How to save money on eBay shipping and keep your customers happy in the process

 

Save money on ebay shipping

Reduce your shipping costs

Shipping is one area of selling strategy that I think new sellers over look. They lose a lot of money and are less competitive because of it. EBay shoppers tend to be bargain shoppers looking for the best deals on the internet. They compare prices on merchandise, as well as shipping prices.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the shopper for a moment. Imagine that you were browsing for merchandise that you wanted. You stumble upon the listings of two different merchants who are selling the same exact item at the same price. The only major difference between the two listings are the shipping prices and options. All other things being equal, which listing would you choose?

Exorbitant shipping fees (gouging) are prohibited on eBay. Since eBay allows sellers to set their own shipping rates, it is wise to set shipping prices as close to the actual shipping costs as possible. Keep in mind that eBay charges a final value fee on the shipping. The higher the shipping cost, the higher the final value fee. Therefore, it behooves the eBay seller to keep shipping fees and costs to a minimum. It benefits both the seller and the customer.

Weigh everything that you ship

The first thing you will need is an accurate shipping scale. This is so that you can actually weigh the item that you are selling and calculate out the shipping costs ahead of time.

The type of shipping scale that you should purchase is dependent on your business needs. An industrial postal shipping scale may be best for some larger e-commerce businesses, whereas a consumer postal scale may be better for low volume, smaller business sellers. If you plan to sell some light-weight items, then a low cost consumer shipping scale is sufficient for your needs when starting out. Good digital shipping scales are available for cheap on Amazon, eBay and at office supplies stores.

 

Buy a shipping scale designed for postal shipping, with the capacity to accurately weigh the types of items that you are selling. Make sure that you purchase a digital scale that weighs in increments of at least a tenth of an ounce. I purchased my first shipping scale from office depot for about $30 dollars. It has an 11lb capacity, which is good enough for the items that I usually sell.

Weigh the item along with the packaging material that you will use. Then, input the shipping weight into the eBay item listing. Once you know the shipping weight of your items, then you will be able to accurately charge for the costs of shipping through the different carriers. On eBay, sellers have the capability to enter shipping weights on the backend for each product listing. The seller will have a pretty good indication of how much shipping will cost for each item and the shipping fees for each type of service offered.

Factors that impact the cost of shipping include package dimensions, weight and where the items is being shipped. If you know all of this information, then you can easily figure out shipping costs, give or take a few pennies. Don’t forget to factor in complete shipping expenses (supplies, gas, etc.) into the price of the item that you are selling. You also have the option to include a shipping and handling charge to customers on the backend as well. This is where I add in the cost of packing materials.

Selecting your delivery service or carrier

Which carrier should you use? Well, it depends. Most consumers and businesses ship parcels via the USPS, UPS, or FedEx. Others choose a freight service for bulky and heavy items. Determine which carrier offers the best value and efficiency for the type of shipping service that you need. The USPS usually offers the best value for parcels that weigh 13 oz. and under via their First Class Parcel delivery service. The USPS also offers low cost Media Mail service for certain types of package contents (books, CDs, DVDs).

When possible, I ship packages weighing 13 oz. and under through First Class Parcel instead of Standard Post. You can easily save money by sticking say, a small lightweight clothing item in a bubble mailer and sending it by first class parcel. Plus, it is much cheaper than parcel post and the customer will get their merchandise faster.

Some customers don’t like to use USPS shipping services due to problems with packages getting lost in the mail. So, they rely on higher priced (but more reliable) carrier services from UPS and FedEx. They all offer shipping discounts for businesses that ship in volume.

Save on shipping supplies

Always recycle shipping materials. Whether they are shipping boxes, envelopes, bubbler mailers, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, remember to save them all. Break down boxes that you receive and set them aside for later reuse. Sometimes, I check Craigslist and Freecycle for listings of free shipping supplies and moving boxes.

Another thing that people don’t know is that the USPS has free Priority Mail Flat Rate® boxes and envelopes available for shipping. Some of them may be available at a local post office and others can be ordered at the USPS website. Have them shipped to you free of charge. The added benefit to using Priority Mail® shipping is that free USPS tracking and insurance up to $50 are included.

Order cheap shipping supplies in bulk from a wholesale supplier of shipping products like Uline or find sellers on eBay who sell discount shipping supplies. The most expensive way to get shipping products is to go to a regular retail store and buy shipping boxes and packing materials individually. The practice of buying “as needed” is okay for the casual, occasional eBay seller. However, this is not a smart move for the seller who ships moderate to large volumes of merchandise. It might not to seem like much but those extra $.30-$.50 or more that you pay per individual shipping supplies add up over thousands of packages.

Purchase postage online

There are quite a few companies that offer online postage/carrier services: The USPS, FedEx, UPS, and stamps.com are just a few. Sellers can also buy reduced cost postage for shipping through the USPS and FedEx directly through eBay or PayPal. I do most of my shipping through the USPS. In my experience, it is so much cheaper to purchase postage online through eBay or PayPal versus going to the post office counter and paying for shipping in person.

It is also more convenient, because you could pay for the postage from your PayPal account. You also don’t have to worry about any transcription errors in addressing the packages because you print the shipping label from the eBay website. All the information is prepopulated and placed on the shipping label. No special labels or printers are needed. The shipping label can be printed from a regular laser or inkjet printer. USPS tracking is free as well, which is a savings of up to $1.05 per package.

Keywords and Quality Content are the lifeblood of niche websites

What are keywords?

A keyword is the search term that people plug into a search engine. Most of the times, they go to Google looking for information or the answers to a problem or question. And here’s where keywords come into play. Google indexes billions of pages on the internet. When, people make search queries, Google uses a software program called ‘spiders” to find the most useful and relevant webpages. So, if a searcher types in a word like “baseball bats”, Google will return the results of webpages which contain that keyword.

As an internet marketer, you will want to familiarize yourself with the relevant keywords and vocabulary of your niche. It is important to get inside the minds of your target audience and understand their wants and needs. What is the language of your audience? What are the types of search terms they would plug into Google or another search engine? You attract more visitors to your niche site by answering the questions that your visitors are asking.

