5 Tips to Get a Strong Financial Start in Your 20s

So you’ve graduated from your dream school and have a crisp diploma to show for all your hard work. Congratulations! Your job starts next week, and your parents are both excited (and sad) for you to leave home. You’re ready to take on the world. But you’re a bit worried, too. You have to “adult” now.

How are you ever going to make it? The reality now is likely that you’re young, broke, and in debt. But five or ten years down the road, this can be just a dot in the past. The good news is that you absolutely can survive — and thrive! — in these early years starting out on your own. The bad news is, it will be hard at times.

To help you get started on your journey, here are five tips to help you get a strong financial start in your 20s:

Start Budgeting
Creating and balancing a budget is the best way to watch where your money is going. It also helps you stop running out of money before your next paycheck. So don’t balk at the idea of a budget; it’s not hard at all.

Here’s a quick run-through on how to create your budget:
1: Write down your income. This includes money from your jobs and side gigs.
2: Write down your overall debt. Include credit card debt, car payments, and student loans.
3: Write down your monthly expenses. For costs like auto or life insurance, divide the annual amount by 12 to come up with how much you’ll need to set aside each month.
4: Subtract the non-negotiable items (rent, food, transportation, utilities).
5: Subtract minimum payments on each of your debts.
6. With what’s left over: First, make payments against your debts (highly advised!) and second, build a fund for important, but not urgent, expenses you’ll certainly encounter, like a new winter coat or a new phone.

At first, you might not have enough to fully fund all your categories. That’s when the sacrifices and juggling come in. Your hair-care budget might have to drop from $50 to $25; eating out might need to be eliminated. Cut out whatever nonessentials you carry to in order to help balance your budget.

It will take some time to get used to budgeting. But stick with it, revising budget categories as necessary, and before long you’ll probably feel like you got a pay raise. Use any extra money to pay down your debts as fast as possible.

Pay Yourself First
One day you’ll want to retire, and the best time to start saving is today. Make it a goal to save at least 15% of your income in a retirement account, like a 401(k) or a Roth IRA. Contribute one or two percent this month, then double it next month. Take baby steps to work your way up to the full 15% of your income. Then continue doing that for the rest of your career. As your income goes up, so does the amount you save. Invest in high-performing index funds for the next 40 years, and you could be a millionaire by the time you retire.

Live Frugally
Renting a small apartment is usually the cheapest and easiest route for most 20-somethings. Find a two or three-bedroom apartment and sublet the rooms to others to cut costs. Or, alternatively, find someone else who’s already doing this and move into their place.

For those who can’t wait to be a homeowner, consider house hacking. Buy a cheap, multi-unit home that needs some TLC, rent out a dumpster for tearing out the old, outdated carpet, refinish the floors, and update the paint scheme. Then fill up the extra rooms with well-vetted tenants whose rent pays your mortgage. If you do this with a few properties over the next few years, you could end up with a nice rental portfolio by the time you head into your 30s.

Build or Improve Your Credit
By now, you know your credit score plays a role in your ability to get an auto and home loan. It also determines the interest rate on your credit card balance. But did you know your insurance premiums and potential ability to rent (and sometimes even your hiring status) also depend on this three-digit number? It’s true. It has been found that there’s a correlation between a high score and one’s ability to be a responsible driver or tenant.

So follow these five tips to begin building and improving your credit:

1: Establish and maintain a long, strong credit history.Open a credit card now, use it wisely, and pay it off each month.
2: Pay your bills early or on time. Not only do late payments incur fees, but also, each one registers as a ding against your credit score.
3: Pay the minimum
4: Monthly payment if you can’t pay the whole amount.
5: Don’t max out your card. Your credit score is partially based on your debt-to-income ratio. Having too much debt compared against your income level isn’t good for your credit score.
6: Check your credit report regularly. There could be mistakes on your report, so request free credit reports from the three credit reporters each year. Take the necessary action to get any incorrect items removed.

