How to Create or Claim Your Small-Business Listing on Manta

Manta.com is one of the most popular local business information websites in the United States. According to its own data, Manta draws about 11 million unique visitors per month and boasts more than 5 million small, mostly local businesses in its database — a significant fraction of all U.S.-based small businesses with physical storefronts.

Does this site’s popularity mean you, a small-business owner eager to reach more potential customers in your hometown (and perhaps beyond) should invest the time and effort necessary to create, optimize, and maintain a Manta listing?

Perhaps. It depends on what type of business you operate, how much effort you can devote to your listing, and whether business directory websites like Manta truly complement your marketing efforts — or whether you’d do just fine without them.

Pros & Cons of Creating a Listing on Manta.com

Does it make sense to create a small-business listing on Manta.com? This is the first question you need to ask before putting in the effort to create your Manta listing.

The truth is, Manta works better for certain types of businesses. Its most popular searches relate to customer-facing service businesses, such as retailers, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, and others:

  • Automotive businesses
  • Hotels and travel services
  • Beauty shops and spas
  • Cleaning services
  • Plumbing, electrical, and other trade services
  • General contracting services
  • Health and medical

Like many other business information directory sites, Manta sorts listed companies geographically, down to the municipality or neighborhood level. This is vital for location-bound businesses, such as restaurants and brick-and-mortar retailers, that cater mostly or exclusively to local customers.

Manta is less useful, although not entirely useless, for companies that don’t rely on physical locations or local marketing to drive sales. E-commerce businesses that sell through platforms like Shopify or Etsy and rely more on word of mouth and social media marketing aren’t guaranteed to find Manta and its ilk valuable.

Pros of Listing Your Business on Manta

Why create a business profile on Manta? Advantages include the inherent legitimacy of a claimed business listing, SEO benefits, and the importance of sites like Manta in customers’ research process.

1. Claiming Your Listing Makes Your Business Seem More Legitimate

Manta’s “Claim This Listing” button makes clear which of its listings are “claimed” — acknowledged and maintained by the featured business — and which are not.

The simple act of claiming your business, therefore, confers substantial legitimacy upon it, if only because doing so shows Manta-using consumers that you care enough about your establishment to take two minutes to make its listing your own. Rightly or wrongly, consumers might take an unclaimed listing as a sign you aren’t really interested in attracting new customers.

I’m guilty of this myself. All else being equal, I try to avoid businesses with unclaimed online directory listings unless I know of them by other means — such as word of mouth — or they’re part of a recognizable business franchise that I trust.

2. Manta Listings Are Good for SEO

Popular search engines’ ranking algorithms have a “black box” quality to them — no one knows exactly how they work except the people responsible for them — and maybe not even they do. Still, conduct 10 Google searches for 10 of your favorite local businesses and you’re liable to deduce that business directory sites like Manta rank well in organic search results — the list of results you see below the paid search ads on search engines like Google or Bing.

Moreover, Manta’s featured product or service pages often rank separately from the main directory pages. This means that your Manta listing could end up being responsible for several discrete search results, depending on how many featured products or service pages it appears on.

The bottom line is this: Unless your business’s name is easily confused with common or generic terms (“Quality Plumbing,” “Fast Oil Change,” “Tasty Sandwiches”), your Manta listing is likely to appear on Google’s or Bing’s first results page of a search engine. This is crucial because many consumers never venture past the first results page.

3. Consumers Rely Heavily on Directory Listings for Research

If you thought a PCMag study that found roughly 40% of online reviews to be fake would deter shoppers from relying on them, you’d be wrong. According to a 2017 ReportLinker survey, 60% of consumers give online reviews as much weight as recommendations from real-world acquaintances.

Setting aside the question of whether this is a wise policy for consumers to abide by, it’s a compelling case for taking the time to maintain listings on business directory sites with user-generated reviews, such as Manta.

Cons of Listing Your Business on Manta

Manta is a useful part of many a business’s online presences, but it’s not appropriate for every enterprise. Drawbacks include the time and resources involved in maintaining a profile and the fact that listings display potentially sensitive information — which may, in turn, invite abuse.

1. Maintaining Your Profile Takes Time and Effort

Although the initial step of claiming your Manta listing takes just a few minutes, keeping your listing optimized and up-to-date requires real ongoing work. Uploading photos, analyzing user data, responding to reviews, changing listing information that’s no longer relevant — all these activities take time and effort.

If you have an online store, other business directory listings, and multiple social media accounts, staying on top of your digital presence could prove overwhelming.

And, if you’re a cash-poor small business without the means to hire a part- or full-time marketing employee or social media manager, or even work with an outside PR or marketing firm, you’ll need to do this work yourself. If you can — otherwise, there’s no shame in waiting until your business has grown a bit to invest in a first-rate directory profile.

2. May Not Be a Great Resource for User Reviews

Although Manta never experienced the sorts of high-profile fake review scandals that bedeviled Yelp in the late 2000s and early 2010s, the platform is certainly mindful of the potential for inauthentic reviews to interfere with and dilute genuine user feedback.

Indeed, Manta and reputable business directory sites like it take measures to combat fraudulent reviews that can at times be overzealous — filtering out real reviews that you might want your customers to see.

Separately but relatedly, many Manta business listings simply don’t have many user-generated reviews, making them less useful for consumer research. Many of my favorite businesses — enterprises I know to be legitimate — have zero Manta reviews, likely through no fault of their own.

If you want to ensure your customers see every review of your business, good or bad, you’re better off investing in a more “social” directory like Facebook or Yelp.

3. Directory Listings Contain Sensitive Information

Certain types of businesses, such as restaurants and brick-and-mortar retailers, have no choice but to reveal their business addresses, phone numbers, and other basic bits of important-if-sensitive information. Customer-facing businesses like these can’t survive in anonymity.

That said, other types of local businesses — including those that make house calls, like home service providers — might prefer to conceal their physical locations, and possibly contact information, from the public. For example, you might not want your clients to know that you work out of a home office or coworking hub rather than an office suite.

To be clear, if an unclaimed listing exists for your business, it may well list your true place of business, be it a residential address, coworking space, or virtual office. You’ll need to claim your listing to remove this information — but once that’s done, you can feel free to let it lapse.

4. Your Listing Could Attract Abuse

There’s a small but real possibility that your listing could become a forum for abusive or hateful reviews or feedback from misguided customers — and, potentially, members of the public with no connection to your business.

