TFSA For The Win

Whether if you have a specific saving or investing goal, using the TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account) to get you there is your best choice. I was talking about this yesterday to a couple friends at brunch so I wanted to share some of its advantages to savings over an RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) account and why you need to get on board and start saving with it.

The TFSA account allows you to save up to $5,000 per year, without it being subject to being taxed. This is amazing. Note: More in-depth information to explain all the intricacies of the TFSA is available here. This is the opposite for Unlike the RRSP account which if you take out the money it gets taxed immediately. Ouch. I did this last year, when I took out quite a large sum of money (for an financial emergency). It was a bad idea for 3 reasons. Firstly, my investment was doing great and I had made a lot on my principal, so I probably should have left it there. Secondly, I was taxed on it. And thirdly, the money got added to my earned income for this year, thus increasing how much I had to pay in income tax. Brutal. My TFSA on the other hand doesn’t come with any of these many potential burdens, making it the ideal savings vehicle between the two.

Furthermore, as my previous experienced has proved, having money locked in, then getting taxed on it when taken out, wasn’t the best situation for me. If another financial emergencies arises, It is a lot more beneficial to have access to my money quickly without the fear of any tax penalty overhanging.

Since it was introduced in 2009, the limit to investing into your TFSA has now increased to a maximum of $15,000 (A new $5,000 can be added each year). If you do not fill up the $5,000 in space each year, it carries forward. Are there any more reasons you need convincing on?  I hope I spurred my friend on to at least consider it as a possibility.

She has a great, secure job and with her advancing in her career and coming into a higher tax bracket in the not to distant future, the TFSA makes a lot of sense, since it would be ideal place a portion of her earnings away from being taxed. The key here is to start small, with automatic deposits into a TFSA from your bank account on pay day. You won’t miss I thing. However, sorry folks, but the TFSA is only available for us Canadian residents over the age of 18. We gotta have something though…it’s cold up here!

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Sharing your voice

Yesterday, I received my first edition of my latest magazine subscription obsession, (after forays withfinding your voice yearly subscriptions to SI and GQ magazine) Canadian Business. It’s an awesome publication and I look forward to getting many more. It has a little bit of everything, including the biggies that I love in technology, social networking, marketing, and investing. In its June edition it had an really good article on an Erin Bury, community manager at Sprouter in Toronto (@erinbury on Twitter) and how she has grown her personal brand into an authentic influencer to her network of close to 10,000 Twitter followers.

With that, my mind immediately jumped to Twitter, and all the other marketing/PR pros like Bury that I follow on there. There is a wealth of information they share, from personal opinions, to ideas, to just general observations/commentary of the world around them. It’s great, but I didn’t follow them to simply absorb everything they share and retweet it as gospel. In fact, rather I wanted to have a feel of what the PR world that I hope to enter soon, is like (it’s a small world, especially when viewing my timeline and seeing the consistent chat from PR pros specifically in the U.S. and Canada, as proof of this) and add to this conversation, in my own unique way. That is the great thing about today, with the power of technology, namely the internet and a laptop. Anyone can find and then share their voice to the endless number of conversations that interest them, both professionally and personally.

I’ve seen this right in front of me, by looking no farther than at some of my friends who have started to create their own niches online. In the last couple months, 3 of them have started their own blogs and gotten accounts on Twitter. Their specialties, if we wanted to give each one a specific area of expertise, are in the self help, lifestyle/tech, nutrition spaces. I remember hearing comments, from one of the above (won’t name names) that “Twitter was useless”, and  it had “little value”. Every time I see a tweet or re-tweet of his, I think one more point for me. More so though, it is about how they have embraced their voice and decided it being worthwhile to share and use as benefit to others, which adds value to people seeking information in those areas.

The importance of your online voice (I hope you have a real world one as well) is that you get to provide your views on the world around you, which is important, since everyone’s voice is unique. Looking at an even closer example to me than my friends, is my sister. She is a sports fanatic, who I helped push to start blogging. Often times her thoughts on things in the sports world is usually ahead of what sports broadcasters say, particularly in regards to one of my favourite spectator sports next to soccer, hockey. Having a blog allows her to get her own voice out there, create her own personal brand, which in my opinion, adds another interesting viewpoint and layer to conversation we can’t get enough of,  just as sports caster A does.

