These Are the Best Times to Book a Flight

It’s a familiar — and frustrating — experience: Planning a trip and checking airfares every few days, waiting for the perfect price to appear. Finding the opportune moment to buy is no easy feat.

Plane ticket costs fluctuate constantly. In fact, during the typical 11-month period a flight is listed, the price changes every four and a half days on average, according to CheapAir.com’s annual airfare study.

Best Times to Book a Flight

So when is the optimal time to book? That depends on where and when you plan to travel. While there’s no sure bet, we’re offering some guidance to help you out.

Domestic flights (within the continental U.S.)

When: Between 21 and 105 days in advance; in particular, 54 days in advance.

Why: Airlines tend to price flights on the higher side at first, because there’s not yet a strong sense of the market demand, says Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper, an airfare analysis app. After that, it’s simple economics: If demand is low, prices fall. If it’s high, prices get higher. Wait too long, seats fill up and the costs increase. “So there’s usually that sweet spot — two, three, four months in advance — depending on where you’re flying to,” Surry says.

What to expect: Spikes and dips in cost still occur, but your best chance to secure a ticket on the cheaper end lies within this window, according to the CheapAir study. You may have fewer seats and routes to choose from compared with when the flight was first announced, but competition, and therefore sales, will likely heat up.

International flights

When: Between 59 and 119 days in advance, depending on the region. Here’s a breakdown of the best times on average:

  • Canada: 59 days in advance
  • Mexico and Central America: 61 days in advance
  • Caribbean: 76 days in advance
  • South America: 81 days in advance
  • South Pacific: 89 days in advance
  • Asia: 90 days in advance
  • Europe: 99 days in advance
  • Africa and the Middle East: 119 days in advance

Why: The prime booking window for international trips is farther out than for domestic excursions, in part because these flights are generally costlier. The more expensive the purchase, the earlier the typical person plans, Surry says. If seats are grabbed early, that leaves a longer period for airlines to hike up prices for the remaining supply. Another explanation is that international fares are especially prone to seasonal variations. “So buying the lowest fare in high season as soon as dates are firm is generally a wise course of action,” said Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Company, an airline industry analysis and consulting firm, in an email.

What to expect: Frequent, sometimes drastic, shifts in ticket costs.

Best days of the week to book

When: Wednesday and Thursday

Why: Computers normally control airline ticket prices using complex algorithms, which makes it difficult to predict the exact day when fares are lowest. However, humans decide when to schedule flash sales — short-lived deals that usually last a day or two — and these often pop up during the week, Surry says. This could explain why more destinations — in both domestic and international markets — see their lowest fares on Wednesdays and Thursdays than any other days, according to a study conducted by Hopper.

What to expect: Tickets might be less expensive — but not by much. The average savings between the best and worst days of the week to shop are about $10 for domestic markets and about $30 for international markets, according to Hopper.

“You’ll save a lot more by booking farther in advance, typically, than you will by picking a specific day of the week,” Surry says.

Note that prices vary based on which days of the week the departure and return are.

Anticipate seasonal anomalies

The above guidance won’t apply in all circumstances. Allow yourself extra buffer room for peak times, such as weekends and holidays. For less desirable periods, like the cold winter months, you can procrastinate a bit longer.

When to buy (for domestic flights):

  • Winter: 54 days in advance
  • Spring: 75 days in advance
  • Summer: 76 days in advance
  • Fall: 47 days in advance

Why: Sensing a pattern? That’s right — it’s another case of supply and demand. Seats sell out faster during busy seasons. The same goes for international voyages.

What to expect: Buying tickets on the best day versus the worst day for each season yields more than $200 in savings, according to CheapAir. However, there are exceptions within each season. With some high-demand travel times, ticket costs are relatively static. For example, domestic plane tickets are expected to hold steady around $300 round trip for Thanksgiving, according to data from Skyscanner, a travel search site.

Maximum savings for Christmas and New Year’s Eve can be found in the three to seven weeks leading up to each holiday.

More ways to save

Counting down the days isn’t always the best way to get a cheap flight. The next time you’re hunting for a deal, try these tips:

  • Use a flight comparison tool. Apps and websites like Hopper, Skyscanner and Airfarewatchdog automatically track fares and can alert you to the best time to buy a ticket for your desired route.
  • Check social media. Follow travel companies and airlines on sites like Twitter and Facebook for up-to-date sale announcements.
  • Ask for a price adjustment. “If you find that the fare drops subsequent to your decision to buy, ask the carrier to match it. Some will, and Southwest and Alaska often do so without change fees,” Mann says. However, airlines will often issue refunds in the form of travel credit.
  • Be flexible. Keeping your options open can help you save money. Try moving dates around or flying out of different airports.

