Lost Money ? You CAN Get it Back

So much is discussed online and elsewhere about scams, especially scams on seniors. There are safeguards and non-profit and governmental organizations that warn folks about the latest scams, and how to avoid them. What no one talks about however, is how to retrieve or save your dollars when you inadvertently make a mistake that costs you money, or when a legitimate or not-so-legitimate firm simply takes advantage of the fact that you missed the fine print. Or when the company is legitimate but the person representing the firm is not.

There are a few key points to remember:

  • The squeaky wheel does, indeed, get the oil
  • Social media is a powerful must-have tool for resolving complaints and getting refunds
  • When they say they can’t , they really can
  • There is NO such thing as a no-refund or no-return policy
  • NEVER accept the negative response of the first person who answers the phone. If you don’t like what you’re hearing ask for the supervisor, and the supervisor’s supervisor. Find key executives on LinkedIn or the company’s website, or by Googling, and reach out to them. “We don’t, we can’t, we won’t, or it’s not our policy to” really mean, “I don’t have the authority and I can’t be bothered getting you to someone who does.” DON’T accept that. You don’t have to.
  • Record (when legally allowed) all business calls. With regard to the legality of recording there are two kinds of U.S. states – one-party and two-party. In a one-party state only one of the people taking part on the call has to know it’s being recorded. In other words, you can record without telling them you are doing so. In a two-party state you cannot. The state we’re talking about is the state in which THEY reside, not you. So you have to first determine that.  That’s easy – simply ask them at the beginning of the call. Don’t assume because the company is in Iowa, the person you’re speaking with is.   As of right now, what I am finding is that there are only 12 two-party states: CA, CT, FL, IL, MD, MA, MI, MO, NV, NH, PA, and WA. This means that in most states you can record any conversation without telling the other party that you are doing so. Here’s my approach: “I’m sorry but I have a mild cognitive disorder and I like to record my business calls. It helps remind me, and if I’m later confused my son can listen and help me as well. You don’t mind, right?” If that person minds and it’s a solicitation, end the call. If you are trying to resolve an issue and he or she declines your recording, you cannot record but you certainly are letting that person and firm know that you are serious about following through on your complaint. Keep talking, or ask for a supervisor and then ask the supervisor if you can record, but before you ask that ask the supervisor where she or he is. Many virtual companies or multi-location firms will have supervisors who reside in states other than those of the rep who originally answered the phone. You may start talking to a rep in a two-party state and end up talking to a supervisor in a one-party state. Then you won’t have to ask permission.

In the last several years there have been numerous times when I was overcharged, signed up for something because I forgot to cancel before the end of the free trial, purchased something I regretted buying, or paid money for something that turned out to be unacceptable. In EVERY SINGLE CASE I got my money back, and in a timely manner. In some of these cases, they had a no-refund policy, or told me the error was mine. In most of the latter cases they were correct. But in every case I got my refund. I never took advantage of a company – never asked for money back on a good product that was used by me and found useful. Nor do I suggest that you do so. But when I wasn’t getting my money’s worth I complained, and got my money back.

You can too. I’m about to tell you how, but let me first give you a few examples.

The first example really was a scam, or rather a scammer. The product was solid, but the seller was dishonest. It was embarrassing because I’m a licensed life and health insurance agent and I got taken by a health insurance agent. But I don’t focus on individual medical policies, and had to turn to someone else who did. Self-employed, I recently left a part-time employer that was providing benefits. So I either was going to have to pay for COBRA or find adequate individual coverage. I was looking for something under $400 a month that would accept one pre-existing condition. No easy task.

I looked online, which prompted a number of unsolicited calls and emails from insurance brokers. I answered few of these. One, however, left a message that seemed legit. He was good, I have to give him that. I told him flat out I was NOT interested in an indemnity plan, but rather needed major medical coverage and, if possible, pharmacy, and if possible a few doctor visit copays. He told me he had a PPO that was going to be about $100 a month less than my COBRA. After getting his assurance and an email that confirmed it was a PPO and not an indemnity plan I gave him $399 by credit card over the phone. Then my INDEMNITY plan arrived in the mail. Over the course of many phone calls and conversations in which he insisted that he had explained what it was, and finally suggesting that I write a request for a 30-day cancellation (in other words, I wouldn’t get my original money back) I advised him that I would be going to the insurance carrier and the state department of insurance and he should be concerned about his license and his livelihood. Then he stopped taking my calls.

I got online. I discovered that his firm’s parent company was owned by his father, and it was local to me, here in Phoenix. And, he had a LinkedIn profile. I left the father a LinkedIn message, and called his office. I explained that while I really didn’t want to take the time to go down to his office in person and very loudly in his waiting room ask for the money back that was SCAMMED from me, I would do so if I didn’t get my money back in full within 72 hours. I then called the carrier, who confirmed that they only sold indemnity plans. I told the rep that I needed my money back within 72 hours because I had to pay for my COBRA before expiration, had to pay my mortgage and car payment and could not do all this with another $399 having been spent, and she said we can get you a refund but it will take up to 10 days. I said that is not acceptable and asked for a manager. I told her that I was reluctant to go to the state insurance department but my money was scammed from me and I had to have it back in 72  hours. In the meantime the broker, having heard from both the carrier and his father, was calling me several times a day, leaving messages about how he was sorry for the “misunderstanding..” I did not take his calls. The carrier’s manager called me back to tell me the money would be deposited back to my credit card account within 48 hours. It was.

