Investing in the Community for the Small Business Owner

As a small business owner, investing in the community, where you do business, is a savvy move on your part. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do. These are your customers and an opportunity for you to show support, build friendly relationships and gain the trust of the people you’re doing business with. Certainly, as a successful business, your customers and clients see you as an important figure in the community.

However, to be an effective business leader, you need to know the social landscape, vibe and needs of your customers. This way you can invest wisely and become a part of the community that gives back.

First, giving back doesn’t always mean writing a check. I often talk about the importance of building relationships and investing in the community is no different. For example, you could connect one of your customers, who owns a plant nursery, with the township building a new community garden. That friend might be willing to donate various plants for this venture and it’s your direct involvement that connected the donor to the cause.

Second, I would recommend finding out which organizations your customers are interested in supporting. This could be a simple on-line questionnaire asking your customers “what’s the last charitable organization you donated money, food or clothing to?” Or you could ask, “When is your birthday?” In turn, use this information to make a donation to your customers’ favorite charity in honor of his/her birthday or to the causes they find most important to be involved with. Tweak the idea as you see fit.

Investing in the community is about building relationships that benefit its citizens. Sometimes it is writing a check and is a line item on your marketing budget. This strategy is known as public relations and is a part of any good business model.

Don’t be shy about your support of community causes. This strategy bears residuals, particularly in the Digital Age, when you connect with your customers online and can talk about the various causes you support.

While it’s a known fact that people do business with people they like, investing in the community, requires you connecting with your customers and the things they care about beyond a tax-deduction. It’s about broadening the scope of your business and raising awareness about the needs of the community you serve.

Finally, as a local business you might want to explore investing in a Community Supported Enterprise (CSE). CSE are businesses that derive funds from investment groups that loan money to support affordable housing, local businesses, community centers, and other enterprises that solve community needs. This is more philanthropic and localized in its approach but can serve as a real boost to your PR strategy.

Exports are Running 45.7% Ahead of 2009 Levels

As Washington factions argue over whether to continue funding the Export-Import Bank, it’s useful to note that U.S. exports are running at a good clip, and are way ahead of the paltry levels seen right after the recession.
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, the United States exported $195.5 billion of goods and services in May 2014. Over the past 12 months, the value of U.S. exports of goods and services totaled $2.3 trillion.
Commerce said this 45.7% above 2009’s level of exports.
This is all great news, but is it a good reason to continue funding the Ex-Im Bank, which was set up to fill gaps in private export financing?
Ex-Im said it approved more than $27 billion in total authorizations to support an estimated $37.4 billion in U.S. export sales during fiscal 2012. They claim that this supported 205,000 American jobs.
Critics of the bank don’t really argue against those figures, but say that the government should not be involved in backing loans extended to fund exporting deals. They say that the private sector should perform this task.
The bank argues that private lenders often turn down small businesses that seek loans to fund export deals in the pipeline. Critics then counter that most of Ex-Im’s funding volume supports big exporters like Boeing or Caterpillar.
From the data available it is clear that there are merits to both sides of the argument. Right now, things are fine since the global economy is running strong, and few of these export loans are in default. But if the economy were to turn sour fast, U.S. taxpayers could be on the hook for “backstopping” some of this lending.
Supporters of the bank point out that many of these export deals have only gone through because of this backstopping, and that the economic benefits to the U.S. exceed the potential risks of loan defaults in a recession.
Whichever side wins this argument, what’s clear is that – for now – the U.S. economy is benefitting from the steady growth of exports that has occurred during the past five years.

Copyright Today’s Credit Unions

Have Your Resume Written by a Pro

Career Igniter, a website that’s all about resume writing, said it has added a “professional writer” option to its service offering.

For many of us, putting together a winning resume is a real challenge. Even with online tutorials and professional advice, many of us struggle with the finer points of building a resume that stands out, and gets results.

For one thing, many people have a hard time effectively promoting themselves. Others fall back on clichés and use “blah, blah, blah” jargon to describe their accomplishments and experiences.

If you’re in that boat, Career Igniter claims to have a solution with its new resume writing service. The service allows you to turn your resume-writing challenge over to professional resume writers, for a fee.