Airplane Window Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Best Times to Book a Business Flight: Secrets Revealed" was first published on Small Business Trends

5 Simple Tips for Your Small Business Facebook Page

More entrepreneurs are tapping into the world’s largest social media network: There are more than 70 million businesses now on Facebook, up from about 18 million in 2013, according to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg during a recent investor call.

Facebook gives businesses a platform to showcase new products and services, promote specials and provide customer service. But with these benefits comes the potential for mistakes that can damage your brand.

Tips for Your Small Business Facebook Page

Here are five common small-business mistakes to avoid on your Facebook business page.

1. Don’t Post Too Often

Most industries should aim to post no more than once or twice a day to avoid overcrowding followers’ news feeds, says Cheryl Friedenberg, president of High Key Impact, LLC, a small-business marketing consulting firm.

There are exceptions, though. For example, it’s appropriate for restaurants to post frequently about food specials, happy hours or live music events, or for medical businesses to post about recent health studies, Friedenberg says.

“I don’t think people mind seeing more of those types of posts throughout the day,” she says.

The best times to post are between 1 and 4 p.m. late in the week and on weekends, according to a study by CoSchedule, a content marketing calendar provider. However, it may not be ideal to post on Friday afternoons in the summer because people may start their weekends early, Friedenberg says.

The right posting frequency may also depend on how many followers you have. Companies with more than 10,000 followers see the most clicks per post when posting an average of one or two times per day, according to a study by Hubspot, a developer and marketer of software products; companies with fewer followers see better engagement by posting less frequently.

2. Don’t Post Only About Your Business

Promoting your business should account for 20 percent or less of your posts if your products or services aren’t used daily by customers, Friedenberg says, to avoid turning people off and getting unfollowed.

Businesspeople who can follow this rule include real estate agents, caregivers, lawyers and dentists. A real estate agent can focus 80% of his or her posts on providing useful information about buying and selling real estate and 20% on marketing listings.

“They can post about first-time homebuying and what the market is like, more about getting preapproved for a loan, home inspections, tips for getting a house ready to sell, packing and moving,” Friedenberg says.

Businesses that can get away with more frequent promotional posts include clothing shops that get new clothes in every day, or restaurants with daily specials. “This is something followers would want to see more often,” Friedenberg says.

3. Don’t Forget Photos and Videos

Posts with photos and videos get more page views than posts without them, according to Friedenberg. Video has become more popular and effective than photos, she adds.

“People want to hear stories, hear about customer experiences and what a business is doing for their clients, and the best way to do that is with video,” Friedenberg says.

You can post videos of your employees talking about the kind of work they do, customer testimonials, or your business helping out a local charity or organization.

You don’t need expensive video equipment to make it work, either — just use your smartphone. But make sure the video is interesting and not too long, says Mary Clare Bland, founder of Bespoke Digital Solutions, a digital marketing agency.

“Aim to keep videos under three minutes, as most people won’t make it past a minute and a half,” Bland says.

4. Don’t Alienate Customers

Avoid posting anything that could offend or alienate customers, such as your views on politics or religion. This includes publicly visible posts on your personal Facebook page, which customers can easily find.

“Politics have become so antagonistic now that you’re not just posting a political view; you’re probably alienating a good section of your market,” Bland says.

Customers may look not only at what your small business provides, but also what the owners and key people in the business stand for, says Alexandrea Merrell, managing director of Orndee Omnimedia Inc., a public relations firm.

“People really have to look at their personal profile and say, ‘Would this benefit my business?’ And if it doesn’t, then don’t post it,” Merrell says.

5. Don’t Argue with Negative Reviews

Having a presence on Facebook and other online sites such as Yelp opens you up to negative comments or reviews.

Most customers expect to hear back from you, too: 52% expect a response to their review within a week of writing it, according to ReviewTrackers, a customer feedback software company.

“People often take a negative review super personally and make the situation so much worse than it needs to be,” says Merrell, who also works with adults dealing with stalking and bullying, including cyberbullying.

Plan for negative reviews by having a prepared set of responses, which can help you avoid knee-jerk reactions, Merrell says.

An appropriate response to most negative reviews, she says, includes a thank you for the customer’s business, an apology for the bad experience, and an explanation saying the situation is being taken care of or has already been handled.