I started blogging in 2006. Not  as consistently throughout these past 5 years as now, which is absolutely vital to this endeavour (especially in the beginning) if you want to build your personal brand or become an influencer. But the fact remains that although striving for consistency, what I have shared and added to conversations online thus far, has been something I can be proud of, as being a benefit to others, which makes blogging register as having a strong appeal to me. Along with that is how blogging can help improve your writing skills (the #1 skill for a PR pro), while allowing you to provide unique commentary on a variety of topics/issues, and the simple fun of writing each post, which I treat as a “new assignment”, is a reason why I think everyone should have their own blog. As my friends from outside the PR world can attest with their work, it isn’t all that bad at all.

Thoughts on LinkedIn IPO, future IPOs for Facebook, Twitter

I won a bet today with a friend. I said that we would get at least one social media company that went public this year.linkedin 2 It was an easy bet to win. Many of these social media companies, Facebook, Twitter, being the two big ones had been in the news for over a year with plans on going public. But today, LinkedIn, was the 1st to pull the trigger. I’m on all 3 sites (as a PR student it is quite necessary) and use them almost everyday, so I I’ll tell you what I think of all 3 of them as focus on Facebook and Twitter my views on them having an IPO (initial public offering or simply being listed on the stock market) in the future.

LinkedIn is an interesting case. Of the 3, it is the most professional and I appreciate that aspect. Apparently so do a lot of my peers. The past couple months it seemed every week,  I have been adding old colleagues at a feverish pace, to keep in touch with them all on LinkedIn. Besides this though, I haven’t used or rather dived into LinkedIn as much as I’ve liked to…yet. But it’s use is evident. It is a networking tool, with a global network, a key point in this new reality of economies being so closely tied together with each other more than ever.

I have heard that their groups, which I am a part of about 10 related to PR/communication, really makes LinkedIn a valuable source in organizing people for business development discussion. This is definitely something I want to explore more. When I put my investor hat on and seeing how LinkedIn quickly doubled from its IPO price of $45 to an intraday high of over $122/share, to a close of a healthy $94.25 with over 30 million volume, this is positive news for their company. Obviously it won’t do 30 million everyday but impressive nonetheless and good on them for this amount of initial support  for their target valuation.

Facebook is a different story. Their IPO will no doubt be a top news item, but  I’ve grown rather tired of Facebook, as a company, to be honest. Two big reasons are one being the growth of spam on that site, and  two the messaging system or Facebook chat.

Spam has gotten so bad I find myself filtering so many people, this filtered list is becoming the same size of my hundreds of friends. The messaging system, Facebook chat is a mess. It is that simple. Throw in the recent bad press of Facebook using world renowned PR firm Burston-Mueller to smear Google’s reputation, and you really see that maybe the movie “The Social Network” really wasn’t that far off in portraying the company. Not helping my career or other PR professionals when we have to deal with being labelled “spin doctors”, as the profession is so commonly wrongly described.  All of these types of "soft feelings” I’ll call them, because they pull on my emotional attachment  in regards to Facebook. Throw in their just insane valuation (roughly 70 billion market value) and I would have a hard time, going for this in an IPO situation.

Twitter I like a lot more. It has half as many people on its site (300 million) as of today that Facebook has. (Yes it was big day for social media if you’re following). It has become the most efficient way to break news, as evidenced by the story of a journalist Pakistan directly or indirectly breaking the news of the U.S. Navy Seals Team Six killing of Osama Bin Laden. It’s fun as well. Some of the people I follow strictly use it to ply their comedic antics and this is accepted and adds to Twitter’s fun factor.

Personal views are encouraged, which makes for great back in forth between celebrities, media personalities, and just regular people like you and I. Twitter has a broad appeal,  in both professional and personal use, making it a great blend, more so than LinkedIn which is more purely professional and Facebook which is more purely personal. This makes it a more attractive target for me if I were to pursue it in an IPO.

Being in the field of PR, it  is exciting to see how social media is growing and impacting everyone. In terms of these companies. whether they become sustained profitable entities, without the fear of  them imploding is anyone’s guess. I would rather invest, as I have done so, in hard assets (gold), dividend funds, and equities. Of course, those that made a quick double and then some on LinkedIn today would argue to the contrary. However, herein lies an obvious, although key point. Regardless of whether my predictions are right or wrong, for both my stocks I’m invested in or those that invested in LinkedIn today, you only make as much money in investing as the amount you of money you put on the line. As was proven today, with the 30 million shares traded, this has occurred in such an impressive manner, which LinkedIn hopes is just the start of great things to come for them as a company.

Tech Review: Sony Vaio EA Series

I took a quick glance to the Sony Style website the other day and I noticed something. New Sony  Vaio laptops. With Widi (wireless display). Sigh. Widi (wireless display) is the newest technology available for laptops, allowing you to wirelessly display images from your laptop onto your TV screen. No HDMI cable. All done wirelessly. It was something I was hoping which would be available for my current laptop. Unfortunately it came a year later, so I had to “settle” with another Sony product, the Sony Vaio EA series. If you could call this settling.

