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Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

A wonderful August 2nd to all of you as well as lots of ice and freezing temperatures to those of you in the scorching parts of the country. I wish I could ship tons of the stuff to you. It’s been hot and muggy here in San Diego but nothing like Oklahoma or New York. Please try to stay cool. It’s got to end sometime.

Today I got a kind of wake-up call about how high medical costs have risen lately. I haven’t had any kind of medical insurance since getting divorced in 2006 and am anxiously looking forward to Medicare (ala Secure Horizons) in December. I’ve been very healthy, only going to clinic doctors as needed and buying meds in Mexico. So, I just hadn’t noticed the costs, other than the out-of-reach cost of medical insurance. However, my left eye has been bothering me a lot for a week so I finally made an appointment this afternoon. Turns out I have a virus in my eye (had never heard of that) caused by the same virus that makes cold sores. The treatment is one drop of stuff nine times a day for a week and an ointment to make it feel better. All well and good—until the bill.

The doctor visit was $160, and my debit card groaned but spit it out into the machine. However, the tiny bottle of drops (generic) was $143! Ouch!!! That had to go on a credit card since I haven’t even paid this month’s bills yet. I sure do hope those drops do the trick. I was kind of expecting to pay $4 or so at Wal-Mart, too. And what world am I living in, I wonder?

I’m knocking on all the wood I can find right now, hoping that nothing else will happen until I can rely on the government a little in December. This experience gave me a down-to-earth idea of why so many people are struggling with healthcare issues and why I’m so adamant that the U.S. is so far behind other countries in assisting their people. It isn’t funny.

 

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I’ve now been living in East San Diego County for six months and it’s been okay so far. But, I can’t keep from comparing the area to the way it was when I grew up here so many years ago. Like most other big cities, it’s become too big with far too many people and few areas of actual quiet. Right now my jobs require a lot of driving from one area of the county to another. With the price of gas rising each day, now anywhere from $4.09 to $4.35 per gallon, I needed to make a decision. I could accept only those jobs within a small radius of my home, I could quit them completely, or I could find other transportation options.

I used to enjoy driving. However, I don’t like to drive here any longer. Using freeways, I am able to get just about anywhere, using surface roads to complete a trip. But, that convenience is marred by too darned many other vehicles going at too fast a speed. It’s marred by too many speed bumps, by too many dead ends, by too many roads that go nowhere, by too many “Right Turn Only” signs, by the need to make too many U-turns, by the need to shift gears in my pickup constantly on surface streets, by too-long waits at huge intersections, and especially by my impatience with all of these things.

Yesterday I discovered that I am old enough for a Senior Transit Pass, paying $18 a month instead of the normal $72 for unlimited rides on buses and trolleys. Considering that it now takes at least $50 to fill my gas tank, it’s a no-brainer. Yes, trips will take much longer. Yes, I’ll need to plan trips ahead of time. And yes, I’ll need to do a little more walking from stop to stop. But I also see it as an adventure, as a way to thumb my nose at oil companies, and as a way to do my small share to make this planet a little greener.

The adventure begins today with a very short walk down the hill to the bus stop, a bus ride to the El Cajon Transit Center,

  and a short walk from there to Parkway Plaza Shopping Center for a mystery shop.

Then it’s a walk back to the transit center and a trolley and bus ride into San Diego for another shop.

Finally, after a bus ride back to the trolley stop, it’s another trolley ride back to El Cajon

and a bus up to the mountain city of Alpine. That bus stops directly at my destination so that will be handy. From there, I can ride the bus back to where I began, walk up the hill, and I’m home. We’ll see how it goes.

While living in Portland, Oregon, I used to ride the MAX light rail everywhere, and buses where the MAX didn’t go. So, there’s really no reason not to get into that habit again. It might be interesting to keep track of how much gas I DON’T use this coming month.

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This story about a small Texas college converting their football field to an organic farm is probably one of the best things I’ve read in quite a while. I especially enjoyed reading about students’ experiences eating carrots right out of the ground for the very first time, without even any ranch dressing to cover up the taste. There is hope.

 

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Mystery Shopping

Because a number of people have asked me questions about Mystery Shopping such how to do it, how to get assignments, and so forth, I decided to put together a short post of some of the information I’ve found most helpful.