Unlike some online retailers, business directory sites like Manta tend not to require would-be reviewers to verify that they’ve patronized a listed business in the past. This makes it easier than it should be for people with a political agenda or personal grievances to single out individual businesses for criticism.

When they occur, such campaigns typically revolve around controversial actions or stances taken by the targeted business’s owners or employees. For example, in early 2015, the owners of an Indiana pizzeria made headlines for publicly announcing that they’d follow their state’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was widely interpreted to condone discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The stance prompted a backlash that saw thousands of comments, some of which were obscene and threatening, posted to the restaurant’s website. Citing safety concerns, the shop closed shortly thereafter, according to the Indianapolis Star.

Reasonable people can disagree with the restaurant owners’ politics without condoning threats to their and their employees’ safety. And, even if you have no plans to publicly announce your business’s support for controversial legislation, your digital presence might nevertheless become a venue for customers to air their grievances.

If you’d rather not deal with such backlash, perhaps it’s best to lay low.


How to Claim or Create Your Manta.com Listing

Follow these processes and tips to claim or create your Manta business listing.

Claiming an Existing Business Listing

Manta uses user-submitted and publicly available information to generate business listings, which legitimate owners can claim. Claiming your Manta profile allows you to do the following:

  • Update Your Listing Information. Claiming your listing unlocks the ability to edit your business name, contact information, business hours, brands carried, payment accepted, business categories (such as “doctors’ offices”), and other basic information. You can also add a brief, customized description of what your business does and provide links to your company website or social media pages.
  • Add Logos and Photos. You can upload your business’s logo or another representative photograph to appear at the top of your listing.
  • Highlight Products or Services. Basic Manta profiles allow for three highly detailed product or service pages, which are useful for describing core or high-value offerings to prospective customers. You can add photos, list prices or price ranges, and include a “Purchase Info” button, which prompts visitors to take a specific action like “call for a free quote.”

Manta has a good primer on claiming a legitimate business listing. To finalize your listing claim and any changes you’ve made, you’ll need to create a user account with your email address, Facebook account, or Google account. If you create a listing with an email address, you’ll need to input your full name, email, and a unique username and password.

If desired, you can add a headshot. Your profile doesn’t contain a ton of personal information about you — it’s more about managing your own business listing, recommendations for other businesses, and account privacy.

Once your profile is created, you can find out whether your business is listed by searching Manta’s database for your exact business name and city. If a listing already exists, click the “Verify Now” button next to it to sync it with your personal profile.

Unlike Yelp, Manta doesn’t require verification of ownership, but you can follow a similar process to earn a “Verified” badge, which Manta claims confers legitimacy. With your listing synced to your profile, you can begin editing and improving to your heart’s content.

Creating a New Listing

If your business isn’t yet listed, simply click the “Add Business” button that appears at the top of every Manta page. Doing so leads you to a form to list your company, where you’ll fill out some basic information about your business: exact company name, exact location, and contact details. This unlocks your listing and syncs it with your personal profile.


How to Optimize Your Manta Listing

Use these tips and resources to optimize your Manta listing once it’s claimed or created:

1. Create a Compelling “About Us” Section

A detailed About Us section is great for boosting your page’s visibility on search engine results pages. Use Google Keyword Planner or a similar tool to identify keywords that your business already ranks for, and then sprinkle them into your About Us copy.

Make sure your About Us is comprehensive, but not awash in detail — the goal is to create a high-level look at your business that shows why you’re different from the competition without overwhelming the reader with granularity.

2. Take Full Advantage of the Product and Service Showcases

Manta lets you highlight up to three products, services, or packages on separate pages within your listing, and there’s no reason not to take full advantage. Focus on popular, preferably high-margin products and services that somehow stand out from what the competition offers. Include images, pricing information, and keywords — check Google Keyword Planner.

3. List as Many Contacts and Links as Possible

In addition to your main business phone number and company website link, include as many relevant contact numbers and web property links as necessary to provide one-stop access to your entire business.

If your business has multiple departments — such as a dining room, bakery, and catering service — provide names and direct lines for the manager of each. Likewise, link to each of your social media properties and your online store, if you have one.

4. Solicit and Curate Customer Recommendations

Manta doesn’t make customer feedback a core part of its appeal. Manta frowns upon customer feedback manipulation, so don’t offer special deals to customers who provide glowing recommendations.

However, it does still allow customers to leave what are essentially reviews on companies’ directory listings, so you can certainly ask and encourage customers to leave feedback if they wish.

5. Use Educational and Social Resources

Manta publishes educational articles on how to get the most out of your Manta profile, as well as general tips on running and marketing your business. It also hosts discussion forums that allow you to connect with other Manta users, talk about your experience on the platform, and seek out advice from more experienced users.


Final Word

Manta isn’t the only free business listing site that small-business owners like you should consider using. Dozens of other sites, including some you’ve probably heard of — Yelp, for example — can increase your company’s name recognition and promote its services to more potential customers than you’d reach via more expensive marketing channels.

Not all such sites are created equal, of course. Some are free or nearly so, while others require a one-time fee or monthly subscription. And many are ill-suited to certain types of businesses or have other drawbacks that might give you pause.

Instead of spending time and money chasing after every directory site that might possibly help your business, take some time to research the most popular options and develop a narrower, more manageable list that works within the constraints of your marketing plan and budget.

Along the way, feel free to speak with peers and competitors about their own experiences on these platforms, assuming they’re willing to talk. With so much else on your plate, you certainly don’t need to make an investment that has little chance of paying off.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Employee Offboarding Process – 15 Best Practices for a Positive Transition

A lot of employers put more focus on onboarding than offboarding. But creating a positive experience for departing employees can help to increase retention, keep morale high, and make for a smooth and straightforward transition.

As an employer, you may think you have nothing to offer an employee who has chosen to leave your company. You may even feel hurt or resentful. But it’s important that you put those feelings aside and focus on how to offboard your staff member without burning bridges and providing support and direction to all involved.

How to Positively Offboard an Employee

Here are some tips you can use to create an effective employee offboarding strategy as part of your company culture.

1. Consider Your Organization’s Reputation

Some employers are tempted to let personal feelings take over when an employee decides to leave, but turnover is inevitable in almost every company at one point or another.

