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Working Words

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Sterling Pacific’s blog and social media strategy

global_logo1 Did you know we manage Sterling Pacific’s blog, Sterling Vision? It has been a central component of our SEO and trust-based marketing approach for Sterling. We don’t provide the blog to spark debate — not delusions of Huffington Post or Drudge Report grandeur — but rather to include information relevant to Sterling’s investors, to provide a sense of the financial market issues and news we consider interesting and important, and to provide regular content updates that help Google perceive the site as fresh, relevant, and professional.

It appears to be working. Since we’ve been building/maintaining the blog (and other elements of Sterling’s social media strategy, like its Facebook page), Sterling’s search results have steadily moved upward. And, more important, the people who find the site are finding it credible and compelling (evidence: actual investor and borrower emails and phone calls). This credibility is critical in a largely unregulated industry with a wide range of standards: many highly professional, top performing companies, but also many bad actors.

Reconsidering the Facebook Friend Fiasco

By now you may have seen the latest in social-media-meets-work-life disaster stories, this time the woman who dissed the boss she forgot she friended.

facebook-thread

Now, it’s hard to disagree with those who point out that this is yet another example of why you should always watch what you say on Facebook, via Twitter, on your blog; there have been well-publicized incidents of job-destroying posts via all of these social media. And even back in the olden days before social media, prudence would dictate that even putting anything of this sort into writing, was risky (especially email).

And yet … is the point of these “social” platforms to share our social selves openly with friends? Or is it just PR for our careers?

Right now I count among my friends many clients and former clients — a diverse group with diverse tastes and boundaries, so I am always cautious about what I post. But I wonder how cautious some of them are. They’re not posting screaming rants about their bosses, to be sure. But, I have seen posts about after-hours behavior, strong political views, and relationship troubles from some friends that I think might offend some of the others. It makes me wonder what people are assuming about the people they friend on FB.

I wonder if more categorization would be beneficial. Don’t most people have layers of friendship — lifelong friends and intimate relationships with near transparency; work colleagues, to whom we’re bonded (maybe only for the moment) by current tasks; admired ex-bosses whom we hope will always remember us as youthful overachievers; former youngsters we once mentored, whom we hope still think highly of us; siblings (we may trust them with our lives, but still not want to tell them everything); etc. We wouldn’t discuss the same things with these groups in person … yet with social media, you’re seemingly left to choose either to reveal so much it’s not prudent or too little to be genuine. Or, you can choose to just not to make all your friends your “friends” — by rejecting your boss or client’s friend request. (Talk about ‘not prudent!’)

Isn’t some categorization in order? Instead of just FB friending, could we “colleague” people we know mainly through work life? “Relation” people we’re connected to by blood? “Client” people whose business we’re grateful to have — and anxious to retain?

Just thinking out loud here ….

Do you have an individual 401(k)?

Important information for small business owners — whether your business is your full time occupation or something you do on the side.

If you are your business’s only employee (or, if your business employs only you and your spouse), you can set up an individual 401(k) — and contribute as much as $47,0000 in 2009. (Your contribution limits are based on the overall IRS limit as well as your income from the business — you can contribute up to 100% of the salary you’re paid, plus the company can contribute a percentage of your salary as well.)

Besides the obvious — an individual 401(k) is an incredible tool for catching up on savings, and for minimizing taxes — there are specific advantages to small business owners to shifting their retirement savings to this type of account. For entrepreneurs used to high degrees of control, the “checkbook control” you get from a solo 401(k) is highly appealing. You can invest in “alternatives” like real estate and mortgage notes without hassling with a custodian.

Perhaps most useful in the current economic environment — you can even take a loan against your own 401(k). If you’ve been considering tapping your IRA funds to cover a cash flow crunch in your business, this tool alone can save thousands in penalties, plus permit you to replace any funds lent to keep your overall retirement planning on track. (Learn more about this in a recent Forbes article, “Coming up with cash in a pinch.”)

Web, print, outdoor: it’s ALL good

Recently I saw an ad for one of my favorite web-based marketing companies, VerticalResponse.  I use VR all the time for my wedding publishing company, and for several of my consulting clients —  it’s a fantastic tool for creating and tracking email marketing campaigns.)