In another situation I signed up for an online training class, for $239. The website posted a NO REFUND notice in at least a couple of places on the site. The class turned out to not be as advertised. I complained and was reminded of the No Refund policy. I found the CEO of the firm on LinkedIn, sent him a message, explaining that I hated to involve the many thousands of my LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest and Google+ friends and followers, but I felt an obligation to let them all know that all was not as advertised at this firm. He called me that very day. I got my money back that week.

On three separate occasions this year I have had problems with various companies because I signed up for a free trial and failed to cancel prior to the first fee being charged to my credit card, or I had an ongoing paid account which I had not been using for awhile, meant to cancel before the next billing and missed the deadline. In every case my money was refunded when, after they denied the refund on the phone I found the company’s Facebook page, Liked them, and posted the issue to their Facebook page. In each case, they replied on their Facebook page that they were sorry that happened and “here’s how to go about getting your refund.”

In one very difficult case I had to get multiple executives involved before I got my money back – and I did so. I joined the company’s LinkedIn group, messaged several key executives on LinkedIn, and sent an email to them all. I made sure to include their media relations director and their marketing director. The issue was resolved in my favor.

So, here are the steps you can take if you’ve been financially wronged:

  • Join Facebook and build a following of at least a couple of hundred people. This is a nice thing to have anyway.
  • Join LinkedIn, even if you’re retired or just job-hunting. There are many reasons for being a LinkedIn member beyond refunds, like career moves, job search, finding new clients and so forth. Build up your network to 500+
  • Set up a Twitter profile, and start following folks, who will follow you back. You need at least a couple of hundred people here at least.
  • Buy an inexpensive recording device for your phone – one that can be turned on or off at will. It can be digital or the old-fashioned tape variety. It doesn’t matter. You just want an affordable device that doesn’t take up a lot of space and is easy for you to use.
  • Start with a call or email or live chat with a first-line customer service rep. That might be all it takes. If that doesn’t work, ask for the supervisor. If that doesn’t work, ask for the person who supervises that supervisor.
  • If you still get no satisfaction, complain on yours and the company’s Facebook page, and go to LinkedIn and find key executives and message them there.
  • Go to the company’s website and find key executives, including marketing and public relations. Don’t choose one, message them all, or call them all. Be a thorn in their side. Do it once a day until someone responds positively. Your response whether by phone or email is “Here’s my complaint. Here is how I tried to resolve it before contacting you. If you don’t resolve it I hate to take this to my thousands of social followers as well as yours, as well as your clients, but I will. I am determined to get this resolved in my favor in the next 72 hours. “
  • Find out if the industry has a regulatory agency or requires its sales people to be licensed. If so, threaten to go to the regulatory agency, or, if needed, do so.  Insurance and real estate practitioners must be licensed, for example.
  • On the company’s website you’ll probably find a client list, testimonials or case studies. If you must – only as a last resort – start contacting these folks. “Hi, I see you’re a client of X company, who wronged me. I was wondering if you’ve had the same sort of difficulties with them?” That client is sure to let the company know that you sought them out.
  • Do NOT give up. When the company realizes that you will not, you’re going to get your refund.

So, how do you find out who the key executives are? And how to reach them?

It’s very difficult to find a direct phone number, but it’s often easy to find an email. First, head to the company’s website and its about us page. If nothing else, you’ll probably find the names.  You might find the emails, or a feedback form to use.  You might also just Google. In the search field simply type “marketing director X company” and see what turns up. You can also email sales@ or media@ or press@ or info@ or pr@. Those usually work.

If you do not find the email address but find the name, you have about a 75 percent chance of reaching that person by email. First find the company email format. if you can’t find an info@ or advertising@ or customerservice@ or some address that tells you that the company email ends in companyx.com, for example, assume that it ends in the URL. If the company is SmithAppliances.com, chances are the email is @smithappliances.com. Now, let’s say you want to talk to Joe Smith at Smith Appliances, but you can find no email for him. Send the email to JSmith@SmithAppliances.com, John.Smith@SmithAppliances.com, JohnS@SmithAppliances.com, John@Smithappliances.com, Smith@SmithAppliances.com, and John_Smith@SmithAppliances.com.  Then watch for the mailer daemon that says “email delivery failed” or some such. It will tell you which did not go through. That will tell you which did. You now have that person’s email address.

Another important point is that you give them a deadline. Tell them, “I need my money desperately for x reason. You must send it back to me within 72 hours.” DON’T let them tell you it takes 30 days, or you have to mail something.  Tell them to decide today and overnight it if they must. In the case of the insurance firm that didn’t want to pay me I told the supervisor to take out her own credit card and credit me back and then wait for the company to pay her back. I didn’t expect her to, but she did get the message I was NOT going to wait.

Another slight segue – if you are trying to cancel service, do it by email. Don’t call. Email provides written backup, and it’s faster and it  allows you to avoid the “I can offer you such and such instead, or I would like to know why you’re cancelling”  annoying time-suck phone conversation. Email them that you want to cancel,  and require email confirmation that it has been done. When they tell you that you must call to do so, reply, “I don’t accept that. I know you can do this. I am not going to get on the phone with a person whose job it is to talk me out of cancelling. I want this cancelled NOW and I won’t be calling you. What I WILL be doing is advising my bank that if you take any more money from my account to keep this active it is in violation of my written orders to you.” They’ll cancel it.

Again, keep in mind that the squeaky and social-media-focused wheel gets the oil. If they say they can’t refund your money, do NOT believe it. They can. And they will, if you’re persistent.