We looked at the Career Igniter site, and found typical fees ranging from $179 for an “entry level” resume to $349 for an “Executive” resume. Cover letters are extra ($79–$99, in these categories) , as are “thank you” letters ($39 for both categories), lists of references and LinkedIn Profiles ($119 for both).

The service also offers options for Professional ($229), Federal ($319) and Military ($289) resumes.

Career Igniter said it offers a 30-day revision policy and “quick order turnaround” at its site. The company also offers its “resume builder” app, which has some free, and some fee-based, options to help you build your own resume.

The app does seem to offer some good features, and received a 3.6 rating on Google play. However, it is a DIY process; if you want to simply hand over the job to pros, you’ll have to pay the big bucks for the new professional resume writing service.

Overall, Career Igniter is worth checking out, since you can access quite a bit of good information – and some useful tools – for free. As for their paid services, one thing to keep in mind is that this company has a “no refund” policy in their Terms of Use. So, make sure you are satisfied with the breadth of services offered before you commit to paying them any money.


Copyright Today’s Credit Unions





Mortgage Rates Rise for Another Week

Two weeks ago mortgage rates rose following weeks of declines. Last week, this trend continued, according to’s weekly national survey.

Bankrate said that the benchmark 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose from 4.32% to 4.34% last week, while the average 15-year fixed mortgage rate moved from 3.41% to 3.43%. The 5/1 ARM rose to 3.37%, from 3.31% the week before.

Mortgage rates are still down for the year: at the end of 2013 the 30-year fixed stool at 4.69%. Bankrate points out that the monthly payment on a $200,000 loan is around $42 cheaper, at $994.45, than it was in December 2013. Good things have come to those who waited.

Experts do, however, predict a rising rate environment for mortgages. The economy is gaining steam — which has the affect of putting upward pressure on rates. Also, the Fed’s “taper” policy means that it won’t be buying as many mortgage related securities as the year winds on. This, too, puts upward pressure on mortgage rates.

If the experts are correct, we might see fixed 30-year mortgage rates above 5% this year. Major reversals in either the health of the economy or Fed policy would change that trajectory, of course. But most would agree that slightly more expensive mortgages would be a small price to pay for having a strong economy throughout the year.


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You’re Not Fooling the Boss

About one-third of today’s employers expect their workers to job-hop, according to a new survey from CareerBuilder. (And here you thought your boss had no idea you were checking the job listings at lunch.)

CareerBuilder said that more than half the employers it surveyed said they had hired a job hopper in the past. Thirty-two percent said that job-hopping has come to be expected in the modern workplace.

So, how long do you need to stay on a job before you’re considered a job-hopper for leaving? Well, around 40% of the employers surveyed said that their job-hoppers had stayed for at least two years, so you can actually get tagged with that label even in jobs where you’ve put in a decent amount of time.

This is an important consideration, since 43% of the employers surveyed said they wouldn’t consider a job candidate who has had short tenures at several employers.

However, CareerBuilder also found that employers have a measure of respect for job-hoppers, with more than half of them saying that job-hoppers tend to have a wide range of expertise, and can adapt quickly to the challenges of a new workplace.

If you’ve been a job-hopper in recent years, consider addressing this at your next job interview. Stress that your range of experience will help you to master your new position. Be sure to add that you’re looking for a more permanent job now, and that your days of job-hopping are therefore over.

What these survey results clearly show is that employers are used to employees leaving, so you should address the issue rather than hoping your prospective employer will overlook your wayward work ways.


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Airline Satisfaction Soars

Americans have become more satisfied with airline service in recent years despite experiencing hassles like crowded airplanes, delayed flights and restrictive policies, according to some new research from J.D. Power.

 J.D. Power said that overall passenger satisfaction with airlines is at a record high of 712 (on a 1,000-point scale), which represents a 17-point increase from 2013.

Even though the cost of flying has been going up, airline customer satisfaction with cost and fees has increased, from 618 in 2013 to 642 in 2014.

Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, said that consumers have gotten over their “sticker shock” at paying more due to such things as higher fuel costs and added fees, and have simply accepted the higher cost of flying.

