March 25, 2014, 7:31 am

Extra Money – Should I Pay my Debts or Start Saving?

by: The Financial Blogger    Category: Pay off your Debts

 

 

Last week, I started an interesting discussion with my post about making more money instead of cutting from my budget. After debating the point of cutting my expenses or making more money, I chose the latter and started to make some real progress on my balance sheet. But I’m not using all my extra money to pay off debts. I also use my extra money to save more money.

 

I STILL HAVE DEBTS, AND I SAVE MONEY ON THE SIDE, SAY WHAT?

 

For some people, being debt free is their main goal and they will reach it at all costs. They actually think it’s the best way to save money and become financially free. I definitely don’t agree with this. The choice of saving money or paying off your debts should be more mathematical than psychological.

 

Two years ago, I made a personal commitment to take care of my debts. While I didn’t achieve my aggressive repayment goal, I’m still in a better position today than I was two years ago. During the same period, I also manage to save up $7,362 for my children’s education and added $10,000 to my RRSP account.

 

It is true that I could have used this $17K to pay off my debts and I would have been able to complete my debt repayment plan. But I feel a lot better about my current balance sheet. Here’s why.

 

THE TAX IMPLICATION OF SAVING VS PAYING OF DEBTS

 

As I live in the beautiful country of Canada, I’m blessed with one of the highest marginal tax rates in the world. But this also comes with generous tax advantages for retirement savings and subsidies for education investment plans.

 

The first reason why I decided to save money instead of paying off my debt was the immediate tax impact on my investment vs the low interest rate paid on my debt. For example, I saved 45% in tax (my marginal tax rate) on my $10,000 RRSP contribution. This equals $4,500 in taxes saved. Then, I received a 30% subsidy on my RESP contribution. This subsidy is directly invested along with my money and will be taxed in my children’s hands upon withdrawal.

 

INVESTMENT RETURNS VS INTEREST RATE DEBT

 

The second reason why I decided to invest part of my extra cash instead of increasing my debt repayment was the fact that my potential investment return is higher than the interest rate paid. Last year alone, my dividend stocks made 22% (including dividends received) while my highest interest rate is 6.5% on the loan for my pool (I know, what a shame to have a pool loan!).

 

If you are unsure about whether you should pay off your debts or save more money, a good trick is to list how much you make in investment return vs how much you pay in interest. If you are a conservative investor and yield 2-3% per year, there is no point for you to keep this money invested if you have consumer debts. But if you are invested more than 50% in the stock market and pay a low interest rate, you should keep investing.

 

The power of compounding interest will work its magic on my investments while it doesn’t apply on a loan. Take $10,000 invested at 5% vs a $10,000 debt at 5%. During the first year, the $10,000 invested will generate $500 (5%). But the second year, you are now at $10,500 invested at 5%. Therefore, you will earn $525 (5% of $10500), not $500. The extra $25 on your gain will continue to grow year after year. This is the magic of a compounding interest rate.

 

On the other hand, if you have a $10,000 debt and pay $500 of interest during year 1, you will still have to pay $500 in interest in year two. The interest doesn’t compound on a debt. This is why it’s almost always better to invest than pay off your debts even if the interest rate / investment yield are the same (assuming there are no taxes on your investment).

 

WHAT WILL I DO WITH MY NEXT PAY RAISE?

 

In June, I should get a small pay raise. Since I’m already making a good income, my pay raise should just about match inflation. This should be around 2% this year. But 2% of 80K is better than a slap in the face, right? This will result in about $60 gross on my pay check. Technically, I should get about $25 net in my pocket. Not the end of the world, but this will help my goal of increasing my TFSA contribution to $150 bi-weekly. Regardless the amount of my pay check raise, it will go directly in my TFSA.

 

I still believe I will be making more money with my TFSA that what it cost me in interest. And if it’s not the case, I will always be able to cash in my investments and pay off my debts at anytime. This gives me more flexibility than being debt free and borrowing in the future to fund my kids’ private college.

 

HOW WILL I PAY OFF MY DEBTS THEN?

 

If I use my extra cash to fund my children’s education and retirement plan, this doesn’t leave much room for debt repayment, right? This is where the budget comes into place! I already put a monthly payment down on my debts. Then, I will cash my employer stocks (which are already at $5,000 right now), use my tax return (another $2,000 or so), some dividends from my company (we started to pay ourselves again!) and year-end bonus (calculated based on what I already earned, very conservative).