The Best Fitness Center for your 50+ Body

For someone 50+ a fitness center has to be more than a room or rooms full of machines and weights. It needs to have professionally-trained staff that can start and periodically check your workout, to make sure that you’re not damaging those arthritic knees or exacerbating the problem in your back or neck, and so forth. You need guidance on how to regulate your heart rate so you don’t overdo. While you don’t have to pay a fortune to get this kind of service, you probably won’t find it at the cheapest place in town either. Of course, what you could do is start your workout – say the first six months – at a place that offers personal training, and then move over to the no-frills low-priced gym when you know what you’re doing and no longer need that guidance. If you are seriously overweight, however, keep in mind that somewhere along the way, you’re going to plateau. I found that after a year of working out I had to leave behind the machines and get serious with free weights or I wasn’t going to take off that last 20 pounds. For that I needed a trainer once again.

In Phoenix, there are many many fitness center choices. Smaller towns will have fewer. In some towns, about the only option other than higher-priced small boutique centers,  will be the YMCA.

If you are just starting a workout regimen, or haven’t worked out in a long time, check out Daily Deals sites. (see my former post on Daily Deals sites if you’re not familiar.) Many of the smaller, higher-end personal-training centers offer great deals. I signed up for one that cost me less than $50 for eight half hour lessons whose value was over $300. That trainer taught me some new tricks, and then I moved on to a larger lower-priced center.

Here is what you need to think about:

  • How far is it from my home? Gas is costly, and if you’re still working, time spent traveling can be an issue as well. If a center is $20 a month less than another, but is 10 miles farther from home, it’s not a good deal.
  • What hours is it open? Maybe you don’t care that it’s open 24 hours because you don’t plan on working out at midnight, but the problem I’ve always had with the YMCA is its hours are way too short. Many of the local Y’s are closed on Sundays, or open 1-5pm or some such. That’s ridiculous for folks who are busy during the week.
  • How much does it cost, and what does that provide? While cost is a concern, if one center is $10 more but you can take the Zumba class at no additional charge, while the cheaper one charges you for classes, do you care about taking those classes?
  • How available is the staff if you need help? This isn’t just about personal training. What if you want to try a new machine and you can’t find it, or or you don’t really understand how to use it. Is there someone there who will say, “Sure, let me show you how that works.”
  • Who is the clientele? Some fitness centers are full of 20 somethings who dress in the latest high-end spandex wardrobe, and the atmosphere seems more of a meat rack than a place to get in shape. Perhaps you don’t care, but perhaps you’ll feel out of place when you show up all fat-bodied in your old sweats.
  • Are there enough machines for the number of people who want to use them? Or do you have to wait your turn? You may think you don’t care because after all you’re retired and you have free time, but waiting for a machine changes your heart rate, lowers your metabolism and makes it harder to burn calories in the same amount of time. You get a far better workout if you keep at it, especially when you’re trying to cross train.
  • Are the machines well-maintained? Or do you see several “This machine is out of order” signs. This isn’t just annoying, it can be dangerous as well.
  • Must you sign a contract to use the center? Fewer and fewer fitness centers are requiring a contract, and you shouldn’t have to sign one. Look for a place that lets you cancel with a 30 or 60 day notice.
  • Does membership allow you to work out at any of its locations? And what other locations are there? Perhaps this doesn’t matter to you but if you’re a snowbird who spends winters in Phoenix and summers in Denver,  or if there are days you’d like to head to the gym near the office and other days when you’d like to exercise at the location near your home, it would be nice to join a fitness center that had a facility in both areas. That is one key advantage to the YMCA. Its membership is national, and it is just about everywhere.
  • How much parking is available, and what is the security and lighting like? is there plenty of lighting in the parking lot, and if it’s 24 hours is the place locked up at night, with the only access by way of member keys or key fobs? If not, it’s unsafe. Look elsewhere.
  • What do you have to pay to get personal attention, or is there personal attention? Some places let you schedule an hour here and there with a personal trainer, while others offer an hour with your personal trainer once a month. Some will give you a personal trainer at sign-up, after which you’re on your own. Ask about this. As I mentioned before, when you’re just starting out you need some one-on-one so you don’t get hurt and you get on the most efficient path to good health.
  • Is there a pool? Pools aren’t all that common, but it might be important to you.
  • What is available in the locker room? Must you bring your own lock? Are there hair dryers, clean showers? Are towels provided? I don’t particularly care either way – I typically go to the gym in my workout clothes and drive home in them. But perhaps you want to come after work and change there. If these things are important to you be sure and ask.
  • Is child care available? While most of us in this age bracket don’t have this worry, the presence of child care means the presence of children. And if the center is not vigilant – and you’d be surprised how few are –  inevitably some of the members are going to let their pre-teens and young teens wander out onto the gym floor to play on the machines. It’s scary for the kids, and it’s annoying as you wait for access to the machines. Nor do you need to be dodging a running youngster as you’re puffing your way around the track.
  • Is there an indoor track? This is fairly uncommon, but in places such as Phoenix where it’s just too hot in the summer to use an outdoor track, this could be a nice perk for runners, joggers and power walkers who want to keep in shape.
  • Is there a fitness bar, or some other place to get a snack or smoothie if you feel your blood sugar getting low?
  • How prevalent are the water fountains? And do they offer a way of easily filling up your own water bottle, and is the water cold and tasty? Water is crucial! If you have to walk a few hundred feet to refill your water bottle with flat, tepid water, you might want to consider another center.
  • Are there TVs on the machines or on the walls? Are the TV channels close captioned so that if you don’t want to bring your headphones you can still watch the show?
  • What music is being played, and how loud is it? I love loud rock music when I’m working out but maybe you can’t stand it. If you don’t like what you hear ask, “Who decides about the music? Does the majority rule or does the staff turn it on and it just stays there no matter who complains?” Of course, you can bring your own iPod or similar device too. This doesn’t have to be a deal breaker.
  • What is the temperature in the gym? I workout very hard and sweat profusely. I believe that if you’re not breathing like a steam engine and sweating like a pig, you’re not working out hard enough. And because of that I want to walk into a gym that makes me shiver when I first enter. 15 minutes later I’m sweaty. I simply will not tolerate a gym that is not cold. It elevates my blood pressure and I end up with a hideous headache.
  • What do others say about it? If you can’t strike up a conversation with a couple current members, and even if you can, check out the center on a review site such as Yelp. Just do a keyword search of “fitness center” in your zip code.

