50 Power Moves to Improve Your Life

Sure-fire ways to advance your finances, career, small business and lifestyle

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Money

1. Make sure your investment portfolio has exposure to emerging markets.
Some of the best-performing emerging markets mutual funds over the last 10 years, according to Morningstar, include the Delaware Emerging Markets fund (DEMAX), JP Morgan Emerging Markets Equity (JFAMX), and Oppenheimer Developing Markets (ODMAX). Experts recommend that no more than 10% of your portfolio’s assets be invested in these vehicles.

2. When applying for a mortgage, consider working with a small mortgage banker as opposed to a mortgage broker.
Smaller mortgage bankers can actually get better pricing on loans—sometimes as much as a quarter to half a point—than brokers.

3. If you get a pay raise this year, use the extra money to strengthen your financial position—even if it’s just a 2% or 3% cost-of-living increase.
Set it aside in an emergency savings fund, pay off some personal debts, or commit the cash to your retirement account.

4. Have a professional prepare your taxes this season if you’re self-employed, inherited some money, purchased a house (primary or rental), had a child, or experienced some other major life change in 2010.
An expert can save you anywhere between five and 10 times what you pay them for their work. If, for instance, you spend $500 on tax preparation, you could slice $2,500 to $5,000 from your tax bill.

5. Here’s a high-octane stock tip: Analysts are projecting that the global auto industry is about to experience a resurgence.

Two companies whose stocks are likely to benefit from increasing auto sales around the globe are Tenneco Inc. (TEN), manufacturer of auto emission control products and ride control systems for carmakers, and American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. (AXL), which makes car axles, drivetrain systems, chassis modules, and other major components for all types of autos.

6. Always negotiate to get the best deal.
When buying big-ticket items such as a car or home, put your negotiating skills to work. Be your own advocate and target a price that will leave more money in your pocket (See “How to Negotiate a Great Deal on a New Car,”  in this issue).

7. Check your financial statements.
Keeping an eye on billing statements and regularly checking your credit report can help you spot identity theft early on.

8. Use cash whenever possible.
Paying for items in cash will make you think twice about how much you’re spending. Shoppers who use cash tend to spend less.

9. Know when to shop.
Retailers offer deep discounts on certain items during specific months of the year. For example, the best time to buy a gas grill is during the winter months.

10. Fight for your rights.
If you feel that you’ve been treated unfairly as a consumer, know who to call. For example, if you believe you were treated inappropriately during a scanning or pat-down while traveling by airplane, contact the External Compliance Division of the Transportation Security Administration’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties.

Small Biz

11. Determine who needs or wants the product or service you offer.
Identify your target audience and develop ways to engage and interact with them. Ask yourself questions to narrow down your prospective customer base. The narrower the definition, the more successful you will be. And don’t stop with identifying your customer, but work to build a relationship and deliver a product/service for which they come back repeatedly. Retaining customers is equally as important as attracting new ones. So ask their opinion on your product/service via printed or online surveys or through conversation.

12. Make your customers/clients comfortable with you.
They need to have a sense that you’re credible and competent. If you don’t meet this standard they’re not going to want to go any further with you. The art of the sale is not a matter of convincing people to buy what you have, it’s finding what they want and your ability to deliver.

13. Leverage social media and e-mail marketing.
Social media and e-mail marketing are important tools as part of an overall balanced media mix for any type of business. It takes you where your customers are. Neither are magic bullets, but intelligently and diligently capturing customer data and maintaining a database is a good way to build a foundation for e-mail campaigns. And social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, foursquare, etc.) is a good way to build a client/fan base, as well as engage existing and new customers. To be effective, however, it must be continually monitored and updated as well as organic in approach.

14. Know what online resources are available to help you go global.
Export.gov (wwwexport.gov.) is a portal that aggregates resources from other government agencies to help entrepreneurs compete globally. Their services include market research, trade events, leads, and information on how to export. The Export-Import Bank of the United States (www.exim.gov) provides export financing products that fill gaps in trade financing by assuming credit and country risks. Read books such as Doing Business Anywhere: The Essential Guide to Going Global (Wiley; $24.95) by Tom Travis to gain step-by-step guidance.