Employees choose to leave for a variety of reasons, and it’s important that no matter why a team member decides to leave, you keep your personal opinions in check. Do this not only to encourage a positive offboarding experience for your exiting employee and the rest of your team but to build your company’s reputation as well.

Before applying for a job with your company, many potential employees will conduct a quick online search to see what shows up. If a negative Glassdoor review is front and center, and it details a poor offboarding experience, you’re likely to miss out on qualified, high-quality candidates.

Alternately, a former employee who has a large network or who is involved in different professional groups isn’t likely to speak highly of an employer who behaved carelessly during the offboarding process to other industry experts.

2. Meet With Your Exiting Employee

It may seem obvious, but you should meet with your departing employee after they give their notice. A friendly and informative meeting can help to set the tone for the rest of the offboarding process and let your colleague know where they stand.

Cover the following topics so that you’re both on the same page when it comes to offboarding expectations and responsibilities:

  • What you can do to help them
  • What they can do to help you
  • What you expect them to do before they leave
  • Whether they need to develop training material
  • Who will be handling their job duties

Remember to be kind, positive, and friendly during this meeting. The more support and guidance you offer, the more likely the employee is to help with training their replacement and wrapping up any final projects.

You can also use this as an opportunity to ask where they’re going, what their new position will be, and what made them decide to make a move. However, if you suspect that they’re leaving due to dissatisfaction or unhappiness, this is best left for the exit interview.

3. Meet With Your Team

When an employee quits, it affects your entire team. It can cause a lot of uncertainty and negatively impact morale and engagement. But one of the easiest ways to get ahead of any adverse effects is to communicate early and well with your entire team.

After you meet with the employee who is leaving and you’ve made a plan for handing off duties, you should plan for a group meeting with all of your staff members.

If you’d like, let your outgoing employee announce their departure at the beginning of the meeting and then go over any details that will affect the rest of the team, like your transition plan and whether you’ll be hiring a new employee to fill the open position or if you plan to fill the role from within your company.

This is also a good time to make a short, straightforward speech about your ex-employee by thanking them for their contributions and congratulating them on their new professional adventure. A supportive and encouraging message can go a long way, both for departing employees and your current staff.

Give everyone a chance to ask questions so that there’s no confusion surrounding any new roles or responsibilities within your team. Clear communication makes employees feel secure and eases changes in workflow and job duties.

4. Communicate About the Change in Staff

Once an employee leaves, you want to make sure that everyone knows they’re no longer with your company. This includes the rest of your staff as well as any clients, freelancers, partners, or business contacts outside of the company.

Send an email before your employee leaves notifying anyone relevant of their last day and who will be taking over their duties going forward. Make sure that the email is addressed to your entire staff, including department heads and junior employees. As much as possible, you want to ensure that no one is taken by surprise and that they know who to work with in the future.

Once your employee has left, set up email forwarding so that you can catch any important work-related emails that may be sent to their previous email address in error.

5. Keep Morale in Mind

The rest of the team’s morale can be affected when an employee leaves, especially if their coworker has a negative offboarding experience. Poor offboarding tactics — such as refusing to communicate, letting personal feelings get in the way, or failing to plan and organize a smooth transition — give the impression that you only value your team members as employees and not as people.

Alternatively, a positive offboarding plan can keep morale steady and show staff members that you genuinely care about them and that you take your role as a manager or business owner seriously.

Keep a pulse on morale to determine how your staff is being affected by your previous employee’s departure and address specific issues or problems by communicating openly and honestly with your employees.

If morale seems low and you aren’t sure what to do, try adding a few more ideas to your offboarding checklist to help with engagement and motivation.

6. Work With Your Human Resources Department

Your human resources (HR) department is an essential resource for both onboarding and offboarding.

For example, your HR professional can assist with:

  • Ending health benefits, share plans, and other financial paperwork
  • Ensuring a final paycheck is sent out
  • Retrieving company assets, such a security pass, key, credit card, or laptop
  • Removing access to company accounts and software once the employee has left
  • Conducting exit interviews
  • Creating a job description and recruiting for a replacement
  • Reviewing documents like a noncompete contract or nondisclosure agreement

HR can also provide guidance on how to keep communications positive and productive after an employee decides to move on.

7. Ask Your Departing Employee to Help With Recruitment

When an employee leaves, don’t only focus on transferring duties and redirecting workflow. Have your former employee help with finding their replacement. After all, who knows their job better than they do?

When appropriate, ask them to:

  • Write a job description to use in online job ads for new hires
  • Review resumes and cover letters from potential candidates
  • Sit in on interviews
  • Discuss whether any existing team members would be a fit
  • Meet with a recruiter or hiring manager to explain their role and responsibilities

Involving your former employee in the hiring process for their replacement helps you to find better, more suitable candidates who will have an accurate and realistic understanding of the open position.

8. Conduct an Exit Interview

Although exit interviews should always be optional, they’re an important part of any employee offboarding process. They are a great way to encourage honest feedback and learn where you can improve as a manager and as a company.

Think of an exit interview as an opportunity for you to learn about your employee’s entire experience with you — from onboarding and training to reviews, office politics, company culture, and everything in between.

Some exit interviews are conducted by managers and others by HR departments. It depends on how your company is structured. Regardless of the logistics, exit interviews should be reserved for the last day or two before you and your outgoing employee part ways. If done too early, the employee who is leaving may not feel comfortable being completely upfront about suggestions or complaints.

Although your exiting employee may not have anything bad to say, encourage them to share any tips or advice they have related to their position, the company, their team, or their manager. If they do share negative feedback, remember not to take it personally and to remain professional.

9. Offer to Be a Reference

Depending on your company policy about work references, you can offer to be a reference for your departing employee for future jobs. Knowing that they can rely on you to provide an honest, helpful, and professional reference is a great way to ensure that your employee leaves on a good note.

Most companies prefer that candidates use previous managers or employers as references, so by making the offer, you’re letting them know that you care about their professional future. Plus, it saves them from having to ask you, which can be difficult if they’re not sure where they stand after handing in their notice.

10. Get Your Exiting Employee’s Contact Information

Don’t forget to get your outgoing employee’s new contact information, like an email or mailing address in case you need to contact them with questions related to their previous role. For example, you may need to get in touch about their benefits or to ask about a company account or password. Although you can plan for a comprehensive hand-off, some details can get lost during knowledge transfer, so it’s important to know how to reach your previous hire for a quick question.