Before you choose your fitness center, visit it at various times of day, and on various days of the week. Make sure you are there on a weekday morning, right after 5pm on a weekday, and on both Saturday and Sunday. See if it is crowded on the days and times you’d typically want to use it. The best way to do that is with a free trial. With the competition in this economy virtually every fitness center will offer a free trial of at least 3 days, and most are 7 days or more. Take full advantage of them, and don’t let anyone pressure you into signing on the dotted line until the free trial is over. Try one gym and then move on to the free trail at the next one. THEN decide on your best choice. Each time you go, attend at different days and times. One time use the machines, another time take a group class. If there is a pool, give that a try at least once.

I’m in the midst of free trials right now. I was at Pure Fitness for 18 months until it was sold. Then I got working too many hours and stopped working out. I’m now starting out again after an absence of 18 months. I made a list of all the gyms within a reasonable distance from my home – there were 6. With all the free trials offered – from 3 to 21 days, I’ll be working out for nearly two months at no charge. THEN I will decide which is my best choice.

Here is what I’ve discovered so far:

  • I signed up for a free 7-day trial at Lifetime Fitness in Glendale. The place is huge, and gorgeous. There is everything you could want and more – not only a huge fitness center with dozens of machines and no waiting, but a cafe with free wifi, masseuses on staff, a hair salon, two outdoor and two indoor pools, and indoor and outdoor jacuzzis, a steam room, gym and racquet ball courts. It’s $52 a month, but certainly worth every penny. Of course, the salon and massage services are additional. The problem? On the fourth day of my visit I was pulled aside by the person at the desk who wanted me to fill out the same information sheet I had filled out on the first day, and again meet with the sales rep. She said I’d have to do it every time I visited during my free trial. I said “No thanks,” and walked out, never to return. A free trial with that kind of pressure and waste of my time was NO free trial.
  • Now I’m on a 14- day free trial with Anytime Fitness in Goodyear. There are folks on Yelp that rave about this place because it’s small and the staff knows them by name. Well, it’s so small that it has few machines, and it’s hot in there. I climbed on the treadmill already feeling warm. The treadmills are placed in the only part of the room where there is no ceiling fan overhead. And then one staff member was running the vacuum while I was working out and ended up getting the cord under my feet.  And there’s one water fountain, in the back near the bathrooms. One of those spray to the side types which are hard to use to fill water bottles. Perhaps it was just a bad day for them and I’ll continue my trial, but these are concerns. The good thing about this 24-hour center is they took my picture and gave me a key fob to get in after hours. It unlocks the door, which stays locked after hours except for members. I don’t know what the night lighting is like – going to check that out this weekend.

In summary…

  1. Start your search for a fitness center (after you get your doctor’s okay) by looking for a Daily Deal discount for a few sessions with a personal trainer.
  2. Sign up for as many free trials at as many fitness centers as are reasonable choices for you, and then visit at various days and times, and using various services.
  3. Don’t sign any contract
  4. Don’t commit to any center until the free trials are over
  5. You’ll need sweat-resistant clothes, good shoes with plenty of traction and support, a sweat band, a towel, and a water bottle. You might want an iPod too. I also take a protein drink that I drink in my car immediately after my workout.

Twitter for the 50+ Job Hunt

As I mentioned in my post about LinkedIn for the boomer or senior job hunt, showing that you are tech savvy and know your way around social media can counter a hiring manager’s concern that you can’t learn, can’t keep up and don’t know what’s going on in the modern world. As I often point out to prospective employers or clients, what could be better than the work ethics of a 50+ candidate, combined with the tech know-how the job requires and the social savvy to virally market the company’s brand and its job openings? Learn your way around social media and you will be able to say the same thing.

Twitter is important for several reasons – first, because it’s a very easy way to search for those who are leaders in the industry in which you want to work, a super-easy way for you to get a conversation started, a venue for you to showcase your own expertise or at least interest, and a way to show that you are self-directed (For, no one is paying you or ordering you to tweet about the business, you just are.) Twitter is also a dynamite source of information you might not find anywhere else. There have been numerous times that I’ve heard about companies that I never knew existed and wanted to write about, and initiated conversations that led to interviews for articles.

If you’re not familiar with exactly how Twitter works, there are others who have done a great job of explaining that, along with some tips for its general use. Watch this YouTube video by HowCast that walks you through the basics. It’s a little old, and leaves out some new Twitter features – the Connect link, for example, where you can see Interactions and Mentions. Click on your Twitter profile and then Interactions and you’ll see who has followed you. Click on Mentions and you’ll see who has talked about you. Mentions are really important -they can be a real clue to which of the things you’re talking about on Twitter are getting attention, and from whom.

