Posts Tagged ‘Flower Blossoms’

Cheap Travel Deals: Interview with Hanz and Hachelle Pena, Owners (part 3)

August 12, 2010
  1. Please retweetAre you looking to hire in the coming year?
    Hanz: Absolutely, especially when the Cheap Travel Deals begins to expand.
  2. What have you done to go the extra mile for your client?  Please explain.
    Hanz: This happened to me when I was still at the Santa Clarita location.  It was a Saturday.  We had 20 reservations for rental cars.  Our area manager did not provide us with enough cars.  I foresaw that this was going to be a problem as we were provided just 10 cars to cater to 20 reservations.  Sure enough, by around 11AM to 11:30, we ran out of cars, and there were still 10 people without cars.  What I did was call the area manager and location manager and asked them, “What do you want us to do?  We didn’t receive any more cars.”  I waited for a callback from them but did not receive one within 15 minutes, so I told my co-worker to get all the addresses of the still-carless customers.  We were forced to close early so I could find more cars for the customers.  Take note, there wasn’t even a company car that I could use to drive my colleague to get the cars from surrounding locations and deliver them to the customers.  Basically, despite a shift of 9AM-12PM, my colleague and I worked until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.  I was driving my own car, taking my colleague to North Hollywood and back to the customer and back to North Hollywood again.  North Hollywood only gave us with three cars, so I called Burbank Airport.  I begged them, “You know, I have gold members and they have advanced reservations.  I cannot say no because they have reservations.”  So from 11:45AM-4PM, that’s what I’ve been doing.  I didn’t even think about getting reimbursed for gas or getting paid for the mileage for my own personal vehicle.  On top of that, I was off the clock.  If that is something I would have done for somebody else’s business, what more would I do for my own business?
    Hachelle:  Two weeks ago, I had a customer who bought a plane ticket to Costa Rica.  She’s an elderly lady.  She called and said that she needed a plane ticket to Costa Rica, adding that she “was traveling on her own”.  I told her, “Do you have Internet access?”  She replied, “Umm, I’m too old for that.  I can’t do that.”  I told her, “Okay, I’ll do it for you.  I’ll book you online.  Just check your email and print your ticket.”  She said, “I don’t have a printer.”  I told her, “Okay, I’ll print the tickets for you and I’ll just mail them to you.”  She said, “No, I want the tickets now.”
    Hanz: Luckily, she was local.
    Hachelle: Yes, luckily, she lived here in Valencia, so I told her, “I’ll just drop the ticket off.  Give me your address, and my husband and I will go to your home, and we will drop off your ticket.”

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Francis M. Unson

Cheap Travel Deals: Interview with Hanz and Hachelle Pena, Owners (part 2)

August 11, 2010
  1. Please retweetWhat is the niche that makes you stand out above everybody else?
    Hachelle: I worked with Princess Cruises for about three years, so I have extensive knowledge about cruises and land tours.
    Hanz: I have been with Hertz Rental for over four years.  Being in customer service, I realized that the key to succeeding in customer service is to make your customers happy.  There is no better reward than to see that face on your customer.
    Hachelle: Both of us have customer service experience and backgrounds in my former job and his current job.
  2. What products and/or services do you offer?
    Hachelle: We offer lots of products such as 3- and 7-day cruise packages.  We also offer extensive land and sea tours throughout Europe, Asia, and Australia.  If you’re really adventurous, we even offer an African Safari.
  3. What kind of promotions do you have?
    Hachelle: We have lots of weekly and monthly promotions with cruise lines and special rates for flights and hotels through Montrose.
    Hanz: We also offer special discounts of 15% for rental cars.
  4. What do you like about working in the Santa Clarita Valley?
    Hanz: Compared to other cities or towns I have lived in, the Santa Clarita Valley is a very, very family-oriented town.  It’s the environment I want to raise a family in, especially with my two-year-old daughter.
    Hachelle: I love that this town is very family-oriented.
  5. In terms of your business, what are you looking forward to in the coming year?
    Hanz: We are looking to expand and grow the Cheap Travel Deals, providing travel services to the Santa Clarita Valley, nationwide and, eventually, worldwide.

