Understanding the Credit Report

I have just received the Credit Alert package from TD. It’s a new service from their Marketing department that monitors all credit card activities and reports to you any changes. It’s a neat service, which also lets you check your credit score on the fly. I was pitched with the fear of identity theft which is a major concern for most people. I am personally concerned as well and would use it on a regular basis… once I have money! For now, I just wanted to see my credit score and hence I signed up. Here’s the break down of the package and a bare overview of the components making up the credit score.

The package sums up how the credit score is calculated “how much debt you have and how timely you are when you pay your bills”. Is it really this simple?

Similar to an Equifax report, it lists all the institutions who have made inquiries about your credit standing along with all of your credit cards and their historical information.

The package also comes with online protection software for your computer – ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite and the PrivacyProtect Anti-keylogging.

This is good to know – the Canadian Provincial Credit Reporting Laws

Consumers are granted important rights regarding credit reporting related matters. The rights may vary from province to province but generally include the right to (here’s only a few points I think would be relevant for this post)

  • Receive a free copy of your credit report by mail, if you request it in a written statement include a photocopy of identification (can this in itself be a source for identity theft? I think absolutely)
  • Know what your credit file contains and be told by a credit reporting agency the nature, substance, and sources of the information
  • Review your credit file in person
  • Know who has received your credit file in the past year (BC)
  • Have derogatory, credit-related information deleted beyond the time limits (usually 6 or 7 years)
  • Have old bankruptcies deleted (time limits vary) unless you have more than one

Do this before someone else does – request a free credit report now. The package doesn’t include the reporting agency’s address but I think it’s Equifax. Let me know if that’s the one. Long-lived credit cards!

Running and Reading

Will Smith is one of my favourite actors – The Pursuit of Happiness, Seven Pounds, I’m Legend, just to name a few. My favourite video of Will Smith is however, not from any of his movies. It’s from a YouTube video I saw a while ago named “2 Things In Life”. Will Smith talked about the 2 most important things in life, which are: Running and Reading. Here’s a recap – which I think are very valuable.

1. Running

When you run, and you get tired, there is a voice inside your head that says “I’m tired. I’m tired. I gotta stop” And your muscles are tired. Your breaths are heavy and suffocating. Your legs are burning. You’re in pain. And you want to stop. But you have to learn to defeat that inner voice. It is this inner voice that tells you you can’t: you can’t succeed, you can’t become great, you can’t change the world. Defeating this inner voice is saying no to failure, saying no to giving up, and saying yes to impeccable will power.

2. Reading

70 percent of US adults have not been in a bookstore for 5 years (BookPublishing.com) Reading is so important, in fact, it is one of the 2 most important activities in Will’s opinion. Every problem in our life has occurred to someone else, and was written in a book already. “There isn’t a problem you have that someone else hasn’t and written about it.”

I’ve recently been fascinated with the libraries and the books. Not only because my spending budget is shrinking (hence the libraries) but also the underlying idea of the libraries and the books. The book publishing industry is going through dramatic if not revolutionary changes, though the value of the book still remains and is being expanded. And I do believe that most human problems and solutions are written somewhere already. Just think about it. The knowledge of the entire human race, however momentary historically, is contained in the library. The Universe, the Earth, life, us, all of these understandings are there. Somebody else has already done the work of exploring and investigating everything. The least we could do is to find those knowledge.

So Run because you have to learn to defeat your self-limiting inner voice. So Read because all of your problems aren’t as big and unsolvable as you think – the solution already existed.

Running and Reading…

Survey Design Tips

I received at least 10 emails from classmates at UFV asking to fill out surveys as part of their Bus 320 – Business Research Methods class. I think it’s great that marketing students are using tools like SurveyMonkey to do research, it’s all about practical learning, and these will be practical skills to have in the Marketing sphere. For now. Since this Fall 2009 I worked as a marketing research assistant for a financial institution, here are a few tips I picked up to share with you.

1. Sampling

It is critical that professors emphasize the importance of selecting a sample for the survey. While it depends on what kinds of surveys the students choose to do, it’s good not to pick your classmates. All of the survey invitations I received are from my classmates. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, however, there are many factors that can affect the results of the surveys. That’s why it needs to be as random and representative as possible. And picking your classmates isn’t as random as sending the invitations out to all students, students that you don’t know. Here is the difference in the real world. A financial institution had a marketing class at the local college conducting a market research survey. The financial institution intended to donate $5,000 dollars for the project and when the Marketing VP found out that the surveys were done by families and friends, the amount dropped to $500!