“It acknowledges that you’ve heard their issues and the legitimacy of their complaint,” Merrell says.

However, if someone is “trolling” you — trying to get a negative reaction out of you to take down your business on purpose —  it’s best to give a simple response and then move on. Don’t let it escalate, she says.

Facebook Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "5 Simple Tips for Your Small Business Facebook Page" was first published on Small Business Trends

Tips for Saving for a Rainy Day

Stockpiling savings for stormy days — literal or figurative — can help you cover financial mishaps.

When Hurricane Irma hit the South Carolina shores in mid-September, financial planner Laura Scharr-Bykowsky, who lives inland in Columbia, lost three cypress trees in her yard. While she avoided the major damage many people experienced, the money she had tucked away for home maintenance allowed her to pay for the $250 in repairs without much sacrifice.

That’s relatively rare in America: A recent Federal Reserve Board report found 44 percent of adults had to sell something or borrow money to pay for an emergency costing $400. For many, a few hundred dollars is enough to tip the scale into debt. So a savings fund is crucial for when emergencies strike.

Saving for a Rainy Day

It’s important, however, to distinguish between expected and unexpected expenses. Think of it as two approaches: saving for a rainy day or for a large, unanticipated emergency.

Rainy Day vs. Emergency Funds

Emergency funds, which ideally provide a three- to six-month cushion of living expenses, are reserved for events that can seriously upend your financial life and are harder to anticipate. Divorce, job loss or unexpected medical expenses would fall into that category.

James Kinney, a financial planner in Bridgewater, New Jersey, recommends covering smaller financial hiccups with a rainy day fund. These include occasional expenses you can anticipate, such as car repairs, routine medical expenses and home maintenance.

“In reality, most of these small emergencies are to some extent predictable,” Kinney says. “I know there’s a good chance I’m going to need a car repair. In fact, I could be absolutely certain I’m going to need a car repair, I just don’t know when.”

Savings Strategies

You can start a separate bank account to build up an emergency fund to cover unexpected expenses. Quick access to that money is crucial.

Creating a rainy day savings strategy starts with getting a handle on any future expenses. For most people, monthly expenses such as house payments, utilities, insurance and groceries stay steady. Other costs are less frequent but not technically emergencies.

Make a list of the expenses you’ll probably have to pay in coming years. In addition to car maintenance or house repairs, this could include kids’ braces or veterinary bills.

Kinney and Scharr-Bykowsky recommend setting up multiple savings accounts, one for each category. You can use a regular savings account or a money market account — both allow ready access to your cash if you need it, but a money market account may include the ability to write checks. Find a bank that offers multiple savings accounts with no monthly fees.

Certificates of deposits and investment accounts aren’t ideal for storing rainy day or emergency savings. Withdrawing money on short notice can result in penalties or even financial loss.

Get in the habit of socking away part of your monthly income into each of your savings funds. You can start small with just a few dollars a month. If you have direct deposit, Scharr-Bykowsky recommends automating your savings by funneling a portion of your paycheck into the savings buckets.

“For maximum peace of mind, you want to have enough in each bucket to cover the largest expense we can reasonably expect in that category,” Kinney says.

Scharr-Bykowsky says creating funds with specific intent can help people save. “When our goals are more visual, we tend to save more,” she says. “Name that account. Make it visual.”

Avoid the ‘Savings Blob’

Many people throw extra money into a single savings account and pull from it whenever their checking account balance runs low, Kinney says.

Scharr-Bykowsky calls this the “savings blob.”

“It doesn’t really have a purpose,” she says. “You just dip into it whenever. You don’t think, that’s for when you lose your job or, ‘Wait, that’s our vacation.’”

When real emergencies strike, your general savings account may prove insufficient. You might then turn to expensive ways of borrowing money, such as credit cards or home equity lines of credit.

Separating savings into buckets of rainy day funds and an emergency fund has an additional benefit: You’ll be far less likely to tap those reserves for purposes other than what they’re meant for.

That’s due to a phenomenon in behavioral economics called mental accounting, Scharr-Bykowsky says. People tend to stop spending on one category when they know the money in that bucket is gone, even if other funds are available. Making clear savings categories for future expenses means you’ll hesitate before using the medical expense fund on a new phone.

Though you’ll never be totally prepared for everything life throws at you, knowing you’ll be able to ride through some of the financial bumps in the road should help you rest easier.

“Savings,” Kinney says, “is never wasted.”

