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How to Engineer Your Financial Future in 2014

Year 2014 written in sand on tropical beachFinancial resolutions can be the most difficult to keep. They can include minute detail, number crunching, plenty of files and discipline that can affect a person’s entire lifestyle, says veteran investment advisor Paul Taylor, a member of the National Ethics Bureau.

“Many folks simply are not predisposed to combing through the details of their financial situation; for them, the financial world is abstract and filled with arbitrary rules, constantly changing interest rates and other complexities, but being more involved in your own money is well worth the investment,” says Taylor, an architect-turned-founder and owner of Capital Advisory Group & Tax Planners of Lake Norman and Capital Investment Advisors, Inc, (www.CapitalAdvGroup.com).

“While professional help is recommended for many aspects of a person’s financial affairs, it’s ultimately up to the individual to understand his or her own money.”

There are many things the average person can do to take control of their financial life. Taylor offers the following suggestions:

• For your cash flow, keep in mind the four A’s: Accounting, Analysis, Allocation and Adjustment. The four A’s describe a systematic and disciplined approach to your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly spending habits. Accounting involves gathering all your relevant financial information – income, recurring bills, and other expenditures – creating a central list of each item, and pulling it together in a place where it’s easily accessible. Analysis is reviewing the information to determine whether you have a shortfall or surplus, and finding places to reduce expenses. Saving $100 a month on dining out, for instance, would allow you to apply $100 to your mortgage loan principle, saving you a substantial amount in interest payments. Allocation involves determining your financial commitments and priorities, needs versus wants, and distributing your income accordingly. Adjustment involves periodic reviews of your financial information and shifting assets to meet changing needs.

• Utilize estate planning tools such as wills and trusts; make sure the details are accurate. Wills and trusts allow you to spell out how you would like your property to be distributed, and much more. A will gives you the opportunity to nominate your executor and guardians for your minor children. If you fail to make such designations through your will, the decisions will probably be left to the courts. Bear in mind that property distributed through your will is subject to probate, which can be a time-consuming and costly process. Trusts, which are more complex, let you customize the distribution of your estate with the added advantages of property management and probate avoidance.

• Start planning your retirement sooner rather than later. There are a variety of retirement planning options that can meet your needs. Your employer funds some; you fund some. Bear in mind that, in most cases, early withdrawals before age 59½ may be subject to a 10 percent federal income tax penalty. The latest date to begin required minimum distributions is usually April 1 of the year after you turn age 70½. Withdrawals from tax-deferred plans are taxed as ordinary income. The top planning options include defined benefit pension; money purchase pension; profit-sharing plan; savings plan; employee stock ownership plan; tax-sheltered annuities; individual retirement accounts; self-employed plans; simplified employee pensions; and savings incentive match plans for employees.

• Remember the first commandment in safe investment: diversification. Virtually every investment has some type of risk associated with it. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversification is one of the main reasons why mutual funds may be so attractive for both experienced and novice investors. Many non-institutional investors have a limited investment budget and may find it challenging to construct a portfolio that is sufficiently diversified. For a modest initial investment, you can purchase shares in a diversified portfolio of securities. Depending on the objectives of the fund, it may contain a variety of stocks, bonds and cash vehicles, or a combination of them.

About Paul Taylor

Paul Taylor is the founder and owner of Capital Advisory Group & Tax Planners of Lake Norman and Capital Investment Advisors, Inc. Taylor, a fully licensed investment advisor, has more than 20 years of experience in the industry and is committed to providing personalized service to those he serves. Since 2007, he has been a member of the National Ethics Bureau, which acknowledges individuals who prove they are committed to upholding the highest ethical standards in their practices.

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Independent commission to investigate future of internet after NSA revelations

Two-year inquiry headed by Swedish foreign minister, set up by Chatham House and CIGI thinktanks, is announced at Davos
Network cable
The investigation will focus on state censorship of the internet and issues of privacy and surveillance raised by Edward Snowden. Photograph: Oliver Berg/DPA/Corbis

A major independent commission headed by the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, was launched on Wednesday to investigate the future of the internet in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations.

The two-year inquiry, announced at the World Economic Forum at Davos, will be wide-ranging but focus primarily on state censorship of the internet as well as the issues of privacy and surveillance raised by the Snowden leaks about America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ spy agencies.