One may argue that it’s a lot harder to get emails from people you don’t know, but that’s part of Marketing. That is, to get people’s engagement and participation. Then the professors could also argue that this exercise is only to familiarize the students with using and executing the tools hence it doesn’t need to be done properly. But when done right, these data are valuable information. Surveys on cafeteria ratings, students’ employment status, feedback on the parking frenzy can all be used to improve students’ experiences on campus and help direct where the University wants to go. What’s a better way than asking students what they want to give them what they want?

2. Design

  • Before you ask a question, decide exactly how that question is going to help you in your research. For example, if you are surveying about the quality of the food in the cafeteria, how does a question like “what’s your year of study” help? It may be more revealing to ask for income level, or how often they eat at the cafeteria.
  • Before you ask a question, decide exactly what you are going to do with the answers. For example, if you ask “rate your experience eating at the cafeteria”, are you going to bring that data to the University and say “look, the salmon is of bad quality, there isn’t enough variety. Give students more options”? If you are not going to act on it, don’t ask.
  • Demographic questions should be placed at the end of the survey, when survey respondents are more comfortable with the process. If you ask right of the bat, it’s more likely that they will just shut off the survey
  • Keep it short and simple. Don’t explain – in my opinion, if you have a question that spans more than 3 rows, that’s bad survey design. The more direct your answers, the better the respond rate. “Was the coffee hot enough?” is better than “how was the coffee?”

3. Survey Tools

SurveyMonkey is good. It does everything a free survey tool should do. But you gotta admit its templates aren’t the best looking surveys out there. And it really turns me off, especially when the survey is long (I’m just too damn picky!) If you are serious bout doing it right, then you gotta do what I listed above – select the right sample, ask the right questions, and give some thoughts to the design. Gotta have these

  • Progress bar
  • Big fonts
  • Lots of white spaces
  • Images (that fit with the context of the questions)
  • A theme that doesn’t remind of a DOS program (which I think some of SurveyMonkey themes look like)

Again, SurveyMonkey is perfectly good if your prof just wants you to get a hang of designing a bare-bone survey. But if I were your prof, I’d make you sign up for SurveyGizmo, everyone of you. SurveyGizmo gives students their Enterprise package for free (commercially run for $159/month) and for good reason. It’s professionally done, corporate-level with robust and deep tools like logics and branching, A/B Test (it’s good to know what this is too cuz you’ve been tested a lot of times already – Google itself is one of them). And plainly, their templates are just better.

All of you have to do is to sign up with your student email, and follow them on Twitter (which is another thing you gotta sign up for, now!) and voila, the Enterprise package is for you for free. Why not???!!!

Leaders vs Managers

Leaders and Managers are very different, though some people occasionally get these 2 mixed up. A leader leads with vision and inspires with passion. A manager manages with procedures and ensures compliance. One is not necessarily better than the other, and we need both.

However, problems arise when someone in a leader role works as a manager. When someone is supposed to motivates and inspires other members to get them to do great work, but then turns into a manager to make sure everything goes according to some standards, there are frustrations.

From the members’ standpoint, frustration comes from not being able to make their own decisions about their own projects. Frustration also comes from having projects imposed on oneself and thus they are not motivated to own up.

From the leader/manager standpoint, it is very hard to be visionary and thinking ahead while being busy with the little nitty tasks of all projects on the go. It was easy in the leader role to get members to do work, but then when the manager’s hat is put on, it becomes extremely hard to let go of projects once assigned to somebody else.

Setting up boundaries is the solution. There is a clear line between leading and managing. As a leader, ultimately the project is owned up by the project leader, not the organization’s leader. Critical decisions should be made by the project leader in consultation with the organization’s leader. The organization’s leader should be directing to the right direction, not managing so it will be done.

Human’s tendency is to hold on and to control. The process of letting go of control is by nature terrifying. However, getting comfortable with giving up control is the way to lead successfully.

Three Kinds of People

There are lots of kinds of people. There are even more ways of categorizing all those kinds of people. Today, there are 3 kinds.

  1. The Leaders
  2. The Doers
  3. The Complainers

The Complainers are excellent observants. They pick out the flaws and imperfection. If you have a product ready to go to manufacturing, get the complainers to critique. Weed out the unimportants and there should be “some” worthwhile feedback from them.

The Doers are the ones who get things done. They hate sitting in meetings and listening to everyone’s rantings and don’t participate in office gossip and fusses. If you have a tight deadline, they will stay late to complete the projects. That’s when the Complainers will have excuses (my back hurts, this is too short notice, I’m busy).

