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April 4, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Vacation



Filed under: Resources — fran @ 10:51 am

Everybody loves a good vacation and getting away can be a huge stress-relief, but planning a trip can also come with unwanted stress from something as simple as planning a trip. This is a time when you are supposed to leave all the problems behind and be able to enjoy yourself, not constantly worry about all of the planning that goes into it. Why worry about certain things when you can make them as simple as possible?

Often times when people plan a trip, they make some of the easiest tasks seem so difficult and that’s not something that you want to do when this is a trip you’re looking forward to. Here are a few tips to making your travels a bit easier and taking away the unnecessary stress from your vacation.

Easily the most important part of easing into your vacation time is to plan ahead of time in order to assure that your trip goes smoothly as possible. This includes knowing the best method of travel, the best months to travel to your destination and other parameters. Know how much you have to pack because traveling with too much or too little luggage is never a good thing and will add stress while you are away.

Understanding what you can actually put into a vacation is also very crucial. Knowing your budget as well as how much time you can actually invest into the vacation will help ease things as you won’t rush to make your way back home and you won’t have to worry about overspending financially. Learn about the places and accommodations around where you will be staying to determine what fits that budget and if it will be to your liking. Research is the key to finding the best value to fit your needs, wants and your monetary status.

Itineraries are a great way to save time when you get to where you are going. Having an idea of your day-to-day plans will ease the transition to each and knowing at which times you would like to partake in any activities you have going on during the day will make it easy. However, many people like to “wing it” and let the activities come to them. If this is the case with you and you want something more spontaneous, remember the budget and accommodations that you have to your disposal so you’re not caught in a bind after the activity is done and over with.

One of the issues with certain travels comes with the language barrier so be prepared to study before going to a destination where the dialect is different from your own. Make sure you study and remember phrases, sentences and other useful words that will be helpful when you make it to your destination. It would be a pain to go somewhere and not be able to ask where the restroom is because of the lack of ability to communicate. Be prepared where ever you decide to travel to so you’re not walking around looking for someone that actually does speak the same language as you do.

Book everything you need well before hand such as flights, hotel rooms or car rental so the options are more sizeable and you can get exactly what you need when you are ready for your trip. Also remember that many companies such as airlines, hotels and car rental agencies may possibly honor a lower price in the case that the price may drop so keep checking up on these things to get the best deal possible for your vacation. This will help your budget and still guarantee that you have the necessary accommodations when it comes time to take your trip.

If your vacation is one that will take you to multiple cities and destinations, be sure to make the accommodations in each of those destinations for the length of your stay at each place. If you do not fully know your schedule ahead of time, these accommodations can usually be made in-country before you go to your next destination, but never wait until you reach a city to make the accommodations for the duration of the stay there.

Of course you need to make sure you have your passport and IDs before even traveling. They are required if you are traveling outside of the United States and they are a necessity. Do not wait until the last minute to get the needed documents as it will only make the process more difficult than it needs to be. If you’re traveling domestically in the air, adult passenger must have some form of government-issued photo identification that they can present. This includes passports or a simple valid driver’s license.

Certain countries may require you to have a visa before entering the country so be sure to do your research to find out which countries do require it. If your destination does require that you have a visa, get that done as soon as possible because the process could take weeks to finalize.

Finally, be sure to keep contacts with you in an address book. Keep in touch with friends and family members by giving them some way to contact you in order to ensure everything is ok. You never want to let the ones you leave behind worry about you constantly so for vacations of a long duration, keep some kind of contact whether it be through emails or phone (you’ll have to know any foreign phone codes for travels out of country).

Keep these tips in mind to keep the stress out of traveling and your vacation. It’s a time for relaxation, keep it simple.

 

Travelzine – Travelzine.com helps you plan your trip and gives tips on making it simple.

AAA – The AAA website makes travel planning easy with their assistance providing tips as well as destination information such as restrictions and time zone.

Travellerspoint – Get 9 tips to make your trip amazing with advice from Travellerspoint.

Wanderlust and Lipstick – Dedicated to helping make your travel easier, this site is your destination for women’s travel.

CheapFlights.com – CheapFlights.com helps with all your travel tips before you take to the air.