I’ve done mystery shopping for several years, and during that time it’s been fun to observe and report about both excellent as well as terrible customer service. I’ve acted as a prospective member of fitness centers, inquired about cell phone plans, computer monitors, and party supplies, performed gas station audits, checked for serial numbers on the back of ice cream freezers, watched hundreds of movie previews (trailers), tried on clothing, shopped for new furniture, and eaten lots of fast food. The possibilities are as endless as the commercial establishments that use mystery shoppers to hopefully improve their customer service and sales.

If you’re interested in making a little extra money as an independent contractor, I’d suggest doing some reading and research first to learn exactly what is required and to discover if you have what it takes to be successful. I’ve found the following two websites invaluable and immensely helpful.

Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) is a good place to begin. Please check out their website and bookmark it as a favorite as I’m sure you’ll return to it again and again. It offers a wealth of information as well as constantly updated shopping assignments from a wide variety of mystery shopping companies.

Volition provides extensive A-Z lists of the many, many shopping companies you can sign up to represent.

Probably the most time-consuming part of becoming a mystery shopper is signing up for various companies. I’ve usually found those companies on volition.com. All companies require information such as name, address, phone number, email address, height, weight, gender, and so forth. You might be asked to provide a sample or two of your writing. Each company is different because each company represents a variety of companies. Some of them notify you of possible assignments by email; for some you will need to check their site for available jobs. So, be sure to bookmark all of the companies you sign on with. Also be sure to note the user name and password you use.

Here are just a few of the companies for which I have completed many assignments.

Business Evaluation Service

Second to None

Market Force

Blogs represent another excellent way to gain information from shoppers’ experiences and hints. Here are only a few I found from a Google search.

8 Truths from a Mystery Shopper You Must Read Before you Get Started

Mystery Shopping Coach’s Update

Blogs About Mystery Shoppers

I realize this is just a very tiny bit of information about the field of mystery shopping. While doing your own research, you’ll find your own favorites. However, I hope these ideas will at least get you started.

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I think it’s amazing what the change of one letter can do sometimes.