The Leaders love listening to people, coming up with new ideas, and jumping from one to the next. They are the visionaries, motivating people – the Doers – to get things done. One thing that some Leaders are able to do is converting the Complainers to the Doers, but some can’t. That doesn’t mean they are not good Leaders however. It just doesn’t make economic sense to do so at times.

Now here’s the important piece. A Complainer should never be a Leader. They usually don’t end up being a Leader, but sometimes by accidents, they do! Why shouldn’t they be? Leaders are motivators. Complainers are downers. Unless converted to Leaders, Complainers actually drive people away from doing stuff. Cuz they themselves don’t do. The Doers become the Leaders when they learn to motivate and stay positive. But even without this, they are still beneficial.

On the other hand, when a Leader is a Complainer, s/he needs to be fired.

Not Every Business Will Succeed On Facebook

Lately, I’ve seen a few businesses trying to get their presence on Facebook, such as Delete 10 Facebook friends, get a free Whopper. That didn’t turn out well of course. The Facebook team shut down the app shortly after (which was the perfect thing to do.) That makes me wonder if Facebook is the new place for marketing and business competition.

2-22-2009 10-16-16 AMI think not every business, and most business, won’t succeed via the Facebook route. Or Myspace and other social networks for that matter. Successful marketing are all about context. These social networks are places to connect people. They are for friends keeping in touch and sharing life stories. It’s not a television or a mailbox where companies can just throw money to interrupt or spam.

Would I be interested in buying Designer Glasses while browsing photos my best friend just uploaded? Not likely. Advertisements need to be relevant. Again, relevance has to everything to do with the right context. And what is the context of Facebook? “Friends”, “Relationship”, “Sharing”. I do not want to think about whether I should work out when learning that Joe and Brenda just ‘ended their relationship’.

Some might argue that Facebook can aggregate data from users to make the ad stickier and more relevant. However, Facebook has become more than just a virtual classmate database! It’s impossible to guess what the users are looking for. I can be checking out Janet’s photo gallery, curious about what Adam has been up to, or looking for that new friend I just met at a community event.

Would you like to be interrupted at family dinners? Well, Facebook to me, is like a virtual family dinner. Everybody tells everyone else about how their day went, what happened, how they felt. We complain, we complement, we plan, set dates, and gossip. And that is the worst time to interrupt the conversations.

How about company profiles/pages? Have we forgotten what Facebook was meant for at the first place? It’s a face book! Why would I want to befriend with some lifeless, fake profit-seeking corporate mascots? Sure there are some PR values in this strategy. But everyone knows these profile pages are filled with ‘good things’, promotional materials. Wouldn’t it be better to get your name on some charitable events and do some real good rather than trying to woo people to buy more of your products just because you can be a virtual friend?

For one thing, it’s hard to meet strangers on Facebook. Unless you’re a complete mess, you wouldn’t want anyone you don’t know checking out you and your friend’s pictures at some ‘invitation-only’ parties. The two people have to be friends in real life to establish the trust to be Facebook friends. Even if I were a fan of McDonald’s on Facebook, would I be eating there more often? No. I don’t eat there because of the health concerns for diet’s sake!

I’m not saying every business will fail on Facebook. If you have a remarkable product with high perceived value, a Facebook fan page creates a pride, an exclusive association from the loyalists to the company. And that’s perfect. I’m happy to be a fan of Barack Obama (this has become a brand by the way) and/or Apple. But I will not be fan with every product I use, like bathroom papers or toothpaste, etc.

There are places for everything. Facebook isn’t the solution to all. So please, don’t try to get me to sacrifice my virtual friends for some free whoppers.

Success in Productivity

I’m writing this post to respond to a friend’s request on my success with productivity and time management. Though I’m in no position to talk about this ‘allegedly’ success, I thought I should share what works and what doesn’t for me.

The 2 most important factors in productivity are:product

  1. Discipline
  2. Motivation

Let’s talk about each of these in details.

Discipline

In essence, productivity is a systematic way of being disciplined. As long as you have the will power to force yourself to do what’s needed to be done, any productivity system will work wonder. So before searching out for ‘the one’ time management technique to ‘rule it all’, resolve yourself to commit to ‘getting things done’.

Motivation

Everyone has their highs and lows. It’s easy when you’re feeling out of energy/time/power to slip back into the procrastination habits – complete things as they become urgent. That’s why you have to keep some sort of motivational techniques handy to get yourself back on track. I like to listen to audio tapes on time management and productivity. There are countless materials on this subject and they are not all the same. Each author has their own principles and tips. By listening to these books, I can not only motivate myself to get things done but also learn more ways to get things done faster and more effectively.