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You will also attract highly targeted traffic from the search engines by creating good quality, relevant content around long tail keywords. It does no good to have high traffic to a site, if the visitor is not getting what they are looking for. The idea is to get highly targeted visitors that are ready willing and able to buy things. And even if the traffic is relatively low, there is still a good chance to make money when the conversion rates are high for that traffic.

So, if a person were to plug in the term “baseball” into Google, they would get a search result with millions of indexed pages. These results would be very broad and will contain any webpages related to the topic of baseball. The results could contain information on baseball gear, baseball games, rules of baseball, how to play baseball, baseball memorabilia, baseball ad infinitum. Now if the same person were to plug in a more targeted term such as “wooden baseball bats”, he’d receive a list of webpages specifically targeting that search term.


I mentioned the term, “long tail keywords” It is a very specific, low search volume term, that people query in the search engines, as opposed to a head term (sometimes called short-tail), which are usually much more broad in scope, and more heavily searched. For example, a head term is usually just one or two words, like “new cars”. A long tail keyword would be “new Toyota dealership in Orlando”.

 

An added benefit of zeroing in on a niche is that it gives the website a better chance of ranking well in Google.  There are many factors that go into how Google ranks websites in SERPs.  But, it is much easier for a website to rank in Google by targeting the low competition, long tail keywords, as opposed to trying to rank for a head term. In other words, a niche website containing the keyword phrases that your target audience is searching for in Google will show up in the first few pages of Google (if researched and constructed properly). The goal is for the website to reach the first page of Google and ideally the first few results on that page.

 

Information marketers implement keyword research tools in order to find the best long tail keywords and find a worthwhile niche. There a few effective free tools, such as Ubbersuggest and the Google Adwords Keyword tool. There are more robust keyword research software available like Market Samurai, Long tail Pro, and Jaxxy, but they aren’t free. Although keyword research tools are not 100% precise and accurate, they do provide fairly close approximations of data culled from major search engines.

Review of Vindale Research: Is it a Scam?

Is Vindale Research a scam? In a word, “No”. I joined them in 2010 and have successfully cashed out my earnings twice there. Therefore, I conclude that they are not a scam. This certainly doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Here are some of the things that I like about Vindale Research:

• They are free to join with no membership fees.
• They credit your account with cash. You don’t have to convert points to cash dollar amounts in order to figure out what you earn per action.
• It is super easy to make money there.
• They have a referral program, so that members can make more money.
• Members receive credit for some of their activities immediately after they are completed but sometimes it can take a few days to receive the credit. It takes much longer to get credit or reimbursement after completing product evaluations.

You certainly don’t need to spend any money to make money with Vindale Research. Members can earn money for free in the following ways:

• Complete studies (what I consider market research surveys through a third party company)
• Watch Videos: they pay around $.02 (most lack variety)
• Reward Mail: Earn a few pennies by reading e-mails. They don’t send them often. Also make sure that Vindale Research is added to your contact list so that the e-mails don’t go to your spam folder.
• Photos: Take a picture of yourself holding your payment check or a sign stating that they paid you and upload it to their site and they pay $5 for that.
• Print and redeem coupons through the Daily Deals section
• Refer others to join Vindale Research. At the time of this blog post, you can earn up to $5 per referral.

There are a few things which I don’t particularly care for with Vindale Research. One, being that they sometimes do not pay according to their own schedule. Two, the panelist support is not very good. Sometimes their support is not very responsive to questions that you have about late payments, survey crediting, etc. On more than one occasion I didn’t receive the proper credit for some surveys that I completed from start to finish. So, I e-mailed their support. The response that I received was not helpful at all. It appeared to be ambiguous, automated or script-like, with no solid explanation as to why I had not been paid.

The panel support basically tells you that if the third-party administrator of the survey doesn’t accept the panelist’s survey results, then the panelist won’t be paid. This tells me that Vindale Research is probably not a market research company in the traditional sense, but rather a third-party between the panelist and legitimate market research companies. They also help other companies to generate leads.

They list offers or product evaluations as “market research surveys”, which I find to be somewhat misleading. The way that some of these trial offers and product evaluations work is that a member can participate in the evaluation or trial offer through links advertised on the website. After a certain amount of time has lapsed (trial offer period), the member is reimbursed for upfront payments. Some members complain that they aren’t reimbursed after signing up for trial offers or completing product evaluations.

They have had numerous complaints with the Better Business Bureau. Then again, this in and of itself doesn’t make them a scam. Vindale Research is owned by a company called Say For Example, Inc. which was established in 2005.

It is hard for anyone not intimately involved to know what has happened in each particular case filed with the BBB. In fairness to Vindale Research, they state in their terms of service that they will not pay for fraudulent transactions or situations where the member does not complete actions (for example, cancels an offer before a specified amount of time).

The payout minimum is really high at $50. I am a member of some market research companies that have payout minimums as low as $10. There are only two pay periods per month. They pay in batches of $50. So, if you accumulate $55 in your account, you can redeem up to $50 and $5 will remain in your account. They pay members through PayPal or check. According to their FAQ’s it’s supposed to take a few business days after redeeming to receive payments, but that hasn’t been my experience.

The studies through third-party market research companies pay is usually very low and in fixed amounts.

Signing up for offers and doing product evaluations on Vindale Research. Here’s my take:

1. I am not a huge fan spending money in order to earn money on these types of sites. There are other websites like Swagbucks, CashCrate and SendEarnings that will pay their members to sign-up for free offers. Most of these offers don’t require members to provide personal information beyond name, physical address and/or valid e-mail addresses. Understand that the companies that make offers or trials on these types of websites are marketing their products or services. The main goal is to get more customers or prospective customers. I don’t see anything wrong with this. However, be vary wary and cautious of any marketer or offer requesting banking information, credit card numbers, date-of-birth or social security numbers.