And, if they leave on good terms, you may also want to use it to send a friendly message or invite them to a workplace social event down the road.

11. Welcome a Return

Boomerang employees are workers who leave a company only to return later. These employees learned that the grass isn’t always greener and came back to work for you because they had a positive experience at your company. These employees can be a boon to you since they already know the ins and outs of your business, your customers, and the role they held at your company.

But you’ll only get boomerang employees if you facilitate and participate in a proper offboarding process and let outgoing employees know that they’re welcome to return in the future.

If you’re open to having ex-employees work for you again down the road, make sure to communicate that during your offboarding process so that they know it’s an option. If you don’t make it clear, they may assume that you’re not open to it.

12. Connect on LinkedIn

LinkedIn is an ideal way to follow your ex-employee’s professional progress and to get in touch about work-related questions, references, or job opportunities. If you aren’t already connected with your departing employee on LinkedIn, send them an invite. You can take things a step further by providing a written recommendation on the platform as well, which can give them a boost during job searches and round out their profile.

And, as a bonus for you, giving recommendations makes you look like a stellar boss to your ex-employee’s connections and network.

13. Plan an Event

Planning an event like a lunch or after-work cocktail can give current employees a chance to say goodbye to co-workers and end the offboarding process on a happy note. Offboarding can be hard for both your former employee and their team members, so offering everyone a chance to have a casual get-together to reminisce and wish each other well can be a welcome change from typical last-day scenarios.

Involve your team in planning the event, and try to choose a venue that your previous employee enjoys. If possible, have the company cover costs for a meal or appetizers to make it even more enjoyable for everyone.

14. Purchase a Gift

A personalized gift from the company is the perfect way to express appreciation and gratitude for your departing employee’s hard work over the years. Some gift ideas for ex-employees include:

  • A briefcase or professional bag
  • Gift cards to their favorite restaurants
  • A donation to a charity or nonprofit they care about
  • Gourmet coffee, tea, or chocolate
  • Personalized office supplies
  • A gift basket
  • A bottle of wine

You can also get a cake, a framed picture of the team, or anything else you think they might like. Talk to their work friends for ideas and choose a gift that’s both appropriate and fits your budget.

15. Send Around a Card

A card is a cost-effective and common way to bid farewell to an employee. Give the whole team a chance to write a personal message and sign their name by sending it around in advance. If you have a good relationship with your departing employee, you may even want to give them a card yourself, expressing how much you have valued them and enjoyed having them on your team.


Final Word

When you offboard employees with morale, engagement, and professionalism in mind, you reap the rewards of being a thoughtful and desirable employer. Your company’s reputation is a powerful tool in attracting and retaining quality hires, and how you treat previous employees can have a significant impact on how you’re viewed by potential candidates.

Keep your offboarding strategy professional, communicative, and positive to facilitate a smooth transition for everyone involved.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Contractors vs. Employees (Differences) – Who Should You Hire?

When a small-business owner decides they need more help, the next question is whether they should hire employees or freelancers. The decision can be difficult — especially if you’re working with a limited budget.

To help with your decision, we’ve outlined the legal differences between freelancers and employees, and some tips for deciding which type of help you need.

Freelancer vs. Employee: What’s the Difference?

There are significant legal differences between hiring an employee and bringing on a freelancer or independent contractor.

Employee Contractor
Taxes Employers are responsible for withholding income tax, Social Security, and Medicare from an employee’s wages. Freelancers are responsible for paying their own income and self-employment taxes.
Employment Laws Employees are covered by several federal and state employment laws, including minimum wage and overtime regulations. Although it isn’t true in all states, freelancers are typically not covered by most employment and labor laws.
Benefits Employers may be required to provide vacation, holiday, and sick pay to full-time employees. Employers are not responsible for providing paid vacation, holidays, or sick pay to freelancers and independent contractors.
Insurance Employers may be required to purchase workers’ compensation insurance and pay unemployment insurance taxes. Employers are not required to purchase workers’ compensation or pay unemployment taxes on freelancers.

Can I Classify My Employees as Independent Contractors?

Many small-business owners review the table above and assume hiring a freelancer is the way to go. After all, when you hire an independent contractor, you aren’t responsible for things like tax withholding, benefits, and insurance as you are when you hire an employee. However, the IRS has rules about whom you can treat as an independent contractor. You can face some pretty stiff penalties if you misclassify employees solely to avoid taxes.

According to the IRS, there are three factors involved in whether a business should classify a new hire as an employee or a freelancer.

  1. Behavioral Control. An employer has the right to direct and control work performed by an employee, such as dictating when or where an employee must work, or what tools or services they must use. However, a business owner cannot determine how an independent contractor works, only the desired results of the work.
  2. Financial Control. An employer has a right to direct and control the financial and business aspects of an employee’s job. For example, an employer can mandate an employee cannot have a second job or start a side business that competes with the employer’s business. Freelancers and independent contractors are generally free to work for other clients and seek out other business opportunities.
  3. Relationship. An employer-employee relationship typically continues indefinitely, while the relationship between a business and a contractor usually exists for a specific project or period. It’s good to have a written contract between the company and the contractor that states the worker is an independent contractor. But it’s not sufficient on its own to determine the worker’s status.

Should I Hire a Freelancer or an Employee?

Aside from the IRS rules, think about your business needs when deciding whether to hire an employee or freelancer. The questions below will help you work through the decision-making process.

1. Do You Need Long-Term Support or Help on a Short-Term Basis?

If the work to be done is just a short-term project, you may want to hire an independent contractor. For example, if you need help building a website, but you won’t have much work for a web developer once your site is up and running, that’s a good project for a contractor that you find from a platform like Fiverr.

On the other hand, if you need ongoing help fulfilling and shipping customer orders, you may be better off hiring an employee.

Pro tip: If you’re planning to hire full-time employees, start your search with ZipRecruiter. Their technology will scan thousands of resumes and find the perfect candidates instantly.

2. Is the Work Part of Your Core Product or Service?

If the work to be done supports your business but is not a part of your core product or service, you may be better off hiring a freelancer. For example, you might outsource monthly bookkeeping to an independent contractor. However, if you need someone to handle customer service for your products, you’re better off hiring an employee.