A couple of good resources to get started are below:

  1. Getting Things Done – David Allen: The most prominent productivity system out there
  2. Eat That Frog – Brian Tracy: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time

From My Own Experience

I’ve tried a few methods based on the principles of Getting Things Done (GTD): notebooks, GTD index cards, Outlook and OneNote, online task lists and calendars. What I found is, a combination of these tools work together wonderfully. The 3 staples of my productivity system are:

  1. To-do List (online): Rememberthemilk 
  2. Calendar (online): Google Calendar
  3. Index cards

It’s very simple. I carry index cards around most of the times and record everything that comes to mind. Then once I get to sit down on a computer, I transfer to-do items to Rememberthemilk and event items to Google Calendar. In a perfect world, I would be able to check my to-do list and calendar any time any where I want through my phone. But for the time being, I don’t have mobile internet access. However, I still get sms notifications for appointments through Google Calendar and that’s really all I need. I will explain the pros and cons of using these online tools below.

Rememberthemilk rememberthemilk

Rememberthemilk is one of the most sophisticated (and thus complicated to use) online to-do list for beginners. But once you get used to it, it allows rooms for flexibility and customization. It is the only online to-do manager I’ve come across that is free and offers complete control on task management. Rememberthemilk can be tweaked to be the ultimate tool for Gettings Things Done. I can search tasks by contexts, locations, projects, deadlines, priorities.

The only disadvantage is that I don’t have mobile internet to access Rememberthemilk on the go. However, due to the nature of my work and study, I don’t need to look at it too often. In addition, you can print out your task list on paper instantly with checkbox for each task (I love ticking off those boxes!)

For tips on using Rememberthemilk with GTD, visit Corrie Haffly – Using Remember the Milk for Getting Things Done

Google Calendar calendar

Google Calendar is the best online calendar I’ve come across. It lets you:

  • share your calendars with other people
  • create calendar events from Gmail
  • email and sms notifications for appointments
  • create “Quick Event” – if I type “Toastmaster Executive Meeting at Whitespot at 8:00 am”, Google Calendar automatically creates an event with Location=Whitespot and Time=8:00am. And I can set it up so that at 7:45am, Google Calendar sends me a notification through sms

Extra

  • I don’t watch TV – a big time waster in my opinion. Everything you want on the TV can be found online minus the useless ads
  • I rarely use IM, Facebook, Myspace, etc – another big time waster. Technology has allowed us to get in touch with so many people remotely, but it’s merely getting in touch. I believe in real human contacts. If I can’t meet the persons face to face, it’s probably because I don’t have time for it.
  • Some highlights from “Eat That Frog” – Brian Tracy
    • Do the most important tasks first
    • Focus on 1 task at a time
    • Eliminate all distractions while you’re doing that one task (aka: turn off TV, sign off MSN, exit uTorrent – no checking downloading speeds or progress, etc)
    • Have your tasks written down or typed up
    • Create an appropriate environment for work – clean up your desk, have everything handy before you start working

Conclusion

For the most part, being able to discipline yourself to do the important tasks and having motivational materials around to get yourself back on track are the most essential factors to effective productivity. Different systems of productivity are like treatments for symptoms, not causes. The real cause of procrastination and poor time management is lack of discipline and indulgence on low-value activities. As long as you have the will power to stop doing the unimportant, you will find yourself doing the important, the ‘what matters’.

Good luck John.

Help End Hunger And Learn English

www.freerice.com

For every answer you get right, Freerice.com will donate 10 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program. All you have to do is guess the meaning of a given English word.

To date, 59 billion grains have been donated from players like you.

What are you waiting for? Go to www.freerice.com, challenge your English vocabulary and help the world.

Every International Student Should Join Toastmasters

What is Toastmasters? It is a non-profit organization dedicated to public speaking. Now every body can benefit from public speaking but I think, and I know for a fact, that international students benefit the most. What can Toastmasters do for you? Each area has a club. Within these clubs, its members have a scheduled meeting time. For example, my club – RiseAndShine Toastmasters – meets once every Friday in the board room A225 at UFV. What we do:

  1. 1-3 Speakers: each speaker has his/her own toastmaster book to follow. The book has step-by-step guide to each speech and everyone follows their own pace
  2. Table Topics: a table topic master randomly selects people from the audience to talk about an unexpected topic for 2-3 minutes. Fun when you get used to it!
  3. Joker
  4. Evaluation for everything

Why International Students Should Join Toastmasters?