The important basics for Twitter, and your job hunt:

  • Create a profile that explains what you’re all about, keeping in mind that you want to emphasize your job hunt. You might be an avid swimmer, but unless you’re looking for a job as a lifeguard or pool attendant, or perhaps manager of the local YMCA, FinFan might not be the right Twitter profile. If you’re looking for an accounting job, you’d be better off calling yourself CalcYOULater or BudgetBalanceBob or some such. Get the idea? And the Twitter profile will provide you quite a bit of space to put a bio, and a hyperlink. (which, if you don’t yet have a blog or your own website, can be your LinkedIN profile URL. You DID create your LinkedIn profile after your read my LinkedIn for your job hunt post, right?) You may end up with more than one Twitter profile, each devoted to a specific interest or purpose. I have four. I am @TeleworkGuru, because I wrote a book about telework and am writing another one now. I am @ClassifiedTiger and @MediaTiger because I write about the world of classified advertising and other media products and ideas for media consultancy AIM Group. I am @SeniorWellth where I talk about the topics I discuss here.

The graphic below is a look at my TeleworkGuru profile page on Twitter. Generally you’ll have your photo here, but instead I put a screenshot of the book that Bill Fenson and I wrote. See how much I’ve put in my short bio, and how many people I am following and are following me. If you open up the links in the left sidebar, Following will show you all the people you are following. Followers will show you the profiles of those who are following you. Click on the graphic to go to my Twitter page, where you can wander around and see for yourself how it works.

  • Add your twitter profile to your LinkedIn profile. That’s easy – just go to your LinkedIn profile, click on edit and add the URL where you see the line that asks for it. Generally, your Twitter profile is going to be http://www.twitter.com/yourprofilename. Mine, for example, is Twitter.com/TeleworkGuru. But when you create the profile Twitter will tell you the URL. Up until recently you could set up your tweets (that is what the things you post in Twitter are called – tweets) to automatically appear on your LinkedIn profile page. LinkedIn just stopped that last week. While it’s not saying so, the fact is that Twitter is getting more traffic than LinkedIn and so LinkedIn simply doesn’t want people going from its pages to Twitter pages by way of links on LinkedIn profiles. But you can still do it . What you do is post your tweets as your LinkedIn update. You can even post it to your LinkedIn groups too. Once you have a blog, you can set up a Twitter widget that will automatically bring in your tweets too. Look at the left sidebar of this page and you’ll see my @SeniorWellth Twitter widget. 
  • Start following important people in the industry in which you want to work – better yet, follow those who work at the company or companies at which you want to work. Most people – especially business people  – very closely watch who follows them. That means they’re sure to go to your profile to see what you’re all about. At least eight times out of ten they will follow you back. That is very good, because then they keep seeing the very astute things you are saying about the industry, your knowledge of the industry and your interest in being in the industry. What could be better than reminding someone day after day that you’re smart, knowledgeable about their field and their firm, and perhaps available for hire? So, make sure you tweet at least one thing EVERY SINGLE DAY. 
  • Retweet what your followers are tweeting, when appropriate. Business people tweet to get noticed. They tweet to market themselves and their firm. If you retweet them you are marketing them while you are marketing yourself. Retweeting just means that you saw their tweet and you sent it to your followers. You’ re not stealing or plagiarising. It still is very clear that it came from them.  Retweeting is very simple. Just click retweet under their tweet and away it goes – to all your followers. Those you retweet will see that you did that , so they take notice of you yet again, and they’ll be grateful to you for the additional marketing as well. Do it sparingly and wisely, however. If you want a job with ABC accounting firm, no need to retweet when ABC’s marketing manager tweets about his golf game being a little off today. But if he discusses the great  new product X that his firm just launched, make sure you retweet that. Better yet, find out something about the product – perhaps there’s an online demo somewhere – and if you can legitimately see its value retweet something like, “ABC’s Product X looks to save time and money for local CFOs. Impressive! Here’s a video about it: . 
  • Use #. This hashmark is a sort and search method common to Twitter. It organizes topics, so that those who want to follow specific topics, and see what numerous folks are tweeting about it can collect them all in a running stream. For instance, if you, the accountant, heard about ABC Accounting’s annual Balance Bazaar conference going on now, you could see what everyone was saying about it on Twitter by searching by the hashtag the conference folks had assigned. It might be #BalanceBaz, for example. Or if you just want to search what everyone is saying about the firm you might try searching #ABCAccounting and see what turns up. This is also a great way to find out who is talking about accounting, to determine who is a big player in the industry, and a potential employer, or source of hiring info, training tips, ways to get in front of the right people, what jobs pay and so forth. Just try #accounting or #accountant and see what you find. 
  • Follow the followers of those you are following, and the followers of your followers. These might well be people with common interests as you, and further resources to virally market your interests and your credentials. 
  • Keep an eye on your messages. People can send a message to you by posting to everyone but putting @your profile name in the post. If someone said to me, “@TeleworkGuru, when is your next book coming out ?” everyone would see the message but would know it is for me. I could then post where everyone could see, “My New book, “Take this Job and Move it – Home” is due out by Nov.1, 2012.”  If, however, someone wanted to send you a Twitter message that only you could see she would have to be following you and you following her, or it wouldn’t work. She would click on Message and send a message which only you could see. It’s easy to miss private messages, and in fact, a lot of them are spam. Unless you have no other way to reach someone, don’t rely on a private message, commonly referred to as DM (direct message) to reach that person. He or she might not ever see it. 
  • Register at TweetMyJobs.com. This is the best-known job search listing platform for Twitter, though it’s not the only one.  Though primarily focused on the use of your smartphone to deliver job alerts, you can search and set up alerts and apply from  the TweetMyJobs.com website via your laptop, tablet or PC too. Keep in mind, however, that if  you give Twitter and TweetMyJobs access to your smartphone, you MUST have an account with your mobile carrier that gives you unlimited texting and emails. Neither of these firms are responsible for your overages, and neither will keep an eye on them for you. I’ve used TweetMyJobs to job hunt and have gotten dozens of job postings every 30 minutes. At that rate, if you had limited texting on your account you could end up with an enormous mobile carrier bill at the end of the month.  It is soo handy, though. You go to the site, set up an alert for Accountant, Orlando for example, and then wait for the 140 character job announcements to arrive. You follow the link to the site where you view the details and perhaps even apply. (Not all smartphones have the capability of retaining your resume, however, but more and more companies are enabling a link to your LinkedIn profile in a job application. That’s all the more reason why your LinkedIn profile should include a complete job picture (or as complete as you want your prospective employer to see), recommendations, and even clips of your work if that’s applicable. More on that in another post. 
  • Set up a professional-sounding Gmail account for your job-hunt email. Gmail is a great tool because of its affiliation with Google. Not only is it free but it can tie into an online Google Calendar, Google Docs, Insightly contact management, and a Google Reader. 
  • Set up the Google Reader for your gmail account. Reader is an RSS system (Really Simple Syndication) which is a way that enewsletters and other online publishers deliver their enewsletters to you. If, for instance, you like the New York Times, and it’s your best source for the daily national news, you could go to Google Reader, and subscribe to The New York Times daily news enewsletter. You could even organize your reader. One category might be daily news, while another could be accounting, a third could be tax law, and the fourth financial fraud or some such. Each could have its own set of subscriptions. To set up a subscription, go to your Reader and click on Subscribe at the top of the left sidebar. Fill in the field with the keyword or phrase – in this case, New York Times. What you’ll see then are several hyperlinks. The graphic below shows some of  what popped up when I did that: 