The investigation, which will be conducted by a 25-member panel of politicians, academics, former intelligence officials and others from around the world, is an acknowledgement of the concerns about freedom raised by the debate.

Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, said: “The rapid evolution of the net has been made possible by the open and flexible model by which it has evolved and been governed. But increasingly this is coming under attack.

“And this is happening as issues of net freedom, net security and net surveillance are increasingly debated. Net freedom is as fundamental as freedom of information and freedom of speech in our societies.”

The Obama administration on Friday announced the initial findings of a White House-organised review of the NSA. There are also inquiries by the US Congress and by the European parliament, but this is the first major independent one.

The inquiry has been set up by Britain’s foreign affairs thinktank Chatham House and by the Center for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI), which is partly funded by the Canadian government.

In a joint statement, Chatham House and the CIGI said the current internet regime was under threat. “This threat to a free, open and universal internet comes from two principal sources. First, a number of authoritarian states are waging a campaign to exert greater state control over critical internet resources.”

The statement does not name the countries but it is aimed mainly at China and Iran, both of whom are censoring the internet.

The other big issue, according to Chatham House and the CIGI, is the revelations from Snowden.

“Second, revelations about the nature and extent of online surveillance have led to a loss of trust.”

Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, said: “The issue of internet governance is set to become one of the most pressing global policy issues of our time.”

The intention of the inquiry is to hold public consultations around the world. About half a dozen meetings are planned, at a cost of about £150,000 each.

Among those on the panel are: Joseph Nye, former dean of the Kennedy school of governance at Harvard; Sir David Omand, former head ofGCHQ; Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the US homeland security department and co-author of the Patriot Act that expanded NSAsurveillance powers; the MEP Marietje Schaake, who has been a leading advocate of internet freedom; Latha Reddy, former deputy national security adviser of India; and Patricia Lewis, research director in the international security department at Chatham House, who said: “Internet governance is too important to be left just to governments.”

Asked about the lack of debate in the UK so far compared with the US and elsewhere in Europe and around the world, Lewis said: “People in Britain are more concerned than we realise. They have clearly agreed at some level to exchange data for goods and services but they did not agree for that data to be given to the government and security services.

“This is a debate we sorely need.”

Gordon Smith, who is to be deputy chair of the commission, said: “For many people, internet governance sounds technical and esoteric but the reality is that the issues are ‘high politics’ and of consequence to all users of the internet, present and future.”

 

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Forget political polls — look at Facebook engagement

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The Facebook model shows Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is ahead in her campaign for re-election even though a recent political poll shows she’s narrowly behind her potential challengers.

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Is Facebook engagement just as good of a predictor of election outcomes as traditional political polls?

Maybe, according to an article in Politico Magazine by two Ph.D. candidates and a research assistant at the University of Massachusetts. In 2012, eight of the Senate’s nine toss-up races were won by the candidates who had more engaged Facebook followers, the researchers note.

Facebook engagement not only includes the number of people who like a candidate’s page, it also includes the growth or contraction in the number of people who comment, like or share posts about the candidate with their friends.

The researchers then combine Facebook engagement with traditional ways of measuring a candidate’s strength — organization and money — to come up with their vote projections.

If their model is a reliable guide, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., may be in better shape that political polls indicate. Their Facebook forecast shows Hagan leading Thom Tillis, North Carolina’s speaker of the House, by a 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent margin in Hagan’s 2014 re-election bid. By contrast, a poll published Jan. 14 by Public Policy Polling shows Tillis with a 1-point lead over Hagan. Four other potential Republican challengers also are slightly ahead of Hagan in PPP’s polls.

The Facebook forecast also shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell with a nearly 8-point lead over his Democratic challenger in Kentucky, and Democratic Rep. Gary Peterswith an 11-point lead for the open Senate seat in Michigan. The Alaska seat held by Sen.Mark Begich is a dead heat.

Besides being Ph.D. candidates, two of the article’s authors — Matthew McWilliams andEdward Erikson are partners in MSE, a political communications firm with offices in South Hadley, Mass., and College Park, Md. They’ve got real-world experience helping Democratic candidates, labor unions, liberal interest groups and “socially responsible businesses.”