  1. Increase confidence: public speaking is scary to everyone. However, overcoming this fear with support from the club members is rewarding and will increase confidence
  2. Improve communication skills: more than every one else, international students need to be understood. What’s worse than not having people to understand you? The only way to be understood is to speak up, and speak well. Toastmasters is all about that: from pronunciation to grammar and sentence structure
  3. Get evaluated: do you realize that nobody is correcting your English? I mean, honestly, we all know that international students – including me – don’t speak perfect English. Then how come nobody ever says anything about it? Everything is evaluated at Toastmasters – in a professional and appropriate way. They will tell you what you have done well and what can be improved. I only wish that I am evaluated for my English all the times.

You probably know that international students tend to be very good at grammars but not so much at speaking. That is because back in our home countries, we are only taught on how to write.

You have seen Canadians in your grammar class before. Why not join Toastmasters and learn how to speak with Canadians as well?

How To Reduce Your Phone Bill

You can and you NEED to call your provider and ask for a better plan/reduction. Here is how: using the power of silence and persistence (plus keeping it polite)

1. My Story

To keep it short, my December phone bill was $140! I was outraged, calling Fido and was ready to have a fight with them. I talked to the rep for half an hour about how I went over the minutes and got charge 25 cents for every one of those overtime minute. Plus apparently I was told that I am in a roaming region (which made to sense to me because I signed the contract in Abbotsford and most of the numbers are in Abbotsford). So the rep said it was a computer error but that I still went over the limit minutes and the charge was correct.

I paused for a moment and asked “Do you know how much I would have to pay for the penalty if I was to cancel the plan right now?”

The rep did the math and told me that it would cost around $210-$230. Of course, I had no intention in cancelling. However, it puts the pressure on them because it costs more to acquire new customers than to keep existing ones, a lot more actually.

He added that he could transfer me to the Customer Relations Department for my cancellation. And I said “please and thank you”

The Customer Relations rep (CRR) asked why I’m calling. Very politely I explained to him that I was charged for an extravagant amount and seriously considering a cancellation to save money. He promptly offered a plan that is “only available from that department” which means it’s not listed on the website or any where else. On top of that, he also got rid of the $64 dollars over-the-minutes charge, without me asking for it!

My old plan cost $25, plus $7 system access fee, plus 9 dollars for call display and voicemail plus extra charge for text messages. Which never comes in less than $50

Now my new plan also cost $25, but get this: with no system access fee, unlimited incoming calls, free fido-to-fido, unlimited evenings 7pm-8am and weekends, call display and voicemail included, 2500 text messages for free. That’s more than I’d ever need! And it cost $25 + tax. That’s it. No nag, no additional charges!

2. Your Turn

We students are poor. This is a huge money saver right here. You have to do this. Call your service provider, even if they are not Fido. You can still refer to this plan and ask them to compete for your service. Below is an outline of what you can do

  1. Examine your phone bills for the last 3 months and identify any errors or questionable charges. I saw that a lot of phone calls in Abbotsford are labelled ROAMING and thus could make an argument with the rep
  2. Call your service provider and explain the situation. It could be that you were charged too much or there was something suspicious about your bill and ask the rep to go over the bills with you. More likely than not, he/she will stumble and bam, you’ve got their neck!
  3. Now pause for a moment. Don’t tell them what you want yet. After grabbing their neck, let them come up with something first. If the rep can’t do anything for you:
  4. ask him how much it costs if you were to cancel the plan (again, you have no intention on cancelling yet, at least not until you talk to the Customer Relations department)
  5. The rep is likely to transfer you to the CR department
  6. If asked, explain again your concern. If he or she doesn’t give you the plan right away, do what Ramit Sethi recommended over at iwilltechyoutoberich.com 

You: “Listen, you know times are tough and I need to get a better deal to stick with you guys. You know and I know that your customer acquisition cost is hundreds of dollars. It just makes sense to keep me as a customer, so what can you do to offer me this plan for less money?”

7.    I bet 10/10 that they would have to either reduce your existing plan or give you a much better plan that is “not available anywhere else”!

3. Conclusion

As strange as it may seem, this is nothing more than bargaining. The reason why wireless phones are so expensive is because that’s how much you (other people) are willing to pay. If we were just to bargain like every where else in the world, more money would be in your pockets instead of going toward their tall and air-conditioned towers. Go bargain go!