Learn New Skills
Your education shouldn’t end the day you leave college. Learning a new skill can help you earn more in the workplace, get promoted, or take advantage of extra opportunities that others don’t get. Learning a foreign language could net you a high-paying expat assignment, and obtaining a hard-to-pass certification can lead to being promoted when the competition is strong. Here are some skills that might help you climb the career ladder:
1: Project management
2: Foreign language
3: CPR training or health- and safety-related courses
4: Computer coding
5: Leadership development
6: Certifications relevant to your industry

You probably know at least a few people who are five to ten years past college and still struggling to keep up with bills. Taking action on the above steps is the best way to ensure that this doesn’t happen to you. There are plenty of aspects of life that you can’t control — but usually way more that you can control. You owe it to your future self to get your financial life on the right track now, so the going will be easier later on.

10 tips for growing your business

When it comes to growing your business, there are about a million different things that you could do, but let’s break it down to 10 simple tips that you can follow to grow your business from the ground up.

Develop a mission that you and your team can stand behind. It’s important to have this as part of your company’s DNA or your brand’s DNA that you can build on. It’s really foundational to your company to have a mission you can stand behind. At CloudBooks, for example, we have a mission of helping small businesses grow. Very simple, but that’s our mission, and we know that by doing that, we feel like we make the world a better place because businesses can hire people, they can help improve their communities, they can donate to local charities and all these things because they’re doing well as a business and they’re growing. So that’s our core mission. What’s yours?

Invest in marketing. That is so crucial. Bill Gates once said that if you had $10,000 to start a business, you should invest $9,000 in marketing, and that’s so true because you could have the greatest product or service in the whole world, but if nobody hears about it, then you’re not going to do very well, you’re not going to grow your business. So it’s important to invest in marketing to develop a marketing budget that you can start with and then plan on growing that budget as you grow the revenue of your company. The Harvard Business School says you should invest anywhere from 7% and 15% of your revenue back into marketing to propel future growth.

That tip has been very successful throughout the years. We’ve seen that be successful with countless small businesses, so make sure that you’re investing in marketing. And then when you’re marketing, make sure that you cover all areas, make sure you’re multichannel, which would be to dominate search for your best keywords, social for your best demographics, local for the maps and local listings and reputation. If you do well in those areas, you’re going to grow your brand from a marketing perspective.

Passionate about sales. There’s this saying in sport that winning is the best deodorant because it covers up the stinky spots. Well, that’s sales for a business. If you’re doing well with sales, it really covers up a lot of weak patches for you. It pushes you through and helps you continually grow. But if your sales aren’t doing well, even if you have everything locked in solid on the backend, you’re not going to see that growth. So make sure that you’re working on sales. Focus on sales. Have people that are passionate about sales leading your sales team. Measure things like opening ratio, what percentage of the leads are you opening and turning into sales and always work to optimize and improve upon that. If you have a culture that’s passionate about sales, you have a culture that’s passionate about the growth and really taking advantage of your marketing most effectively to have the highest return on investment and making sure that you as a brand can achieve your mission.

Growing your business is to have scalable and repeatable processes. Processes are so crucial. That’s one thing we’ve known throughout the years is that we have to have processes and those processes have to constantly be optimized as you grow. What works with 10 people won’t necessarily work with 20, what works with 20 won’t work with 100. So as you grow your brand, grow your company, make sure that you’re constantly fine-tuning and optimizing your processes, make sure that you have processes, they’re documented processes, and you can measure to those processes. If you don’t have a standardized process, you don’t have a process at all, which means you’re free for all. So to have a scalable company that’s just as efficient when you have 100 people as when you had 10, you have to really focus on repeatable and scalable processes.

Hire people that have the culture fit that you’re looking for, not the experience fit that you’re looking for. Culture alignment is so much more powerful than experience because if you have standardized processes, you can train people on those processes. They don’t necessarily have to have previous experience. It might take them a little bit longer to ramp up, but ultimately, you’ll end up with a better person if they fit your culture and they align with your mission over the experience that you might be looking for in the door.