15. Secure capital in this economic climate.
Small business owners are always on the hunt for sources of capital and guidance on how to secure it. Whether hunting for venture capital funding (www.nvca.org) or an angel investor (www.angel capitalassociation.org), you need a solid business plan. Know the ins and outs of the plan; be sure it accurately details how your business produces a profit; and also clearly indicates how much capital you need and how it will be used—and how you’ll pay it back. Utilize government resources such as local branches of the Small Business Administration (www.sba.gov) and the informational Web portal Business.gov. Microloans from local and national organizations such as Accion USA (www.accionusa.org)  are also an option; offering fair repayment terms as well as financing and business advice. And look to build relationships with community banks and potential lenders sooner rather than later, because they can actually help you get ready.  Always follow the money by positioning your company to meet the needs of those industries and sections with business opportunities on the horizon.

16. Develop ­strategic alliances.
Contractual or information agreements to work together with another entity afford small businesses the opportunity to “play with the big boys,” literally. Partnering to form a much larger business allows you to go after much larger contracts—with beneficial gains for both parties. Of course, the objective is to collaborate with someone who can supplement your own capacity. Read Managing Strategic Relationships: The Key to Business Success (The Free Press; $30) by Leonard Greenhalgh  And organizations such as the Minority Business Development Agency (www.mbda.gov) can help facilitate these types of relationships.

17. Choose the proper franchise system.

A franchise system providing ongoing support in marketing/advertising, training, and education is what you want. The emphasis is on marketing and advertising because while a franchisee can gain financing to stay in business, he or she will fail if potential customers don’t know the business exists. The ideal franchisor provides additional training and support to franchisees, educates them on connecting with people within their respective city’s economic development office, and demonstrates how to access the business resources in their community. They also help them learn about tax breaks and tax credits available. All are ongoing efforts that will affect the franchisee’s bottom line beyond the first year with long-term implications.

18. Know your business credit score.

A common mistake new entrepreneurs make when seeking small business capital is failing to establish business credit separate and apart from their personal credit. Most lenders will not finance your business without a business credit history. Start by establishing bank accounts and securing business credit cards to be used exclusively for your business, before moving on to securing a small bank loan and establishing lines of credit with your vendors. Of course, to maintain a favorable business credit history, you must make any payments due on loans, business credit cards, or lines of credit on time, every time. Be sure all of these sources of business credit report your payment history to the Small Business Financial Exchange (www.sbfe.org), a member-owned database managed by the Equifax credit reporting agency, or a similar business credit information service.

19. Create your own opportunities.
Minority entrepreneurs need to be more creative and solution-oriented to acquire new business. Now is the perfect time for idea generation. Target those sectors and industries that are most promising for growth. And utilize government resources to gain that competitive advantage. Education is the key to expansion.

20. Rethink business.
There’s no cookie-cutter formula for finding the right balance of time and resources when it comes to focusing on improving your leadership skills, so each entrepreneur will have to determine what works best for them. But particularly when business conditions are poor and competition is fiercer than ever, it’s clear that the old rules of business are outdated. So be prepared to reinvent yourself and the organization. Read Innovation and Entrepreneurship (HarperCollins; $16.99) by Peter F. Drucker and Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming A Great Leader (Harvard Business Review Press;  $29.95) by Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback. Make sure that there’s a tight connection between doing daily work and also learning and evolving over time.

Tech

21. Upgrade.
Buy a new desktop computer, smartphone, or laptop. Your 5-year-old hardware could be holding you back in business. You’ll save money and time when you are able to implement new, innovative software for your newer operating system. Plus you’ll experience fewer interruptions to what’s important: your work.

22. Learn.
Phrases like “the cloud” and “social media” are tossed around a lot, and you don’t want to be the last to know what they’re all about. If you’re lost, you need to bring yourself up to speed. Enroll in a class, research the Internet, solicit help from a colleague, or experiment with free software online. Once you get a handle on it, implement something new so your superiors or clients will take notice of your tech savvy.