Highly skilled freelancers are often busy, and they might not have time to work on your project at the drop of a hat. So if you have a regular and consistent need for someone to do work on your timeline, an employee is the way to go.

3. Can You Afford an Employee?

It’s easy to predict and control the cost of hiring a contractor by negotiating a flat fee or hourly rate. Beyond that agreed-upon compensation, there are few if any additional costs.

Hiring an employee is often much more expensive. Salary is just one component of the cost of hiring. You also have to plan for taxes and other government-mandated expenses, buying supplies like desks and computers for them to use, employee benefits, and how you’re going to calculate their paycheck with all the withholding you have to do.

  • Payroll Taxes. After salary, payroll taxes are usually the highest cost of hiring an employee. They include the employer’s portion of Social Security and Medicare taxes and federal and state unemployment taxes. ADP maintains a database of applicable payroll taxes by state to give you an idea of what it costs to hire an employee in your location.
  • Benefits. Providing employee benefits like health insurance, disability and life insurance, and retirement plans can cost anywhere from 20% to 40% of an employee’s gross salary.
  • Workers’ Compensation. Most states require a business to purchase workers’ compensation insurance as soon as they hire an employee. The cost of obtaining workers’ compensation depends on your state and the type of work the employee performs.
  • Payroll Processing. When you pay a contractor, you cut them a check for the amount you owe. But paying an employee means calculating and withholding payroll taxes, sending those taxes to the state or federal agencies, and preparing quarterly payroll tax returns. Most businesses outsource this task to a third-party payroll provider like Quickbooks Payroll. The cost of outsourcing payroll depends on the level of service required and how many employees you have but typically costs at least $15 to $20 per month.
  • Tools and Equipment. Generally, contractors are responsible for providing their own computers and any necessary tools and equipment. But employers are responsible for providing necessary equipment and supplies for employees. Depending on the type of work you expect your employee to handle and where you want them to do it, you may have to provide office space, a desk and chair, a computer, a phone, and other equipment and supplies.

Final Word

Deciding between hiring freelancers or employees can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. If you need flexibility, low cost, and skills that fall outside of your typical scope, a freelancer is the way to go. If you need regular help, have more room in your budget, and want someone available on a regular basis, hiring a full-time employee is the best choice.

Have you hired a freelancer or employee in your business? How did you decide which one you needed?

Source: moneycrashers.com

Fannie Mae reports rising confidence in housing market

Following two months of steady declines, Fannie Mae’s Home Purchase Sentiment Index (HPSI), a composite index designed to track the housing market and consumer confidence to sell or buy a home, rose in January.

The HSPI rose 3.7 points last month to 77.7. Though it’s undoubtedly a positive sign, the HPSI has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels and is still down 15.3 points year over year.

Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae’s chief economist, noted a slight chasm has formed in confidence among lower and higher- income groups based on recent stimulus and fiscal policies.

According to Duncan, this newfound optimism in lower-income borrowers and renters could indicate those who have been more negatively impacted by the pandemic may be starting to feel the economic recovery.

“Among homeowners in higher income groups, however, the other five components of the index remained relatively flat or slightly negative, suggesting to us that some consumers are waiting to gauge the effectiveness of any new fiscal policies and vaccination distribution programs on both housing and the larger economy,” Duncan said.


Making housing more affordable by bridging the affordable supply gap

In the last few years, the number of existing single-family homes for sale has decreased. But home prices have increased. To make homeownership a possibility for everyone, there needs to be a higher supply of affordable homes.

Presented by: Fannie Mae

Overall, January’s housing market confidence jump was largely driven by renewed optimism for prospective home sellers, after December’s increasing home prices and tight inventory left homeowners weary that 2020’s record sales may not roll in to the new year. However, the percentage of respondents who say it is a good time to sell a home increased from 50% to 57% in January, while those who believe it is a good time to buy remained unchanged at 52%.

Even though buying sentiment stood idle in the first month of 2021, mortgage applications jumped 8.15% from the week ending Jan. 29, breaking a two-week streak of decreases, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

And borrowers are still relatively unsure of how long elevated home prices will hold. The HPSI reported 41% of respondents expect home prices will go up in the next 12 months – unchanged from the month prior – while those who believe it will go down increased from 16% to 17%.

But even if those prices do rise, borrowers can still save on the record low rates the industry has become accustomed to. The percentage of respondents who say mortgage rates will go down in the next 12 months increased from 8% to 9%, while the percentage who expect mortgage rates to go up increased from 43% to 45%.

Though economists are fairly certain all signs indicate to rising mortgage rates, experts said it won’t be a sudden jerk reaction but rather a slow build that will force its way over 3% later in the year. Regardless, LO’s made insane money in 2020 thanks to record low rates, with the jury still out on whether they can swing it again in 2021 if refi’s begin to fall with rising rates.

But rising rates are a sign of a recovering economy, and though that recovery may look slow, the housing market is showing signs its already occurring.

The percentage of respondents who say they are not concerned about losing their job in the next 12 months remained unchanged at 75%, while those who are concerned fell from 25% to 24%. And the percentage of respondents who say their household income is significantly higher than it was 12 months ago increased from 20% to 21%, while the percentage who say theirs is significantly lower decreased from 18% to 14%.

January’s unemployment numbers weren’t overly impressive to economists, with the unemployment situation virtually unchanged for the month.

“The number of people on temporary layoff fell slightly in January, while the number of permanent job losers rose, a troubling sign. On the other hand, the number of people working part time but who would prefer full time employment also fell slightly, a positive indicator of labor demand,” Duncan said.

Source: housingwire.com

How Unemployment Can Affect Your Plans To Buy a Home—Now and Later

The coronavirus pandemic has led to record-high unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression. And this is particularly worrisome for would-be home buyers.

If you were among the 23.1 million Americans who were laid off or furloughed, you might be worried about your financial future. And if you were hoping to buy a house—either now or in the next few years—you might also wonder how your current jobless status might affect those plans.

While the situation might seem dire, unemployment does not mean that home-buying plans have to be put on hold for long. Here’s how to navigate a period of unemployment so that it doesn’t derail your hopes to buy a home.

Can you buy a home if you’re unemployed?

For starters: If you lose your job while in the midst of home shopping or after you’ve even made an offer, you might have to put the purchase on hold.