Travel and Leisure – Travel and Leisure did their research and field tests to make sure you get the best advice on making your travels stress-free.

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April 3, 2012

Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Business Plan



Filed under: Resources — fran @ 12:43 pm

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A key part of having a successful business begins with having a meaningful and successful business plan. This plan covers the first 3-5 years of your brand new business and helps you get it up and running with limited problems in the way. It is your go-to guide that breaks down everything about your company into one area.

It is also the main attraction for any investors that you may need to get your company off the ground to start with. What you put into your business plan is viewed as the exact way the company will be ran including goals, markets and financial planning. There is a lot to making a successful business plan and as you write it, remember that this is the groundwork for your company and its immediate future.

In order to make a thought out, successful business plan, it is crucial to understand exactly what you are going to put in the business plan and how to make it look as sound as possible. Here are a few tips and tricks to use that could result in success early and often:

Before you go off and start writing up whatever you may think your business plan should include, remember that organization is a key factor here. Know what goes into your business plan and where it should go. This is especially beneficial if the business plan is being shown to potential investors that will help you get your business up and running in the first place. Writing out your company’s executive summary will help a lot as it outlines the goals and objectives of the company. This is your opportunity to present your company, make it important.

Keep in mind, with goals you want to include short-term as well as long-term goals into your plan.

Now that investors know a bit about your company, give them a little bit of information about yourself and your team. Profiles and biographies of yourself as well as any other business founders, partners or investors that will be working in and managing this business should be clear for investors to see. Resumes can go in an appendix, but describe exactly what it is that each person can provide to the company such as skills, qualifications and previous accomplishments. This will give everyone an idea of the experience and skill level going into the proposed business.

Since you’ve already made it this far, it is evident that you know exactly what kind of business it is that you would like to open. In this case, the next portion of your business plan should present the problem and the solution that you will be addressing. Describe what the problem is for the customer and how they currently deal with the problem. Then present your product as the solution and why what you are offering is better than the current solution being used by the customer. Of course, you have probably tested your product, so using cases to demonstrate how your product is superior is definitely a bonus.

A crucial part of the business plan and its structure is the market in which you intend to sell to and why they are the target. Remember, you are trying to get investors to put money into your company so you have to convince them that your target market is in need of your product and the market for your product is already quite large and continues to grow. Do your research before putting numbers to the paper and make sure the information is correct. If your company is a local business, you need your target market to reach an X-number of miles and that’s where your research should lie within. Web-based businesses require more research as the company will serve to a much larger market.

As soon as you know and can describe your market to investors, it’s time to lay out a marketing plan in order to successfully let the world know of your brand. How do you plan on advertising? Are you relying on print or online? These are questions that you must answer in order to form a firm marketing strategy that you know can be successful. Relying on word of mouth for a small, brand new business will almost assuredly get you very little results to start off, so come up with a plan that will give you big numbers from your target market.

List the competition that your brand new business will have. Of course, every industry will have more than one company vying for the top spot in their niche and you need to know them and what they are of capable of doing business-wise. This is also where you should list the advantages that you may have on the competitors such as your superior products or your great team. Giving the investors a solid idea that you are better than the competition out there will help ease their minds and get them to put money into your company.

Finally, since you have the investors looking at everything else, they of course want to know your full financial plan. This includes how much money you’ll need invested to get started, the cost of supplies, salaries, rent, maintenance, inventory and more. That will be compared to how much cash flow comes through the door (and when it begins) from all revenue streams. List all possible incomes and cash flow so that your investors know the plan is set to succeed. Remember, this is a plan that covers 3-5 years, so showing a steady increase in cash flow over time will be a huge selling point on getting investors to commit to your company.

Keep your plan in a safe place as it is your business guide as well. It’s there to help you correct mistakes and errors. It gives you the opportunity to go back and see where your plan might have been wrong and gives you the opportunity to fix it.

SequoiaCap.com – Sequoia Capital gives a good idea on writing a business plan that focuses on all of the important factors.

Microsoft – Microsoft gives an in-depth nine-step guide on what you will need in your company’s business plan.

MyOwnBusiness.org – My Own Business provides a deep look into what a business plan is, the necessary factors, steps to making a great business plan and helps with the format of the plan.