2. In the remote chance, that I were to sign up for a trial offer or product evaluations that required upfront pay:

a) I’d make sure that I were signing up for any offer or service that is useful and truly interests me.

b) I’d make damned sure that I were signing up for an offer with a reputable company and that I understood all of the terms that go along with that offer. Do your due diligence with scam review and government websites and read consumer product and service reviews prior to making any purchases. You can find out more about the terms by reading up on it at their third-party website. This will reduce the chances of providing personal information to a spammer or scammer.

My overall conclusion is that they aren’t a scam but not really a great place to make money on the internet. Don’t expect to make a living off of this site. Any money earned there is merely pocket change. Join Vindale Research at your own discretion.

How to Make Money on Zazzle

Zazzle is one of my favorite money making websites.  It is a company that offers custom designed and print-on-demand merchandise.  It was founded in  1999 and is headquartered in Redwood City, California.  It is a very reputable and well-known e-commerce company in its industry.  Zazzle gives people in countries outside of the US the opportunity to earn money with other websites besides Zazzle US.  Even major brands like Hallmark and Disney sell merchandise on the platform.

There are three ways to earn money on Zazzle:

As an associate (affiliate) promoting other members’ products or your own merchandise

As a designer, creating and uploading your own images

As a manufacturer of merchandise

This post is mainly for people who are interested in making money as designers and associates.

Zazzle is a great place to make some money and being a designer or associate comes with many benefits. First of all, it is free to join. There is no physical inventory for members to store or manage. There is no manufacturing or special equipment needed as, Zazzle handles this part of the process. They also handle payment processing, customer service, packaging and shipping of the ordered merchandise, at no additional cost to the sellers.  There may be occasional direct questions to designers from interested customers regarding your merchandise.  So, it helps to have a great deal of knowledge about what you have to offer in order to better serve the customer.

The way that it works for a designer is that he or she opens a Zazzle store. It is a virtual store of inventory displayed on Zazzle’s website. The designer is responsible for choosing the products to place the designs onto. Each time that a customer makes a purchase from the store, the designer is paid a royalty.  The designer can set their royalty rates from 5% to 99%.  However, Zazzle charges a 5% transaction fee on royalties of 15% or greater.  Therefore, royalties between 5% and 10% are recommended.

For associates, a 15% royalty is earned when a sale is made. Many designers and associates promote Zazzle products on their own websites or via social media sites like Pinterest.  Associates who make referral sales may be eligible for Volume Bonus earnings. At the present, the payment threshold is $100 for payments by check and $50 by PayPal in the US.

The best part of all, is that there is the potential for residual income as long as your products are listed on Zazzle. The website domain has been around for a long time and has lots of Google juice.  Zazzle webpages usually turn up on the first page in Google SERPs.  This means that people from all over the world may see your designs.  You never know when someone will randomly decide to purchase a product that was listed months or years ago. That is the reach of the internet.

There is no need to be pre-approved for an account or for image submissions.  Also, the designer retains the copyrights to any original images that he or she creates and submits to Zazzle.  Some people use royalty free images in the public domain for their designs.  Using another artist’s designs without permission is not allowed and may be considered as copyright infringement.  Keep in mind that certain types of images are prohibited on Zazzle.  So, be sure to read all of their terms of service agreements and policies.

You don’t need to be a professional artist in order to sell your designs on Zazzle.  There are many amateur designers who take their own photos with an inexpensive digital camera or smartphone.  Then, they edit the images using free or low-cost editing/designing programs like Windows paint, Picmonkey, GIMP and Photoshop Elements.  Although you don’t have to be an artist, original, unique and creative designs will certainly boost your sales.  Expensive design and editing software programs and photography equipment are not required (but they can certainly help you to stand out as an artist).

These are some of the types of items that designs can be placed on:

  • Mugs
  • T-shirts
  • Posters
  • Pens
  • Mousepads
  • Skateboards
  • Smartphone cases
  • Laptop cases
  • Pillows
  • Postcards
  • Postage stamps
  • Stickers
  • Key chains and Name tags
  • Button and pins
  • Hats and neckties
  • The list goes on…

You will probably not get rich from Zazzle, but it is possible to earn a decent living there.  In order to be successful, you have to be serious about it from the start and treat it like a business.  That applies with just about any money making venture.

Make It Your Own

How to increase your chances of success with Zazzle:

One of the keys to success is to work hard to build up your catalogue of high-quality designs and products. Create unique products that will distinguish your products from those of other designers.  If you just follow the crowd and upload typical photos of pets, the beach, or flowers, then you won’t make as many sales.

Add more designs and more products to your Zazzle store to increase your chances of making sales.  It’s really a numbers game and you shouldn’t expect to make many sales with low volumes of products or poor quality designs.  A seller with 100,000 products is much more likely to make consistent sales than a seller with a few hundred products listed. Bare in mind that a single design can be uploaded and placed on several products.

Do keyword research in order to find low-competition niches and avoid saturated niches. Always use accurate and relevant keywords, titles and descriptions so that the products will be discovered in Google and search engines. Zazzle has a search function similar to Google.  Having product listings with accurate descriptions, titles and keywords will help the customers to find your products.

Many Zazzlers are having success by promoting products on Pinterest and Facebook. So, find some ways to get the word out about your products both online and offline.

What is a niche website? What is niche marketing?

A niche is focused on a specific interest or target audience. People often confuse mass markets with niches or subniches.  A market is a broad or general topic or industry, while a niche is more highly targeted to a particular audience or customer.  An example of a market is healthcare.  A niche or sub-niche of this market may be focused on nursing education or even more specifically, continuing education for nurse practitioners.

 

A niche website displays content which encompasses a given niche or sub-niche.  They can be in the form of static websites, blogs or e-commerce sites.  They can be used to make direct sales of a product or service that you create or to the promote products and services of others (affiliate marketing).

