On July 17th we woke up bright and early to get a little down and dirty with some dogs and cats down at the local animal shelter.  Located on the grounds of what used to be the Texas School for the Deaf, it is a wide and expansive facility that allows for the care and protection of Austin’s lost, surrendered, or wandering pets.

Completed in 2011, the beautiful center houses all sorts of animals on 41,000 square feet – from the occasional farm species like goats and horse, to little bunnies.  The facility is built to house a plethora of animals, and each area is divided into distinct buildings arranged in rows. This allows for better animal maintenance and care.  In fact, most dog enclosures have two distinct spaces: one inside the building with a little doggy door that leads to an outside area protected by a cage.

In June 2014 alone the Austin Animal Center saw a total of 1,651 dogs and cats come through their system.  Of all of those pets, 78% of them were strays brought in from off the streets.

On the day that we volunteered, we were greeted by a member of the Austin Animal Center who gave us a lovely tour, and explained to us the process for walking dogs.  Typically, the shelter likes to walk each dog twice a day, but with the enormity of their current population…sometimes it doesn’t get done. This is why it is imperative that they rely on the kindness of volunteer groups to come and relieve some of the burden.

Each dog upon entry to the center is walked and evaluated by a specialist to see what sort of condition or temperament they possess. Each dog enclosure displays the following materials: the approximate age, breed, when they came to the shelter, their name, and other pertinent health and medical info. Each cage is also labeled with a color coded dot, which will indicate if the dog is viable to go on walks. Green of course means go, yellow is caution, and red means they will be handled by specialists only.  Once you go through the introduction, you are free to wander around to any cage and walk any dog you see fit. There are clips you can attach to the cage that will also indicate when and if that particular dog has already been walked.

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In order to volunteer at the animal center, it is recommended that you are 18 and older and somewhat comfortable with animals.  Once you go through orientation, it is not required you make an appointment to visit or volunteer again.  For more information on the Austin Pet Center, or how to volunteer or adopt, please visit: http://www.austintexas.gov/department/animal-services

This weekend, August 2nd, there will be a free pet expo from 10am to 6pm at the Palmer Event Center! For more information on this event visit: http://www.austinpetexpo.com/

There’s been much debate on picking the best domain name for your business, and what exactly a good domain name consist of.  And should you sacrifice your branding just for a domain name ownership? Although this article was written in 2012, we still find it highly relevant to the current business owners, or start-up entrepreneurs who want to start their businesses right. Read more about “When Should Domain Names Match Company Names?”

 

 

 

Google has now announced more sweeping changes to its Google Places for Business application. The service will continue to be free, but will be able to create more interaction with potential customers and fans, touts Google.

The platform will move from a plain business listing of sorts, where customers could view reviews and business hours, to an interactive page where the business owners can share content, special events and photos, as well as interact with customers.

In short, it seems that Google My Business will be operating in the same capacity as a Facebook page.

Another improvement Google boasts will be the ability for all information to be harmonious across its other platforms, including Search, Maps, and Google +.

Anyone who has had a previous Google places listing has automatically been updated to a My Business page, so business owners should take note of the changes and start to update their information accordingly.

How this update will affect search results and rankings will only be ascertained with time.

“If something is important enough, you should try it, even though the probable outcome is failure,” Elon Musk once said in an interview on CBS’s 60 minutes. No great endeavor is ever taken under the guise of certified success, but every great feat is always taken under the principle of magnanimity; so has this same sentiment sprung from the greatest minds in history, allowing us to realize monumental scientific discoveries and even the birth of new countries.

On June 13th, 2014 Elon Musk wrote an open letter to the public (titled: All Our Patent Are Belong To You – a throwback to an old video game) declaring that all of his patents would be open and available to use for those in good faith. Housing information in tiny little jail cells is no longer a concern for Tesla or their engineers, instead, they are “joining the spirit of the open source movement and the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

But this predilection for sharing wasn’t always the case; in the beginning of his career as tech-giant, Musk fought hard to secure patents for his work, fearing that there would always be those out there ready to steal and corrupt his vision. After all, from his brain erupted CitySearch, PayPal, Zip2, SpaceX, the hyperloop, and of course Tesla. Now, Musk admits, patents do little more but “stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations, and enrich those in the legal profession.” It was time to give the power of information back to those that deserved it: the people who invented it, and the people who needed it.

