Megnut

Business & Financial

Less monetize, more somethingelseize please

As much as I've been enjoying Day One of ETech, I have to say I've heard far too much of the verb monetize. While I understand the intent, can't we use something else? Monetize emits a kind of rotten dot-com stench. Let's have a new word we use to describe a way to implement a business model and keep something going, and growing, once one's got a cool product. Something akin to sustaining, or sustaining and growing, and making the web a better place, while rewarding the people who are trying to do so.

The brand called Vermont

From today's Boston Globe comes an interesting article, The brand called Vermont: How the Green Mountain state cornered the market on purity.

Some might accuse our northern neighbors of having control issues. But according to state officials, the name Vermont has real value. A product labeled "Made in Vermont" -- whether herb-infused maple syrup, pineapple pepper jam, or chai water buffalo yogurt -- is worth 10 percent more than the same product made elsewhere.

As someone who's spent a lot of time in Vermont, and values its products, I found it an interesting read. Especially since I only buy Vermont maple syrup, and hesitate to buy anything made in New Hampshire. I guess I'm just another sucker for brand and marketing and I'd never even realized it! Perhaps when I start my farm (goat cheese, maple syrup, and Macintosh apples currently top the list of products I'll produce) I'll have to locate it in Vermont to benefit from the strong brand.

Going into business with a partner

A List Apart has a new article by Kevin Potts called Starting a Business: Advice from the Trenches. There's a lot that goes in to starting a business, and Kevin's article does a good job of highlighting the issues one should consider when doing so. But there is one recommendation that is a very serious decision: that of going into business with a partner. Kevin writes:

If you can, start the business with a partner. This person should be another designer or programmer with a level of experience equal to or greater than your own, but with a different skill set.

He then explains the good things that can come from working with a partner, and there are many. But he doesn't give the decision the weight it deserves. Starting a business with a partner (or partners) is very different than starting one alone. The closest analogy I can come up with is that it's like marrying someone, and the business you build is your child. Now you'd never marry someone simply because they possess different skills than you do (she likes to cook, and I don't mind cleaning up, so I guess we're a match!). You marry someone who shares similar values and who shares similar goals. Choosing a business partner is a decision that should be undertaken with the gravity of any long-term commitment.

If you like to spend a lot of money and your partner doesn't, you're going to clash. If you want to grow the business and she wants to keep a small team, you'll fight. Your partner may want to do something you consider morally questionable, how will you resolve it? Add to the partnership the questions of equity and authority, never mind cash flow and the actual work you have to do for clients, and pretty quickly you can find yourself in one heck of a mess. The more work you can do upfront before starting the business to ensure you and your partner(s) are a good match, the greater the likelihood of success. Spend a lot of time talking about your hopes and dreams for the company, and discuss what you'll do when you don't agree about something, and how you'd handle things if the money ran out.

Starting a business is a great idea, and I encourage anyone who's interested to go for it. I never regret starting Pyra with Ev, it was an amazing experience, but it was also the most painful experience of my life. Diving into business with a partner is never something to be undertaken lightly. [via Anil]

Lazy Girl's Guide to Budgeting

Though we've still got five months before the end of the year, it's never too early (or late!) for financial resolutions, especially with handy articles like The Motley Fool's Lazy Girl's Guide to Budgeting. The Fool reports that,

[H]alf of the 3,136 people surveyed said they do not always stay within their monthly budgets.

And how many people even have budgets? Every time I mention to anyone I have a budget I hear responses like, "Oh, how funny!" or "Wow, I could never do that." I'm here to tell you (along with the article) that yes, you can! And you really should, no matter how much or little money you're making. The more aware you are of where your money goes, the less likely you are to "spend" it unwisely (bank fees, interest payments, gigante frozen latteccinos, etc.) And that means more money for you and your vacation/house/emergency/[insert your fantasy here] fund.

The New Yorker on cost disease

From The Talk of the Town's Financial Page in this week's The New Yorker comes What Ails Us by James Surowiecki, a really interesting look at deflation, productivity, and Baumol's cost disease.

There are really two American economies: one that's getting more productive and one that's not. In the first -- the economy of Dell, Toyota, and Wal-Mart -- consumers have grown accustomed to paying less for more. In the second -- the economy of Harvard, the Yankees, and Bob's Body Shop -- they pay more for the same.

Yup, I really think I'd be a happy economist. Related: View: Why College Costs So Much from the New York Times, April 8, 2001.

Health care in the free market

Matt's got a good essay on the current state of health care. When the focus is profits, not care, patients lose out.

When I was a kid, I knew my doctor personally, he watched me grow up, and took an interest in his patients' lives. Today, going to the doctor makes me feel like a carton of milk on a supermarket checkout lane.

Buy low, sell high

Over at the Motley Fool, a question: Is there any silver lining to falling stock prices? Answer, "There sure is."

These words should ring true for anyone investing for the long haul -- especially those just starting out. If you've just plunked your first thousand dollars into the stock market and plan to keep adding to it over the next decades, you'll benefit from falling prices in the short term. And, by investing for more than 10 years, you smooth out the risk of owning common stocks.

This counter-intuitive perspective is also important if you're someone who regularly invests in stocks. Since you're buying stock perhaps every few months, you'll be able to get more shares with each payment if the prices are falling. Remember: It's not timing the market that matters, but your time in the market.

Job hunting tips or, Why unemployment is so high

I've got a new theory, based on the responses I've received to my Craig's List posting for a software/hardware engineer: It's no wonder we're seeing an increase in unemployment, people seem to have no idea how to apply for a job these days.