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Social Media Bootcamp for CEOs
John Larson
Westin – San Diego
Jan. 19, 2011
500 million people on Facebook alone. 62% of people using social media are between 25 and 54 years old. 71% are employed, median age is 33, 47% married.
Point of using social media for business is to build relationships with large groups of people. A two-way conversation with your target audience. Leverage technology. Customers listening to each other and tuning out marketing messages. There is always a conversation going on about your industry. At least use social media to protect your brand.
“Turn strangers to friends. Friends to customers. Customers to evangelists.”
Old School
New School
Telegram
Twitter
Yearbook
Facebook
Rolodex
LinkedIn
Television
YouTube
Newspaper
Blogs
Encyclopedia
Google
Yellow Pages
Google
In using social media, don’t:
  • Tell friends about bad food
  • Beg people to buy from you
  • Carry on a monologue. Instead, build relationships
  • It is not just setting up environments and not doing anything with them
Large, Fortune 500 companies: 65% use Twitter, 54% use Facebook. On average, they post 27 Tweets and 4 FB posts per week. They post 10 videos and 7 blogs per month.
How to use social media to the best advantage
Develop your strategy first.
Define:
Goals, objectives, target audience, conversion activities (what you want people to do), budget, and resources.
Measure:
Performance goals
Branding goals
Cost per lead
Cost per acquisition
Refine:
Make changes for improvement
Create new objectives
Manage by exception i.e. Why?
If You Regularly
Your Profile
Blog, podcast, tweet, video
Creator
Write reviews, post replies
Critic
Update your profile
Joiner
Watch videos, read blogs
Spectator
None of the above
Inactive
You need to be a creator and a critic. Figure out and engage with people already having a conversation about your industry.
How to make informed decisions and “Lead with value.”:
  • Use archived knowledge such as spec sheets, technical data. Write blog articles using that knowledge.
  • Use real-time knowledge to influence buyers’ decisions
  • Use humor (check out Old Spice videos on YouTube)
  • Use products
Don’t be a narcissist.
There is a time commitment – resources and manpower needed
Ask questions and for opinions. Stay relevant
 Focus on your niche.
Educate – train customers to buy. Use key words and phrases on your website.
Tactics in a nutshell – short overview
  • Listening:  to identify who you want to build relationships with
  • Build community – grow social media environment i.e. friends and followers
  • Broadcast – post stuff. Drive people to your content
  • Content – if people want to share
  • Convert
Tactics – long version
Listening:
  • Key phrase research, include misspellings.
  • Google Alerts. Set up on Google so they will alert you when people use your key phrases, etc.
  • Twitter – search bar, hash tags (# in front of key word or phrase)
  • SocialMention.com – it will search through media environments, real time.
  • Industry sites and blogs. For example, websites listed in industry mags.
Build Community:
  • Use “Follow” buttons on website
  • Email-blast customers and prospects, under guise of customer service.
  • Tweet, blog, post. People will follow you.
  • Leverage search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM)
Broadcasting:
  • Begin engaging with target audience
  • Link social sites together to push content across multiple channels. Can use: One tfor Twitter – I can’t read my own writing but available on Twitter home page. Also Ping.fm and Hootsuite. Only need to type a message once. One click of a button will post to many sites.
“For every nine non-commercial broadcasts, you earn the right to one promotional one.”
Content:
  • Define tone/voice. Do you want to be humorous, serious, just facts, personal, etc.? Have the company voice.
  • Leverage content across media types using videos, blogs, etc.
  • Make your content more than valuable: Make it remarkable (people will remark about it).
  • Content ideas:
  • Success stories/case studies
  • Product comparisons
  • Top 10 lists
  • Write something controversial i.e. maybe write an opposite opinion in a blog.
Convert – to get leads, etc.:
  • Enable people to request a catalog.
  • Offer free consulting – do a service for someone, help solve a problem
  • Promotional products – to get contact information
  • Offer an online webinar/workshop
To maximize conversions:
  • Enable people to know what’s in it for them.
  • How to take the next step. Be very clear and specific about this. If you’re not mailing anything, don’t ask for a mailing address. People don’t like this.
  • Send follow-up thank you by email
  • Invite people to follow you on other sites.
Monitoring:
  • Use Dashboard software
    • Aggregate view
    • Real time
  • Analytical data
    • Use Google Analysis (free)
Social Media Cornerstones
Twitter:
  • Be human. Let your personality shine through. (Check zappos.com CEO Tony)
  • Tweet 3-7 times per week at a minimum. For example, Dell Computers tweets coupons.
  • Always personally reply to new followers
  • Build a professional-looking profile
Facebook – 500 million people:
  • Set up a company page
  • Post 3 or more times a week – each business day
  • Add “Like” feature to page
  • Add video from YouTube
LinkedIn:
  • More business oriented than Facebook or Twitter. Google loves LinkedIn
  • Update personal status 3 – 5 times per week
  • Create company profile with key words in mind
  • Connect your blog to your personal profile and company profile
  • Start a group tailored to your target audience with lots of links
Blog:
  • This should be the central command post for all your content.
  • Blogs never go away – they last forever and can be found.
  • You can aggregate other things like Twitter, FB, etc. Optimize with key phrases and words.
  • Should have a professional appearance
  • Post a blog at least 4  times per month and/or once a week.
  • Post the blog headline on FB, Twitter, LinkedIn to let people know it’s there
  • Post a related video on YouTube
    • Link to sign-up for email newsletter
    • Link to embedded video
    • Social environment links (buttons) should be at the top in plain sight for easy use
YouTube (This is the main thing right now):
  • Post one new video a month.
  • Not the place for amateur hour. Should be professional, TV-quality video
  • Keep it short and optimize. People have short attention spans. Approximately 1-3 minutes
  • Post videos on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Videos are 53 more times likely to get on the first page of search engines
  • YouTube is the second most favorite with search engines. 2.6 billion visitors per day.
Read “Business Week”, July 15, 2010 article about social media.
Social Media Professionals:
Position
Annual Average Salary
Social Media Strategist
$120,000
Community Manager
    70,000
Copywriter/blogger
    40,000
Video production
    50,000

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