For instance, 44% of passengers told J.D. Power that checked baggage fees are reasonable, up from 37% in 2013.

Among airlines, Alaska Airlines ranks highest in customer satisfaction among the traditional carriers, with Delta Air Lines coming in second. JetBlue Airways ranks highest among low-cost carriers.

J.D. Power said that all of the traditional carriers it reported on have improved their customer satisfaction scores in the past year, with US Airways posting the biggest gains.


Copyright Today’s Credit Unions

Mother’s Day Gifts

Last-Minute Mother’s Day Deals

If you’ve put off your Mother’s Day shopping until the very last minute, here are some options for you to save some money on something mom might like.

Personal finance website has put together a listing of its Best Mother’s Day Gift Deals and Discounts 2014, including promo and coupon codes for those shopping online:

Kohl’s is offering up to 60% off fine and silver jewelry; promo code offers an additional $10 off in store and online.

JCPenney is offering mom-shoppers up to 20% off, plus an additional $10 coupon for any online Telefora purchase.

Spend $35 or more at Old Navy and get a $5 shop card.

Online shoppers at eBay can save up to 70% off purchases from the Mother’s Day Collection, along with free shipping and a complimentary bracelet.

Spend $49.99+ at 1-800-Flowers and receive 20% off with a promo code; purchase a fruit bouquet and save 25% with a coupon code.

Also, Jelly Belly is offering 15% off all Jelly Belly products with a promo code.

To see the deal details and promo codes, go to For the full list, go to

If you’re feeling guilty about waiting until now to buy a Mother’s Day gift, get shopping. Find something that mom will like, and all will be forgiven.


Copyright Today’s Credit Unions




Online Job Listings Up for Month

The number of online job listings increased during April, to 4,923,000, according to some new data from The Conference Board.

It was an increase of 28,900, said the Board – which tracks these listings each month for its Help Wanted OnLine (HWOL) Data Series.

This was a modest rise, and there are still more than two unemployed job seekers for every job available. The Board said there are a total of 5.6 million more unemployed workers than the number of advertised vacancies.

Still, any improvement in available jobs is better than none. What we’re seeing in the job market today is a strange dual reality, in which employers say they cannot find qualified people for certain positions, while millions of long-term unemployed enter another season in which they can’t find a job.

The Conference Board said that certain computer workers and medical professionals find three to five vacancies for each unemployed worker – giving these workers an excellent chance of finding a good job, with a good wage.

However, even some computer and medical professionals are finding it hard, since these fields are quite specialized, and not everyone’s previous work experience qualifies them for the jobs available today. What’s needed are, of course, more new jobs overall. But the economy also needs better capabilities for re-training unemployed workers with skills that are in demand.


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Tuesday Tip #34: Driving Safely in the Snow

Driving in Snow and Ice

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if you can avoid it.

Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.

If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared, and that you know how to handle road conditions.

Driving safely on icy roads

  1. Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  2. Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  3. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  4. Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  5. Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  6. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  7. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  8. Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  9. Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your rear wheels skid…

  1. Take your foot off the accelerator.
  2. Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
  3. If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  4. If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  5. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid…

  1. Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
  2. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If you get stuck…

  1. Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  2. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  3. Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  4. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  5. Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  6. Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Sources: National Safety Council, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, Washington State Government Information & Services

Tuesday Tip #33: Managing Stress

April is National Stress Awareness Month and most of us are experiencing increasing stress levels. We know we should reduce our level of stress, but it can seem too hard to do when we’re just trying to keep up with everything we have to do. Here are some tips that can help you manage your stress.
  1. Take 5 slow, deep breaths whenever you feel tense.
  2. Get some exercise each day to boost your energy level and improve your mood.
  3. Make time for relaxation. Listen to music, work in the garden, play with a pet, or do something else you enjoy.
  4. Keep things in perspective. Look for the humor in situations.
  5. Stretch and massage tight muscles to work out tension.
  6. Talk with a trusted friend instead of keeping frustrations bottled up.
  7. Plan and prioritize each day’s activities and be realistic about what you can achieve.
  8. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people.
  9. Look on mistakes and difficult situations as opportunities for growth.
  10. Learn to accept change and be flexible.