So dismiss their Facebook model on ideological grounds if you want. That could be a mistake, however. The researchers contend their Facebook model works because of scale.

“Social media, and especially Facebook, is now ubiquitous,” they write. “It’s ‘virtual’ in the sense that it’s online, but the interactions between candidates and voters are no less real.”

America’s 128 million daily active Facebook users are on the site 114 billion minutes every month. In 2012, 12 percent of campaign spending went to social media — a 616 percent increase compared to 2008. Plus Facebook metrics are public, meaning they’re “a real-time measuring stick that allows campaigns, pundits and analysts to gauge how well campaigns organize and connect with supporters,” the authors write.

“Online engagement translates to real succession the field and at the polls,” they conclude.

Maybe. After all, the Facebook model did correctly predict eight of nine toss-up races in the Senate in the 2012 election. But it correctly predicted only 20 of the 33 most competitive House races.

That’s nothing to brag about — that record wouldn’t win many office sports pools.

But the key takeaway from their research is that it’s foolish for candidates — or businesses, for that matter — to ignore social media. That should be obvious by now.

 

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San Jose minimum wage hike raised prices and trimmed jobs, industry-backed survey finds


A new San Jose advertisement paid for by the business-linked, Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute. A survey by the group shows that some San Jose businesses cut staff or raised prices after the city's minimum wage increased from $8 an hour to $10 an hour during 2013. 

Employment Policies Institute

A new San Jose advertisement paid for by the business-linked, Washington, D.C.-based Employment Policies Institute. A survey by the group shows that some San Jose businesses cut staff or raised prices after the city’s minimum wage increased from $8 an hour to $10 an hour during 2013.

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A new survey of 163 San Jose restaurants completed by a nonprofit with links to business groups found that the city’s 2013 minimum wage increase caused some local employers to cut staff or close locations.

The report by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit the Employment Policies Institutefound that 40 percent of businesses surveyed saw costs rise $10,000-$69,000 this year after a voter-approved minimum wage increase from $8 an hour to $10 an hour.

Two-thirds of survey respondents raised prices to cover higher labor costs, while 42 percent cut jobs and 45 percent reduced staff hours, according to the study.

The new survey is the latest piece of minimum wage research distributed bygroups with a vested interest in the topic. Just as this report was created with help from business advocacy groups (restaurateurs), pro-minimum wage academic research has been promoted by local labor advocates.

Minimum wage has polarized business and labor in San Jose since a sociology class at San Jose State University constructed the Measure D minimum wage ballot initiative that 58 percent of voters approved in November 2012.

Charity Navigator, an independent organization that vets nonprofits, notes that the Employment Policies Institute is financially connected to communications executive and registered business lobbyistRichard Berman.

A website for Berman’s D.C. public affairs firm Berman and Company highlights his work completed in opposition to healthcare reform and labor unions.

The restaurants that were included in the new survey were suggested by theCalifornia Restaurant Association — an opponent of the San Jose wage increase— though the group did not assist in data collection or fund the survey, according to a Restaurant Association statement promoting the report.

 

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The Yin & Yang of doing a startup in 2014

The Yin & Yang of Starting a Business by authors Misty Gibbs, top right, and Tanya White.

The Yin & Yang of Starting a Business by authors Misty Gibbs, top right, and Tanya White. Empower Lounge

by Teresa Novellino –
The UpTake: If you’re starting a new business this year, there are large and small things to consider, from how to stay organized to what to wear to how to build a team whose members complement your own strengths. Authors Misty Gibbs and Tanya White have answers.

Besides having a brilliant business idea, money and people who believe in them, entrepreneurs who are just starting a business must possess a whole host of intangibles: guts, vision and an unbeatable work ethic among them.

To figure out what it really takes though, a good place to start is with Misty Gibbs andTanya White, authors of a quick and easy-to-read book The Yin & Yang of Starting a Business (which is, courtesy of the writers, being offered at a discounted price today and tomorrow on Amazon.com).

We asked them via email some questions pertinent to concerns that new entrepreneurs will have, especially in the New Year.

Why does the simple to-do list work so well, and why is it so hard to stick to doing one daily? Is there an app, calendar or other tactic that you would recommend?