This sort of sentiment is still rather rare, especially in the motor vehicle industry. Consider the fact that today’s Ford F-150 has more patents on it than any car in history. Put that next to the crippling fact that back in 2008 the big three car manufacturers each received a government bail-out, and Tesla has repaid their government loan back nine years early (with interest). However, Tesla hasn’t escaped completely unscathed. After model failures of the early roadster, and 3 failed launches under his Space X program, Musk called 2008, “the worst year of my life.”

But of course as we know, Tesla prevailed, created their latest Model S type, and has exceeded expectations on the grandest scale. It could be the first successful car start-up in 90 years – there is an approximate three month waiting list to get your hands on the Tesla Model S. So why would a company with so much success, free up the one thing making them most profitable?

 

It seems that most businesses have lost sight of the reason they came to exist in the first place, to fill the void of demand with a product worth buying. Greed has overtaken most corporations, and the profit margin has become deadly. Think of GM, embroiled in a bitter battle right now over a recall of an ignition part that the engineers were aware of yet did nothing to fix; it may have even cost the life of one young woman.

It is amidst this controversy that makes Elon Musk’s decision that much more enlightening; the release of patents for its electric vehicles was done not only as a strategic business move, but on a more global scale a giant effort to combat climate change by carbon emissions. “We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform,” he writes. This contribution to technology draws many comparisons to Steve Jobs, who revolutionized the phone industry, and Henry Ford. However, in many aspects, Musk is way out of their league. Reflect on this, in the history of space exploration only four entities have successfully launched rockets into space and brought them back: The United States, China, Russia, and Elon Musk.

In the past year, Uber’s uprising has given the traditional taxi services, which have been providing more or less the same level of experiences across the globe, a reconsideration to up its game. Now, Uber operates in 128 cities across 37 countries, so it is not a question of if the traditional cab services will be taken by Uber and founders, Travis Kalanick & Garrett Camp, but when we are expecting this “shared ride” trend to become mainstream.

 

Ride Sharing – environmentally friendlier?

There is definitely an upside in seeing more players join this industry which in turn, could drive down the price, and force traditional cab drivers to offer more unique and premium services in order to stay on the same level as their current biggest competitors- Uber and Lyft for example. Besides bringing more options to the current eco-system of transportation, another benefit derived from the shared ride concept is that it could potentially reduce the number of automobile drivers on the road while reducing carbon dioxide emission to the atmosphere. In fact, as early as the 1940s during the second world war, shared rides have been widely advocated by the U.S government to save tires and fuel in order to supply US war efforts in the overseas combats, as this poster portrays best. An increase of transportation network means more of us will be sharing rides instead of having to get behind the wheel. For instance, if you, as a driver, decide to take a trip to SXSW in Austin, instead of renting a vehicle or smart car, Uber could be the answer.

 

It comes with a hidden cost as well

As the shared ride companies are still in their rudimentary stages, safety is still a widely regarded concern. For females passengers, the option to have a private cab arrived at your destination with simple commands on the app seems like an attractive option. Although different safety measurements have been taken and implemented, “rideshare” software companies still have a long way to go when it comes to the enforcing a thorough background check on the drivers who have signed up with Uber, and the standard to operate their own cab business seems to be more lax than to obtain a license to drive a cab in cities. A Taxi driver is subjected to higher standard, including a drug test, fingerprinting and a criminal background check, a defensive driving course, and a sex trafficking awareness course. In fact, this article depicted the fundamental issue and experiences from a regular Uber user herself, the safety of these new means of transportation has yet to be proven.

 

More room to grow

Yes, shared ride could be the solution to greener environment, and yes, more competition could mean a healthier market which ultimately benefits mass consumers. However, given the rapid growth of the shared ride industry, regulation is yet to be determined and it will continue to affect the direction of companies like Uber and Lyft. If they could solve the safety concerns and bring more drivers and passengers to use their apps, the potential could be unlimited.

If you’re like most small business owners you want to make the most of your marketing budget. A quick way of getting in front of customers is using Google AdWords but setting up a campaign and making sure it doesn’t go over budget can be a headache. These six tips can not only help you cut back on the Tylenol, but can also help you grow your business, no matter the size of your budget.