GSU.edu – The Small Business Development Center at Georgia State University gives an outline to making a successful business plan.

Forbes – This article on Forbes discusses all of the elements that go into forming a strong and sound business plan.

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Public Transportation in Los Angeles



Filed under: Resources — fran @ 11:22 am

Whether you’re a tourist visiting the City of Angels or a driver tired of rush hour traffic, commuting in Los Angeles will give you a truly unique perspective of the city. Not only will you be able to sit back while seeing the sites in the area, but you’ll get to see the rich diversity that only LA can offer.

Local Buses and Trains for Tourists

If you’re a tourist visiting LA, then you should really consider skipping the cab or rental car and check out LA’s public transport, even for just a day. Not only will it be cheaper, but you’ll get to experience LA’s culture, first hand. Besides, parking in the city can be difficult.

Public Transportation for Drivers

With gas prices skyrocketing, it’s no wonder more and more drivers are opting for public transport. If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of cars that are stuck in traffic on the freeways during rush hour, then perhaps you should try taking public transportation instead. You’ll save a lot on gas, mileage, and maintenance costs, plus you’ll be able to relax during your trip. There are plenty of Park & Ride lots in Los Angeles, allowing you to park your vehicle and then get on a bus or train to work. This way, even if there aren’t any buses or train stations near your home, you can simply find a Park & Ride lot in your area and go there instead.

If you decide to commute on a regular basis, and then be sure get an appropriate weekly or monthly pass to cut your travel costs even more. There are many options when it comes to transit passes; you can get the tap card that works with all Metro Lines and select buses and trains. If you’re taking buses or trains not covered by the Tap card, then you may need to get another transit pass such as the EZ card to be able to travel. Check out the buses and trains that you need to get on, and see which pass is appropriate for you.

Stay Safe

While using public transportation can certainly be fun and convenient, bear in mind that there are certain safety measures that you need to follow to ensure that you don’t get hurt. For starters, dress appropriately for public transportation. Put away any precious jewelry (watches, rings) while commuting as to not attract unwanted attention. If you really need to be dressed up, consider putting your nice clothes in a separate bag or wear a modest coat or outer layer.

Stick to moderate crowds. Empty stations and vehicles can make you an easy target, while overly crowded spaces can make it easier for pickpockets to steal your belongings. Whenever you can, choose to be in moderately crowded areas. Opt for an aisle seat instead of the window, as this provides more room for you, and lessens the chances of being cornered.

When it comes to handling your stuff, avoid putting your things on the seat beside you, as it makes it easy for people to grab them. Hold on to them at all times or keep them on your lap or between your feet.

Never fall asleep when commuting. A person who’s asleep is practically a “no brainer” target for thieves and wrongdoers.  Always have presence of mind, and make sure that you are aware of everything that’s going on around you. Look up and around every once in a while, so that others can sense your alertness.

Know Your Rides

Needless to say, not all buses and trains in LA are the same. Not all passes and fares will work for all the public transport vehicles, so make it a point to familiarize yourself with the different lines the roam Los Angeles.

There’s the Metro Bus System which travels in the Greater Los Angeles area. There three types of Metro Buses: First there’s the local bus, colored orange which makes a lot of stops in the city; the Rapid bus, colored red which also travels in the city, but with fewer stops, for people in a hurry; and the Express bus, colored blue, which has a reduced stop service when travelling on the freeways.

Then there’s the Metro Rail System. These are color-coded trains that travel throughout the Greater Los Angeles Area. These trains consist of: The Blue Line, Green Line, Red Line, Orange Line, Purple Line, and Gold Line.

There’s also the DASH, which is run by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT). The DASH Downtown buses have routes in Downtown LA and depart every 5 – 10 minutes from 6:30 AM – 6PM on weekdays, and from 10AM to 5PM on weekends at 15 minute intervals. DASH Downtown has 6 routes (A – F).

Also operated by LADOT, Commuter Express buses travel during rush hours (morning and afternoon) and travel throughout downtown LA, San Fernando Valley, and the beach cities.

Educate Yourself (call, brochures, online, metro.net)

There are plenty of ways to inform yourself about the different public transportation vehicles in LA. Free information is available in brochures (found in bus and train stations, as well as in the vehicles themselves), and over the phone too, at 323.GO.METRO.