The reason: Given your reduced income, the odds of lenders loaning you money for a property purchase are slim, unless your spouse or partner has a sizable income that can carry the mortgage alone.

And even if you’re getting unemployment checks every week, that money is considered temporary income, so it can’t be used to qualify for a mortgage, says Jackie Boies, senior director of housing and bankruptcy services at Money Management International, a nonprofit providing financial education and counseling.

In short, “unemployment could have an effect on your ability to purchase a home in the short term,” Boies says.

But the good news is that once you find a new job, you can likely resume home shopping without trouble, Boies adds. “Unemployment shouldn’t have a long-term effect on being able to buy a home.”

How long after unemployment can you buy a home?

But even once you do find a new job, that doesn’t mean you can easily buy a house just yet. That’s because lenders like to see a steady history of employment before loaning someone money.

“Regular employment must be reestablished as stable, reliable, and dependable,” says Karma Herzfeld, mortgage loan originator at Motto Mortgage Alliance in Little Rock, AR.

So how long is enough? Lenders typically require borrowers to have six months of employment at their current job, and two years of continuous employment. Breaks in employment older than two years shouldn’t affect getting a mortgage.

How unemployment affects your credit score

While unemployment doesn’t jeopardize future home-buying hopes per se, financial experts warn that what can put those plans at risk is how you handle your finances while jobless. Unemployment, after all, can stress your budget in ways that can damage your credit history and credit score.

Lenders check your credit score to assess how well you’ve managed past debts. Scores between 650 and 700 range from fair to good; scores below 650 are considered subpar, which could limit which lenders are willing to loan you money for a house. (You can check your score for free on sites like Credit Karma.)

Credit scores can be damaged in a variety of ways during unemployment. For one, if you get behind on paying bills, this will put some blemishes on your credit history and drag your score down.

Unemployment can also lower your credit score by negatively affecting your debt-to-income ratio, a calculation used by mortgage lenders to compare how much you make against how much you owe.

If you’re unemployed, you may face a double whammy as your income is lower and you’re charging more to your credit cards, thus increasing your debt. Both moves can negatively affect your debt-to-income ratio, which may make lenders leery of loaning you money.

“Any factor that affects income or debt may affect the debt-to-income ratio,” Herzfeld explains.

In sum, hopeful home buyers should be careful not to take on too much debt, even while unemployed. You need to preserve cash as best you can.

“I recommend, if on unemployment, [you] cut back on all discretionary spending and make every effort to keep bills current so that the credit score may not get negatively impacted,” Herzfeld says.

Debt-to-income ratio will likely rebalance once you return to work, as long as you haven’t racked up too much debt during the period of unemployment, Boies says.

How to handle your finances while unemployed

“My recommendation is to always try as best as you can to pay at least the minimum required payment on all monthly debt obligations, otherwise credit may be negatively affected,” Herzfeld says.

Boies suggests reaching out to landlords, credit card companies, utilities, auto lenders, and others to find out what options you have, such as payment plans, deferments, or forbearance. You might also be able to reduce some bills, such as insurance, by reviewing your policy.

“Don’t think that if you can’t pay that bill, you just can’t do anything about it,” Boies says. “You need to reach out to see what options they have available to you.”

How to bounce back from unemployment

If your credit score is negatively affected while you’re unemployed, it’s not the end of the world—but it will take time to repair.

Six months to a year or more of positive credit rebuilding could get you on track to buy a home, Herzfeld says.

“The sooner past-due debts can be remedied, the sooner the score may begin to improve,” she says.

For more smart financial news and advice, head over to MarketWatch.

Source: realtor.com

How to Set Up a Home Office on a Budget – Organization Ideas & Tips

You’ve done it: You’ve convinced your boss to let you work from home. Or perhaps you recently decided to go solo and launch your own home-based business. No matter who you’re working for or what you’re doing, you’re going to need a comfortable, well-equipped space to get your work done.

You don’t have to spend a fortune setting up your new home office. Nor do you necessarily require an entirely separate room in your house to do your work — though that’s a helpful way to avoid some of the unforeseen challenges of working from home. It makes sense to outfit your new workspace on a budget. After all, you might decide remote work isn’t for you and that you want to return to working from the comfort of your employer’s office.

Here’s how to plan, budget for, and save on everything you need for your home office, from electronics to furniture to supplies.

Make a List of What You Need

You can spend hours on Pinterest scrolling through beautiful, well-staged photos of people’s home offices. But your home office needs can be a lot different from what you see presented on social media.

Do you need a designer couch in your office space? Probably not unless you’re a therapist who’s going to see clients at home. Do you need fresh flowers brought in daily? Most likely not unless you’re an Instagram influencer.

Some essential things people need for their offices include:

  • A Work Surface. You’re going to need somewhere to do your work, such as a desk or table. How large a work surface depends in large part on how complicated your setup needs to be. I have a small desk in my home office, but the only thing I need to work is my laptop and a notepad with the week’s to-do list written on it. I have friends who need to use multiple large monitors, so their work surfaces are considerably larger than mine.
  • A Chair. Even if you decide to buy a standing desk, it’s nice to have a chair to sit on from time to time. Your chair doesn’t have to be fancy or full of the latest ergonomic bells and whistles. But it should be comfortable and the appropriate height for your workspace. Consider functionality over form when choosing your chair. A chair meant for a dining room might look nicer than an office chair, but you’ll wish you got the ugly ergonomic chair after sitting in it for a few hours.
  • Computer Equipment. You need a laptop or desktop computer for most remote jobs. How complicated you make your computer setup depends on your job. Some workers also need a printer, copier, or scanner (or a machine that does all three). Start with the most simple setup and upgrade as needed.
  • Specialized Equipment. Some job types require more specialized equipment, such as lighting for photographers, microscopes and beakers for scientists, and kitchen gear for personal chefs or cookbook authors.
  • Office Supplies. It’s easy to go overboard when it comes to office supplies, especially when setting up your home office for the first time. A less-is-more approach is usually best. That way, you don’t end up with a stack of sticky notes you never use or a lifetime supply of yellow highlighters. Be realistic when picking out what you need for supplies. If you don’t see yourself mailing documents often, you can probably wait to buy envelopes until you need to mail something. If your work is purely digital, you probably don’t need the 100-pack of pens or the stack of notepads.
  • A Secure Place for Documents and Files. Even if you mostly digitize your documents, you could have a few important work-related documents. Those documents need a place to live, and ideally, that place isn’t on the corner of your desk underneath your coffee mug. It’s a good move to invest in a locking file cabinet for sensitive files and documents. If you get a fireproof one, even better. Along with filing cabinets, consider some type of shelving or bookshelves to keep binders, books, and other things you might need organized and handy.
  • Internet and Phone. You’ll need a reliable high-speed Internet connection and perhaps a dedicated phone line for your home office. One option is to get a landline alternative, like Skype or Google Voice, to use for business phone calls. That way, your boss or clients don’t have to call your personal cellphone or home phone to reach you.
  • Office and Home Decor. As with office supplies, it’s easy to go overboard on decor. But you do want to make your home office look somewhat warm and inviting, as you’ll be there for several hours each day. Hang up a few attractive prints or put a few knick-knacks on your desk to make your office a place where you actually want to spend time.