You might want to subscribe to the first choice – Breaking News, though perhaps the one that is titled “Today’s Paper” would be your choice – or both.  In this screenshot you’ll also get a glimpse of the organization. You’ll see that the first category I’ve created for my Google Reader is automotive (left sidebar.)

The Reader is important for Twitter because you have to have something to tweet about, don’t you? Going through your Reader each day will give you plenty to talk about, if you choose your subscriptions wisely. For that accounting job you might know of publications right off the top of your head, but if not, just do some keyword searching – CPA, accounting, cost accounting, bookkeeping, etc. You get the idea.

Three other great sources for tweet ideas, that are also useful for a blog once you create one, are Trove, BusinessWire and PRNewswire. Trove is a terrific service of  the Washington Post Company. It lets you search for news, but it’s best service is the ability to set up your own Channels. You tell Trove the topics you want to hear news stories about and it delivers them by email daily – sorted by Channel. I use it religiously and I find blog posts, website pages and news articles I didn’t find by any other means. BusinessWire and PRNewswire deliver press releases. You can go to their sites and keyword search headlines or entire announcements for press releases on topics, sorting them by date. You can, for instance, search for every press release in the last 7 days whose headline included the words “financial fraud” ; you might instead, look for every press release for the last 30 days that had the name “Warren Buffett” anywhere in the release.

That’s about it for your job hunt start by way of Twitter. Once you have your profile name, a gmail account by the same or similar name, a Google Reader account with 10 or more subscriptions to give you something to talk about, set up your Twitter profile and start tweeting. Then start following and see who is following you. Get a conversation going, keep showing your interest and your expertise, and you’ll have a far better chance of landing that job than those competing with you who did nothing but fill out an application and hope for the best.

Once you have your first few tweets, your first few followers, and are following a few others, do NOT forget to put your Twitter profile at the top of your resume, with all your other contact information. That’s where your LinkedIn profile URL belongs as well.

Don’t get discouraged. It takes time, and effort to make this work, but it does pay off. And who knows, you might really enjoy it, and the opportunity to get to know other like-minded people. If you’re good at it, you just might find yourself in demand with firms in your chosen industry who need someone to tweet, blog and socially network fo rthem. As I said, it does work.  I’m living proof. At 63 years of age, I’m landing jobs and clients at companies that bypassed the 20 and 30 and 40 somethings to hire me. I have companies come to me with job offers and contract offers and freelance work – because they see my social profile and they reach out to me instead of the other way around. I have more work than I can possibly handle. It’s not because I’m smarter or more educated. I’m not. I’m just somebody who markets myself socially. You can be too. This works.

Home Alarms, Medical Alerts with no landline required – UPDATE

I received an email from a reader saying that she was 76 years of age and needed a medical alert while at home but that she had no landline, just a cell phone. I had also been wondering about something similar, as I have a home alarm system and wanted to cancel my home phone. I thought I could not because of my ADT system. I did some research and made some calls and found out that yes, you can have both medical /emergency alert and home alarm even when you have no landline.

HOWEVER, in the case of the home alarm, replacing the alarm with the wireless option is not always cost-effective. I am 2.5 years into a three year contract with ADT, so I called them first.  The cost for its CellGuard wireless system, despite my already having an ADT system, is $239, and then the monthly fee increases by $10 forever. Since I have already cut my home phone back to just the basic local service, my landline is now a mere $19 a month, with a Century Link promise not to raise that for five years. I therefore would only save $9 a month, and incur an upfront cost of $239. It would take me more than two years to recoup my money doing this. I have decided to keep my landline, at least until my ADT contract expires in February.