To get more information as well as the full schedule and routes of the vehicles right at your fingertips, it’s best to check online. Below are some valuable resources that you can check out to get the full details on LA’s public transportation system:

Metro.net – Everything you need to know about the Metro Bus and Rail systems are in this website. View maps, timetables, as well as fare information for all the lines operated by Metro.

LADOT Transit Services – The official website of the LADOT, this resource will give you all the information you need about the DASH and Commuter Express Buses. It contains bus information, timetables, routes, and necessary fares.

LA City – Transportation – This page gives useful links about everything transportation in LA, from Air, to Land, to Sea. Check it out to find more websites about the various transportation options in Los Angeles.

Experience LA – Explore Los Angeles – Looking to visit new places in LA? This tool allows you to find a destination based on keyword, area, or category. So if you’re looking for museums in Beverly Hills, simply select “Beverly Hills” in the location field and “Museums” in the Category field, then hit search. This tool will not only list the possible places that you can visit, but it also tells you how to get there using LA public transport.

Discover Los Angeles – Transportation – This page gives you an easy to read overview of LA’s different public transportation networks. If you want no-frills information about the services of Metro and LADOT in one place, then be sure to check this out.

CommuterChoice – If you’re an employer and you want to make commuting easier for the people that work for you, then check out CommuterChoice.com. This is an initiative that aims to help employers touch base with service providers in their local areas in order to come up with customized commuting solutions for employees.

Metro Trip Planner – If you decide go Metro for your whole commute, use this tool to map out and schedule your trip. Simply enter your starting and end location as well as what time you have to leave (or arrive), and the trip planner will generate the options and schedules that you can take.

Google Maps – The above-mentioned Metro Trip Planner only works if you’re riding Metro buses and trains for your whole trip. However, if you’re getting on different types of public transport (Ex: you need to catch a METRO train, but then you also need to get on a DASH bus after that), then the Google Maps tool may be a more helpful option. Enter your start and end location, select your arrival/departure time, and click on the public transit button to generate commute instructions.

Metro Primary Resources – Want to learn more about the history and important milestones about transportation in Southern California? Then this site is an excellent resource. Considered as “one of the most comprehensive transit operator-owned library resources,” this library and archive is extremely useful for the public as well as governments and research institutions.

Image credit: Seattle Municipal Archives on Flickr

 

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April 2, 2012

How to Start a Business



Filed under: Resources — fran @ 3:07 pm

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Establishing a business could be one of the most rewarding decisions you could make. However, the path to entrepreneurship is often rocky, especially in the beginning stages. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources, tutorials, and articles online that can assist you in every step of the business planning process.

There are also several events out there that are designed to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with mentors, potential partners, and colleagues. Explore your current professional network and see if there’s anyone that can point you to the right direction. You can also visit your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they have any events or activities for people looking to start a business.

Additionally, before taking the plunge, you need to some crucial steps to ensure that your venture is off to a good start. Check out the tips below:

Do a study on your industry – Don’t quit your day job before testing your business idea first. Even if you, your family, and your friends all think that your idea is the best thing that happened since sliced bread, it’s wise to test the market first if your product or service will sell. Determine your target audience and conduct a survey to see if there really is a need for your product or service. If you invented something, come up with a good prototype and exhibit it in events or shows to see if it will be well-received. The main point here is you need to test the waters first, before diving into a full-fledged business. After all, the last thing you want to happen is to officially launch your product or service only to find out that the market doesn’t have a need for it.

Decide on the type of business that you need to establish – Are you going to put up a Sole Proprietorship, a corporation, or a Limited Liability Company (LLC)? The answer to that depends on size and scale of your business as well as the products or services that you’re selling. As its name implies, a sole proprietorship is a type of business that’s owned and run by one individual. Note that there is no legal distinction between owner and the business. A corporation on the other hand is composed of two or more people that act as a single entity. A corporation has a separate legal identity and has its own distinct privileges from its members. An LLC is an entity that created under state law that can protect you from personal liability. This means that in the event that your business loses money or is sued, your personal assets are safe (as opposed to a sole proprietorship where there is no legal distinction between your assets and your business).