You might find it easier to shop online, such on Amazon or Craigslist, for the things you need for your home office. To make sure you don’t get a desk, chair, or printer that’s way too big or just wrong for you, there are several things you should check before you buy furniture or equipment.

  • The Size. Will the desk, computer, or chair fit in the space you have for it? Will you be able to get bulky furniture in through your front door or a tight hallway? How much does it weigh, and can you lift it on your own?
  • The Quality. Look for online reviews to see what people have to say about it. Red flags include unresolved complaints of equipment that arrived broken, broke quickly, or weren’t as described when they arrived.
  • Speed of Shipment. More people than usual are shopping online amid the pandemic. That means shipping times are delayed at many stores. Double-check shipping times so you know when to expect delivery.
  • Return Policy. Some retailers have extended their return policies as a result of COVID-19. Confirm you can return whatever you buy if it doesn’t work for you and how long you have to make the return.

Choose a Space

Where in your home can you work? You need an area that can accommodate all your equipment while giving you enough space to think and work comfortably. If you have an extra bedroom, a den, or a finished basement you can commandeer for your workspace, that’s perfect. If not, it’s time to get creative.

To help you find the right location for your office:

  • Focus on Activity. How active is the area you’re considering using for your home office? If you plan to work from home while your kids are around, do they play in the room after school or in the morning? If you live with roommates, do they lounge or walk through the space regularly? The goal is to choose the area of your home that gets the least amount of foot traffic. A quiet corner in a kitchen or living room can be ideal if you don’t have an entirely separate room to use.
  • Mind the Light. Peace and quiet are essential, but so is having enough light in your home office. If you can, pick an area that gets natural light, such as a corner by a window.
  • Avoid Your Bedroom. If possible, avoid using your bedroom, especially if you have trouble sleeping. As the National Sleep Foundation points out, using electronic devices in your bedroom can keep you alert when you want to fall asleep. A 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that using light-emitting devices before bed negatively affected sleep. You want to avoid light-emitting devices before bed as much as possible, and that’s challenging when your workspace is directly across from your bed.
  • Set Up a Room Divider. If you don’t have a separate room to use as your work area, a room divider can create a sense of separation. Especially if you have to work where you sleep, set up a screen or other type of room divider to set off your office space from the rest of the room. In a living room or den, you can place your desk on one side of a large bookcase and have the living area on the other.
  • Convert a Closet. Another option if space is a premium is to set up a desk or work surface in a small closet. If all you need to work at home is a laptop, even the tiniest of closets can provide enough room. When the workday is over, just shut your laptop and shut the closet door.

Create Your Budget

It can be easy to overspend when you’re setting up your home office, especially if you’re not sure what your numbers are or what you have to work with. Before you start shopping for furniture and supplies, take a look at your household budget to see if you have any money to spend on an office. You can also use the money you’ve saved in a household expenses account or in a savings account you’ve set up for planned purchases to pay for your new office setup.

If you’re no longer commuting to work, you can funnel the money that would usually go toward your transportation and meals out toward home office expenses.

Decide how much you can comfortably spend on your new office, whether it’s $100 or $1,000. Then, start to price out the cost of the things you need. Make a list of one-time expenses and recurring expenses.

After looking at your budget and comparing it to the cost of your needs, you might realize the numbers don’t line up. If the amount you can spend is lower than the cost of what you need, it helps to prioritize.

For example, if you need a desk, you can buy one at Ikea rather than West Elm. If you need a new laptop, you can choose a Chromebook instead of a MacBook Pro. Where you can realistically afford to cut depends on what you do for a living. If you’re a professional photographer, you probably need the MacBook, but if you’re a freelance writer, a Chromebook should be sufficient. If you sit at a desk all day, you can benefit from spending more on an ergonomic chair.

Another thing to consider is your Internet connection. If your job needs the Internet in any form, it pays to spend more in this category than elsewhere, upgrading to the fastest, most reliable connection you can afford. Shop around for the best prices from providers like AT&T or Xfinity.

It’s also advisable to get an unlimited mobile data plan from a carrier that lets you use your phone as a hotspot. That way, if your home Internet goes out, you can use your phone for emergency Internet access until your Internet service provider restores the connection.

How to Get What You Need for Less

After you’ve identified your big-spend categories, look for bargains for everything else. There are a few ways to outfit your home office space without breaking the bank:

  • Buy Used (or Free). A used desk or office chair can be just as sturdy as a new one. In some cases, older furniture is better quality than the stuff made today. You can find gently used furniture on websites like Amazon and eBay. You can also find some high-quality free furniture through your local Buy Nothing group on Facebook or inexpensive options from private sellers on apps like OfferUp. Just remember to practice social distancing when arranging for pickup or delivery.
  • Ask Around. Your friends or family can be a good source of cheap or free office furniture or equipment. Hit them up to see if they’ve got anything on your list they’re looking to part with, then arrange a way to get it to your house while keeping social distancing guidelines in mind.
  • Choose Energy-Efficient Products. Shop with energy efficiency in mind, both to save money on the purchase price and to save money over the life of the product. A smaller laptop uses less power and costs less than a heavy-duty desktop computer, for instance.
  • Ignore the Siren Call of Designer Office Supplies. An inexpensive Bic pen writes just as efficiently as a fancy-pants designer pen. A plain yellow pad of paper lets you take notes that are just as detailed as the ones on a cutesy printed notepad.
  • Wait for Sales. If you don’t need something for your office right away, wait for it to go on sale. Plus, it could turn out that you don’t need it at all.
  • Get Your Employer to Chip In. If you’re an employee working from home, ask what your company can contribute in terms of equipment and supplies. Often, you don’t need to pay for your own equipment, as your employer can give you a laptop or other equipment to use. If your company hasn’t said anything about equipment, it doesn’t hurt to ask what your boss wants you to do.
  • Negotiate Your Phone or Internet Service. You can sometimes get a deal on your phone or Internet connection, especially if you’re switching providers or are bundling two services into one. Even if you’ve been with your current provider for a while, call and ask about any current deals or offers they have available to you.
  • Repurpose When Possible. You might have older furniture hanging out in your attic or basement, just waiting to get a second lease on life. That small, old kitchen table might be the perfect size to turn into a desk in a small home office. With some DIY elbow grease and a coat of paint, your kids’ old bookcase can turn into office shelving.