23. Back up.
Don’t leave your data at risk. Businesses don’t have the luxury of losing information, whether it’s this month’s sales report on a USB drive or a year’s worth of data on a damaged laptop. Invest in a cloud-based storage service such as SugarSync, Dropbox, or Egnyte. These services allow you to automatically save files in a private, encrypted database that you can access across multiple platforms online.

24. Secure.
Thirty years ago your most valuable possessions were tangible. Today, someone can walk away with a database of your customer’s credit card numbers without stepping foot on your premises. To protect your servers and networked hardware, invest in corporate-level malware software such as Kaspersky Business Space Security or McAfee Total Protection for Secure Business.

25. Invest.
Look for black-owned tech companies who need your help. Whether they’re looking for venture capital funds or business advice, your assistance might help create the next Apple, Twitter, or Google.

26. Digitize.
Scan your files, business cards, receipts, and marketing materials using the Fujitsu ScanSnap. Then save it to the cloud so anything you need is literally at your fingertips. This way you can find it, analyze it, and share it directly from your phone or computer, no matter where you are.

27. Wipe, recycle, and donate.
Get rid of that broken hard drive from 1995 and the four cell phones from the last decade. But first, protect yourself from identity theft by wiping/reformatting your personal information from all hardware using manufacturer instructions or by visiting www.recellular.com. Next visit Earth911.com to find  recycling or donation centers in your area.

28. Sustain.
Technology can improve life, but it also has the potential to destroy it. Be diligent about purchasing recyclable, low VOC (volatile organic compounds), and energy efficient products. And turn off your power strips at the end of the day.

29. Connect.
Join more than one social networking service. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are not fads. In business social media is all about customer relationship management (CRM), and defining your digital presence is one of the most important things you can do for your business or your career next year.

30. Aggregate and analyze.

So you’re already on social media? Good. But don’t pat yourself on the back too fast, because you may not be managing it well. Take advantage of analytics: Subscribe to a tweet aggregator such as TweetDeck or HootSuite and try a service like Klout, which tracks your influence.

Work

31. Do a total assessment of everything work-related.
Before you can make any decisions about your career, you need a clear understanding of your current state. What is your skill set? What is your talent? Do you know the difference? Can you identify your strengths and weaknesses? What is the state of your company? Is there room to advance or is it time to exit? What are the current demands of your industry, and what will you need to do to stay competitive?

32. Get a mentor—really.
It’s talked about often, but it’s a strategy that’s not often properly executed. Finding the right mentors, those who are knowledgeable about your industry and influential in your company, is the most important step in moving your career forward. They understand how to decipher the organizational culture and can help you navigate obstacles.

33. Make yourself attractive to a sponsor.
Mentors you choose, but sponsors choose you. No one makes it to the executive ranks of an organization without a sponsor a senior-level executive who has noticed your diligence, work performance, and professional demeanor. Sponsors speak on your behalf when decisions about promotions are being made.

34. Broaden your global experience.
This involves more than just taking an overseas assignment. You need an understanding of how your business operates globally and how the political and cultural structure of each location affects the bottom line. Where are the opportunities? What are the challenges, and how are they managed?

35. Get training.
To stay competitive, you have to enhance your skills. Learn a foreign language, get a second degree, or get certified. Certification in areas such as project management, Six Sigma, or even technical writing provides options for employment across a broad range of industries.

36. Manage your social network.

More than 80% of recruiters say that before they contact a candidate they research their presence online. And virtually everyone will Google the participants in advance of a meeting. If people can’t find you online, they don’t trust you. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to showcase your expertise, influence, and unique skills.

37. Explore your options.
Even if you are satisfied in your current position, continue to interview. Your best opportunities usually come when you’re already in a successful place. Also, the process keeps you abreast of industry demands. And you’ll know how much your talents and skills are worth!

38. Re-energize your network.
Don’t be chained to your desk. Developing a vibrant network takes nurturing. Schedule appointments at least twice a month to better stay in touch with colleagues. Go to the company fundraiser. Run for office, or develop a program in your professional trade organization. Engaging your network is the only way to reap its benefits.

39. Get organized:

At a time when everyone’s doing more with less, it’s important to figure out how to better manage time and work more efficiently. It is estimated that office distractions eat up 2.1 hours a day for the average worker.