 

There are an abundance of niche opportunities available.  The possibilities are endless. To find a good niche, examine your interests, hobbies and passions.  Take a close look at your talents and areas where you are highly knowledgeable. Also, consider trends and what is happening in the world around you and in your local community.  You can get some good ideas from observing topics that pop in social media, current events, the news, magazines, catalogues, brochures and store shelves at retailers.  You may just get your “Eureka!” moment by talking with a friend or watching TV.

 

 

For example, when my siblings and I were growing up, we would always spend hours on the weekend watching “Kung Fu theater” on syndicated TV.  You know, those older martial arts movies with the poorly dubbed English were televised often in those days. We’d always try and mimic the fighting moves used by the actors in the movies during our play fights.  Up until this day, is still enjoy Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li action flicks.  I almost consider the martial arts as a beautiful art form.  Although I don’t know the first thing about martial arts, I am intrigued enough to be able to research and write about the martial arts.  And, there are plenty of niches to be found within the marital arts markets, such as UFC jui jitsu gear, Gracie grappling techniques, tai chi for relaxation, etc.

 

 

A few good websites that will inspire some niche ideas are mazagines.com, Yahoo Answers, Quora, eBay and Google Trends. Brainstorm on how you can produce content, a service or a product that will actually add value to the niche and help the end user at the same time.

 

 

Starting your research with things that you are interested in or passionate about is helpful.  This is because you will be less likely to get bored and abandon the project.  It won’t feel as much like a chore when you are trying to consistently come up with fresh ideas and content within the niche. But, your research shouldn’t stop here.

 

 

Just because you like a particular niche doesn’t mean that it will be worth your while to pursue it.  That last thing that anyone wants is to invest time, money and resources into building a website in a niche that isn’t profitable.

 

Some people trip themselves up from the beginning by starting with too broad a topic.  They make the mistake of assuming that they are capable of serving every audience in a market.  Then, they later realize just how overwhelming a task this is and some give up.  They also don’t consider the fact that broad markets tend to be highly competitive and difficult to thrive in.  They are already dominated by well established brands and companies.

 

What is Affiliate marketing?: The Short and Sweet Version

Disclosure:  This blog post contains affiliate links, so if you buy anything or sign up through the links, I may receive a commission.

Affiliate marketing is selling and promoting someone else’s product or service in exchange for a fee or commission. You’re essentially getting paid to refer traffic to a specified product (physical or digital)  or service site.  This is one of the easier ways to make money online, with little to no upfront costs to get you started.  It is arguably, one of the best free ways to make money from home online.

Some of the major benefits to affiliate marketing is that you don’t need to carry any inventory, there is no overhead cost, no worries about payment collection or processing,  and there are no dealings directly with customers.  This makes the barriers to entry extremely low. It’s also a great way to earn residual income on autopilot!

 

Some companies establish their own affiliate programs for others to get the word out about their products.  There are also affiliate networks which allow third party companies (may be called advertisers) to offer an affiliate program through the network.  Affiliate marketers (sometimes called publishers) can join the network and select from among hundreds or thousands of programs listed through the network to promote.

 

Most affiliate programs work like this:  An affiliate marketer joins the program and is then given an affiliate link with their own unique tracking code.  The tracking code is used to determine where any referrals and sales come from.  So when a customer or prospect clicks on the affiliate link and takes a specified action, then the affiliate marketer receives credit.  Reputable affiliate networks and programs provide an easy way for its affiliates to check of all their stats and run reports through internet dashboards. So, all the sales, clicks, commissions earned will be viewable through the dashboard.

 

Some affiliate programs pay marketers when a lead signs up for a program, makes a phone call, fills out a form or buys a product (Cost per sale, Cost per action, Pay per lead, etc.).  Also, there are programs which pay a one-time commission to affiliates, while others pay recurring commissions or lifetime commissions on sales.  It depends on the affiliate program rules and the type of product promoted.

 

The amount of money that the affiliate marketer earns varies according to the affiliate program rules.  Some programs pay a flat rate and others pay a certain percentage of a sale.  Referral programs usually work in a similar way.

 

Affiliate marketers make most of their money by writing sales copy, articles or product reviews which are directly related to whatever they are promoting. They put the copy on a website (usually niche), an e-mail newsletter, social media websites or forums (if allowed) and incorporate their affiliate links into the copy.

 

Good marketers know how to write effective copy, that provides helpful and relevant information to the customer and then make subtle product suggestions without being pushy and aggressive. The truth is that customers don’t want to be sold to. And, they don’t want to buy products from people that don’t make a good impression. It makes no sense to promote products and services that aren’t related to the topic of the content presented.

 

Affiliate programs have different ways to pay their affiliates once the payout minimum is reached.  They may pay by either check, PayPal, direct deposit, gift certificate or through some other payment processor. The pay schedule varies depending upon the merchant or program.  Usually, payments are sent out either monthly or bi-weekly.

 

Here are a few well-known affiliate programs and networks:

Amazon Associates

Clickbank

ShareAsale

Commission Junction

LinkShare

VigLinks

SkimLinks

eBay Partner Network

 

You can also find an affiliate program by visiting a company’s website.  Most of the times there is a link to the affiliate program at the bottom or at the top of the home page.  Usually the link will say “promote our products” or “join our affiliate program”. Reputable affiliate programs are normally free to join.  Be very cautious about joining any affiliate program that asks for a fee upfront.

 

Here are some important considerations regarding affiliate marketing; It takes times to build up a business.  Most people who start a business based on affiliate marketing do not make significant amounts of money right away.  Depending upon your skill set and knowledge, it may take a few months or it may even take some years to build up interest, a customer base and consistent, sustainable levels of income.  It also requires a lot of hard work, consistency and dedication.

 

Realistically speaking, affiliate marketing is not for people looking for a push-button, get-rich-quick type scheme which doesn’t require much effort.   Be wary of affiliate marketing gurus who say things like “Learn how to make $100,000 in just two weeks”.   Some of these people may be good natured.  Perhaps, THEY are capable of earning $100,000 or more in a short period of time.  However, in most cases these results are not typical for the average person starting out with no knowledge, no credibility,  no website traffic or experience.

