectivity, business owners can now create successful companies quickly and from anywhere.

However, with so much technology out there, it can be hard to know what programs and tools are essential for getting a company off the ground and growing. There are some must-haves, though, including these five types of tech.

Super-Size Your Storage

In today’s world, most budding businesses need far more storage than their computers can provide. Things like high-resolutions photos, data-heavy PowerPoints and an endless stream of documents will max out CPU storage in no time. Fortunately, cloud-based companies like Dropbox, Box, Apple and Google offer several terabytes of data for a reasonable monthly cost.

These programs also make collaboration easier as you can quickly share files and folders with contractors and employees. Thanks to these storage sites that many small companies can create a global workforce from the start.

Keep Up With Collaboration

Whether you’re in an office or have a remote workforce located in different cities, being able to collaborate and connect with staffers quickly is a must. Over the last few years, sites like Slack, Basecamp, Trello and others have revolutionized the way small business employees interact with one another.

Forget e-mail–you can now send messages to individuals or teams in an instant, you can work together, in real-time, on complex projects, and you can even build camaraderie by creating “channels” dedicated to more social communication. Messages and files are also easily searchable, making it difficult to lose something important.

Crunch The Numbers

As excited you may be about your brilliant idea, you still need to run a business. That means keeping receipts, adding up bills, doing taxes and other more mundane work. While it may still be a good idea to have an accountant nearby, technology can, and should, take care of most of this work.

Quicken, the classic accounting software, is still popular for tax work, but other programs like Wave Accounting, Xero and Zoho Books come with a variety of features like invoicing, payroll, bill payments and other mission critical applications and fall well within the budgets of most small businesses.

Show Your Face

Instant messaging and email only goes so far. In many cases, you still want to see clients or employees face-to-face–maybe you have to walk them through a presentation or just want to catch up. That’s why having a good video program is critical for small businesses today.

You’ll want to find software that allows you hold meetings with multiple participants, share files with people on a call and you may want to be able to record conferences for future viewing. Google Hangouts, Skype for Business, Zoom.us and GoToMeeting are just some of the popular video conferencing sites to choose from. While it may not be quite as good as a face-to-face meeting, it saves a fortune in travel costs and wear and tear.

Set Up A Store

There was once a time when creating a consumer-focused e-commerce website was a painstaking process. Now, though, sites like Shopify and Tictail let even the smallest companies create sleek websites with all the e-commerce fixings. Companies like these have been a boon to entrepreneurs-

They let users create online shops in snap and take a variety of payment options, such as credit card and PayPal, so that every potential customer can buy what you’re selling. It only takes a few hours to get a store up and running and turn your company into a potentially global business.

While there are plenty of other useful technologies out there–security software, customer relationship management programs and so on–incorporate these five tools into your budding business and you could find yourself ahead of the competition in no time.

If everyone who reads our articles, who likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5 you can donate us – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.