In a world of picture perfect Instagram posts, potential home buyers want (and expect) their next dream home to look as good as the pictures online. While some blame can be placed with today’s expert real estate photographers, who can make the smallest and dullest of properties pop in the MLS listing, the reality is that home buyers have more tools at their disposal than ever before. Buyers can view hundreds of homes online in a weekend, compare pricing, research tax values and school ratings, and even determine how many steps they need to walk to the nearest Starbucks. What this means for home sellers is that it is a lot more competitive to sell your home today. Unless you’re living down the street from the next planned Amazon headquarters, home sellers today can experience just as much stress as buyers looking for one.
Unfortunately, the home buying/selling experience has always been somewhat lopsided with more sympathy going towards the buyer. There are home buyer education courses for new couples just starting out to ensure they understand the financial commitment. There are special loans for military and teachers. There are appraisers, inspectors, and all that information online, which all go towards protecting the buyer. Sellers on the other hand can easily be looked upon as the home owner with lots of equity who will walk away with plenty of money at closing. Even among Realtors, the listing agent is looked upon as the glamorous million-dollar seller who simply has to put a sign in the yard, while the poor buyer’s agent schleps buyers around for 30 homes – we pity the buyer and their agent.
In practice, both sides of a real estate transaction are tough, just for different reasons. In a seller’s market we find that home owners often think their home should sell in less than 30 days, but that’s not what a seller’s market means. This is especially true if the seller has put money upfront for a photographer, fresh paint, new carpet, and more. Home owners selling older homes can be even more frustrated as buyers still expect move-in ready homes. The fact is, there are so many things that factor into why one home sells in less than a week and a similar home on the same block may take 3 months. Everything from initial listing price to the side of the street the home is located on, can impact the pool of potential buyers. With so many resources for buyers, it makes sense for sellers to have help too.
It’s been shown time and again that when two parties have more knowledge about a transaction, better expectations are set. When better expectations are set it leads to less misunderstandings and hopefully a smoother real estate transaction. If a buyer is looking for a rock-bottom deal, and a home owner thinks their place is a “palace” it makes for a miserable time for everyone involved.
Today’s home sellers shouldn’t feel like the market is against them and that they will never be able to sell their home. Yes, times have changed and the dream of home ownership may not be as strong today as it was for buyers in the 70’s and 80’s. But like most everything, people’s viewpoints come in cycles, so the best thing to do is educate yourself and understand that selling a home may not just be planting a sign in the yard.
Learn more about the FREE online course for Texas home sellers today.
Whether you’re a local fitness coach or celebrity personal trainer one thing that’s common is that you have little time to think about marketing. While Instagram and other social media have taken over as the “go to” tactics for building your audience, these channels can consume a lot of your time. Recording those workout routines at the local gym requires equipment, possibly a partner if you want dynamic shots, and then there is the video editing and posting to your channels. And if you’re building your client base, you will need to spend additional time answering all the posts that come as a result of your video uploads. Multiply this several times a month, if not per week, and it’s easy to forget that your primary goal needs to be on building your body and mind.
SMS text message marketing can be an alternative, or at a minimum, supplement what you’re already doing on social media. Text messaging is extremely personal, and is almost too easy to abuse. No one wants a message from a stranger popping up as a text alert on their smartphone, especially in the middle of work or late at night while on a date with your significant other. For this reason, many businesses have shied away from using bulk text messaging as a marketing tactic. Today, the only businesses that will use it regularly are often doctors and dentists who don’t want you to miss your appointment that was made 6 months ago.
But there is a huge opportunity that is being missed by many service-based businesses that have less than say, 100 customers or clients. SMS marketing is a very cost effective way to reach these customers and say top of mind when done properly. No one needs a sales alert every week when they only shop at your store twice per year, but if you’re a trainer, you should be engaging with your client base at least 1-2x per month, if not weekly, in person.
In between those one-on-one in person training sessions text marketing can shine. It doesn’t require you to constantly be “on” with a camera in your face to catch every workout. Text marketing is quick, requires no additional equipment other than access to your account, and you can even schedule when you want your text messages to go out. Here’s just a few ways personal trainers can use text message marketing to enhance their business:
The key to making text marketing work is understanding that simplicity and moderation is key. Keep messages short and to the point, and for most fitness coaches, 1-2 bulk SMS messages sent to all your clients each month is more than enough communication to stay engaged. Weekly may be too much unless your whole service is about pushing clients each week. Another thing to remember is that building your list is a slow process where your tell clients to text a keyword to your special number. It's not about loading all their mobile numbers into your platform when they didn't ask to opt-in. This is a quick way to annoy people.
If you’re interested in learning more about SMS text message marketing, checkout TXTsigns.com. Not only can personal trainers get access to a great text marketing platform in the cloud, but TXTsigns will even manage those communications if the trainer wants a completely hands-off approach – all for a very low rate.
Whether you’re building a new business or building your net worth, having a good credit score is critical to meeting your financial goals. What many consumers may not know is that your FICO score, developed by the company, Fair Isaac, periodically changes not just due to your spending habits. Fair Isaac changes the formula used to calculate your FICO score every few years and a new version will start to get traction in 2020. You may see lenders start to adopt the new model called FICO 10 Suite.
