Four ways to maximize your LinkedIn experience

A dozen years after its launch, LinkedIn continues to be one the most effective networking sites for business professionals. To maximize that effectiveness, however, you have to put in a little work, according to LinkedIn expert Wayne Breitbarth. In his book “The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success,” Breitbarth advises users that, once they have built a great profile, started growing their contact base and joining LinkedIn groups, they should take their networking to the next level.  LinkedIn has developed several advanced tools and techniques that can help on many levels including promoting a business, targeting sales opportunities and/or looking for a new job. Professional Gallery allows you to promote your past work and build credibility by sharing hyperlinks to various media such as presentations, documents, images or videos. The gallery is visually appealing and has an intuitive interface. Endorsements take your listed skills and expertise one step further by allowing your contacts the ability to endorse you for your particular skills. This creates additional activity within your contact group and increases exposure and credibility. This also helps drive your search ranking. Advanced People Search lets you find out who in your network knows someone at a company you may be targeting and gives you the ability to make a virtual introduction to the person you are targeting. You can also find people who have similar interests or organizations by clicking on these and searching “key words”. Searches can be saved for future reference. LinkedIn Alumni Feature allows you to search for alumni by specific year they attend school and also lets you sort by company, job function and city they live in. You can also target alumni from any school, not just the school you attended. Finding a common bond with someone you are trying to network with is a great way to build rapport. With over 332 million members, LinkedIn offers global connections and exposure. By taking advantage of… | Read More »

Planning is everything in finances and military strategy

As someone who works at a financial planning firm, and who spends much of his day helping create and improve financial plans, what I’m about to write may seem strange: plans are worthless, but planning is everything. Sound familiar?  It probably should.  It’s a quote by former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, recalling his experience as a staff officer in the lead-up to World War I.  Some of his fellow officers, confident that America wouldn’t be pulled into a European war, tossed out their detailed military maps of the French countryside.  It was far more likely, they decided, that the army would be fighting enemies in Kansas and Pennsylvania than France.  Fortunately, the vicious and warlike Canadians never invaded.  Unfortunately, many of those same officers soon found themselves in bloody trench warfare on the Western Front.  Most of the cities, roads, and forts they fought for tooth and nail in 1918 were clearly labeled on the war plans they had discarded only years before. Eisenhower’s point was this: a plan can very easily fall apart when it encounters the unexpected or the unknown.  You can make a plan to visit a city, or prepare dinner, but you cannot make a plan to fight an entire war, or to meet a future spouse.  More variables introduce more uncertainty. In situations like these, the process of planning is far more important than the plan itself.  The former president described it like this: “…if you haven’t been planning you can’t start to work, intelligently at least.  That is the reason it is so important to plan, to keep yourselves steeped in the character of the problem you may one day be called upon to solve [emphasis mine].” Financial planning certainly isn’t as dangerous as the Western Front, but it still involves many unknowns.  People change their minds about how much they’ll work and when they’ll stop working.  Sometimes they have no choice in the… | Read More »

American productivity and the law of diminishing returns

While it seems counter intuitive, there is no doubt that America and the West are living through a period of meager productivity. Factories are becoming automated, software is revolutionizing, and in some instances replacing¸ professional services like accounting and law, and anyone who has been to a grocery store lately has noticed that some of the cashiers have been replaced by self-check-out lanes.  It certainly seems like we’re getting more done with fewer labor inputs.  And then there is that cultural and economic phenomenon called Silicon Valley, a place teeming with energy, ideas and a passion for creating what are known as “disruptive technologies” that revolutionize the way we work, play and go about our daily business.  Just think of how many tasks, from paying bills to arranging a business meeting, can be done from your phone!  Yet the data is undeniable.  Productivity gains began tapering off in the latter half of the 20th century and have all but disappeared here in the 21st. And so the question of productivity, why we have less of it and how to get more, becomes one of paramount importance.  And that brings us to an article we saw this week in the New York Review of Books. Written by Edmund S. Phelps, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, it addresses the social and cultural impediments to increasing productivity. The crux of Mr. Phelps’ argument is that Western economies have lost their dynamism because innovation is confined to an ever-narrowing coterie of elites.  In the 19th and 20th centuries you could find people from all walks of life solving problems and creating new technologies.  He uses as examples George Stephenson, inventor of the steam engine, who was illiterate.  John Deere, inventor of the cast-steel plow that “broke the plains” was a blacksmith. Isaac Singer, developer of the sewing machine, was a machinist with no formal education and Thomas Edison, who also had no formal education.  There… | Read More »

How to pay your bills online, on time, every time

Traveling, whether for work or vacation, can pack a financial whallop.  The hassles of travel always seem to block my mind from my daily tasks and, sometimes, cause me to forget that I have bills due.  Yikes.  I don’t know about you, but I HATE late payment charges.   Late payments and parking tickets annoy me to no end — they are such a waste!  I travelled at length this summer.  Multiple times, I expressed how grateful I am for email reminders and online pay! Most utilities, credit cards, student loans, healthcare plans and mortgages have the option to pay online.  Some even have apps and/or accept PayPal.  Many people utilize these options and for good reason.  I conducted a very casual survey of when, why and how my co-workers paid their bills. These are the top reasons people pay online: Stamp, time and check cost savings. Payment can be made from anywhere there is a computer access (even your phone!) Payment is immediate and a confirmation code and/or confirmation email verifies payment has been made and the date of the payment. Ability to set up a due date reminder email – this has saved my hide multiple times! When asking ‘how’ payment is made online, some people mentioned they pay only from their bank’s online pay for the following reasons: There is only one login to remember. There is only one place to go for all bill payments. Payment and bank information are kept at only one location online. Banks have very stringent online security – it feels more secure. Banks will often send a check if electronic payment is not accepted – remember there is a 3-5 day lag time for check. Other people gave me some good reasons for paying at the creditor’s website: Ability to check all transaction activity and reward points immediately. Easier to track dates and amounts paid . Not wanting credit card information stored… | Read More »

Three ways to start your tax planning now

It is said that there are only two things certain in life – death and taxes.  So if you are reading this, you haven’t reached death yet but you are probably paying taxes.  No one likes to think about taxes, but tax planning is something that should happen continually, and not just in December.  Here are some tax planning strategies you can start to consider. Harvesting losses.   What do we mean by that?  If you have an investment account that is subject to income taxes every year you are probably invested in some stocks or mutual funds.  Since this has been a challenging year for the stock market, consider selling off some of your gains to capture them and selling some of the losers to offset those gains.  That is harvesting.  The IRS tax code says you can only subtract $3,000 of losses each year after gains have been offset.  So let’s say you have $50,000 of gains you can capture from your investments, and you have $35,000 of losses.  You would only pay taxes on $15,000 of the gains as the losses would offset your gains.  What if instead your losses were $55,000? You have $5,000 more in losses than gains so you can only deduct $3,000 for this year and carry over $2,000 for next year. Stacking itemized deductions.  This takes planning for two years at a time.  Let’s assume you are below the phase out levels for itemized deductions. If you have a larger amount of income this year than usual, you could consider making state income tax estimates by December 31st to count for the current year. Consider making extra charitable contributions before December 31st. If you usually pay your real estate taxes in January through July, consider paying most of them in December.  Try to leave $2,500 of real estate taxes on your personal residence for the following year so you will get the Wisconsin… | Read More »