 

I do some calculations on a monthly basis to make sure I’m still on track for this aggressive plan and so far, I’m right on track! This will be an amazing year: vacations + debts pay off!

 

How about you, do you focus on yours debt or your savings?

 

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March 20, 2014, 5:00 am

The Only Secret to Paying off Your Debts is Really to Make More Money

by: The Financial Blogger    Category: Pay off your Debts

 

You know that already, I started a fight with my consumer debt back in… 2012. We will all agree that I lost the first round (2012) when I failed to go drop under 300K of debt. In 2013, I used a similar technique… and got similar results.

 

Einstein defined madness by doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I guess that there is always a little bit of madness in each of us!

 

But towards the end of 2013, I started to get very sick of seeing so many debts on my balance sheet and began to look around to find a solution. I sat down for hours looking at both columns; revenues vs expenses, and found out the solution wasn’t in the latter.

SETUP A SOUND BUDGET

 

When I decided to pay off my debts back in 2012, I did what made sense: I created a sound budget. I thought by looking carefully at how cash was flying out of my wallet, I would control my personal finances and my debt would drop. It didn’t happen in 2012 and the same result happened in 2013. I was very good at finding excuses:

#1 The addition of central A/C

#2 The addition of a pool

#3 Car repair$

#4 Vacation

#5 etc, etc, etc,

 

But I ignored the most important part of my budget during this exercise: my sources of income. I’ll go back to this point later on in this post but I want to finish about how to do create an effective budget first.

 

Making a good budget doesn’t require a fancy online app where you get 3D graphs in multiple colors. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper (or an excel spreadsheet if you don’t feel like using an old fashioned calculator!). I’ve made a list of all monthly expenses and classify them into three simple categories:

 

What I can’t do anything about: mortgage, taxes, electricity bill (you can’t cut that forever), healthcare (mainly products for kids), savings (pay yourself first!), gasoline.

 

What I can reduce: food, restaurant, wine, car payment, insurance, etc.

 

What I can waive: car expenses.

 

At that time, there was only one expense I could completely waive without affecting my lifestyle too much: sell my second car. I didn’t have a car payment on my RX-8 but it was costing insurance, gas and car maintenance bills on a monthly basis. By selling my old car, I was getting rid of a few hundred each month.

 

Then, I attacked what I can reduce. I actually sold my two cars to replace them with a new one back in September 2013. It has increased my total debt but my monthly payments were greatly reduced. Since my car value drops as fast as my new car loan, it had no effect on my net worth; only on my budget. I’ve slowed down on wine and cut out restaurants. I went to my own limit of my lifestyle.

 

After cleaning up my budget and reducing expenses, the numbers still didn’t work perfectly yet. I faced a dilemma: I had to either cut back on lifestyle or find another solution. I consider that I’ve worked too hard when I was younger to give away on my current lifestyle. I love the way I live and don’t want to sell my house, miss going on vacation or reduce my children’s activities. This brings me back to finding another solution.

 

THE KEY IS THE MONEY YOU MAKE NOT THE MONEY YOU SPEND

 

For several years, I was able to both increase my lifestyle and not increase my debt level. It just happened recently when I’ve lost control over my personal finance temporarily. My first reflex was to cut down on my expenses and try to manage my budget tightly. This was a mistake.

 

In fact, a few years ago, I accepted a new position at work. It was a promotion but also a long term move where I could make more money… but only in the future. Since I had to start a new book of clients from scratch, in the beginning bonuses would be smaller than in my previous career. This is exactly what happened in 2012 and 2013. On top of making less from my day job, I also started to make less from my online company. Back in 2010 and 2011, I was withdrawing some good amounts to support my lifestyle and enjoy life. In 2012, Google slapped us big time and we had to reconsider our business model.

 

While the business is now back on its feet, it wasn’t the right time to withdraw company money for leisure. So back in 2012, the issue I ran into was not a spending problem, it was an income problem.

 

The key with your personal finance lies within your ability to make money, not to reduce expenses. I can appreciate my “new” strategy as we are now making more money since September 2013 with the opening of a daycare at home. On top of this, the company is now generating more income and we can also benefit from it.