Here are some of the things I've received to date in response to my posting (note: posting says attachments will not be read, application requires an essay, company consists of two people):

Of the more than 30 responses I've gotten so far, less than 1/3 have even followed the directions to apply. (Those that have though look really great and I'm looking forward to talking with them.) So here's my other theory: if you're currently looking for a job, you have a tremendous advantage over other people out there if you just do a few simple things:

Address your cover letter to the person who will read it

This is an easy one and should only require a bit of your time. Simply call the company and find out the name of the person who's responsible for handling applications for the position for which you're applying. Often the receptionist will be able to give you a name. It shows you've made a little effort and care about the job.

Write a cover letter

Writing a cover letter is the easiest way to distinguish yourself from another applicant. If you've got a standard letter you like to use, spend some time and enhance it for each application you're submitting so the person who's reading it can see, again, that you care about the position and have some knowledge and qualifications for it.

Quality is much more important than quantity

Rather than whip off thirty generic emails to any job listing that might be right for you, take the time to craft five quality responses for the five best listings you've found. Write those cover letters, address them to real people, triple-check your message before you send it (so you don't apply "for the UI position" or call a woman "Richard").

And most importantly,

Follow the directions to apply for a position

I know this sounds harsh but honestly, if you can't follow directions to apply for a job, what makes the hiring manager think you can follow directions if you get the job?

No matter what the job market, just following these simple guidelines should increase your chances of landing an interview, and distinguishing yourself within the applicant pool. Surely if this is something you plan to do for the next X months or years, it's worth taking the time to do it right.

And one more thing, once you do have that interview, don't forget to send a follow-up thank you letter. While these were traditionally done on paper, nowadays if you're applying for a technical position, I think you can get away with email. It doesn't have to be anything fancy: simply thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you, ask any follow-up questions you may have, and reiterate your qualifications for the position.

SUV Tax Break

On Friday I wrote about the popularity of Hummers in Marin County, CA. A megnut reader sends a link to surprising article, which helps explain the preponderance of SUVs in wealthy areas like the Bay Area. Apparently a loophole in our tax laws allows SUV and truck owners a big tax break:

Here's how the SUV tax break works:

Suppose a business owner wants to purchase a $45,000 luxury SUV for use in his business. He or she could write off $24,000 of the cost under section 179 of the tax code as accelerated depreciation. Then the buyer could write off additional depreciation of the remaining $21,000 under a five-year schedule -- 20 percent, or $4,200, in the first year.

That's a total $28,200 tax write-off.

The tax credit if you buy a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle? $4,000.

Nick's investment ideas for 2003

Nick's posted his latest Management today column on 2003 investment ideas. Follow at your own risk, but I think his thoughts on #4, Online Media, are spot-on. Now's the time to do stuff online: the people are there and the pressure is off. Heck, here in NY someone's even doing a Webvan-type start-up again!

Ode to Citibank

To Citibank: How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways...

1. For taking one month, rather than "4 simple steps and less than 10 minutes," to establish my account via your online account sign-up process.

2. For requiring different things depending upon whether when one opens an account at a branch or online.

3. For holding my funds for a week while you "wait for them to clear" when they've been electronically wired from another bank.

4. And finally, after the month of tribulations to open an account with you, for sending me an email thanking me for my interest in a Citibank checking account and encouraging me to open one in "4 simple steps and less than 10 minutes."

Searching for a new bank

I'm looking for recommendations for a new bank that offers free or cheap online access via Quicken and the Web, and won't make me pay a ton of fees, and won't ding me for local ATM transactions at other machines (though this is lower priority). I currently use Wells Fargo. And I'm crazy for Quicken and always run reports on how I'm spending my money. It turns out I've spent $136.65 in bank fees in the past SIX months with Wells Fargo. Give me a break! 78% of that is online bill pay service fees and monthly service fees. So I'm looking to reduce this. If you've got a good bank to recommend, please do so using the comments. Yes, finally I've implemented comments. Improvements to follow.

Business is business

I've got a new motto, courtesy of Mike, "Business is business, regardless of dogs."

Megnut Marketing and Telecommunications Bill

I would like to propose the "Megnut Marketing and Telecommunications Bill of 2002" for consideration by the United States Congress:

Section 1: It shall be illegal for telemarketers to call outside the hours of 9-5 local time for the number they are dialing, Monday through Friday. If they call outside the designated hours, they will be fined $1,000 for each violation, 50% of which goes to the victim.

Section 2: It shall be illegal for financial companies (like credit card companies) to label envelopes with formal-looking warnings like, "Requires Immediate Attention" or "Signature Required" when in actuality the envelop contains some stupid credit card offer and requires no attention at all on the part of the addressee. This section can be summed up: It shall be illegal to make junk mail look like real mail.

I'm sure this bill requires additional sections that escape me now, but this is a start.

Also, I'm going to start referring to ATM's as "automatic T machines" from now on. You should too.

Understanding the budget cuts

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[via @jakemallory by way of stellar]

Need some insurance advice

Following up last week's post about insurance ridiculous, I spent some time poking around for different plans and found a hospital plan that "covers your hospital needs-and the hospital needs of your covered dependents-even when you are far away from home." Well visited are covered too, and It's significantly cheaper than our current plan and a better insurer. You pay out-of-pocket for non-hospital visits, but then hospital stuff is covered. That would work for us.

Here's the question though: they say they only cover expenses billed by the hospital, so if the surgeon isn't on the staff, their work wouldn't be covered. I have no hospital experience and so my question for those in the know: is it common for hospital doctors to be hospital staff? Or are they usually not? What I don't want is an accident that sends me to the ER, like a car crash, and I have some emergency surgery and after the fact discover the surgeon isn't a hospital employee. And then be on the hook for $300,000 in bills or something. Anyone with experience, please chime in!