    (to be continued…)

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Francis M. Unson

Cheap Travel Deals: Interview with Hanz and Hachelle Pena, Owners (part 1)

August 6, 2010
  1. Please retweetWhat are your names?
    Hanz and Hachelle Pena
  2. What is the name of your business?
    The Cheap Travel Deals
  3. What year did you establish your business?
    2010
  4. How did you go about getting your business started?
    Hachelle: We went through a host agency called Montrose Travel, so we are basically an independent contractor affiliated with them.

    (to be continued…)

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Francis M. Unson

The Cheap Travel Deals

August 4, 2010

Picture this: You are planning a trip for your family, hoping to find and book cheap flights, airline tickets, cheap hotels, vacations and rental cars on your own.  However, instead of going through a travel agency, you decide to book all parts of the trip individually.  After much research, you find out about the flights, car rentals, hotels, and attractions at your dream destination.  Just days before the trip, you think you have covered everything.  You and your family go on the trip, but you have a nagging suspicion that you may not have booked the cheapest flight or hotel, or that the additional destinations of a land tour that you paid extra for were included for that other family who happens to be on vacation, as well.

Leave the planning of your next vacation to the Cheap Travel Deals.  They will help you book travel for less with specials on cheap airline tickets, hotels, cruises, car rentals, and flights.

Hachelle and Hanz Pena

If you would like to avoid the uncertainty of not getting the most out of your travel dollar, leave the planning of your next vacation to the Cheap Travel Deals.  Hanz and Hachelle Pena established the Cheap Travel Deals in 2010 with the goal of helping people book travel for less with specials on cheap airline tickets, hotels, cruises, car rentals, and flights.  Due in large part to the Penas’ background in customer service, the Cheap Travel Deals can provide expert information covering far more than just travel destination information.  Whether you are an individual business traveler, honeymooning couple, family, company in need of a corporate travel management partner, or a business in need of group travel arrangements, you can turn to Hanz and Hachelle Pena to make all the arrangements for you and provide you exceptional customer service with a personal touch.  Booking through them also gives you access to a number of special deals available only through them such as:

  • 15% discount on car rentals
  • Domestic and international flight promotions
  • Exclusive special value hotel rates
  • Guaranteed lowest price when you purchase your cruise or vacation package through them

Give them a call, book that vacation you’ve been putting off, and the Penas of the Cheap Travel Deals will take care of the rest.

Leave the planning of your next vacation to the Cheap Travel Deals.  They will help you book travel for less with specials on cheap airline tickets, hotels, cruises, car rentals, and flights.

Hanz and Hachelle Pena, manager/owner of the Cheap Travel Deals
Phone: 661.310.0282
Website: http://www.thecheaptraveldeals.com

Email: questions [AT] thecheaptraveldeals [DOT] com

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Francis M. Unson

The Social Media Evolution – Part 1: Understanding Social Media

July 8, 2010

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The number of people on social networking websites are staggering: Twitter, for example, boasts nearly 200 million users while the number of users on Facebook totals half a billion.  Despite the large numbers of users on these two social networking websites alone (the thousands of other such websites notwithstanding), many owners and managers of small businesses do not know how social media can help their business, and precious few have anything resembling an effective and well-thought out social media plan (the subsequent blog, The Social Media Evolution – Part 2: The Social Media Plan, covers this).  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, and how it can help expand existing business practices.

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, how it can help expand existing business practices, and the marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out.Why should business owners and managers even bother to look into social media for their business?  For starters, if they do not create a social media presence in the networks where their existing customers are located, they miss out not only on positive feedback that those customers may provide unsolicited and publicly, but they also miss out on gaining potential customers who observe the interactions and feel as though they can trust the business even before the first transaction.  In Facebook or Twitter, where the interactions between business owners or managers and their customers are posted or Tweeted for the world to see, brand-building, brand marketing and great customer service are some of the many social media building blocks for businesses to build a lasting foundation with customers or other businesses.

Given the vast number of social media tools and social networking websites to choose from, making the jump into social media may seem overwhelming for some business owners.  However, if they have a Facebook or Twitter account for personal reasons, they have already taken the first step.  Therefore, business owners who have unwittingly taken this first step just need to apply what they already know from personal experience to their business.

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, how it can help expand existing business practices, and the marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out.However, what if business owners have never used social media, even for themselves?  Of course, the move towards social media would be more intimidating at any level.  In order to help business owners understand what social media can do for their business, we must put aside any technical discussion and, instead, highlight how social media extends existing business practicesHector Jarquin notes five of these extensions.