Here are a few websites where you can find further information and training (some of it is free and some of it comes with a cost) on how to become an affiliate marketer:

AssociatePrograms–  This website used to be owned by internet marketer, Allan Gardyne. The website was sold to his business partner and revamped.  It contains a wealth of free information on how to get started with affiliate marketing.  There is also another website started by Gardyne called lifetimecommissions, which is sort of a directory of affiliate programs.

WealthyAffiliateUniversity–  I am a member of this active, online community that offers visitors a free, no-strings attached,  “starter membership” and access to some free training modules on  affiliate marketing.  They also provide instructions on how to build a niche website from scratch.  Access to the premium content comes with a $47 monthly membership fee, though.

WarriorForum– This website is not a training website per se.  It is more for someone who has a little more knowledge than a person who is totally green with internet/affiliate marketing.   It has a fair amount of decent user generated content but it is somewhat scatter shot.   Warrior forum is also a place where internet marketers and entrepreneurs bounce ideas off of each other and ask questions.

Now with that said, you have to watch out for people who put misleading information on the forum.   Some of the members are abrasive in their commentaries and responses towards other members’ ideas.  And, once in a while there are a few “warriors” who are just down right rude and condescending to new members.  Don’t be distracted or fall prey to anyone offering scam products or business opportunities.  Otherwise, it is a good place to network with other internet marketers.

 

Can You Make Money in the Financial Markets?: My Experience with Mutual Funds

In a prior post I discussed how my financial education began with TWPMM and learning more about the commodity futures market.  After I finished with the Ken Roberts TWMPMM & course and decided that commodities trading wasn’t for me.  I continued to study about the financial markets on and off between 1998-2002.  However, most of my reading was in basic personal finance (for example books by Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, etc.) and introductory investment type books. During that time period I was also very pre-occupied with my career, personal relationship troubles and continuing my college education. In this blog post, I will talk about how my lack of knowledge about mutual funds messed up my investment portfolio and cost me some money.

What are mutual funds?  In a nutshell, they are basically what I call “packaged’ or pooled investments of stocks, bonds or other investment products.  Instead of a fund pooling money together to buy one individual stock or bond, it buys  several different stocks or bonds together under one fund.

Mutual funds are financial investment products which are monitored and researched by fund managers.  The over arching ideal behind mutual funds is that they allow investors to diversify and spread risk over a variety of investments rather than concentrating risk on a single investment.  They are usually touted by brokers and banks as a safer form of investment than buying individual common stocks or other equities (which is not true).

The first time that I invested in a mutual fund was in 1995 after I got my first “good” paying job with decent benefits.  I enrolled in a Dean Witter 401K plan through my employer.  A financial planner came to the company and held a short seminar on our investment options through a 401K plan and  gave a brief overview of what the plan was about.  I was really young and had no prior knowledge of the financial markets at this time.

The only reason why I even considered using the 401K plan is because my employer matched our contributions and because the company president attended the meeting and advised us that saving for retirement is a wise choice.  The financial planner even presented us with pie-charts and statistical break-downs of which investments would offer the most growth over time and the investments that were considered aggressive vs. conservative.  Since all of this was like gibberish to me, I just went along with the investment suggestions of the financial planner.  Our options were fairly limited to mainly stock and bond mutual funds.

The financial planner who spoke to us appeared to be a nice gentleman, wearing a nice three piece suit.  He came across as very knowledgeable and cordial.  His papers and leather brief case made him look official and professional.  Being naïve at that time, I just trusted that he was telling us what was right. In retrospect, he was there to do a job and make sales for Dean Witter.

A word of caution that I can offer to anyone reading this is that you should never take advice from a financial adviser or money manager who doesn’t have a fiduciary duty towards you.   If the advisor doesn’t have a legal duty to act in your best interests, then you should take everything that he or she says with a grain of salt.  Seriously.

Most advisors employed by brokers and banks are most likely acting in behalf of their employers.  They may also be paid on commission and rewarded based on churning and selling more financial products and services.  They will make money regardless of whether you do as an investor.  It doesn’t even matter if they give the clients lousy advice.  Sadly, there are advisors who actually sell financial products that they know are horrible.

Everything was okay for about 4 1/2- 5 years. My portfolio didn’t lose or make a substantial amount during this time frame.  I ended up getting a better job with another company and rolled that Dean Witter 401k over into a Fidelity 401k plan that I enrolled in through the new employer.  I pretty much stuck to the same tactics for choosing mutual funds, which was to listen to the advice of others, instead doing my own research.  Huge mistake.

Then, came the dot.com bubble of 2000 and the recession after the attacks on the world trade center on Sept. 11, 2001.  That’s when things took a turn for the worst in my investment portfolio.

I can tell you first hand that mutual funds really aren’t “all that”.  Yes, there are a relative few people who are skilled at picking some consistently well performing mutual funds.  At the same time, most investors fail at picking mutual funds that perform well over the long-term.  I learned this the hard way after I had invested most of my 401k in mutual funds from 1995- 2002.

I lost thousands of dollars in my 401k after the value of the shares in the mutual funds in my portfolio plummeted.  The major mistake that I made was that I had no clue what I was getting myself into and I didn’t do my own research. They give you this frickin prospectus, containing convoluted legalese and finance lingo that a tax attorney can’t even decipher.

I attempted to read a prospectus once, and developed a migraine headache. That’s the document where the fund company supposedly discloses the fees associated with the fund and the past performance of the fund (another crock of shit).  “That past performance” is virtually meaningless, because it’s not an indicator of how that mutual fund will perform in the future.  It is certainly no guarantee that the fund will continue to earn money at all.

I didn’t understand that stuff, yet I pumped my hard earned money into it.  Cardinal sin.  I really believe that mutual funds are created for people who are either ignorant of the financial markets, too busy, too lazy to do their own research or all three.

