Why the Rise of DIY Business Tools Is Good for Women Business Owners

by Shelton on February 7th, 2015

filed under Personal Funding

Its the age of the entrepreneur, and perhaps even more significantly, the time is ripe for the rise of the woman entrepreneur.

Internet businesses, cloud computing and DIY business tools have created a world in which the barriers that once existed to starting a small or micro business have all but crumbled. Theres no need for a physical office, a large support staff or much (if any) overhead.

And this is good for female entrepreneurs in particular. While women have been creating small businesses at a faster rate than men for the past 20 years, the majority of them have been at-home micro businesses (5 employees or fewer). Yet estimates suggest that women-owned businesses will be responsible for more than half of the 9.72 million new small business jobs expected to be created by 2018.

The trend is clear: Its a good time to be a woman starting a business, and the rise of DIY business tools is an important factor.

No corner office necessary

Many Gen-Y and Millennial women are burning out early on corporate life or forgoing the corporate ladder completely in favor of creating their own business. The Guardian Life Index, a survey used to help understand American small business owners, cites office politics as one of the main factors women leave the corporate rat race for their own business. They often find that corporate values dont mirror their own.

And women dont necessarily hold out that corner office or C-level position as the ultimate metrics of success. Our version of success might be staying home with the family — or traveling the world, not tied to a single office location.

Enter DIY business tools.

Because its now possible to run your entire business from your laptop, and most of the software is in the cloud, you can literally run a business from anywhere with an Internet connection. Your scheduling assistant, graphics program, even your word processor and databases are all living in the cloud.

That sort of flexibility and location independence used to be reserved for larger corporations but these trends are affecting work-at-home mums and globe-trotting solopreneurs as well. It means that women no longer have to choose between the work they love and the life they want to live.

Breaking barriers

These DIY digital tools are changing the way business is done, and breaking down many of the barriers that have traditionally existed for women who wanted to start a business.

Take start-up costs as just one example.

Women are statistically less likely to seek or receive outside funding to start a business, and are much more likely to support their small business with personal funding like personal savings or even credit cards.

But with the advent of DIY digital business tools, the cost of starting a business has reduced dramatically. For the cost of a domain name and web hosting, a woman can hang out her digital shingle and start a business.

The knowledge barrier has also crumbled. No longer do you have to be fluent in code to create a professional looking website for your business. Or build an app. Or create a forum for your clients to interact. These tasks, once the domain of only specially trained coders and developers, are now DIY-ready.

Its reported that 59 percent of small business owners who have a website built it themselves, and of those, 80 percent are their own webmaster.

This has broken down so many barriers to starting a business, you literally just need a laptop, something to sell, and your imagination.

Employees picnics via Skype

Because starting a web-based business like this is so easy and inexpensive, theres a true movement growing of Internet entrepreneurs redefining the way success and work look. And that, too, is good news for women business owners.

Youre no longer limited by location to find the best help. Because other workers are turning the the world wide web for their businesses and careers, its increasingly simple to assemble an entire virtual team. No need for a physical office; they too are happy to work from home.

My life is physically based in Australia, yet many of my coaching clients come from the US, the UK, Canada, and other countries around the world. I work with freelancers in several different countries, who I may never meet face-to-face. Yet they are an integral part of my business.

This movement is of special import for women business owners, because support communities and tribes are growing up around this particular way of life. In the same way that traditional corporations have been old boys clubs, women are making their own new girls clubs online to support one another in business. And its a network and support system that has been sorely lacking for women in the traditional business world.

Now more than ever, the world really is our oyster, and women are leaping on these opportunities. Its a leveling of the playing field that has been a long time coming, and a trend that shows no signs of dying out.

Cat LeBlanc is a Business Strategist Venture Catalyst. Which means she has an uncanny talent for turning your brilliance into a profitable ( liberating) business. When Cats not guiding emerging entrepreneurs to their new business breakthrough, shes in the spa with her partner, sipping cider, surrounded by ferns, soaking in the sweet freedom shes created for herself (and wants for you). Find out more at catleblanc.com and pick up your FREE Business Idea Starter Kit here.

Credit Scores: How to boost them, what can sink them

by Shelton on February 7th, 2015

filed under Credit Scores

INDIANAPOLIS –

If you dont know your credit score, you should.

Those three critical numbers could literally save you tens of thousands of dollars.

It takes work and raising your score is harder than making a mistake and lowering it. But credit scores dont have to be a mystery – and its possible to boost them with some simple, consistent financial habits.