Extended business relationship

Traditional customer service involves interaction between store employees and the customer, where the customer makes inquiries about special offers or has questions or comments about the good or services.  Social media allows business owners and managers to join the conversation, building relationships with new or existing patrons.

Extended way of communication

The two-way nature of social media helps people create a better understanding about the business.

Extended way of referrals

Even if business owners have not created an online presence for their company, business referrals on websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp have probably created the online presence of the business but to a smaller degree.  These websites help people share their opinions about the business with friends and strangers, with tools available to business owners who wish to manage comments and opinions about the business.

Extended brand awareness

Social media offers business owners more control over their brand, giving customers greater insight into their business over the competition.

Extended way of sharing an opinion

Hector summed it up best: interact, participate, share, discover.  Engage with the people in your industry.

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, how it can help expand existing business practices, and the marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out.While business owners and managers slowly warm up to the idea of social media for the business, their diverse employees have probably used social media in equally varying degrees.  Not surprisingly, older employees may have limited exposure to social media while younger employees are probably glued to Facebook and Twitter on their cell phones during break or lunch time.  Business owners and managers who become aware of their younger employees’ social media savviness may turn to them to introduce social media to the rest of their, otherwise, social media-mute colleagues.  Jessica Stillman lists seven creative suggestions to get employees involved in social media without being technical.

Start an education campaign

Knowledge is power, especially if trade publications the business subscribes to feature articles about social media and how it is used in business or for entertainment.  Print these articles and leave them for the employees to read with a note saying, “Thought you would find this interesting.”  Follow up personally a day or two later and field any questions or comments the employees may have.

Team up with internal and external social media users

Starting a dialogue with other social media-savvy employees allows the like-minded group to engage in thoughtful conversation about how the use of social media tools could impact the business, making it easier to have similar conversations with the rest of the not-so-savvy employees.

Suggest social media solutions

Look for opportunities to add a social media component when discussing solutions to meet training needs.

Help stretch the budget by using a “free” option

Most social media tools available today are free.  Yes, free!  Nothing sounds sweeter to budget-conscious business owners and managers than the sound of that word.  Zero or near-zero cost of any new program implemented by a business is almost unheard of, but social media is a rare exception.

Take a look at the market relationship of your competitors

The public nature of social media allows business owners and managers to take a glimpse at the competition and see what people are saying about them, thereby extending their business relationship with their customers.  Business owners and managers must realize that introducing a social media plan for their own business will yield similar benefits.

Invite your co-workers to your social networks

Are you on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn but your employees or co-workers are not?  Invite them!  You will be one of their first contacts.  Once they sign up, give them a personal tour of the social networking sites.

Give the gift of social media

If your company has strict rules limiting the number of photocopies you’re allowed to make (see “Start an education campaign”), giving books about social media to your boss, co-workers, or employees, especially during Christmas and the Holiday season, may help nudge them towards optimizing the business with social media.

Finally, after months of internal campaigns about social media with the business owners, managers, and employees, the business can move forward and apply social media marketing tools, confident that those within the organization are more or less on the same page.  The social media-savvy in the company have made everybody else social media-conscious at the very least.  Business owners and managers can now begin to create an effective social media plan.

Social media has shifted how businesses interact with their customers as well as each other.  The blog focuses on how business owners, managers, and employees can gain a better understanding of social media, how it can help expand existing business practices, and the marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out.Before business owners and managers join a social networking site, let’s explore the three most viable options available to them from a business standpoint.  Facebook, by and large, is the most popular social networking website with over 500 million users worldwide.  A potential customer base of half a billion people can really help a business take off if business owners and managers put together a successful social media campaign.  Twitter comes in second with nearly 200 million users worldwide.  Used properly, the microblobbing site can generate buzz about upcoming events, limited time offers, and special deals, often available only to customers who follow the company’s Twitter account.  LinkedIn, with over 70 million users, helps users hunt for jobs and recruit new employees, as well as carry out tasks such as researching companies and prospecting for deals.  The social networking website provides a place where white-collar professionals can communicate with one another.