I took advice from my co-workers on what they were investing their money in.  Since they bragged about how well they were doing with their investments, I simply jumped on the bandwagon and invested in whatever funds they said they were investing in.  I was actually purchasing funds at a premium at some point. When my portfolio started to go down in value, it was heart wrenching to receive my quarterly statements and note losses every quarter.  That went on for a good year.

A friend of mine advised me to hold onto the mutual funds until the markets rebounded.  He was much more experienced than me in the arena of equities.  He was vehement that those losses that I saw on my quarterly statements were “on paper”; They wouldn’t become real losses until I sold off those mutual funds.  It’s a concept that I didn’t fully grasp at that moment.

I couldn’t stomach the fact that I saw those negatives every quarter.  I felt like the money that I was contributing to my 401k was going to some old-fat, guy rubbing his hands together in satisfaction and smoking a cigar.  I sold off the mutual funds in my portfolio in a panic.  What I should have done was dig deeper and do some research.  That period of time, may have been a good opportunity to buy low and hold. In retrospect, my friend was correct in his assessment.

I don’t think I will ever invest in a mutual fund actively managed by a portfolio manager again.  Knowing what I know now, I would have put my money into an index fund instead of an actively managed mutual fund.  At least with these types of funds there is no management and picking and rebalancing of the portfolio.  There is no research required on the part of the investor.  And, there are also less fees compared to regular mutual funds.  Index funds basically mimic the movements of the market indices like the S&P 500, the NASDAQ or Russell 2000.

There has been study after study, which indicates that most mutual funds are poor investments.  I read an article in Forbes that says that more than 85% of mutual funds underperformed compared to the S&P 500 in 2012.  The average mutual fund investor earns an average of 2.6% annual return on their money after 10 years (I am not even certain if this is before or after the fees).  It makes little sense for the individual investor to take on so much risk for so little ROI.  Mutual fund performance tracking newsletters and services, like Morningstar are a waste of money.

I jumped in too soon with this investment product and didn’t have enough knowledge to understand the risks involved.  I ended up selling the mutual fund shares at a loss and put the money into a money market fund. It didn’t earn much money but at least I knew that my money was covered under SIPC and wouldn’t drop in value. It was after this point that I got serious about my studies of financial markets and investing.  I still made mistakes but learned valuable lessons along the way.

Donate Plasma For Money $$$$- Ka-Ching

I became a plasma donor a number of years ago, while searching for a way to earn some cash quickly. Since I worked in this industry for several years, I had known about it, but never gave it a second thought until I really needed the money. It is a safe, relatively painless way to earn a few extra dollars on the side. You get paid right after the process is complete. Besides the obvious benefit of getting paid, you are helping to save a life by donating blood plasma.

Plasma is the yellow or straw-colored, liquid portion of your blood. Your blood is roughly 55% plasma, and the rest is composed of red blood cells, white cells, and platelets. Plasma contains important proteins like antibodies, albumin, gamma globulins, enzymes, and clotting factors. These proteins help your body perform numerous functions such as fighting microbes and infections, normal clotting of the blood, digesting food, and metabolism. The plasma that you donate is put through a manufacturing process to make life saving therapies for patients. People like hemophiliacs are counting on plasma donations in order to sustain life.

In the United States you can donate plasma at an FDA regulated plasma collection center. Most of the time the centers are owned and operated by private, biopharmaceutical companies. I am going to go through some of the things that you should expect as a first time donor.

To get started, you will need a government issued picture I.D. and a social security card. The plasma center will need this documentation in order to verify your identity. Some plasma collection centers also require proof of address, such as a utility bill or banking statement. Have the proper documentation ready, because you won’t be allowed to donate without it.

On your first visit as a new donor, the entire process from start to finish will take about three to four hours. However, it can take more or less time, depending on unpredictable factors, like the amount of donors ahead of you, staff available, etc. So don’t bother attempting to donate plasma on a day when you have other important commitments.

You will go through a screening process and private physical exam on the first visit. The screener will verify your residence and identity. You will be asked many questions about your health history and sexual history, lifestyle, etc. This is to “weed out” people who aren’t healthy, are engaged in “high risk” behaviors or aren’t qualified to donate. Your pulse, blood pressure, temperature, weight, hematocrit, and hemoglobin will be measured. Your blood protein level will be tested as well. A urine sample may also be requested for the physical exam.

All this information on you will be kept in a confidential file and/or computer records. After your first donation, you will be considered a regular donor and won’t need to go through a physical exam. You will need to go through and pass a screening every time you donate. Also, you will asked to read and sign many forms as part of the screening process. These forms are mostly documentation that you know and understand the process and the policies of the plasma collection center.

After you pass the screening and physical exam, you will be sent to a waiting room. You just wait until it is time for you to donate. Bring a book or a music player to keep you occupied while you wait.

Examples of questions that you may be asked during the screening and/or physical exam are:

Do you have any piercing or tattoos? When did you get the piercing or tattoo?

Have you been to prison or jail within a specified period of time?

Have you donated whole blood within a specified period of time?

Have you been treated for any sexually transmitted disease within a specified period of time?

Have you traveled to Europe or Africa?

Are you taking blood thinners or Propecia?

Are you on hormone replacement therapy?

Are you pregnant or nursing?

Do you have a cold, the flu, any open wounds, or boils?

This is a limited list of questions that you may or may not get asked during the screening process.
Donation process
Donors are escorted to a donation room where no eating or drinking is allowed. You relax and lay down on a donation bed during the entire process. Most plasma collection centers have free Wi-Fi, so you can surf the internet.  You can also watch TV, read, or listen to your mp3 player while donating. It is just that easy. A phlebotomist will verify your identity before sticking your vein.

The area where the needle is inserted will be cleaned and disinfected prior to the needle stick. A tourniquet is placed on the arm, that you will be using, and the phlebotomist will insert a needle into your vein. You might feel an initial sting or pinch after the vein stick, but the remaining process should be painless.