Anyway — back to the ad — what was notable about this campaign was the medium: a bus back.  VR does a great job with social media (they have a lively blog, and they promote it politely and regularly to their clients, plus they are often featured on other companies’ blogs) and with web marketing.  But, what impressed me was that this web-based business was using a very old school medium alongside their excellent use of technology.

Why does this impress me so?  I too often find clients — and, especially, marketing consultants in the web marketing and social media space — have the idea that other forms of advertising must be left behind once social media and other web marketing tools are embraced. 

Forum posts on the need to choose one or the other abound: “Which is better PR — pickup in a blog or in print?” “My clients still want to use print — how do I convince them to migrate to social media?” etc., etc.

But, why must it be one or the other? Print, television, events and outdoor all still have their place in my view.  They’re still more efficient at reaching large numbers of targeted eyeballs en masse in many cases — especially for audiences that are less dedicated to electronic media sources, but, even for younger, more wired audiences, they can sometimes be more reliable and efficient.  And, they can often be purchased in combination with web advertising on related sites.  What’s more, in today’s market, pricing is adjusting in step with smaller audiences and the shifting economy, making traditional media a better value than ever.  Even television is becoming more targeted and affordable for smaller companies than ever before. On the flipside, the costs of web 2.0 can be much higher than expected, because of man-hours needed to maintain blogs, participate in forums, etc. — for many small companies, it’s not possible to move the needle using social networking alone.

There are those few audiences that have moved almost entirely away from traditional media for their work-related reading — it’s conceivable that technology professionals are probably no longer efficiently reached via traditional media, for example.  But, I believe it’s wrong to generalize.  I’m using a blend of media for most of my clients these days, and achieving better, more cost-effective results this way.

Valentine’s Day is coming.

A quick plug for a company I really appreciate: FiftyFlowers. Red Roses from FiftyFlowers.com I met their CEO, Liza Atwood, through an AFWPI event a couple of years ago.

Liza started her clever concept of bulk delivery of super-fresh flowers from Central and South America after a stint in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. She’s passionate about her business, and it shows. I’ve seen the flowers she delivers … they’re beautiful. And the cost savings is substantial.

I see on her site now you could order 25 red roses for Valentine’s Day for $69.99 (delivered!). Or, a guaranteed-to-impress 50 is just $99.99. Highly recommended.

New thinking (at least for me) about retirement investing.

I like to think of myself as a reasonably savvy investor. I mean, I should be, right? (MBA, financial industry experience, blah, blah, blah.) But, perhaps like many people, I’ve for the most part thought of “diversification” in terms of international stocks versus domestic stocks, energy stocks versus packaged goods, growth versus income, etc., etc. Surely with all the variety in the public markets, it must be possible to diversify using just my discount brokerage account, right?

I think we all now know the correct answer to that question.

Thankfully, I’ve taken on a consulting assignment with a trust deed investment company called Sterling Pacific Financial that has opened my eyes to all sorts of new opportunities. Chief among them: true retirement account diversification into real estate, private equities, notes and deeds and more.

What’s that you say? CPA or adviser told you it’s not possible to invest your IRAs in these kinds of things? I’ve been there, too. Back when I started my publishing business, several experts told me it was simply impossible to invest my retirement funds in it. Costly misinformation, as I wound up taking several early withdrawals and paying stiff tax penalties on them. Now I know better.

True IRA diversification is possible, provided your account is truly self-directed.  Not “self-directed-into-anything-my-brokerage-sells,” but self-directed into anything I want (save the one or two truly improbable investments the IRS actually forbids, such as collectibles).

This kind of information is crucial for anyone concerned about their financial future, but, in my opinion, it’s even more so for independent professionals and entrepreneurs.  So expect me to harp on it a fair bit more.

A couple of good resources to check out:

PENSCO’s Symposium – PENSCO is a custodian that can help you establish a truly self-directed IRA.  They do IRA-related events like this from time-to-time, all over the country, that are helpful for investment professionals and investors alike.

IRA Association of America – a non-profit dedicated to educating the investment community and the public about true self-directed IRA investing.


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