40. Stop being emotional.

It’s a stressful time for many employees, but you can’t function competitively from an emotional space. Emotional decisions are often defensive, born of fear and frustration. Not taking challenges personally limits the effect they have on you. Understand the company culture, pay attention to business cues, and make professional decisions with integrity.

Life

41. Recognize your self-worth.
Do not let circumstances or other people determine how you view yourself. Reclaim your worth and your belief in yourself by taking control of your own words, thoughts, and beliefs. This can be done through positive pep talks as well as altering the way you think about situations and how others perceive you. Let go of toxic people in your life who undermine your confidence. Remind yourself of your unique value. Read, Expect to Win: 10 Proven Strategies for Thriving in the Workplace (Plume; $15) by Carla Harris.

42. Learn to be nimble.
Adapt to life’s numerous (and often unexpected) situations. Accept change and make the most of it. Bishop T.D. Jakes’ book Reposition Yourself: Living Life Without Limits (Atria Books; $15), urges readers not to become intimidated by the curveballs life often throws, but to use every situation as a stepping stone to get to the next level and reach success. He writes: “We can move beyond the limits of our past mistakes, transforming folly into wisdom, frustration into fuel, and denial into the detonator of explosive change.”

43. Mourn and  move on.
Make sure you give yourself time to go through the emotional process of an unexpected change. Give yourself some space. But don’t spend the bulk of your time dwelling on what did or didn’t happen. Set parameters or a deadline to put the situation behind you in order to move forward. Read The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention: Essential Survival Skills for Any Economy (Dutton; $25.95) by Pamela Mitchell.

44. Don’t deny your emotions.
Just because you may feel fearful, it doesn’t mean those same feelings need to dictate your actions. Remember that they’re separate. So, take action that moves you forward. Not only should you give yourself permission to feel the fear but also permission to continue pursuing the steps to move through it. Fear gives you an opportunity to demonstrate courage. Check out The Reinvention Institute, www.reinvention-institute.com, to learn more steps to changing your life.

45. Volunteer and rediscover.

When you might be feeling a little shaky because of unexpected change, remind yourself that there are people in greater need and that you have something of value to give to others. Positioning yourself in this mental state can help you in the reinvention process.

46. Don’t lose yourself.

It’s fairly easy to get caught up in the grind of daily life. But you can reclaim that vital component: You. Take time to meditate and/or participate in activities that help reduce personal or professional anxieties or stress. And renewal doesn’t always mean a major overhaul; sometimes it’s just small tweaks. But you have to make the initial step and start.

47. Get some sleep.
Believe us, it’s not overrated. It’s also the one thing for your benefit that you can’t outsource, program into a gadget, or take a supplement for. Studies show that lack of sleep contributes to a variety of health problems including diabetes, heart disease, and depression. It also reduces your mental acuity. On the other hand, regularly sleeping for 7 to 9 hours a night can enhance the functioning of your immune system and improve your concentration and mood, allowing you to perform at your professional and personal best.

48. Follow value, not the crowds
Sometimes labels are unequivocally synonymous with value. Other times they are absolutely not. It’s imperative for you to know the difference. Don’t be led blindly by popularity of luxury products or services. Make educated assessments on quality and benefit. It used to be cool to purchase an item simply because you could afford it. You should no longer want to afford to be that superficial.

49. Support a ­cultural institution.
Consider supporting an organization such as Sphinx (www.sphinxmusic.org), which provides an educational and performance forum for young people in classical music; or Figure Skating in Harlem (www.figureskatinginharlem.org), whose goal is to develop self-worth and academic achievement in girls 7–18 through figure skating. Aiding programs and institutions that help expand the minds and experiences of our young people is the ultimate investment in our global future.

50. Get moving.
A demanding work and family life may pose challenges to your well-being, but regular physical activity combats aging, obesity, diabetes, and a host of chronic diseases and other ailments–including osteoporosis and certain types of cancer. Exercise helps you feel energized, focused, and relaxed. The challenge lies in finding and creating more opportunities for physical activity, however small. Any small change you make has the potential to affect how you feel today and how you’ll feel years from now.

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