When I was looking for a new laptop last year ( I had a Gateway one previously) it took me a long time. The whole summer actually and then some, about 6 months till last Christmas. When my Gateway went down last summer, I vowed to get a laptop that would not suffer the same fate.

I went to cnet.com, redflagdeals.com, computershopper.com, online laptop forums, pretty much everywhere that they were discussing new laptops and reviewing them. I learned a lot. So much that if you need recommendations on what to get, I’m your man. But it always comes back to your personal needs, and being the picky guy I am I had a few.

They were:

  • Good battery life (at least 3+ hrs)
  • Good video card (not the standard one available in most laptops found in electronic stores)
  • Core I3 processor or better
  • 14” screen or smaller
  • Great keyboard and touch pad
  • Larger than 320 Hard drive (that my old Gateway had)
  • Black
    Quite the list. My Gateway was about $770 (taxes in) so I decided I’d up the budget and settle on one which was around $1000. With my criteria in place, 6 months of research in place, it came down to two: The Sony Vaio EA and the MacBook Pro.
    The reasons were simple. I knew both were excellent brands with a very informed following, way more than the other brands I looked at such as Asus, HP (have heard horror stories), Dell, or Compaq. In terms of reliability, Sony and Apple, seemed to stand above those aforementioned laptop makers so it made me even more comfortable with them being my top two.

However, I could only get one laptop so I had to decide. And from criteria I was pushed into Sony’s direction. Firstly, I’m not a huge fan of Apple. They are one of the companies you either love or hate. You’re  PC or Mac. Although I love innovation and would consider myself creative, I’m a  PC guy. All day. So that was the first thing. Second, the Sony was customisable! Yay for choice! I was able to put in a Blu-Ray player (The Dark Knight looks fantastic on this laptop), and upgrade the battery to an extended battery. They even threw in Photoshop suite which was a nice bonus. Finally, It came in black. Colours matter and black > silver (MacBook Pro) sealed the deal. If they had the MacBook Pro, like the MacBook before it in all black, maybe it would have changed my mind…

So with that here is my video from last year, giving a quick look at the Sony Vaio’s EA’s unpacking. Enjoy! PS I sound a little nerdy.

Poor PS3

Poor PS3 owners. I can’t help but have a little bit of delight in your misery. You’re locked out of online gameplay,ps3 while the rest of us serious gamers (Xbox 360), can continue to delight in late night Call of Duty: Black Ops play.  A fairly large contingent of my friends who demanded I get a PS3 are now left with nothing to say. I guess hacking a network could happen to anyone could it? Of course. Tell me that after I’m done with these new map packs, I’m just too busy right now to care.

Could you imagine if this happened when Call of Duty Black Ops was released? This would definitely be much more of an outcry. I could see 15 year olds, writing letters in their broken English and foul tongues, to Sony HQ demanding them to get things up and running. I guess PS3 owners can take solace in the fact at least their online gaming experience is free. Which is useless now since the network is shut down, with the latest news saying it will be out till the end of May! Yikes. So what can Sony do about this disaster? Here are some suggestions:

Give a credit

Give a credit to PS3 users to use towards free online content or something in the large PSN (PlayStation Network) world. People need to be rewarded for their investment in you, and even through this frustrating time, it’s time to step up and give them reason to continue to support the PS3 brand.

Take blame

Some of the worst things when a PR nightmare like this happens is when the responsible party doesn’t take the blame. It may not be your fault, but as the face of the product,  you must own up to it somehow. To let the situation become a spiralling mess of uncertainty with no one taking responsibility, doesn’t help people have faith in your product. Management  should have owned up immediately, rather than go silent.

Stay the course

Sony is a great brand. I’m writing this on a Sony Vaio laptop. I believe in your brand. You also gave us the first portable MP3, the Sony Walkman. People love your products. So by just staying the course people will realize that yes you made a mistake but you have a good history with other products and in your brand in general, which will help to keep brand loyalty high.

Good brands don’t just die. I remember people saying they would stay away from Toyota forever right after they had their major  automotive recalls a while back. Last time I checked they were driving their Camry’s around the neighbourhood. Like Toyota, Sony has a lot of name power, along with this being (I’m assuming) a minor blimp in an otherwise impeccable resume. There is light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, I should actually be getting a PS3 quite soon…funny how things work, isn’t it?