Use Ad Scheduling

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A limited budget means it’s important that you only show your ads during business hours, when someone can pick up the phone, or when you expect to see an increase in business. With ad scheduling you can choose to show your ads during specific hours or increase bids during certain parts of the day. For instance, if you run a restaurant and you’re open from 11 am to 10 pm then you should schedule your ads to only run during those hours of operation. Furthermore, if you know that the busiest part of the day is between 12pm and 2pm then you can increase your bids so that your ads are more likely to show in the top positions during your peak hours.

Target Lower Ad Positions

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While being placed in the top three positions may result in more clicks, it may also be more costly. You could be attracting people who are just shopping around or click on the first listing they see. In fact, depending on the industry you’re in, having your ad placed on the right hand side might actual convert better. By targeting a lower position you will also pay less per click. So let’s say you have a daily budget of $50 and are getting 25 clicks a day. That’s $2 per click. By lowering your bids to $1.50, and consequently your ad position, you could bring that up to 33 clicks a day. That’s a 33% increase in clicks!

Avoid The Display Network
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By default when you first setup a campaign Google sets your ads to be shown on their display network. The problem with the display network is that it generally doesn’t convert as well as search. This is because you don’t have as much control of where your ads are placed and could end up being shown next to content that isn’t favorable to your brand. It’s also much more time consuming to manage. Time you could be using to run your company!

Take Advantage of Flexible Bid Strategies

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There are several bid strategies you can deploy and when you first start out I recommend setting it to focus on clicks. However, keep in mind that Google is trying to make the most money it can so you’ll need to enable a Cost Per Click (CPC) bid limit. Set it at a dollar amount you’re most comfortable with. After you’ve ran your ads long enough to collect some data you should really focus on creating bid strategies. The five flexible bid strategies available are:

  • Maximize Clicks – AdWords automatically sets your bids to help maximize the number of clicks your receive within your budget. Great if your goal is driving more visitors to your website.
  • Target Search Page Location – Allows you to position your ads on the first page of the search results. Great for building brand awareness and increasing visibility.
  • Target Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) – Helps drive as many conversions as possible given your target average cost per acquisition. Great if know what your costs are per conversion and want to target a specific ROI for each conversion.
  • Enhanced Cost Per Click (CPC) – Sets bids based on the likelihood a click will lead to a conversion. Great when your goal is to target more conversions and want to have more control over your keyword bids.
  • Target Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) – Sets bids to target an average return on ad spend while maximizing your revenue from conversions. Great if the amount of revenue per conversion differs and you just want to meet a specific ROAS.

Target Specific Locations

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If you’re uncertain where you customers might be located, want to target a very specific region of the country, or want to avoid certain locations AdWords allows you to define where your ads are shown. Let’s say you want to target Texas and California, because that’s where most of your customers come from, you can go to Settings, Locations, type Texas and California, click Add, click Save. You can also exclude locations. Now, if you’re not sure where your customers are coming from it’s wise to monitor your geographic report on a monthly basis. You can see this report by going to the Dimensions tab, click on the View button, and selecting Geographic from the dropdown menu. Armed with this report you can exclude areas that are poor performing and even create new campaigns based on locations that are converting well.

Add Negative Keywords

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With a limited budget you can’t afford to spend money on irrelevant traffic. By adding negative keywords you ensure your ads aren’t being seen by the wrong people. This will increase your click through rate, which in return increases your quality score. A higher quality score results in lower costs. There are four ways to find negative keywords:

  • Search Terms Reports – Go to your Keywords tab, click on the drop down button Details, underneath Search Terms click on “all”. Find keywords that you don’t want your ads to show up for and add them to your negative keyword list.
  • Keyword Research Tools - I personally like Google’s Keyword Planner. Use your tool of choice to search for your keywords and look for keywords to add to your negative keyword list.
  • Webmaster Tools – If you have Google Webmaster Tools setup, go to your profile and on the left hand side click the drop down Search Traffic and click on Search Queries.  This is great for finding negative AND regular keywords for your keyword lists.
  • Search – It’s surprising how many people forget to search for their keywords. Run a few searches and see what comes up. Look at ads, organic listings, map results, product listings…look for anything that looks weird!

These tips will help make the most of any budget, big or small. Managing AdWords campaigns is an on going process of analyzing data and optimizing for conversions. If you have the right data you can make the right decisions. Once you get all of the waste out of your account you can start to increase your budget and continue to grow your business.