Meanwhile, the wide range of marketing activities that social media allows businesses to carry out include but are not limited to:

  • Reaching customers and prospects online
  • Raising the company profile and enhancing the business’ brand reputation
  • Strengthening customer relationships
  • Demonstrating the business owner’s expertise, commitment, and passion
  • Improving business owner’s understanding of industry issues and trends
  • Meeting people who can help develop the business
  • Enhancing customer service
  • Boosting traffic to the website
  • Testing new ideas and finding out what people think about the business
  • Seeing what competitors are up to
  • Improving sales

Social media is a dynamic field.  While the tools change over time and the social media plan of one company should not be followed, verbatim, by another company, the basic understanding of social media in regards to how it extends existing business practices remains the same.  Given the varying degrees of familiarity that employees, management, or business owners may have with social media, non-technical campaigns maybe necessary at first to get the company on the same page.  Once everyone in the company is sufficiently versed in social media, business owners and management can team up with their employees and set out to create a social media plan tailor-made for and by the company itself.

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Francis M. Unson

Spacetron Metal Bellows – “Aerospace Welding Apprentice Program”

July 3, 2010

Rick Montoya, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Spacetron Metal Bellows in Santa Clarita, California, wants to pass on the knowledge of welding to a new generation of welders who may very well design, construct, and launch hardware destined for outer space.  With that in mind, Rick created the “Aerospace Welding Apprentice Program“.

Rick Montoya, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Spacetron Metal Bellows, created the "Aerospace Welding Apprentice Program", designed to take apprentices through a rigorous, one-year program, working on actual aerospace hardware.Spacetron Metal Bellows’ program is designed to take apprentices through a rigorous, one-year program, working on actual aerospace hardware and learning the techniques for welding groups 1-4 and 6.  Part of the apprentice’s training includes learn the techniques of titanium structures, welding bellows, tubing, ducting, hose assemblies, tanks, pressure vessels, piping and machined parts.  While the program turns apprentices into high-quality welders, companies that hire this newly forged lot benefit in many ways:

  • Allows your company to maintain its production schedule without reallocating welders/welding operators and/or QA Staff for training purposes.
  • Having the apprentice observe, learn, and prepare for the welding of the Aerospace hardware to be performed by a certified aerospace welder, Spacetron Metal Bellows.
  • Being able to meet production schedules and ship hardware to your customers, meeting all your company and NADCAP Welding requirements while the apprentice is going through the on-the-job apprentice program.
  • Able to increase new programs by adding new certified aerospace welders and/or welding operators to your company team.
  • After the completed Apprentice Program, you will have a certified aerospace welder and/or welding operators ready to join your team with the experience needed to work on your aerospace products, with the freshness to be molded into your company’s operating philosophy.

If you feel that you are ready to take on the challenges of aerospace welding, or if you’d like your employees to undergo additional training, please contact Rick Montoya.

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Francis M. Unson

Spacetron Metal Bellows

July 1, 2010

You may have noticed that for three weeks in June, I did not write a new blog entry.  I spent those three weeks designing a new website for Spacetron Metal Bellows from the ground up.  The previous web “design”, ill-conceived and put together on-the-fly, no longer served the needs of the company.  The new web design has fewer HTML pages but displays more pictures, information, and even a new social media interface with Flower Blossoms.

Rick Montoya: co-founder of Flower Blossoms, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Spacetron Metal Bellows

Rick Montoya, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Spacetron Metal Bellows

Even though I updated Spacetron Metal Bellows’ website to conform with current web design principles and practices, the purpose of Spacetron Metal Bellows has remained the same since the company’s founding in 1982.  Rick Montoya, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Spacetron Metal Bellows (as well as co-founder of Flower Blossoms), founded the Santa Clarita company

“[T]o serve the aerospace industry in the process of gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW), specializing in titanium assemblies, bellow assemblies, and vacuum chambers.”

The company’s work, during the first ten years of business, focused on hardware for the B-1 Bomber and NASA’s Space Shuttle programs.  Subsequently, Rockwell International awarded the company with two contracts:

Spacetron Metal Bellows has served a long list of aerospace clients, designing and building Spacetron Vacuum Chambers to the client’s specifications, fabricating and welding titanium structures, and providing many complex assemblies.

The company’s website provides an abridged list of projects involving Rick Montoya and Spacetron Metal Bellows.  Trust me; compiling an unabridged list is itself a project .  Nonetheless, very small snippet of projects that Rick has worked on includes NASA’s Hyper-X, the B-1 Bomber, MX missile, Space Shuttle, Airborne Laser (ABL), F-35, and NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program with Rocketplane Kistler (RPK).  Even though he specialized in welding nuclear piping assemblies, he has expanded his capabilities in welding materials such as titanium, Inconel, stainless steel, aluminum, and bellows assemblies.  28 years in business has allowed him to build an extensive supplier network and take on challenging projects with confidence.  If your company has a welding project that requires additional consulting, contact Rick Montoya.  The added value he provides may save your company hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.