Many lenders have “credit score” embedded into their own financial models, so the rollout takes time, but it’s important to know about these changes coming so you’re not caught by surprise. Even if your auto dealer is an early adopter, they’re not going to tell you, “Hey, we’re using FICO 10” when you go to buy a new car in 2020.
Ironically, like most things in life, the goal line gets moved just as soon as you’re about to cross it. Since the 2007 housing market crash, most consumers have been steadily working their way out of debt, and credit scores have improved. One report from Experian pegs the average score at over 700 in 2019. So with so many consumers with high credit scores, lenders need a better way to differentiate borrowers who on the surface all seem like good investments. Hence, FICO’s new model will take into account things like personal loans which have become very popular over the past few years in helping people consolidate credit card debt. This will now be a separate category and could negatively impact your score if you have a personal loan and still have high credit card balances.
Ultimately, the best way to beat FICO and lenders at their own game is to eliminate all debt – starting with credit card and car loans. Build your emergency fund so you don’t have to rely on credit cards when things go south like a job loss or health issue. And most important, keep pushing to create additional streams of income.
Read more about the FICO 2020 Credit Score Changes.
SMS, technically known as Short Message Service, and simply known as texting, is used by millions of mobile users each and every day to quickly communicate everything from dinner reservations and doctor appointments to letting a teen update their parents on their whereabouts. Big businesses like retail and your favorite restaurants use SMS marketing to alert you of sales and 10% off your next burrito. The beauty of SMS marketing is that it is now dirt cheap for even the smallest of businesses and the results can be just as impactful as the big guys.
If you run a business with less than 10 clients, you may be able to get away with texting each client a separate text message when you have some update about your business. But what we’re talking about is using mass SMS marketing to communicate your message with hundreds or even thousands of clients simultaneously – setting up autoresponders when someone joins your SMS list and being able to track it. This ultimately builds better engagement with customers, helping your business grow.
A recent report claimed that some mobile users check their phone unknowingly up to 80 times per day. While I’m certainly nowhere near that rate, that staggering fact does partially explain why text messages have an open rate in the high double-digits (70-80%) compared to emails that can sit unread in an inbox for days with an open rate below 20%.
So what businesses can benefit most from SMS marketing? Typically service businesses where you have recurring customers that need your service several times a year, or even every month. But even businesses that sell you a one-time large purchase, like an auto dealer, have found ways to continually engage you by text – think oil change reminders and offers to trade in your vehicle.
Here are our picks for small businesses that can increase customer engagement and grow their client base through the use of SMS marketing:
CPAs and Tax Preparers – This type of business has clients that include individuals and business owners. While most only have to worry about filing taxes once per year, there are a lot of tax tips that people often forget throughout the year. SMS marketing is a great way to send tax tips periodically.
Real Estate Wholesalers – There are a lot of real estate investors in almost every city looking for the next great property to rehab and flip. Wholesalers who want to quickly alert their real estate investors about a new property they have under contract can definitely benefit from the speed of SMS marketing.
Local Restaurants – If you own a local coffee shop or cupcake place, you want customers coming back at least several times a year. SMS marketing is a great way to promote discounts to customers that join your exclusive SMS mailing list.
Handyman – If you run a handyman business then you clearly know that most homeowners often forget or don’t have time to do basic maintenance on their homes throughout the year. Reminders to check smoke alarms, replace the HVAC air filters and more can all be sent as part of a recurring SMS marketing campaign. When homeowners see your texts, they’ll be more likely to call you to finally fix something else that’s been broken in their home for months.
Fitness Coaches and Personal Trainers – This is an easy one. Most people are not self-motivated to work out on a regular schedule. Blasting your clients text messages once per week is a constant way to keep them honest about their workout routines.
Tutors – This one most people don’t think about. Maybe you offer SAT prep services to a group of high school students in your community. A great way to keep them fresh in prep for exams is to send out a new math problem each week or maybe send them to a web page with a new set of problems to solve each month.
Massage Therapists – People who have experienced the benefits of regular massage tend to go back, but sometimes life gets busy. Monthly health reminders and wellness tips will keep your clients engaged and they will in turn remember to make an appointment with you.
Hair and Nails – The plight women go through to keep “their look” should not be lost on anyone. However, there is probably not a woman on the planet who hasn’t gone longer than they wanted to just due to life getting in the way, once again. Hairdressers and nail salons can use SMS marketing to promote their discounts regularly, which is usually enough incentive to get people back in the door.
Auto Mechanics – If you run a local auto shop, the list of SMS reminders you can send to your client base is almost endless. You can text everything from winterization reminders, to safe driving tips. When something really breaks, drivers will be more likely to use your shop.
There are many more types of businesses that can benefit from SMS marketing, but hopefully this spurs some thoughts on how you can use this powerful tool to stay top of mind in a busy, mobile-driven world.
You can start your own SMS campaigns for less than $20 per month which gives you the ability to send a few texts each month. More than once per week tends to get viewed as spam, so you want to be careful in your text marketing strategy.