 

I saw the positive impact instantly on our budget as months are easier to get by and I see my debts reducing each month now. I don’t have to wait for a bonus or a tax refund to apply a lump sum payment on my debts.

VACATION + PAY CONSUMER DEBTS?

 

That’s right! This year, I will get rid of 15K of consumer debts and go on two vacations! We will have a couple’s vacation and a family vacation! Both can be done because we are making more money than ever.

 

So I won’t have to sell my house or get rid of my new car and will continue to live the way I want. On top of this, my debts are going down and I’ll be ready for more investments no later than 2015!

 

The morale of my story is simple: focus on your ability to make more money and you will pay down your debts. You can spend hours to reduce your expenses, do things by yourself to save a few bucks and burn yourself out in a miserable frugal life. Or, you can live the life you want, enjoy all the good things while making the money to pay for it. I’m done fighting with my budget. It’s time to make some more money now!

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March 18, 2014, 5:00 am

February 2014 Income Report +13%

by: The Financial Blogger    Category: Blog Income Report

 

 

I’m back from vacation and I can tell you, it feels great… besides the fact that we are still under meters of snow here! Darn!

 

NEW PRESENTATION OF MY INCOME REPORT

 

The main reason why Ive decided to post this report again is actually for my own follow-up. Since my third child arrived, my online business has been harder to manage. Producing this report helps me to keep track of my main goal: making 100K online in 2014. A few weeks ago I outlined my business plan as follow:

Therefore, my revenues should be represented as shown on the following graph:

 

Instead, February shows the following results:

 

Overall, my online business has generated $7,945.01 (+13%). This is gross revenue and does not account for expenses. My online expenses are around $3,000 per month. I spend a lot on VAs since I want to take care of my family more than I want to spend time on my computer ;-).

 

BLOGS BUSINESS $6,470.87 vs 5,015.17 (+29%)

 

 

The blog business peaked last month mainly due to higher traffic and Adsense sales. I’ve also brokered a few good advertising deals that pushed my results beyond my goal for a second consecutive month.

Since I operate several blogs, I get numerous advertising requests. I don’t do much private advertising on my blogs anymore as I’ve previously mentioned but I’ve kept this part of the business for other sites I own. Most of the time, I don’t have enough sites to complete massive advertisers’ requests. This is why I run this advertising brokerage service on the side. I take a 15% “finding fee” to dispatch advertising across my network. It’s a pretty good deal for everybody as it doesn’t take me forever to close a deal and both the blogger and the advertiser are happy.

PRODUCTS $1,280.60 vs $1,877.66 (-32%)

 

I’m losing steam on this part of my business at the moment mainly because I’ve failed with my February campaign. My goal was to offer a combination of two products (an external investment newsletter and my dividend stock investing tool) at a discounted price. I offered a $169 package deal for both services. I had a deal with the external investment newsletter to offer their product with a $100 rebate. Then, I offered them combined, both products and included their promotion within my package. So customers could get 2 products with a total value of over $288 for $169.

Unfortunately, my pricing strategy combined with my product offering was too complex and not straightforward. It resulted in only 2 new yearly memberships. Later in the month, I quickly turned around and pushed the external investment newsletter by itself. It resulted in 32 new sales within a week.

Their product was offered at a rebate, mine wasn’t. This was probably why it didn’t fly that much. I didn’t want to reduce the price of my membership as I think it would be a lack of respect for existing members. I made a decision to not play with my price and not offer additional rebates. Sometimes, I’m tempted to do so, but I always remember the customer who first paid the “full price”. I think it’s important to show them respect.

In the meantime, I got my product approved within an affiliate marketing system. This means that I will be able to give affiliate links to other bloggers or website owners wanting to sell my membership service. Im offering 40% of the sale price to other blogger. This is definitely a great deal for both parties. I’m definitely looking forward to see how it will go in the upcoming weeks with this strategy.

This business division also includes my two books for sale on Amazon:

Dividend Growth – a 4.5 Star Investing Guide

2014 Best Dividend Stock Picks – After beating the benchmark with my picks in 2012 and 2013, I’m going back for a third year with 20 US and 10 CDN favorite picks.