BIO – Joel Casarez is the founder and lead strategist at The Kaanen Group, a full service internet marketing company. He specializes in search engine marketing strategies for small to medium sized businesses and loves Spurs’ basketball.
 

This week’s small business news review found a few notable stories and tips around the web.

We all want to be more productive. Whether for your personal life or the precious hours you spend at work, using your time wisely can set you apart from the other guy. Inc.com has made a great list of 20 productivity hacks to get your day more efficient. We’ve used several of these techniques at our workplace and can definitely vouch for their effectiveness!

While becoming productive with those hacks, how about working on your social media a little bit? Search Engine Watch released a great post on How to Grow your Google+ Fan Base. Who doesn’t want to have 1000+ legitimate Google+ followers? Let us know if you’ve tried out any of these tactics and how they’ve worked for you.

On the business end, most of us have shopped for items online. To make things easier, Amazon.com just released an all new method of paying, similar to Paypal, called Amazon Easy, which allows simple mobile payments to be done using your existing Amazon account. It should be interesting to see how it stacks up to Paypal, and how all their competitors will respond!

Do you have anything else you’ve seen over the weekend? Share it with us in the comments below!

The city of Austin celebrated several months ago when it seemed all but inevitable that the transportation network, Uber, would finally be offering its services.  However, shortly after SXSW, the city regulators banned Uber from picking up patrons.

Unlike a taxi service, Uber is strictly operated through a phone application that allows you to see nearby cars, and pay automatically through the account you have linked to your app. There are even different levels of Uber which allow you to customize your riding experience.

So why would this type of service be banned from the city?

City Code defines rideshare as when a driver is payed no more than the federally established 56 cents per mile. Under the city’s interpretation regulations, Uber’s service would instead be an unlicensed, for-hire driving service.

 

So, in order to circumvent the cities rules, Uber will not be charging for rides! In fact, if you sign up right now, they are offering a two week deal.

Still, it’s likely drivers will be making more than the 56 cents per mile rate. Uber’s minimum fare in San Antonio is $5.70, according to reports, and the median salary for a full-time Uber driver in San Francisco is $74,191 per year, and in New York the median is $90,766 per year. The company takes a 20 percent cut of fares.

So people of Austin, will you be interested in using Uber? Tell us what you think.

http://static.oprah.com/images/own/2011/master-class/episodes/103/master-class-maya-angelou-2-600x411.jpg

 

The list of Maya Angelou’s accomplishments is exhaustive: winning three Grammys, being able to speak 6 languages, director, actress, playwright, poet, and etc. Angelou defied a single label, yet Maya Angelou’s demeanor and patience were what remained constant with the many individuals she met with. From a friend’s experience with Angelou in a seminar she taught, to interviews with comedian Dave Chappelle, Angelou’s messages of connection and candid vulnerability were ubiquitous.

Angelou, being a pioneering poet, and Chappelle as one of the biggest comedians of his generation, the pairing seemed misplaced. Chappelle had just come back from walking away from his 50 million dollar contract and his trip to Africa, and he spoke with Angelou about concerns over his rock star status as a comedian and that his on-stage persona and his personal messages were becoming indistinguishable. It astounded me seeing these two brilliant, yet contrasting, artists simply sit down and open up to one another. The ten minute interview with Chappelle not only illustrates the care and deliberation Angelou puts into her words, but the unconditional kindness and wisdom she wants to pass onto her audience. Whether Angelou was speaking at a seminar or candidly talking in an interview, her words and literary works provided a focused, yet universal language that moved people in a profound way.

From Maya Angelou’s work and crusade for the American Civil Rights Movement and literary works like “Why The Caged Bird Sings,” changed how we see the genre today. Angelou writing and laying bare the atrocities she had faced, coupled with writing in the 60s and 70s as an African-American woman, gave a voice to the many that felt they had none. Revealing her struggle helped create a universal language that resonated in unexpected ways: struggles with body image, making new friends, connecting with one another, and in trusting your own voice.

It’s that time of the year when everyone is scavenging the travel websites for the hottest deals of the summer. When should I buy my plane tickets? Will it be cheaper if I wait to buy it? What if it gets more expensive? These are the questions that burn a hole in our heads (and wallets!). But look no more! This infographic gives us a pretty good guideline to when to shop and when to not on plane tickets.

 

Image taken from Angie’s List. (http://www.angieslist.com/articles/ticket-masters-when-buy-airline-tickets-infographic.htm)