Spacetron Metal Bellows was founded in 1982 to serve the aerospace industry in the process of gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW), specializing in titanium assemblies, bellow assemblies, and vacuum chambers. Rick Montoya serves as President and Chief Operating Officer (COO).

Rick Montoya, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Spacetron Metal Bellows
Corporate Office
25136 Anza Dr.
Valencia, CA 91355

Ph (Direct): 661.312.2193
Ph (Office): 661.294.9018
rick [AT] spacetronmetalbellows [DOT] com

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Francis M. Unson

Valencia Welding Repairs McDonalds’ Brass Statue

June 29, 2010

While Rick Montoya, president of Valencia Welding in Santa Clarita, California, receives jobs from phone calls or emails asking for his assistance, he sometimes gets a weld repair job by being at the right place at the right time.

One afternoon, when Rick brought his daughter to McDonald’s at the Pavilion Shopping Center for lunch, he glanced at a bronze statue of a child skiing downhill inside the restaurant.  The statue suffered some damage with part of one of the skis broken off.  Rick immediately contacted Mr. Schutz, owner of a number of McDonald’s franchises throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, including the aforementioned franchise.  Rick offered to repair the ski, and Mr. Schutz was more than happy to oblige.  Rick and Bobby Alatorre, one of Rick’s welding apprentices, brought the statue to Valencia Welding’s workshop and spent the next two days repairing the broken ski.  After they completed the weld repair, they brought back the statue to McDonald’s and returned it to its location inside the restaurant.

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Francis M. Unson

Tweetups: What They Are and How to Organize One

June 7, 2010

You maybe surprised to find out that the Oxford Dictionary has added “tweetup” to the English lexicon along with a number of neologisms that may sound familiar to you such as “unfriend“, hashtag” and, for us bloggers, “tag cloud“.  This shows us that social media has taken a firm grasp in our daily lives, enough so that a venerable institution such as the Oxford University Press would add the words to their dictionary.

"Tweetups" are a way of turning online connections into real-life contacts.  Engaging your audience would make the tweetup a true social networking event.  If you'd like to plan a tweetup, here are the do's and don'ts about tweetups, from the planning stages to the event itself.What exactly is a tweetup?  The portmanteau combines the words “tweet” and “meet up“.  In other words, tweetup is a gathering of a group of Twitter users (or “tweeps“) in real life.  The reasons for gathering tweeps together could be analogous to why people, in general, gather together.  Some examples, among many possibilities, include:

  • charity events
  • memorials of a fallen soldier
  • gathering tweeps with common interests, professions, or political interests
  • buzz-generating events to giveaway tickets or prizes (always in short supply during the event)
  • gathering tweeps for a larger event (e.g. a tweetup to gather tweeps for a “Flash Mob” event)
  • protests
  • concerts at the park
  • job or career fairs
  • store grand openings

Tweetups cover a wide spectrum – from spontaneous, quickly arranged acoustic concerts to highly organized, highly publicized protests.  You cannot gauge how many people will attend the event.  For example, you broadcast your tweetup to 20 of your followers.  Only nine of the 20 show up, but each brings along two friends.  The attendees of your tweetup, therefore, consists of nine people you contacted directly and 18 you don’t even know.  While attracting a large audience for your tweetup is nice, engaging your audience would make the tweetup a true social networking event.  Otherwise, you would have nine groups of three people each that silently keep to themselves.

If you’d like to plan your own tweetup, Mashable has compiled a list of things to consider.

Organizing the Tweetup

DO Make the most of your Twitter network. You may not need professional assistance for small gatherings.  However, if you are planning a large event, PR and marketing people on Twitter can help create buzz and support for your event.

DO Visit the venue in person.  Yes, I am serious. You do not want to organize a tweetup only to find out, along with the rest of the tweeps, that a venue has gone out of business or been torn down months ago.  Don’t trust an outdated photo from Street View on Google Maps.  Visiting the venue will also give you ample time to decide whether or not you need a larger one, which leads me to the point.