Sales are stable right now with Dividend Growth (I sell rough a copy a day) and the 2014 Best Dividend Stocks continues to roll as my picks are doing as good or better than my benchmark. The easy money is gone and now investors are looking more than ever for undervalued stocks.

NICHE SITES $193.4 vs $134.22 (+44%)

 

 

My niche sites produced more income in February but I’ve done nothing yet to improve the situation. I was simply lucky that I got more traffic and more Adsense revenue ;-). I must admit that my click-through-ratio and earnings per click are quite high with my niche sites. For example, I have one site making $30-$40 per month with Adsense with as little as 200 visitors per month. This can give you the kind of potential such a site can have if you bring it up to 2,000 visitors. Then again, 2,000 visitors/month is far from being impossible!

 

I’m currently looking at how I will improve traffic for these sites. I have a few ideas on the table and I’ll discuss them with my partner soon… we have our annual meeting coming up!

 

WHAT WENT WELL THIS MONTH

 

February was another challenging month in terms of time management. In January, the whole family got sick one after another without any breaks. In February, we were completing the earnings season (when public companies issues their quarterly financial reports). We wanted to cover all stocks in our Dividend Growth Portfolios. This makes 45 different stocks across 10 portfolios.

 

Nonetheless, the final product (three very strong investing newsletters sent to our members) was a complete success. I was very proud to provide an accurate follow-up and performed trades upon our analysis.

 

Then, second thing that went well was the advertising brokerage activities. We completed several deals and many bloggers benefited from it. Plus, making a 15% commission each time you send a couple emails is always appreciated!

 

WHAT WAS A MESS DURING THIS MONTH

Time management, again, was a big pain. I was stuck between demanding hours at work, children/family activities and my sites. In my latest income report, I had listed 7 tasks to be accomplished in February (this included January’s unfinished tasks as well) listed as follows:

 

#1 Write guests posts for my membership site – Fail

#2 Create an affiliate programs for other bloggers – Done Success

#3 Give free access to other bloggers so they can review my site – Fail

#4 Write more on TFB! Lol! – Fail

#5 Run an affiliate campaign through one of my blog – Done (but unsuccessful)

#6 Establish a plan to improve my niche website traffic – in progress

#7 Add a new portfolio model to my membership website (500K+) – in progress

 

As you can see, I’m not too happy about my overall results. Excuses explain what happened but still, they don’t bring results to the table. I know that my membership site won’t bring in money month after month if I stop promoting only 3 months after launching. I have a good customer base but it won’t increase overnight based on wishful thinking!

MARCH TASKS

 

Since time is always an issue and I’m starting March a little bit late due to a vacation, I will restrain my objectives and make sure I complete all the tasks on time. So here’s quick list:

 

#1 Finish the 500K+ portfolio and advertise it

#2 Write two guest posts for my membership site

#3 Offer my affiliate program to three bloggers and walk them through

#4 Finish my niche site development plan

 

I know it’s not many tasks, but I want to make sure to succeed and finish the first quarter of the year on a strong note. In two weeks, we will already have three months done in the year. It’s crazy how time flies!!

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March 3, 2014, 5:00 am

The Darn Question of Pricing

by: The Financial Blogger    Category: Business

 

 

Price it too low, and people think it’s cheap

Price it too high, and people think you are a nut job!

 

In marketing, the question of pricing is probably the hardest to answer. Unfortunately, this is a question we must face every time we want to sell something. You can’t start negotiating your price with each client and moving the price up and down all the time will not send the right message to clients and future customers. The early joiners will fell that they got ripped off if you drop your price from time to time and the late subscribers will simply wait forever until you put on a huge promotion before buying (who pays full price at Canadian Tire?).

 

ASK AROUND, IS IT A GOOD THING?

 

Before I launched my membership website about Dividend Growth Portfolios, I was very uncertain about the right price. It is a high-end product when you consider the knowledge put in place and the possible return on your investment. On the other hand, this is also a very crowded and competitive industry where giants such as Morningstar and Motley Fool offer services for just a few bucks per month.

 

My partner and I weren’t able to find a sweet spot where we felt comfortable so we decided to ask around. Based on my own experience, looking for an external point of view won’t help… much. The first problem when you ask feedback about pricing is who do you ask. Asking internet marketing specialists, they will answer: shoot for the sky. Asking friends, they will answer: price it modestly. Ask potential buyers, they will answer to drop your price as low as possible (they are not fools!). Nonetheless, this is what I did; I asked an internet marketer, friends and potential buyers.