The needle is attached to sterile tubing, which is attached to a sterile reservoir, and a sterile collection container, which are all connected to a plasmapheresis machine. The machine cycles your whole blood through the tubing and the reservoir and separates whole blood from the plasma. The plasma is sent through tubing to a collection container and the cellular portion of the blood is sent back to your vein. This is plasmapheresis (separating the plasma from whole blood) in a nutshell. This process happens continuously until the collection container is filled with plasma (600 ml- 880 ml collected, depending on your body weight). At the end of plasma donation, the needle is removed from your vein and a bandage is applied to stop any bleeding.

After you are done donating plasma, you will sent to a reception counter to collect your compensation. The average pay ranges from $20-$30 per donation. This depends on where you are choosing to donate and the center’s payment schedule. You are allowed to donate once every 48 hours and up to twice in a 7 day period. Therefore, you can donate 8 times in one month and make about $200 or more in a month. Some donors whom have rare blood types and antibodies in their plasma make a lot more money for their donations.
Before you donate:
Eat a hearty, healthy meal. 

You will need to have enough food energy in your system to keep your blood glucose levels and energy up. Some people experience dizziness, sweating, weakness, and fainting during the donation process. This can be due to not eating enough food. I can speak from experience and when this happens it is not pleasant. I love eating a large chicken salad before donating.
Drink plenty of water before and after donating. 

Donating plasma removes about 600 ml -800 ml in fluids from your body, so you need to be well hydrated. This will help to speed up the process of donating and keep you from feeling drained. I personally drink a gallon of water and Gatorade on the day before, the day of donation and after the donation. Your body will replace the plasma within 48 hours after donating. Avoid alcohol and caffeine containing beverages because they dehydrate the body.
Avoid greasy foods for at least a day before donating.

Fatty, oily, foods get broken down by your digestive system. Some of the fat molecules end up in your blood. People who eat very fatty foods may have plasma which appears milky or very cloudy during the donation. A plasma center phlebotomist will be monitoring your donation process. If it is noted that your plasma is lipemic, the donation will get terminated and you will be disconnected from the machine. Lipemia is fat in the blood. Lipemic plasma is unacceptable and will be rejected. Depending on the policies at the company that you deal with, you might not get paid anything for your trouble. Some might not pay anything, others might pay a small amount like $5, in this case.
Don’t do things that will raise your heart rate or blood pressure before donating. 

This includes smoking, exercising, and drinking coffee. These activities all stimulate the heart to beat faster and might raise your blood pressure. If your pulse or blood pressure is deemed too high during the screening process, then you won’t be able to donate plasma that day. The plasma center might allow you to make an attempt to donate the following day.
People with certain conditions aren’t allowed to donate.

Under most circumstances, infection with blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases exclude people from donating blood. If you are pregnant (or recently pregnant), have diabetes, are taking blood thinners or certain other medications, or you are anemic, you won’t be allowed to donate. Rules vary from company to company. As a precaution against spreading disease, the FDA mandates that all blood be tested for blood borne pathogens such as hepatitis B and HIV. Even though the blood is tested, it should go without saying that if a donor knows or even suspects that he or she has a disease, then don’t donate blood.
Make sure you use the restroom before you start to donate.

You will be hooked up to a machine for between 40- 60 minutes. During this time, you won’t be able to use the bathroom. I don’t think there is anything worse than feeling like your bladder is about to burst and not being able to pee.
After you donate blood a few weeks, you will pretty much observe which phlebotomists know what they are doing. Some of the “newbies” might do a painful venipuncture or cause a hematoma (bleeding and bruising of the surrounding tissues). You can request a specific person to do the vein stick. I put some very helpful links below, including an excellent link to a Youtube video that describes the donation process thoroughly.
Sources/ related information:
My experience as a former medical professional and also a plasma donor

This video goes into more detail about donating plasma and plasmapheresis.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkXzG1k2DCI&feature=related

 

You can get more information about donating and find a plasma donation center near you at this website.

 

http://www.donatingplasma.org/

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_plasma

This link is more about people who are on the receiving end of therapies, but is interesting, nonetheless
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasmapheresis

For additional information, you should also visit the website of the facility you choose to donate at.

Make Money by Scrapping Metals

When I was a teen, my mom and I would sometimes get up early and go out in her station wagon looking for scrap metals.  Some days we made just enough money to cover the gas and buy some food.  Other days, we made several hundred dollars in a just a few hours of work. That was really good money back then!

 

People who were familiar with us would set their scrap metals aside for us.  Sometimes, we’d go about the community with plastic bags and a shopping cart looking for metals. Even some friendly business owners and auto mechanics would give my mom some of the metal parts that they no longer needed.  My father also used to scrap some of the metal left over from construction jobs that he did back then.

 

There were some who would judge and make fun of us. But, most of the times we got the last laugh after selling the metal at the scrap yard.  And, who are they to judge? Like Tupac said, “Only God can judge me.”  The way that I see it is that scrapping metals is beneficial to the environment.  Why not make some extra cash while helping to clean up the community and conserve some energy and resources?

 

Years later, I still save scrap metals but I do it on a small scale.  A few times a week I drive or walk around in my community to look for scrap metal.  I am simply amazed at the good useable things that people throw out. Maybe, they are too lazy or busy to drive down to a church or donate it to charity.

 

They are essentially wasting energy and throwing away money without thinking about it. Some people aren’t aware that the waste management companies have entire departments of employees who sort through much of the trash for material that can be recycled.  They try and salvage as much recyclable material as possible to keep it from ending up in the landfill.  At the same time, they are making the money off of it.

 

If I had a trailer and a pickup truck and more help, I’d be able to haul in more stuff to recycle and sell.  I am also limited by the amount of storage space that I have.  Every time I drink a beverage or use foods from a metal can, I set it aside to recycle. After family get-togethers I collect as much aluminum as I can.   33 aluminum cans equals about 1 pound. All of those individual containers eventually add up.

 

I know a number of fellows who make a full-time income from scrapping metals. Some of them either could not find a job or didn’t want to work for someone else. They are professionals who use a full set of tools and the whole nine-yards for their business.When you get to the point where you do this professionally, you will be issued a 1099 by the scrap yards that you deal heavily with.