Measure the performance of people, but also to measure their attitude and their effort. It’s not always about performance. If you have somebody that’s not performing that well but they have a great attitude and they put forth great effort, their performance will probably get there if you give them some time and give them some coaching. So it’d be long-suffering in that situation. At the same time though, if you have somebody that’s performing very well but they’re struggling with regards to their attitude or their effort, this is probably not somebody that’s going to be a positive influence on your company and on your brand and on your culture, so you may want to consider replacing them if they’re not going to improve in those areas. So make sure that you measure people based on attitude, effort, performance. Try to have A/B players in all three of those buckets across the board and you’re going to be successful.

Listen to feedback from your team and also your customers and make adjustments accordingly. We do something here as a company which is called the 410, which is we close at 4:00, so we say from 4:00 to 4:10, at the beginning of every month, submit a 410 survey, which is just a very short online form that basically allows people to submit shout outs for their teammates, build some positive reinforcement there, submit training tips and recommendations for process improvement that they might have and also submit other ideas for maybe products that we should introduce, additional services that we could offer. This is a great way to capture feedback once a month from your internal team, which speaks on behalf of your customers as well, so it’s almost like killing two birds with one stone. You get the feedback from your team on behalf of your customers so that you can make adjustments as needed, as you grow to offer new products, generate more revenue, increase and improve upon processes that you’ve laid in over the years. So listen to this feedback.

Also, read online reviews from your customers, reply to those reviews, you capture feedback there, and you can also do customer surveys maybe biannually or annually to capture feedback. The key is capturing feedback and then actually doing something with it, taking action so that you can improve.

Hold an all-hands meeting with your team once a week and at minimum, once a month. At this all-hands meeting, everybody should be there. It can be a stand format. They don’t need to be seated. Just a short five to 10-minute meeting, and talk about transparency within your company. Where do you stand for a goal? What areas can you improve? What changes are on the horizon? Be honest with your team and be transparent with your team so that they’re on the same page. Communication is the key to growth. And if everybody’s on the same page and they know the good, the bad and the ugly, they’re going to be aligned with the mission and the goals moving forward as a brand. This is going to help you grow tremendously, so take advantage of this and don’t be afraid to do it.

Constantly building future leaders for your company. As you grow as a company, leadership is going to be essential to your success. You can’t possibly be the leader forever as a business owner, so you need to continually build additional leaders. And you’re going to lose people for all kinds of reasons. It could have a family that could move out of town, they could find another opportunity, and so don’t let that beat you up. If you’re constantly building and harvesting future leaders, they’re going to step right in and you’re going to be successful as a brand. So work on leadership development, communication, and coaching of your entire team, not just your leadership team, so that you’re continually building future leaders for your company.

Remember, nothing’s as good as it seems and nothing’s as bad as it seems, but somewhere in the middle lies reality. So never get too excited or never get too down. Always stay kind of even keel there. Stay cool, stay calm, and just keep working hard towards your mission. Keep making adjustments and improving along the way. Growing looks like this, right? It’s not a straight line. So just stay level set and that will help your team stay that way as well so they don’t panic in bad situations or get too overly confident in good situations. Just stay the line, stay the course, and eventually, if you stay at it long enough, you’re going to be successful. You’re going to grow your business.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully, these 10 tips on growing your business are helpful to you. If you have additional tips, please leave a comment with those power tips so our community can see those as well.

How do you create an engaged customer base for your business?

How do you create an engaged customer base for your business? In other words, how do you create and build and maintain high levels of customer loyalty? Well, fortunately, you know the answer, and it’s called the golden rule, is treat other people the way you would want them to treat you. In fact, if you think of your customers like the most important members of your family, ask yourself, how would I treat somebody that I liked, loved, cared about in this particular situation? I was talking to a group of senior executives who were from the major billion-dollar company and I asked them this question. I said, “How would you approach your customers differently if you loved every single customer?” And the senior executive burst out. He said, “It would change our whole way of doing business. If we loved our customers, it would change the whole way of doing business.”