Its that magic number that to many, seems mysterious: a critical three digit code with so much power over our financial lives.

Its like a jigsaw puzzle, said Sharif Parvanta of Indianapolis.

It was very confusing at first, understanding What is your credit score? How do you build your credit score? How do you maintain it? said Tyler Roberts of Fishers.

People become afraid and so it seems like it is a mystery, but its really not, explained Apprisen Credit Counseling division manager Lisa Piercefield.

A credit score predicts risk – How likely are you to pay back a loan? It affects your ability to buy a home, buy a car, rent an apartment, get the best insurance premiums and credit card rates.

The other thing is utilities, which you dont think about, explained University of Indianapolis Associate Professor of Finance, Rachel Smith. Often, theyre going to require you to have a security deposit down that you wouldnt have to pay if you had a better credit score.

Credit scores can also impact the price of cell phone packages and even, in some industries, whether or not you get a job, promotion or security clearance.

Scores range from 300 to 850. Experts say a general goal is to get your number in the 700s.

Bottom line: a high score can save you big money.

Were talking thousands and tens of thousands of dollars, potentially, explained University of Indianapolis Associate Professor of Finance Rachel Smith. I think people just dont realize how many thousands of dollars that they can save in many different areas of their financial lives.

Sharif Parvanta and Tyler Roberts both know that now. Theyve each worked hard to raise their credit scores. For Parvanta, it was serious. He took a hit during the recession, while living in California.

I just graduated from culinary school and I couldnt find a job and unfortunately had to live on my credit to make ends meet, Parvanta explained.

Debts built up fast. When he pulled his credit report and got his score, it had fallen to the 500s – considered sub prime and risky.

You have to do something about it, Parvanta said. You know, for me, I had no choice.

Parvanta moved to Indiana, started a new career and started credit counseling to get back on track.

I learned a lot about it with Apprisen. They sat me down and we went through all the strategies for financial planning, Parvanta said. We had to negotiate with my creditors how much I owed and such.

That was two years ago. His credit score is now 634 and rising.

It feels great. I feel a sense of accomplishment and theres a sense of relief for me, Parvanta said.

Tyler Roberts actually had a good credit score – around 720. But when he and his wife went to build a home, he realized boosting that number to excellent credit could save even more cash.

We started applying for house loans. It was Well, if youre not above 760, you get a higher interest rate and when we looked to get cars, if you werent above 760, you got higher interest rates, Roberts said.

To bump up his score, Tyler used a strategy not many people think about. He paid his credit card bill twice a month. It was the same amount, just divided in half.

Remember, a credit score is a snapshot in time and its looking at that balance – how much credit is used, as a percentage of how much is available. Its a good idea to keep your balance no more than 10% of the cards credit limit.

Wed go through and pay it a couple times a month to keep it below that 10% threshold, so when they take that snapshot, it looks like you have more credit, Roberts said.

Experts say increasing your credit card limit is another unexpected way to take your score from good to great, as long you keep the balance low.

Call your credit card company and ask them if they can expand or increase your credit limit, Smith said, because what that does is it lowers the credit youre using, relative to the credit you have available. It shows that lenders are willing to give you credit, but youre not using a lot of it.

Also, experts recommend that you dont close credit cards youve paid off, even if you dont use them. Thats considered good debt.

You want to keep those on your credit score because it shows that youve had a history, Piercefield said.

Heres the big payoff, the cash-in-your pocket difference:

Say youre looking to buy a house with a $160,000 dollar loan.

Credit score of 550? Youll pay about $229,000 in interest.

Credit score of 720? Youre paying only $97,000.

Thats a savings of $132,000 over the life of the loan.

Roberts did get his score into that excellent range. He says he and his wife were able to save about $50,000 in interest costs.

But hes not done.

You keep building. We keep working to get it as high as possible and not doing things now to damage that score, Roberts said.

A big mistake that could lower your score is falling for discounts that entice you to open a store credit card. Experts see that a lot.

Theyll say, Oh, I have the discount. Im going to go charge up to my limit today and then guess what? Im going go pay it off and Im closing it out. Okay, well youve just, youve done three major things, three major hits to your credit report: an inquiry, a large amount charged and closing an account, Piercefield said.

The fastest way to sink your score is to make a late payment. Paying bills on time, every time, is most important and makes up 35% of your FICO score. It takes at least six months to boost your number and consistent good habits for long-term savings.