Some professional scrappers do bulk scrap hauls and pick up unwanted stuff from people’s homes. They keep the things that are still functional and resell them on Craigslist or eBay.  The broken stuff they find, may be disassembled for the scrap metal and working parts. It is hard work and can be quite physical but can be lucrative for people who aren’t afraid to hustle.

 

If you are thinking about making some extra money scrapping and recycling metals, here are some suggestions:

Never, enter private property to remove scrap metals without permission.  When in doubt, knock on the door and ask the property owner if it is okay to take what you want.  Otherwise, you could be arrested and charged with trespassing and theft.  Be wary of dumpster-diving for metals because it is illegal in some cities.  Know the local ordinances of the municipality where you look for metals.

You won’t have to go very far to find scrap metal as it is abundant in your local community. You can easily find aluminum cans and other scrap metals strewn roadside.

Keep a good pair of gloves, some pliers, screwdrivers and wire cutters with you. You may need some other good tools like a vice grip, wire-strippers and saw, depending on the level of scrapping you plan on doing.

Carry a magnet around to test for ferrous vs. non-ferrous metals.  Aluminum for example, is a non-ferrous metal and it does not stick to a magnet.  Most non-ferrous metals have a higher spot value than ferrous metals.  Whereas you’d probably make about $.45 a pound on aluminum, you’d only get about $.07 a pound on shred steel (give or take a few pennies).

Separate and strip your metals (if possible) before you get to the scrap yard.  You get more money for clean metals. Some metals cost more than others.  Copper and brass are more desirable (and valuable) metals than aluminum and steel.  So, you’ll want to make sure that the metals are properly separated out.

Tips before going to the scrap yard:

If possible weigh out all of your metals. Scrap yards pay sellers based on the weight and the current price of the metal.   By knowing weights and prices of metals ahead of time, you will be able to better calculate how much money you will make from a sale. It will also reduce the chances of getting ripped off by unscrupulous scrap yards owners.  Most businesses are fair in their dealings with sellers but there are some who will take advantage of naivety and ignorance.

Metal prices vary according to the scrap yard and the prices of each metal fluctuates daily.  Check with the scrap yard on what prices they pay for the metals that you want to sell.  Shop around to get the most money for what you sell.

The scrap yard workers may ask for your government issued I.D. and a finger print.  There has been a rise in people stealing A/C units, electrical wiring and other metals. This is to deter people from stealing metal and bringing it to scrap yards.  So, the government and law enforcement is cracking down.

There are other things that can be recycled and sold at scrap yards that people don’t typically think about:

Parts from old T.V.s and computers  (PC chips, motherboards, heat sinks, etc.)

Electrical cords and cables

Plugs- metal prongs

Insulated and clean copper wire

Metal from old appliances

Metals found in windows, screens and doors

Old metal furnishings

Batteries

Broken light fixtures

Broken tools

Old rusting tanks and canisters

Old keys, locks and door handles

Old metal fencing and sheds

And much more- think outside the box!!!

Make money as an information marketer

What is an information marketer (infopreneur)?  It is an entrepreneur who makes money by selling information or educational products or services.  This can come in the form of video, webinars, screencasts, audio mp3 (podcasts), CDs, software, paper books, ebooks, memberships websites, speaking engagements, coaching, consulting, seminars, workshops, etc.  Most information marketers focus their product offering in a specific niche. This is not an all inclusive list of the ways that people make money with information marketing.

Information products have been around for decades.  Think about all of the many infomercials that you are probably familiar with from the 1980s- 1990s, like self-help systems.  Some very popular examples of information products are Tony Robbins’s hugely successful program, “Personal Power II” or Carlton Sheets’s “No Money Down” Real Estate System.

Many of the old school information products were available by mail order catalogs or ordering through a toll-free number.  I can remember a time when “information (and entertainment)” were available by dialing 1-900 or 976 phone numbers.  Millionaires were made out of people who owned these types of hotlines.

This is great time to make money on information products, since the “infopreneur” has more access to people to market their products to.  This is because of the power and reach of the internet.   There are thousands of people who are taking their specialized knowledge, talents and hobbies and turning them into profits.  Some good examples of information marketing at work are the people who actively create and sell their ebooks on Amazon and ClickBank.  Other information marketers choose to build their own niche website and sell their information products there. Many information marketers make a living as affiliates and promote other people’s products and services.

You might be asking yourself if it is possible for you to make money with information marketing.  The answer is a definite “Yes!”. There are some questions and factors that you should keep in mind if you plan to create an information product.

What are your goals and objectives?  Get very clear about what form of information product you desire to produce and what it is that you intend to accomplish (outcome) by creating that product.

What type of message do you want to convey?  You must be able to communicate the information to your audience in a concise and easy to understand manner.  You should provide your target audience with the valued information that they seek.  For example, if your target audience is dog breeders, then you should focus in on providing relevant information that would be extremely useful to dog breeders.

Do your market research and know your audience!  Will anyone be interested in what you are offering?  How eager are people to buy what you offer?  What types of people would be interested in your information product?   It is important that you understand how to find your audience and how to properly market to them.

Be passionate, frank and knowledgeable about what you talking about. You should write (speak) about topics that you know a great deal about/ and or have passion for.  If you don’t know what you are talking about, then the information that you provide will not be very good and your audience will pick up on it.

Let’s suppose that you have very little knowledge on a topic but you still want to get into information marketing.  The good news, is that you don’t have to be a genius or expert to create great content. As long as you have a strong grasp of reading and writing, you are capable of creating great content. The way I see it, you have two choices: You could either go the path of acquiring the knowledge to produce the information product yourself or you can outsource the task and pay someone to produce it on your behalf.

One of the most important things to keep in mind during this process is to enjoy what you are doing and have passion.  If there is no passion in what you do, then you may possibly give up on your project long before it is completed.  And remember: Provide solutions to problems or provide some value.