Birthing birthers

You’ve probably have heard of Donald Trump recently stirring up quite the controversy through the media by requesting U.S. President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate to prove he is an American citizen. Trump, who may be vying to be Obama’s opposition in the 2012 U.S. Presidential race, has been adamant that Obama was not born in America. He has also made remarks on how did Obama get into law school at Harvard, saying something along the lines of he has friends whose kids which have high marks and can’t even get into Harvard, so how could Obama, who according to Trump was “a poor student” get in.

This aside, the real issue Trump has is the first one, believing that Obama was not born in the U.S., thus making him illegible for the U.S. Presidency. This is the “birther” issue. You are a “birther” if you reside in Trump’s camp, which is that Obama

What is sad about Trump is I actually liked him before all this. I enjoyed the early seasons of his Apprentice TV series, that gave you an interesting glimpse of reality TV, of real people trying to make it in the business world. He seemed honest, open, and even with the silly scripted “You’re fired” thing, he seemed human. But that was all in the past. From a PR point of view it is clear what he is doing here. He is positioning himself as a champion of those  who want to question, undermine, bring him down and Obama’s character and stature as president. Obama, being a soft spoken non–Caucasian U.S. president, is quite an easy target, for Trump’s claims, which definitely have a racist tinge to them.

Another part of the problem is the role the media plays in providing Trump a stage. Traditional media, such as CNN, entertainment media like TMZ and social media like Twitter and Facebook, all come together to create what can be described as a highly sensational environment. This environment is one which I feel has hit a critical mass, especially in America, where the media helps elevate individuals agendas. Why? Because it makes money of course, and sensational headlines bring in viewers. With the rise of social media and the competition being as fierce as ever, traditional media has to pander to the tastes of the population. Take a look at  what Charlie Sheen is doing on Twitter as the perfect case and point. Over statured and overexposed in the media.

Back to Trump. This attempt is just something to dominate headlines, with him leading the fight against this supposed “injustice” as a way to accomplish this. Whether Trump, or Sheen are mentally inept, trapped in their ways of thinking or it is part of their PR strategy I have no clue. All I know is discovery is a good thing, however  ignorance is not.

Two in One

April was a good month. Went to Toronto twice in one month, coincidentally on the first and last days of the monthapache burgers. On the first of April I went to the Blue Jays home opener and this past week I went to see a Swedish DJ (@Avicii on Twitter). That was a crazy performance, and now I know what a rave is like. Every time I go to Toronto I seem to have more and more fun in this great city. So let me walk you through what went down.

Ping Pong

I’ve written here before in this space on my rekindled love of ping pong versus one of my best friends. Well I got my revenge over him, on his home turf too.  We played our first series on Friday night and I won the best of 7, 4-3. The next day on Saturday I wasn’t so lucky, as I dropped the best of 7 (5-2 or 4-3 I don’t remember). Always such a great workout ping pong is for me, I also influenced by my fitness freak of a friend to do a tiny workout after our games on Friday, my first workout in a month. I should thank him as it did end up feeling quite good. We can only hope the summer gym membership follows.

Networking

I treat every opportunity interacting with others as an opportunity to network. Love doing it. I enjoy asking a lot of questions to find out more about people or things which I have little previous knowledge or experience in. At a party on Friday, I was able to run into a very charming girl who was a grad of the advertising program at  the same college I went to. Instantly we hooked up (professionally people) exchanged information on my Blackberry and it was done. A connection in Toronto to help start to pry open the doors to being a big city PR hotshot.

When I got back home, I sent her my resume and she sent me hers. It was created with InDesign, blowing my resume away. I should have taken design class more seriously because hers definitely has what it takes to get noticed. Something to think about as I gear up for the job search in the next year or so.

Other Stuff

On my visit I was also able to play the new Mortal Kombat game on the PS3. Craziness ensued with 4 of us guys, along with a girl watching in horror, to try and pull off the sickening finishing fatality moves. My best friend was able to get it off a couple times, more than any of us. Man are they gruesome. Check out this video real quick if you don’t believe me.

I know I’ll be back in Toronto at some point this summer. One of my close friends is moving there (today actually) to take summer classes, so I now have another reason to make the easy trip down there. Plus, the city is growing on me, especially the food.

Loved trying out one of the historic burger joints called Apache Burgers (the picture of the one I went to is above) in Etobicoke. It had former hockey players, mostly Toronto Maple Leafs from the early 90s and earlier (which was hard to stomach) gracing the walls, that gave it that small diner/old school feel. As well sushi is growing on me. I would have never ate it alone, but in the group of guys I was with they “always do sushi” so I tried a bunch of different kinds. It’s such a delicious food. Till we meet again Toronto…