Rainy Day Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Rainy Day Fund Secrets Revealed: Create One for your Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

Upwork for Beginners

Upwork, a marketplace for freelancers in fields like writing, graphic design and web development, can be a valuable tool to start your career. The site tries to make it easier for professionals to find projects, communicate with employers and get paid.

If you’re new to your field, you can rack up valuable experience without always having to pitch clients cold. You may not earn as much as you expect, since the site is full of new workers who are willing to take work for a little less pay. But with a clear idea of the logistics, you can make this marketplace work for you. Here’s how to make money with Upwork.

Upwork for Beginners

Set Up a Robust — and Honest — Profile

Your profile serves the same purpose as a general résumé for prospective employers. You can’t get work without one.

Fill out the job type you’d like to do, the specific areas in which you’re skilled and your level of expertise. This is all self-reported, so be honest. If you get hired for jobs you can’t deliver on, your account could be put on hold or closed.

After that, add a headshot and a detailed description of your background. You can include links to a portfolio or to specific work samples. You can also fill in your education, how many hours per week you can work, location and preferred rate. If you’re not sure what to charge, check out the rates of other freelancers on Upwork who have similar experience.

Assuming everything is verifiable and accurate, Upwork will approve your profile within 24 hours. Then you can get working.

Pound the Online Pavement

Submit proposals for jobs you qualify for with Connects, the platform’s internal tokens. Upwork provides a limited supply of these, so consider carefully which gigs you want to go for. You get 60 Connects per month with a free account. The proposals you submit include an introductory letter, your desired fee and answers to questions the client included in the posting. You can also send examples of any work you think would be relevant.

If someone reaches out to you, you don’t have to use any Connects. The more robust your profile looks, the more likely you are to receive job offers from potential clients. Displaying your best work or highlighting specific experience can help you stand out. If you’re new to your field, volunteer experience counts, too.

Before applying for a gig, get an idea of the potential employer’s reputation. The Better Business Bureau, Glassdoor and a search for news coverage of the employer on Google are good places to start your research.

Much like Uber or Lyft, both parties rate each other after the contract is complete. Employers are graded on a five-star scale, and their ratings are visible on their pages. Ratings from your clients make up your Job Success Score, which is a percentage displayed on your profile that represents how many gigs were completed to the client’s satisfaction. These ratings help you decide who you really want to work with and lets others see if they want to hire you.

Even if everything checks out, keep communication and payments within the site. Documenting behavior on both sides discourages scams, as clients will be held accountable for making shady payment or work requests or making claims about your work without in-site proof.

Set Your Price and Start Working

Upwork’s fee structure is based on how much money you make from each client over time. On the first $500 earned from an individual client, you incur a 20% service charge. Once you reach the $500.01 to $10,000 range, Upwork takes a 10% cut. After that, it’s 5%.

You can get paid in one of two ways: hourly or fixed price. Upwork’s fees are the same for both.

Your hourly rate on Upwork is the price before the service deduction. So if you list a rate of $20 per hour for your first gig, you can expect to earn $16 per hour. When you negotiate a rate for a fixed-price job, the same idea applies; if you’re getting paid $400 for a job, you’ll be paid $320 after the cut.

If you’re approached for a job with a low rate of pay for much tougher work, you don’t have to take it at face value. Negotiate with the customer to find a price that fits.

All hourly projects get logged in your Work Diary, which is built into Upwork’s desktop app. With this function on, the app will keep a detailed record of your progress on a project. The app tracks your time in 10-minute billing cycles. It records keystrokes, scrolling, clicks and active windows. It also takes a screenshot periodically. You can delete these snaps before you submit the record of your time, but if you do, you forfeit the money you made in that 10-minute period.

You can also turn the Work Diary on and off at any time and log work manually instead, but using the tool helps you qualify for an Upwork service called Hourly Protection. This service ensures that you’re paid for work you can prove you completed, even if a client refuses.

Payment for fixed-price projects is more straightforward. The person or company contracting you has to set aside a certain amount of money when you make the agreement. The employer must also set milestones, which are concrete deliverables on the way to the finished job. You’re paid with some or all of the deposit once you hit these checkpoints, and the remainder is paid once everything is complete.

Get Paid

All of your hourly projects are billed weekly. You’ll get paid after you and the client review the work, 10 days after the billing period ends. You can get paid through options like direct transfer to your bank or PayPal.

If a project gets dropped before it’s finished, that’s when Hourly Protection and milestones come in handy. If you think you weren’t compensated fairly, Upwork has a dispute process.