 

THE BEST ANSWER STILL COMES FROM POTENTIAL BUYERS

 

If you ask a potential buyer what price they would pay for your house, chances are they will shoot low since they think they can get a bargain. But if you ask 1,100 people about your house, now you have a chance to hit a few honest people. This is what I did with my new project.

 

I’ve built a list of 1,100 potential buyers and told them about my project. I’ve sent a series of 4 emails:

#1 I’ve explained what it was about along with its main features.

#2 The second email was about the main benefits offered and requested feedback

#3 The third email went out asking a simple question: How much is your time worth?

 

The purpose of my investing website is to simplify the investor’s investment process. I want investors to save time and still make money being a DIY investor. I gave my readers a choice between 3 options:

#1 paying between $9.95 and $14.95 monthly

#2 paying between $15.95 and $34.95 monthly

#3 paying between $35.95 and $49.95 monthly

 

I received about 400 answers from this email. It took me forever but I personally replied to each one of them. Without any surprises, most readers answered option #1. However, I got about 30 or so (so 7.50%) answers telling me they would be okay with option #2 or #3. This is without counting numerous longer emails explaining their reasoning. I received a lot of details about the current offers on the web along with pricing from other competitors.

 

LOOKING AT COMPETITORS… WITH FRESH EYES

 

We always have the best product as the design, the quality and everything else is better than our competitors. Now that I’ve accepted that, I had to look at my competitors with fresh eyes; with the customer’s eyes. The target price was definitely between $9.95 and $15 per month. Most of them were charging $9.95 which didn’t give me much room to play with. I was happy to notice that most of my competitors offered almost too much info. And this is something I wanted to solve with my site: I wanted to have something that cut the crap and gets directly to the point. One of my competitors offers 20-30 page reports on a bi-weekly basis. Who has the time to read, analyze and take action on over 60 pages of information monthly? I know something for a fact; I don’t! My competitive advantage was to offer high value-added features only if I was going to charge as much (or even higher) than my competitors.

 

The fact that I had two years of great investment records behind the belt was another factor. Ideally, I would have had to wait until I have five years, but that will happen in three and I will be able to crank my price if I keep beating my benchmarks!

 

AVOID PRICE CONFUSION AT ALL COSTS

 

From my own experience, I notice that when you play with additional options or different price ranges, you increase the level of confusion for your potential buyers. And if they are confused, they will likely not proceed with the purchase.

 

It happened to me yesterday again when I tried to book a couples massage at a spa (I know, I’m a good hubby ;-) ). The item “couple massage” was priced per person, so I added the two items in my “cart”. The next screen was to search for availability. I selected 2pm. The system found 4 massotherapists available for that time. But, the system didn’t allow me to select two massotherapists at the same time! I had to select one at 2pm and another at 3pm. It’s like I had to create another account for my wife and reserve another couple massage under her name to get both reservations at the same time. Do you think I completed the reservation? No way!

 

Back to my membership website; I offer 2 pricing options: basic with a monthly subscription and premium with a rebate of 2 months + a free book for an annual subscription. In my case, I think it was the right choice. The proof is that I have about 50% of my members choosing monthly and the other half annual.

 

But I created additional confusion when I did my official launch with a combined offer including another newsletter. For a limited time, I offer both my services along with another investing paid newsletter for a package price. I didn’t sell many subscriptions for that package and I think I know the reason: it gets confusing if you go see the newsletter, then my website and then go back to the original offer. There are simply too many places to find information before you make the purchasing decision.

 

I thought it would be a good idea since I had run a promotion for that investing newsletter in the past with great success. There wasn’t any big package; just a plain rebate on an investing newsletter.

 

IF I HAD TO DO IT AGAIN

 

After looking at how I’ve priced my service, I thought I would have done something slightly different. Instead of going for $14.95/month right up front, I would have started with $9.95 for the first 100 members. Then, I would have increased it to $14.95. It would have created a bigger buzz around the launch (especially if I had told the offer was sent to 1,100 investors!).

 

On the other hand, I wanted to price the site for what it’s worth and I think investors are getting a lot from it. In fact, feedback is very good to date so I’m pretty confident that people are happy about the pricing. I wanted to make sure I make my money back quickly and it was the case as I’ve come to profit only 6 weeks after launching my site.