To-do lists work because they force you to step back and not only consider your priorities, but commit to them. Setting weekly target goals for the activities you want to get done will set your tone for the entire week. From there, each morning, peg off the specific items you are going to get done that day. The biggest barrier we’ve seen for people with this activity is not making the time for the activity itself. Everyone is busy, entrepreneurs especially. We’re often looking at email before we even get out of bed, already taking actions on items. But before you know it, the day has passed, and you’ve done all kinds of things that have nothing to do with your Big Goals. Carving out even 10 minutes to ask yourself, “What are the most important things I can do today that will move me closer to my goals?” will force you to focus on what’s important. As for tools, Tanya likes the good old Post-Its and Misty likes the more technical approach with tools like Toodledo.

This is a big season for hiring new staffers. One of your suggestions is to hire staffers who make up for one of your weaknesses, but is acknowledging a weakness a bad idea when you’re running the company?

Twenty years ago or so, showing any sign of weakness as a leader was considered a game-losing move. Today, expressing your weaknesses, even as a chief executive officer or founder of a company, can work in your favor when done correctly. Being weak in certain areas doesn’t mean you’re a loser. It means you’re smart and that you understand that you may be a good hitter, but not a great catcher, and that empowers you to go out and find a great catcher. When hiring new team members in a small company environment, you need to be clear about which of their skills are valued, along with what they will and won’t learn from you. [Tanya] I always offer to connect new employees with someone else in my network who excels in their desired career path, as a mentor, to complement what they’ll learn on the job working with me. We all learn something different from everyone and today’s job-hunter is aware of that. Things go terribly wrong, if you, say, hire someone who thinks they’re going to gain deep guru-knowledge from you, in finance for example, if you’re a marketing person. That needs to be ironed out up front.

Everyone’s making weight-loss goals right now, but exercise and healthy eating can be tough for entrepreneurs. What are some of your secrets to taking care of your health without taking up a lot of time?

Protein bars! Having a full stock of various protein bars ensures that when you’ve gotten intensely focused on work, forgetting to even eat, that you reach out for something healthy. That and making every little choice in your routine count, for example, when meeting at the coffee shop down the street, walk, don’t drive, or taking the stairs vs. the elevator. Or even better, instead of inviting people to coffee, ask if they’d like to walk and talk. Many people are in the same boat and would appreciate the opportunity to get some exercise and it can make your time more memorable.

Entrepreneurs have to look the part. Describe your philosophy on how to allocate your clothing budget.

[Tanya] I like to take the European approach on this one: fewer items, higher quality. The North American philosophy, fueled by advertising, makes it seem that we need the latest fashion. The classics are always in style and no one is going to notice if you are wearing the same pair of shoes day after day. They will notice shabby, poor-quality, or cheap-looking shoes, however. In many cases, entrepreneurs, especially the bootstrappers out there, do not have any budget for clothing at all. I recommend a first step of combing through your closet, and try on everything, asking yourself, “Do I feel like a ‘10’ in this?” and if the answer is no, toss it. You will come off with way more confidence if you feel like a 10, than if you don’t. Once you’ve netted out what you have, list only three items that you need to round things out, maybe a killer pair of jeans, or black boots, and start scouring the higher end thrift shops or discount stores. Unless you are pitching a fashion-related business, your clothes play no part in your business conversations…unless what you’re wearing is distracting.

[Misty] Wear what makes you feel amazing! A blazer with slacks and an interesting piece of jewelry is simple, classic, and memorable. As an entrepreneur, your focus in on growing your business, not wearing expensive fashion pieces..well…unless your business is in fashion!

You offer a lot of advice to female entrepreneurs. Any particular tips for them to remember as they head into 2014?

No matter what you think you’re ready for, you’re probably not ready for it, and you will get blindsided. If you’ve been working with men your entire career, and think you know how to handle every situation, something will happen that’s never happened before. If you launched a business before, and you think you’re just repeating the same steps to success, you’ll see that it’s not the same. Your past performance is not an indicator of future performance. You may want to read that last sentence again, because that’s not what is commonly thought. Your past behavior, is, however, an indicator of future behavior. Head into 2014 knowing that you can handle any situation that arises, and that you can achieve anything you desire, well, because you’ve done that before

 

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Silicon Valley’s top 5 cities for job-seekers in 2014

The Silicon Valley region is home to five of California's top 10 job markets heading into 2014, according to a new analysis using federal data.