There is at least one other wireless option, however, and while I haven’t tried it and don’t know anyone who has, it is surely less costly. SimpliSafe is a wireless system that talks to local cell towers. It is so easy to install that they send it and you do it yourself – so there’s no install fee. The hardware itself is $169-$269 depending on whether you want the version that allows you to work it remotely from your smart phone, and also have it check for fire, flood and carbon monoxide. Then the price starts at $14.99 a month. If you want to add services such as email and SMS alerts the price is $19.99 a month.  The full package, the SimpliSafe 2 with the fire and carbon monoxide warnings as well as freezing alert, is due out this fall , and will add about $5 a month to the cost.  So you’ll pay several hundred less  upfront compared with ADT, about half what you pay to ADT each month, and you will have no contract to sign. Again, I caution, I have not tried this system and have no personal testimonials I can trust either. Here are the details and some media coverage.

For medical alerts there are some nice options however. LifeAlert has what it calls a 911 mobile phone, which is basically a one-button 911 wireless device that you can carry anywhere. It works anywhere within the U.S. and its battery is supposed to last at least seven years. Additionally, LifeAlert offers an emergency system that ties into your own mobile phone. All it takes is the touch of one key and you’re on the phone with a LifeAlert responder, to report an intruder, a fall while hiking, someone following you back to your car or any other emergency. What I don’t like about Life Alert is that its site keeps pricing a deep dark secret and when you phone the 800 number splashed everywhere you get a call center rep whose sole job it is to get your address to send out a free printed brochure. I found no evidence of any Facebook page, or other social media presence. The company just seems really out of touch with today’s boomers and seniors, and for a firm that is clearly targeting a younger audience with its emergency mobility, its product marketing is dismally out of date.

Alert1, a competitor, posted this pricing comparison (see graphic below) between it and LifeAlert, and assuming accuracy, here’s a brief glance at LifeAlert pricing for its standard products. What is not made clear, however, is that not all Alert1 differentiating products and services are available when you choose the monthly and quarterly billing option it touts. Alert1 does not seem to have a wireless option.

Another wireless medical alert option, which I’ve been impressed with for a long time, is the Jitterbug cell phone.  Yes, it might be bigger than something you want to carry around with you from one room to the next, but if you need both a mobile phone and a medical alert system that is wireless this would fit the bill. The phone is well-suited for those who are elderly, hearing impaired or suffering from cataracts or other sight difficulties. The keys are very large, and the phone works well with hearing aids. But it also can be programmed as a medical responder. It’s 5 Star Urgent Response, for $14.99 a month, brings emergency help with the touch of one key. No contract is required for either the phone service or the 5 Star add-on. Jitterbug also has a 24/7 Nurse line app as well as one for medication information. Keep in mind, however, this is NOT a smart phone. If, like me, you want to be able to check your email, send a text,  get directions, use your calculator, make notes, and take a picture via your mobile device, the Jitterbug is not for you. At least not as your only mobile device.

UPDATE – Since I first posted this, I’ve learned of another medical alert product that can work without a landline phone. MyPersonalResponse.com offers a choice of two landline systems that vary by range and a cellular system. The most costly, the cellular is $29.95 a month, with no contract and free shipping. There’s an offer on its site for a free first month. You install it yourself.

Comfy Remote Workplaces with Free Wifi

Whether you’re self-employed, employed, traveling or just wanting to check email or get online without paying the tab for doing so, here are a few places you can, and in comfort. Of course there are telework centers and co-working spaces too, but at the following you can get fed, have access to clean restrooms and sit in pleasant surroundings, for at least 1.5 hours, without getting asked to vacate. Of course, not everything we do for work, even with our tablet or laptop, requires web access. If you’re like me there are times when all I need is Word and /or Excel to get hours of work completed.

McDonalds – One of the best free public wifis anywhere – fast, and reliable. Get a meal for $5 or less, or even a snack and large drink and unless you come in at rush hour where seats are at a premium you can sit here in a nice roomy booth for 2 hours undisturbed and work away. I know. I do it at least once a week.  I come in for breakfast about 10am or late lunch/early dinner 3-4pm and the place is just about empty.

BurgerKing – I’m not positive every location has free wifi, but in Phoenix they do. You have to ask for the code, though try Whopper99. That’s what works locally. Again, no one is going to throw you out if you hang out and don’t make a pest of yourself or take up a booth when it’s crowded with folks waiting for seating.

Denny’s – Check the location for wifi before you go. In Phoenix some have it and some don’t. But there are also great deals for seniors. Every Denny’s offers 20 percent off your entire meal every day after 4pm if you show your AARP card. And the local franchise has a 55+ card. You get it stamped each time you eat and every sixth entree is free. Again, if it’s not crowded,no one will give you dirty looks for hanging out until you’ve been there about 90 minutes. Make sure you tip well, and I always start out by saying, “I plan on dawdling over my coffee to get some work done. I hope you don’t mind. If you start to get busy I’ll leave.” Everyone is very nice about it.

Village Inn – Sign up on their website and they’ll start emailing you specials. Again, if you’re considerate and go when they’re not busy you can work here with their free wifi for up to 90 minutes.