 

I just think that I could have generated a bigger buzz and gotten more members on board at first. Now, I can’t offer a rebate as I would feel unfair to my first members to sign-up.

 

As you can see, it’s never easy to come up with the right pricing strategy!

 

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February 18, 2014, 6:47 am

Niche Sites, Starting from Scratch

by: The Financial Blogger    Category: Niche Website

 

 

Last week, I disclosed my first income report in over a year. The main reason why I decided to publish my income again is because I want to use this report as a way to follow-up on my progress and hold myself accountable.

I can already say it was a great idea since I’ve noticed that I was very far behind with my niche site income. I was under the impression that I was making about $500/month from them but I only made $134.22 in January.  OUCH! This is about 16% of my goal of $833.33 per month from this segment.

Since the plan for my membership website is already well detailed and my blog business is on pace, I have decided to concentrate my efforts to design a plan of attack to boost my niche site income.

 

STEP#1 SELECT THE RIGHT NICHE SITES TO WORK WITH

 

Over the years, we went a little trigger happy on buying domains, put together a few articles and called it a niche site. Back in the day, it was a great strategy to sell a few links and make a few bucks from Adsense. These sites didn’t require any attention from us and the money was still coming in slowly, but passively.

 

Now we need to step-up and create bigger sites in order to generate additional income. I didn’t want to shoot everywhere to see what comes out of the bushes. This is why I’ve selected 7 sites with potential. They are disclosed as follows:

 

I have selected these sites because I have two niches (investing and jobs) that I’m very comfortable working with and I know they are profitable. You don’t need much traffic to generate money with such topics. On top of this, I tried something new with an insurance related site and it works very well. It is incredibly hard to rank for insurance keywords but it is by far the most profitable niche I’ve come across so far.

STEP #2 HIGHLIGHT WHICH METRICS TO IMPROVE

 

Since I work with a limited time schedule, I can’t focus on everything. Focus on everything…. these are 2 words that just don’t work together. You can’t focus and work on everything… this is called a waste of time!

 

This is why I will be focusing on 2 simple metrics for each site:

Revenue per visitor

 

I already know the revenue per visitor can be very high for each site. It’s all a matter of converting them at this point. Working with these 7 sites, I will apply the following strategies to improve my chances of having each visitor take an action which generates money for me:

A)     Change the theme for most sites in order to make it easier to navigate through

B)      Perform adsense optimization on each site

C)      Add affiliate resources to help visitors

D)     Improve the newsletter subscription option to keep more visitors

 

Visitors from search engines

 

The second metric to focus on is obviously traffic. This is a joint problem for all niche sites at the moment. You can optimize your site all you want, if you don’t get visitors, you don’t make any money.

 

This will be purely trial and error for this part. I know for a fact that I have never updated my 7 niche sites and Google obviously doesn’t like this. The first challenge will be to update them on a regular basis. I’m thinking of writing 1 article per month for each site which will bring my work load to 7 more posts. This is a lot of work but I think it can make a big difference.

 

Then, I will try several link building strategies:

a)      Starting with keyword research to focus on easier topics to rank with (Matt from Dumb Passive Income has a great service for keyword research by the way)

b)      Commenting, carnivals and create web 2.0 properties to improve the number of links (the usual stuff)

c)       Look at expired domain redirects (a new strategy mastered by Jon from Authority Website)

d)      Write epic posts and mention other bloggers as link bait

STEP #3 TIME MANAGEMENT – HIRING A VA?

 

I can’t really put many hours on my niche site at the moment as I have several tasks to achieve with regards to my membership website. This is why I’m considering hiring a VA to do several tasks. Since niche sites have generated a 100% passive income of $134.22, this could be my budget for March. I could use 100% of my niche site income to generate bigger revenues. Since this segment of my business is dying at the moment, I won’t jeopardize much by using pure profit to improve this division.

 

A few months ago, I used a good VA from ODesk to do some link building. I intend to use the same guy to work on specific tasks. For the rest of the month of February, I will concentrate on putting this plan together and build a small tutorial so my future VA will be able to achieve his work quickly.

 

This will be quite a challenge! But I can’t really go under $134 anyway, right?

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