If you’re ready to start SMS marketing, a great place to visit is TXTsigns.com to learn more.
There are lots of reasons why people start their own business, but most people fall into one of three categories:
If you're really lucky in life, you may find the perfect calling that meets all three reasons above, but for many, they'll have to pick which reason is most important. Ask any person who owns a local restaurant and they'll often tell you it not only consumes their life, but the lives of their entire family. Ask an artist if they think they'll ever become rich and most accept they're not doing it for the money. So before you start any business, you must first be honest with yourself and truly know the reason for doing so. Passion can turn into a grind if someone is paying you for something that must be produced at a certain time, under a certain cost. Most startup businesses will require you to put in way more than 40 hours/week to make them successful. If you fall into the first category and really want to generate more income, then there are certain things you must keep in mind.
The greatest disservice ever done to entrepreneurs was convincing them that they could start any profitable business with just a few thousand (if not, few hundred) dollars. We’ve seen the stories too many times, where someone has an idea, uses their savings, maybe borrows money from a few friends, and then it's off to Shark Tank where they tell their story about a million-dollar business in just a few years. The reality is that these stories do exist, but there are so many factors that go into what works and what doesn’t, and why so many small businesses experience the exact opposite of these stories.
Is It Good Enough?
I’ve been guilty of the syndrome of taking too long to build an idea, then going to market with a product or service nobody wants, while trying to do it under-capitalized. It is the trifecta of terrible entrepreneurship. I simply refer to it as “2 Years and $2,000” as that's the amount of time and money I spent on one idea that really was a hobby.
If your primary goal for starting a business is Reason #1, then you must be laser-focused on "creating" new money, while not draining your soul and your wallet, leading to more expenses. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to build out the most unbelievable product or service, trying to get everything perfect. It’s very easy to fool yourself into thinking that you have to have a nice logo, cool business name, and perfect product for people to buy from you. Going down this path leads to months and months of "ideating," designing, refinement, while no money is coming in. Yet money and time is going out. Before you know it, two years have gone by and you haven’t made a cent.
Does Anybody Care?
If you want to make money quickly, pick a product or service that people will pay for that doesn’t need any frills. I’m always amazed that even in our digital age, some of the best plumbers, lawn care services, and other owners of necessary businesses can make six figures and not have a website or even a business card. When you offer something people need and do good work, the referrals and subsequent business just comes. Don’t take two years trying to invent the next great thing, when you’re primary goal is to generate income and hopefully invest some of that money into passive vehicles.
My wife often jokes that I wasn’t meant for this world as I’m that person that always likes the unpopular stuff. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve liked a new restaurant or product from a grocery store that went out of business or stopped being sold. Because of this, I’ve found myself coming up with ideas that I think are great but don’t get others nearly as excited. Being an entrepreneur with an engineer's mind is tough. You are trying to build a new product while teaching people why it’s an innovation that people should get excited about. This method is another time and money trap for building wealth when the likelihood of being the next Mark Zuckerberg is slim-to-none. Pick a product or service that people already understand and you can instantly work on targeting a well-defined audience who have already expressed a desire for that product. This is not to say you shouldn’t dream or come up with new ideas. If that truly makes you happy, then you should do that – just note that may mean not reaching your original financial goals as early as you would like (or ever).
Can You Market It?
Another piece of advice also hits close to home for me when building a business. I remember growing up in the 80’s seeing those Honda commercials where they said it was the car that sells itself. I often thought that many of my business ideas would result in products that just sold themselves. As I got older, I realized that I could probably find the cure for cancer and still die broke if I couldn’t find a way to market it. Having a sales and marketing budget is critical when trying to launch a new business. There have been so many scams not just in your neighborhood, but even on Wall St. (think WeWork) that people are naturally skeptical. Marketing is critical to getting your business out there; don't fool yourself into thinking otherwise. If you don’t have both the time and money, then you must seriously consider whether you’re ready to go into business or are you better off getting a second job and pouring all that money into investments. I heard one entrepreneur say that he has many ideas each week, but they're just passing thoughts; he won't start any venture unless he's willing to spend the next 3-5 years putting a real effort into making it work. Most people give up after a year and are lucky if they make it to year two.
Who Do You Know?
One last thing you should consider in building your business is understanding the size of your network. The smaller your network, the more time and money you will need to market it. Many of those amazing success stories you hear come from entrepreneurs that had a little help from a strong network of people that could help buy, promote, or sell their product. This is why it is sometimes easier for children of celebrities to start their own clothing line, or cosmetics brand - they have access to a network that gives them an instant boost. Without this, you’re spending like crazy on everything from advertisements to reviews and never hitting critical mass.
There is no one exact way to reach your financial dreams, so consider what works best for you. If building a side business is a means to an end, make sure you define the parameters such that it is truly a side business and not a pit of money, time, and energy for the next ten years. There's nothing wrong with keeping something small for some extra funds each month. Alternatively, if you want to be on Shark Tank, that's great too, just understand the sacrifices that will need to be made. A successful venture requires a lot of thought and smart planning, and sometimes you realize maybe just having a hobby is okay too.
Welcome to StepChange (StpChg). A blog about personal finance, small business, and investing.