The local library – generally all it takes is a library card and you can work here as long as you like via their free wifi. Of course, you can’t use your cell phone but you have the added advantage of having plug ins to keep your phone and laptop charged while you work. And many have private business rooms you can use, though some might require a pre-registration by phone or web. Most don’t ask for payment. And while they’ll say otherwise, who’s going to know if you sneak a drink from your bottle of water or eat your granola bar while you’re in there with the door closed? Just don’t make a mess.

The local airport – most major airports have free wifi, though some have a day charge. Check before you go. There’s plenty of seating, though you might be hard-pressed to find a good workspace with desk area. But there’s always a restroom, someplace to eat, no restriction on bringing in your own food or drink, or using your smartphone. And they’re open 24/7 365 days. Not only that, if you really need a break to stretch your legs you have plenty of space to get up and take a walk and then come back to work refreshed. Travelers are fun to watch if you’re into people watching, too.

The local hospita
l – While I wouldn’t venture into the emergency room to try and hang out there are plenty of waiting spaces at the local hospital and virtually no one is going to ask what you’re doing there. Some have wifi, some don’t. Do check before you go.  But if you’re there for awhile, they’re sure to assume you’re waiting out a friend or family member’s surgery or emergency care. You might also spend some time in the cafeteria, generally one of the cheapest places in town to get a well-balanced, nutritionally-sound meal. The biggest caution is that this is a facility for sick people. Germs abound.

Barnes & Noble – great wifi, great coffee, and very pleasant surroundings. You can sit at one of the cafe tables, or find an easy chair among the books – and no one is going to say a thing about your carrying your food and drink in the store. Best of all, if you need to do some research via book or magazine, everything on the shelf is there for you to use at no charge, without any commitment to buy it. Just don’t spill on the merchandise.

Starbucks or other coffee houses – I’ve hung out at Starbucks for a couple of hours with just a cup of coffee and not been hassled, even when it got crowded. They’re just far too busy to notice, and it’s what they’re all about. HOWEVER, unless you get one of the easy chairs that get grabbed up quickly, you’re generally sitting at a table with a chair that is simply not designed to encourage long stays. That said, I’ve done it  – and then was grateful for the comfy cushioning of my car’s seat. Of course, I have quite a bit of my own cushioning too.

Diabetes Foot Care ~ Keep Those Tootsies Healthy!

This is a repost from a great blog by my new friend Pat, who blogs as Grow Old With Grace.  She lives in Arizona, just south of Tucson. Hopefully we’ll get to meet someday. 

Do you have diabetes or “pre-diabetes?”  Are you aware of how vulnerable your feet are to wounds, punctures, neuropathy, and other dangers?  HB (HoneyBunny) is diabetic and has neuropathy.  A double whammy.  He is not good at scheduling regular visits to the podiatrist to get his feet checked and nails clipped.

However, we did go today…both of us.  My visit was a followup after getting an ingrown toenail clipped last week.  My toe “thumb” (did you ever hear that term?) is doing just peachy, thanks.  HB got clipped and will have a couple of new prescriptions to take for his neuropathy and diabetic shoes.

This is welcome news to me, as well as HB.  I swear, he has more shoes than Imelda Marcos and not many of them fit him well.  Yet, he insists on struggling to get them on and wearing them because he likes the brand or the style.  He hasn’t come to terms with comfy and Happy Feet like some of us have.  It is my hope that these shoes will help with balance and give him those “happy feet” and save his tootsies!

Here is some helpful information from the National Diabetes Educational Program (NDEP):

Staying Safe – You Don’t Have to be Dirty Harry

While I do own a nice Glock 19, and carry it when I travel, you don’t have to have a gun with you at all times to feel safe, even when alone. In Arizona the gun laws are very lenient, and I’ll talk more about those choices at a later time, but for those times when you don’t want to carry a bulky sidearm there are many other options. I have four things with me at all times when I hike alone. The first is a lipstick-size stun gun, that hangs on my keychain. The second is pepper spray, about the same size. I also have a very loud whistle that I hang around my neck. The fourth is an app that I downloaded to my Blackberry that emits a horrible screech if  I need it to. While the latter two aren’t exactly going to “put down” any attacker they will startle them enough that I might be able to run away – or they’ll attract others in the area, on whom I might be able to call for help. I’ve also had self-defense training. Again, another topic for another time.

I don’t recall where I bought the stun gun but I found one almost identical at the Home Security Superstore.  It delivers 350,000 volts which, if delivered for 3-5 seconds will give you 5-10 minutes to get away while your attacker recovers. Best of all, it doesn’t cause anyone permanent damage, if you’re queezy about hurting another human being no matter what evil intentions he or she had towards you. The mini stun gun is rechargeable, comes with the charger and has an LED flashlight too. It’s under $30 and weighs less than two ounces. You get a 90 day money-back guarantee and a three-year warranty. I’ve never had to use mine, but knowing I have it gives me peace of mind.

The same online marketplace has a pepper spray three-pack that looks to be better than what I own. I just might send away for this – only $14.95. The three parts include the canister and one sprayer for the car visor and another for your key chain.  Not only does pepper spray effect your assailant for 20-30 minutes, but it emits a UV dye so law enforcement can later identify him or her. It has a 36-month shelf life.  The money-back guarantee and warranty are the same as the stun gun – 90 days, and three years, respectively.

I do want to make it clear that I have NOT ordered from the Home Security Superstore and can’t vouch for its products or its service.  This does give you an idea of the kind of low-priced self-defense products available, however, and the cost doesn’t present any high-priced risks.

Other online stores offering similar products include YourGreatestProtection.com.