Most of us do make a mistake at some point. But if you have a good track record and youre late or miss one payment, experts say you can call the credit card company and ask them not to report it to the credit bureaus.

Theyll often oblige and it wont drop your score. If you make a big mistake, like a foreclosure or large credit card debt, dont give up. Start rebuilding your credit. The number will go up in as little as two years, even with a foreclosure on your record. Then, when that drops off your credit report after seven years, your score will jump even more, because youve been rebuilding.

Just because you had something on your credit report seven years ago, doesnt mean that, Oh my gosh, you can never have good credit or never get a loan, Piercefield said.

Theres a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity to improve that credit score, Smith explained. It does take stability and consistency, but youre not just foregone if you made a couple of mistakes.

Experts recommend that you order a free credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian), so that you can monitor the reports regularly.

They recommend checking your credit score once a year or sooner, if youre about to make a big purchase.

Get a copy of your credit report for free

Will it sink my credit score? Take this quiz and test your financial literacy.

Better Business Bureau’s top 10 scams of 2014

by Shelton on February 7th, 2015

filed under Debt Consolidation

The Better Business Bureau has tallied up the statistics from 2014 and created a Top 10 Scams list. Heres a heads-up to what scams consumers can expect to see again in 2015.

The BBBs Top 10 Scams of 2014

Microsoft/computer scams
A caller claims to be from Microsoft or a representative from another computer software company. The caller offers to solve a computer problem or sell a software license in an effort to gain remote control of the consumers computer, and later requests a fee for service. Always check out a company first and only hire trusted repair businesses. Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls for computer help.

IRS scams
People report receiving calls from IRS representatives who claim they owe taxes and must pay or a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Or, they claim the IRS is pursuing a lawsuit against you and you must make a payment immediately. The IRS never uses phone calls for collection purposes. Instead, they only contact taxpayers via US mail.

Grant scams
Consumers report unsolicited phone calls notifying there is a grant for them, but they have to pay a fee in order to collect it. Grants do not have to be repaid; thus there is no need to use the word free. Organizations do not usually give out grants for personal debt consolidation, or to pay for other personal needs. Grants are usually given only to serve a social good, such as bringing jobs to an area, training under-employed youth, preserving a bit of history, etc. Be wary if you are asked to provide money upfront to an unknown company before the company will provide the services promised.

Phony invoice scams
This scam affects businesses and consumers. They receive what looks like a legitimate invoice in the mail or via email for a renewal for a newspaper or a magazine. It turns out to be a solicitation. Most newspapers invoice their customers directly and do not use third party billing.

Caller ID spoofing scams
New technology allows scammers to now change the name of the caller ID on the phones, which in most cases allows them to pose as a business or local law enforcement agency. In one scenario, scammers called and told the person on the other line there is a warrant out for their arrest, but they can pay a fine to avoid criminal charges.

Home improvement scams
Whether it is shoddy work from untrained or unlicensed company, or so called invisible repairs that are hard for consumers to detect on their own, the home improvement scam is always around. This includes repairs to roofs, chimneys, air ducts, crawl spaces, etc. Scammers may knock at your door offering a great deal because they were in the neighborhood, but many are turning to telemarketing, social media, and email to reach consumers. BBB reminds consumers to check out home contractors at bbb.org before saying yes.

Data breaches
Target, Home Depot, Michaels, PF Changs – these are just a few of the companies affected by data breaches in the past year. Do not click on unsolicited emails or social media messages. Call your bank to see if your account was affected if you havent heard from them. Always monitor your credit statements carefully.

Charity scams
With the popularity of the viral Ice Bucket Challenge and the deaths of celebrities, scammers are always trying to take advantage of peoples generosity. Never click on links in unsolicited charity emails or on social media, and always check out a charity at give.org.

Identity theft scams
Every two seconds, someone becomes a victim of identity fraud. Every year, millions of Americans have their identities stolen. According to Javelin Research, that number was 13.1 million in 2013. Proper document shredding and protecting personal information online are two excellent ways to help prevent identity theft.

Advance fee loan scams
This generally takes place online. Consumers receive emails from loan companies saying they are pre-approved with no credit check for a loan. People are then charged hundreds of dollars to release the first payment, usually through a wire transfer or a GreenDot money card. Reputable loan companies always do credit checks on potential customers. They do not solicit over email, nor do they charge people hundreds of dollars up front for a loan.

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