DO Plan for more people to show up than you think. Earlier, I mentioned the example of nine people bringing two of their friends each.  In the world of Twitter, people may tag along with a group because they happen to mention the tweetup and, before you know it, an entire bus, subway car or ferry full of people start making their way to the tweetup.  Expect the unexpected and embrace with open arms the non-tweeps who just so happened to show up.

DO Invite a well-known speaker or two. If you manage to get Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), Tony Stevens (@tonystevens4), or Dave and Sarah Larson (the couple behind @TweetSmarter) as guest speakers, you may need a soccer field and the field next to it.

DO Use email. It stands for “electronic mail”, remember?  People still use email.  Just think of it as a way of writing seven DMs in a single message.  While you may meet thousands of tweeps and know them by their Twitter username, you may never learn any of their email addresses, yet still communicate to them on Twitter.  In addition, email would help you discern your pre-Twitter friends from your current followers.

DO Use event services to help you organize your guests, collect donations, and provide sharable content. Mashable provides a listing of services you can use.

DON’T Use a venue with limited Wi-Fi or cell phone reception or, worse, dead zones. The Twitter crowd is a technologically savvy one.  During a lull in activity at some point during the tweetup, hundreds of people may go online at the same time.  Make sure that the venue can handle the traffic.  As a rule of thumb, pretend that the total number of people you expect to show up at the tweetup has an iPhone, iPad, DROID, any of the two, or all three.

DON’T Have the event in a venue ill-suited for the tweetup. The name of the game at tweetups is communication.  Tweetups are social networking events.  Anything that impedes communication will cause the event to become memorable to the attendees for the lack thereof.

DON’T Treat the tweetup as a kickback. You may hang out with a group of friends every Saturday afternoon for five years in a row for no particular reason whatsoever, but the tweeps attending the tweetup are not that group of friends.  Make the purpose of the tweetup very clear so that people can get ready accordingly.  Is the tweetup a luau?  People need time to shop for a Hawaiian shirt if they don’t have one.

DON’T “Wing it”. You want people to remember you for the well-organized and purpose-driven tweetup you setup, rather than slapping together a “tweetup” last-second that leaves attendees wondering, “Why are we here again?”

During the Tweetup

DO Arrive at the event early. It’s common courtesy to arrive early, and it gives tweeps some relief that you, the tweetup organizer, would show up to your own event.  Just before you begin, you can pass out tweetup material such as schedules that list the day’s events.

DO Collect business cards. For whatever purpose you set out your tweetup to accomplish, networking with the attendees is the most important activity you do with them, and that begins with collecting their information.

DO Provide food. How many missed networking opportunities would take place if you didn’t provide food?  After all, networking takes place over as little as coffee.  After a couple of hours of workshops and guest speakers, provide food to the attendees so it gives them a chance to talk about the day’s events so far amongst each other.

DON’T Fade into the background. It’s your tweetup; you host it.  Besides, if you are hosting your first-ever tweetup, the attendees, more likely than not, do not know each other and are, therefore, strangers.  As host of the tweetup, you are there to greet arriving guests and answer peoples’ questions.  You can also engage in the first step of networking: providing new arrivals with nametags where they can write their first name and, just below, their Twitter username.  However, –

DON’T Use water-soluble markers or thin pens. You want the attendees to read each others’ names from afar, so use dark, permanent markers with thick ink tips.

DON’T Snub the guests. Treat @TeenW_Braces with the same respect as you would @CodesInBasic, @WearsIPadOnNeck, or @BlondeMensaGal.

DON’T Go open bar. I wasn’t expecting Mashable to include this in its list, but it makes perfect sense.  You do not want rowdy attendees that had no other purpose than to drink free alcohol.

Above all things, what do tweetups do?  They turn online interactions into real-life contacts.  In communities that hold regular tweetups, the line between online communities and real-life communities will become blurred.  Start planning a tweetup in your community.  You never know who may show up.

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Francis M. Unson

Buying the Right Health Coverage

June 2, 2010

If you are among the 59.3% of Americans who receive their health insurance coverage through an employer, you are in an ever-shrinking group.  Since 2001, premiums for family coverage have increased 78%, while wages have risen 19% and inflation has risen 17%, according to a 2007 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  If you have reached the point where shopping around for health insurance could prove more cost-effective, consider asking the following questions.