The Silicon Valley region is home to five of California’s top 10 job markets heading into 2014, according to a new analysis using federal data

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When it comes to the job hunt, pinpointing locations with low unemployment, high wages and good growth prospects is generally a solid place to start.

Using these metrics, San Francisco financial literacy startup NerdWallet has identified the five most promising Bay Area and Silicon Valley cities for job-seekers. While it’s no surprise that tech-heavy, affluent Peninsula cities make the list, the East Bay also holds it own.

Overall, the region is home to five of the 10 best markets in the state of California for job hunters:

1. San Ramon

The East Bay city had a 3 percent unemployment rate when tallied in 2011 — the second-lowest in the state — along with a median income of more than $124,000 per year. On one darker note, the city well-known as the corporate headquarters of Chevron has also seen the oil titan move hundreds of jobs to low-tax Texas in recent years.

3. Cupertino

More than 75 percent of residents in the hometown of Apple Inc. are employed intech, science, business or management. Look for that number to grow in 2016, when Apple opens its 2.8 billion “spaceship” campus.

4. Palo Alto

Almost 80 percent of local residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is relatively unsurprising given the proximity to Stanford University. Median income is around $122,500, but the catch here is with cost of living — the federal government last pegged Palo Alto’s median home value at more than $1 million.

5. Pleasanton

Two BART stations, major employers like Oracle and Kaiser Permanente and a lower cost of living than other areas of the state, Pleasanton is one Peninsula alternative. The city’s unemployment rate was also 3.7 percent when reported in 2011.

10. Fremont

Employers like Tesla and Seagate have helped Fremont grow in recent years. The city is the fourth-largest in the Bay Area, and BART is slated to open in 2015. However, potential homebuyers should be ready to find their digs on the fly; the average Fremont home is currently only on the market for about 25 days.

NerdWallet analysts crunched employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, homeowner costs and demographic data on wages and population growth. It is worth noting that Silicon Valley also has an increasingly pricey rental market for housing, though that data was not included in the report.

 

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Understanding sponsorship

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by Seth Godin –

The answer to the question, “how are you going to pay for this project?” is turning out to be sponsorship more and more often. If you don’t know why organizations want to sponsor things, though, it’s likely a long, hard road to find the sponsorship you seek.

As the number of media options continue to explode (blogs, books, conferences, tattoos, speaking engagements, film festivals, stadiums, entire websites…) it’s worth thinking a little bit about why organizations buy sponsorships.

1. It might be a substitute for advertising. How many people see it? How much does it cost per person? (this is the cpm, but instead of cost per thousand page views or magazine readers, it’s cost per thousand impressions, which come in a myriad of ways). I think this is the film festival/book fair model. It’s a reasonable way to reach a hard to reach, high value group.

2. It might be a bragging rights thing. This means that the sponsor isn’t focused on tonnage, but instead wants the affiliation that they can mention to others. Sort of a reverse endorsement. The thing being sponsored isn’t a media outlet, then, but a license by affiliation. An example of this might be sponsoring a speaker coming to town. Clearly, the 500 people in the audience don’t constitute a useful CPM, but the fact that you did it gains you authority with those that notice what you did.

3. It might be a chance to influence the organization being sponsored. This would explain why big corporations are willing to sponsor political conventions.

4. It might be a useful way to inspire and focus your internal organization. When the people who work for you see you sponsoring a worthy charity or a thoughtful opinion leader, it changes how they do their job or how they focus their efforts.

5. It makes the CEO happy and earns the organization a seat at certain sorts of tables. I think this is the model for sponsoring a sports stadium, an act that has never been shown to have any value at all as a mass media choice.

Because there are so many ways to come at this, valuing a sponsorship is difficult indeed. If you’re a bank sponsoring a bike sharing service, how do you compare that to five-hundred full page newspaper ads (about the same price over a certain period of time). Of course, you don’t. You can’t. Instead, you must be really clear internally about what it’s for.

In general, if you’re clear about which of these five things you’re shooting for, most sponsorships are a screaming bargain compared to traditional media buys, particularly if you’re trying to reach an elite or elusive demographic.

 

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