Now today, because of internet technology, there’s something like 36 million internet businesses, every one of which aside and apart from bricks and mortar business, every one of these businesses is doing everything possible to attract your customers away by offering them more and better products and services, and by treating them better in every way they possibly can. The competition to acquire customers today, and then to build customer loyalty is absolutely unbelievable. But the payoffs are phenomenal. Let me give you a simple example. Apple has developed an incredible technology for, first of all, getting customers, locking them to Apple. And remember Apple was successful for many years as a PC company, computer company, but then PCs became commodities, and the only way you could sell a commodity was by lowering the price. So when Steve Jobs came back into Apple in 1996, 97, the first thing he did, he said, “We’ve got to dramatically reduce our dependence on PCs.”

They had 104 different PC products at that time, and within 24 months, he’d cut out 100 products. He said, “Now that we have extra resources, now we need to develop something brand new.” So they came up with the iPod, but remember they weren’t the first with the iPod. There are two or three other companies that had iPod like devices, but what they came up with was the idea of ordering music one song at a time, and they created iTunes to make it possible. Then they went to the music industry and they entered into contracts so the music industry would provide them with the songs which people could buy on iTunes, and then they also made it possible for people to upload all of their music onto the iPod and carry it around with them. What was their motto? 1,000 songs in your pocket.

Now, Gateway Computer was an equally competitive company and looked to be the runaway company, but Gateway treated its customers as they were secondary. Gateway thought, “Hey, we’re so good. We’re so great. People will buy from us no matter what.” Whereas Apple focused on attracting its customers and holding onto them into the iPhone and to the iPad, and then through all of the additional technologies, which makes Apple the biggest and most profitable company in the history of the world.

Now, Tesla is now doing the same thing with General Motors. We shall see how successful it was. Tesla says they’re going to sell 500,000 cars per year by 2020. Last month they sold 80 with their particular new technology and their idea of selling directly to the customer rather than General Motors who sell through dealerships who then service the cars. But Tesla is trying to build up a close one-to-one brand relationship with his customers, whereas General Motors deals second and third hand.

Amazon is another different case in terms of customer loyalty. Amazon has got their system down so that they can actually deliver you a product the day after you order it almost anywhere within North America. Two or three days outside of North America. Brick and mortar stores, you go in and they often don’t have the product and they say, “Well, we don’t have it but we’ll order it for you.” “And how long will it take?” “Not more than two or three weeks. And we can call you.” I say, “No, I can just go on my iPhone and go click, click, click, and it’ll almost be at home when I get there.”

One of the greatest customer service businesses in my estimation is zappos.com. If you have never bought shoes from zappos.com, I recommend that you try it. I buy all my shoes from Zappos and everybody who’s ever used them once does the same. Why? Because if you place an order with Zappos up until five o’clock in the afternoon, the shoes will be delivered the next morning, often before you can go to work. And not only that, they pay the delivery fees and they give you a return receipt paid if the shoes don’t fit or you don’t like them, for any way, they take them back 100% at their expense and refund your money completely. Unbelievable.

Every single company that is successful today does what Tony Shay of Zappos says, “They deliver happiness. They make their customers happier than their competitors.” So the rule for success is simply this, is to make your customers happy and then make your customers happier. And then make them happier and recognize that every single one of your competitors has one goal in life, is to make their customers or your customers happier than they were and happier than you.

Today in business leadership, your job is to tell everybody that there’s nothing more important than a happy customer and that you will bend over backward to do everything possible to make your customers happy. And if you do that from the beginning of the customer and product development process, all the way to the end, then you’re going to have a very successful business.

So what is the one thing that you can do immediately to make your customers happier than anyone else? Whatever it is, do it immediately. Don’t delay. Just do it right now. And leave a comment below. Tell us what you’re going to do.