Dissatisfied with the health coverage your employer offers? Do you dislike the idea of network care? What are the differences between HMOs and PPOs? The blog discusses how to buy the right health coverage for you and your family.What are the least expensive health coverage options available?

People have two options for themselves and/or their families: Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs).  Let’s discuss HMOs first.

HMO plans used to offer individuals and families the most affordable coverage, providing medical care through networks of physicians.  People do not need to fill out forms per doctor visit, pay a nominal copay, and no deductible.  When people first consult their primary care physician, who is also known as the gatekeeper, about an illness, they may either treat the illness or, if necessary, refer them to a specialist in the network.  Women can visit a gynecologist without a gatekeeper referral.  HMOs do not cover out-of-network hospitals, doctors, or specialists.

PPO plans, presently less expensive than HMO plans, also provide medical care through a network of doctors.  However, people do not need to obtain a referral from their primary care physician in order to consult a specialist.  Copayments are comparable to HMO rates.  As with HMOs, out-of-network doctors and hospitals are not covered.

What are the monthly costs between HMOs and PPOs?

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average annual cost of family HMO coverage was $13,122 in 2008, or $1,093 per month, while average family premium for a PPO was $13,937 during the same year, or $1,078 per month.

What if I don’t like network care?

If you don’t like the idea of network care, try applying for indemnity coverage through your work, since insurers that do sell indemnity plans adhere to strict underwriting standards, making it tough to qualify for them.  Furthermore, the freedom of using any doctor a person chooses is very expensive due to deductibles and a 100% reimbursement rate only after expenditures exceed $5,000.  Overall, a family of four would expect to pay over $1,100 a month.

Where can I find the best of both worlds – the flexibility of an indemnity plan with the cost savings of an HMO or PPO?

The Point-of-Service (POS) allows people to decide whether they would like to consult a network doctor or an out-of-network doctor every time they require medical care.  A visit to a network doctor would cost between $5-15.  However, visiting an out-of-network doctor would cost much more because insurers reimburse only 70-80% of the cost of the visit once the person meets the plan deductible.  A family of four would expect to pay about $1,028 per month for an HMO/POS plan and about $1,013 per month for a PPO/POS plan.

How do I find a HMO or PPO that suits my needs or the needs of my family?

People should consult a licensed insurance agent who can compare choices available in their area.  While low costs is the most common factor, more important factors would include evaluating the insurer’s quality and its network by contacting present and former policyholders, the Better Business Bureau, and the Department of Insurance in the person’s home state.  There are numerous websites devoted to discussing choosing the right health plan as well as forums where people can discuss their satisfaction or grievances with their current provider.

Shopping for a plan whose network physicians are located reasonably close to home and well-qualified to meet a person’s family needs saves time and money in the long run.  If a network proves too costly in the present time, people should sign up for the best plan that’s available for now and return to their insurance agent a few months later.  Better products may become available at a later time.

How can I determine if my employer does not provide enough insurance?

People who think they need more insurance should ask themselves: “Does my current policy provide just hospitalization coverage?”  If so, buying an HMO or PPO plan to cover other medical costs, sans the hospitalization feature, makes sense.

On the other hand, people maybe unhappy with the doctors in their network’s plan.  They may live in a state that has passed “any willing provider” laws, which require HMO and PPO networks to accept any willing provider who meets their licensing, training, and other standards.

I’m a retiree.  What are my health care options?

Supplementing Medicare coverage with an HMO or PPO plan does not make sense because Medicare already covers basic medical and hospital services.  Retirees, instead, need a different kind of supplementary insurance policy known as Medigap, which covers any remaining expenses that Medicare does not reimburse.  Recently, the federal government has started working with some HMO providers.  If retirees sign up for an HMO plan and commit themselves to visit just network physicians, they won’t need Medigap coverage.  The HMO will require a copayment of $10 per doctor’s visit and Medicare will reimburse other expenses.

Just because your employer provides health care does not necessarily mean you must sign up for the providers from their limited pool, especially if you have found their services unsatisfactory in the past.  We used to rely on HMOs as the most affordable health care solution, but rising costs over the years have caused them to exceed the cost of PPOs.  Look into indemnity coverage if you do not like network care.  If you want to save money in the long run, work with a licensed insurance agent.  Finally, if you are a retiree, find an HMO that works closely with the federal government so that Medicare covers the rest of the expenses that the HMO does not.

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Francis M. Unson

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