Final Word

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or are preparing to telecommute for the first time, having a dedicated workspace at home makes a huge difference when it comes to your overall productivity. While you probably have to spend some money to create that space, you don’t have to go into debt or bust your budget to do it.

Making a budget and sticking to it can help you keep your spending in check as you create your home office. Focus on the things you need and the things that can help you do your job the best rather than on what’s going to make your office look Pinterest-ready.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Guide to Small Business Startup Loans

Guide to Small Business Startup Loans – SmartAsset

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It takes money to make money and virtually any small business will require some startup capital to get up and running. While the personal savings of the founders is likely the most common source of startup funding, many startups also employ loans to provide seed capital. New enterprises with no established credit cannot get loans as easily from many sources, but startup loans are available for entrepreneurs who know where to look. Here are some of those places to look, plus ways to supplement loans. For help with loans and any other financial questions you have, consider working with a financial advisor.

Startup Loans: Preparing to Borrow

Before starting to look for a startup loan, the primary question for the entrepreneur is how much he or she needs to borrow. The size of the loan is a key factor in determining where funding is likely to be available. Some sources will only fund very small loans, for example, while others will only deal with borrowers seeking sizable amounts.

The founder’s personal credit history is another important element. Because the business has no previous history of operating, paying bills or borrowing money and paying it back, the likelihood of any loan is likely to hinge on the founder’s credit score. The founder is also likely to have to personally guarantee the loan, so the amount and size of personal financial resources is another factor.

Business documents that may be needed to apply include a business plan, financial projections and a description of how funds will be used.

Startup Loan Types

There are a number of ways to obtain startup loans. Here are several of them.

Personal loan – A personal loan is another way to get seed money. Using a personal loan to fund a startup could be a good idea for business owners who have good credit and don’t require a lot of money to bootstrap their operation. However, personal loans tend to carry a higher interest rate than business loans and the amount banks are willing to lend may not be enough.

Loans from friends and family – This can work for an entrepreneur who has access to well-heeled relatives and comrades. Friends and family are not likely to be as demanding as other sources of loans when it comes to credit scores. However, if a startup is unable to repay a loan from a friend or relative, the result can be a damaged relationship as well as a failed business.

Venture capitalists – While these people typically take equity positions in startups their investments are often structured as loans. Venture capitalists can provide more money than friends and family. However, they often take an active hand in managing their investments so founders may need to be ready to surrender considerable control.

Government-backed startup loans – These are available through programs administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Small Business Administration (SBA) as well as, to a lesser degree, the Interior, Agriculture and Treasury departments. Borrowers apply for these through affiliated private financial institutions, including banks. LenderMatch is a tool startup businesses use to find these affiliated private financial institutions. Government-guaranteed loans charge lower interest rates and are easier to qualify for than non-guaranteed bank loans.

Bank loans – These are the most popular form of business funding, and they offer attractive interest rates and bankers don’t try to take control as venture investors might. However, banks are reluctant to lend to new businesses without a track record. Using a bank to finance a startup generally means taking out a personal loan, which means the owner will need a good personal credit score and be ready to put up collateral to secure approval.

Credit cards – Using credit cards to fund a new business is easy, quick and requires little paperwork. However, interest rates and penalties are high and the amount of money that can be raised is limited.

Self-funding – Rather than simply putting money into the business that he or she owns, the founder can structure the cash infusion as a loan that the business will pay back. One potential benefit of this is that interest paid to the owner for the loan can be deducted from future profits, reducing the business’s tax burden.

Alternatives to Startup Loans

Crowdfunding – This lets entrepreneurs use social media to reach large numbers of private individuals, borrowing small amounts from each to reach the critical mass required to get a new business up and running. As with friends and family, credit history isn’t likely to be a big concern. However, crowdfunding works best with businesses that have a new product that requires funding to complete design and begin production.

Nonprofits and community organizations – These groups engage in microfinancing. Getting a grant from one of these groups an option for a startup that requires a small amount, from a few hundred to a few tens of thousands of dollars. If you need more, one of the other channels is likely to be a better bet.

The Bottom Line

Startup businesses seeking financing have a number of options for getting a loan. While it is often difficult for a brand-new company to get a conventional business bank loan, friends and family, venture investors, government-backed loan programs, crowdfunding, microloans and credit cards may provide solutions. The size of the loan amount and the personal credit history and financial assets of the founder are likely to be important in determining which financing channel is most appropriate.

Tips on Funding a Startup

  • If you are searching for a way to fund a business startup, consider working with an experienced financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor who fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors who will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • One way to minimize the challenge of getting startup funding is to take a “lean startup” approach. That approach could be especially helpful to baby boomers, who are “aging out” of their careers and living longer than earlier generations but still need (or want) an income. Learn how many of them are turning their retirement into business opportunities.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Andrii Yalanskyi, ©iStock.com/teekid, ©iStock.com/Thithawat_s

Mark Henricks Mark Henricks has reported on personal finance, investing, retirement, entrepreneurship and other topics for more than 30 years. His freelance byline has appeared on CNBC.com and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance and other leading publications. Mark has written books including, “Not Just A Living: The Complete Guide to Creating a Business That Gives You A Life.” His favorite reporting is the kind that helps ordinary people increase their personal wealth and life satisfaction. A graduate of the University of Texas journalism program, he lives in Austin, Texas. In his spare time he enjoys reading, volunteering, performing in an acoustic music duo, whitewater kayaking, wilderness backpacking and competing in triathlons.
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