For fixed-price projects, you can begin a dispute if the client fails to pay for a milestone or refuses to pay for what you think is completed work. Hourly Protection helps with payment disputes on other projects, as the documentation from your Work Diary can help prove when you were working and what you were working on.

Upwork makes it easier to find jobs and make more money, but think carefully about which gigs you want to apply for. And check out our guide to managing money as a freelancer for advice on how to handle your newfound income, once it starts rolling in.

Man with Laptop Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "4 Tips for Beginners Using Upwork" was first published on Small Business Trends

How to Get Started Selling on Amazon

Selling your business’s products on Amazon carries one huge benefit: expanded reach. The eCommerce giant has more than 310 million active customer accounts worldwide and accounted for 43 percent of all online retail sales in 2016, according to market research firm Slice Intelligence.

You’ll also have the option of tapping into the 80 million Amazon Prime members who get free two-day shipping on eligible orders.

“The Prime program is a huge factor in people’s purchasing decision, and a lot of customers will screen out anything that isn’t Prime eligible,” says Kiri Masters, co-founder and CEO of Bobsled Marketing, a digital marketing agency that helps businesses sell on Amazon.

Get Started Selling on Amazon

However, there’s no guarantee your small business will succeed on Amazon in a competitive market. Here are three quick tips to help you get started.

1. Determine Whether Your Product Can be Sold

More than 20 product categories don’t require Amazon’s permission to sell, including beauty products, cameras and photo gear, and equipment for home and garden, home improvement and sports.

If you sell automotive and powersports products, clothing and accessories, fine art, grocery and gourmet food, jewelry or other items, you’ll have to submit an application for Amazon’s approval.

To sell more than 40 items a month or sell products that need Amazon approval, it’s best to sign up for Amazon’s professional plan, which costs $39.99 per month (plus per-item fees). You can sell an unlimited number of items under the pro plan.

You can get by with an individual plan if you sell fewer than 40 items a month and they don’t require the company’s approval. While there’s no monthly fee, you’ll pay 99 cents per item for each item sold, plus referral fees, which hover around 15% for most products.

Among the prohibited products are offensive items that promote violence, intolerance based on race or sexual orientation (such as anti-LGBT merchandise), illegal drugs and weapons, pornography, any product that contains tobacco, and e-cigarettes. Read Amazon’s community guidelines carefully.

2. Make Your Product Stand Out

After you’ve determined your product may be a good fit to sell on the site, it’s time to focus on creating a listing that stands out from competitors.

Some tips:

  • Fill out your listing with a relevant title and clear product description so it is search-friendly and customers can easily find your product.
  • Upload high-quality images that give customers a feel for the size of the product and its packaging. You are allowed to upload one main product image and up to eight alternative images. A white photo background is required for main product image and recommended for the other images. The company also says the additional images should show different sides of the product, the product in use, or other details that aren’t visible on the main image.
  • Check out products in your category that are selling well relative to others, Masters says. Products that sell the most in a category are ranked higher in the “best-seller rank” of each category. You can also download browser plugins such as JungleScout, which helps you determine how competitive a product is and how much it’s selling each month.
  • Customers are less likely to buy a product if it has no reviews, Masters says. Consider pricing your product lower initially to get orders. Provide great customer service and then ask satisfied customers for a review, she adds.
  • Consider paid advertising to get to the top of search results, if your budget allows, Masters says. Your product would appear at the top of an Amazon app or website search as a “sponsored” result, and you would be charged only when a customer clicks on an ad.

3. Decide How to Fulfill Orders

You have two options: Handle fulfillment and shipping yourself when an order comes in, or go with Fulfillment by Amazon, or FBA, a form of dropshipping.

When you handle it yourself, you store products in your home or business, and you’re responsible for packing and shipping orders.

With FBA, you ship products to Amazon and they are stored in its fulfillment centers. The company handles all packing, shipping and returns from there. Using FBA makes your products eligible for Prime free two-day shipping, which can help you reach more customers and speed up the sales process.

The cost for FBA depends on the size and weight of your product. It may not be worth it for products priced under $10 due to low margins, or heavy or oversized products due to the cost of shipping the product to Amazon and the FBA fees, Masters says.

Businesses can use Amazon’s FBA revenue calculator to compare costs and profit margins for fulfilling orders yourself or using FBA.

Want to Start a Business?

NerdWallet has rounded up some of our best information on starting a business, including structuring and naming your company, creating a solid plan and much more. We’ll help you do your homework and get started on the right foot.

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This article, "How to Get Started Selling on Amazon" was first published on Small Business Trends