Trademarks, Patents, & Copyrights – If your business involves your original ideas or inventions, then you may want to look into patents, copyrights, and trademarks to protect your intellectual property. While the three items mentioned above are similar, they each have certain distinctions. A copyright protects authors or creators of original works such as books, and songs, and it grants exclusive rights to publish these works. Note that a copyright only protects the expression of ideas, and not the ideas themselves. A trademark is a symbol, word, or phrase that’s legally registered or established by use as representing a company or product, and gives legal protection against those that use trademarked terms without the owner’s consent. A patent on the other hand grants an individual or an investor the rights to use or sell an invention.

Find a mentor – It’s always great to have a go-to person to seek advice from when you’re venturing into entrepreneurship. Ideally, this is someone who’s in the same business as you want to be. Of course, people in the same field as you are can count as your competitors, so to avoid any conflicts, pick someone who has a business in another state or who caters to a different segment.

Research, research, research! – While experience is still considered as the best business professor, hitting the books (or in this case, hitting the World Wide Web) can mentally prepare you for your venture or at the very least answer any technical questions about starting the business.

The websites below serve as excellent resources for aspiring entrepreneurs. They offer advice, services, and how-to’s that can effectively guide you in your business venture.

SBA.gov – The US Small Business Administration (SBA) has a great section all about starting a business. The section even gives a step-by-step guide that covers the legal and financial side of setting up shop.

SCORE – Considered as one of the best sources for free business advice and mentorship, SCORE is a non-profit organization that’s “dedicated to entrepreneur education and the formation, growth and success of small business nationwide.”

IRS – There are certain taxes that come with starting a business. This section of the IRS website provides an overview of federal tax information for those of want to start a business.

Better Business Bureau – The BBB doesn’t just provide consumers with business information; it also gives business owners valuable advice and how to become better entrepreneurs. Check out the BBB research library and see if you can pick up any tips about becoming a good business owner.

FTC Business Center – The Federal Trade Commission has an online Business Center that offers valuable resources on various aspects of running a business, including finance, marketing, privacy & security, as well as legal issues.

Entrepreneur – This website isn’t just for existing business owners; Entrepreneur.com actually has a lot of excellent pages on starting a business. The site offers detailed articles on writing a business plan, financing a start-up, running a home-based business, and more.

Inc.com – To secure your business’s future, you have to keep up with the times and embrace modern innovation. Inc.com publishes the latest news on technology and how it affects businesses.

LegalZoom – If you’ve already decided on the type of business that you’re going to establish, be sure to check out LegalZoom. This site offers online services to assist users in starting various types of businesses, including LLCs, Corporations, Non Profits, Sole Proprietorship, and more. All you have to do is fill out some forms, and LegalZoom will handle all the necessary documents and submit them to the right government entities.

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March 23, 2012

3 Cheap and Easy Ways to Promote Your Non-Profit Organization



Filed under: Resources — fran @ 11:41 am

There’s nothing more rewarding than promoting a good cause. And what’s great about technology today is that any organization, no matter how small, can still get a big voice and a wide audience at little to no cost.

Below are a few effective but cheap ways to promote non-profit organizations. Follow these tips religiously and you’re bound to garner a huge following in no time!

Blog – Keep your supporters in the loop using an updated blog. Be sure to write about what your organization is up to, the progress of your campaigns, any events that you’re having, and of course any future plans. Tell stories about the people that you’ve helped and empower your supporters to promote your cause. Remember to include images and videos to your posts to further engage users. After all, everyone knows that images (especially moving images) can be far more moving and convincing than mere words on a page.

Team Up with Other Entities – A lot of corporations out there also want to do good, so why not find companies that support your cause? You may have to do the leg work and make a lot of phone calls, but it will be worth it if you find an entity to team up with.

DealGooder – More than just your average daily deal website, DealGooder partners up with businesses and charitable organizations to help them raise money. Every day, the site offers deals from local businesses, and interested customers can purchase them at highly discounted rates. When users buy the deals, DealGooder donates 50% of the profits to a featured charitable organization, creating a win-win-win situation for customers, businesses, and non-profits. If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box way to raise more money, be sure to check out what DealGooder has to offer.

Image credit:  Hamed Saber on Flickr

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