Category Archives: GI Save

savings knowledge for the customers and business savvy for the entrepreneurs

Do you Make Sales or Sell?

There is a difference between making a sale and selling someone. The former is how a company makes money and takes care of overhead. The latter is how a once successful company will see its revenues quickly and seemingly inexplicably decline as the years drag on (or how a start-up fails to get off the ground at all).

Let me explain with an example I think we’re all generally familiar with: buying a car. About two years ago, I was in the market for a new car. While I didn’t tell the salespeople this, I needed a car as mine had been so wonderfully totaled by a new driver in a blizzard. Thankfully, I had already been thinking of getting a new car and knew exactly what I wanted… meaning that really all a salesperson had to do was give me a good price and treat me with respect. I was moving in about two months, so the ‘service after the sale’ pitch did absolutely nothing for me.

I tried two dealerships that were close to my house. I had emailed both previously to get a deal started that I could further negotiate once I arrived. The first one told me that they didn’t offer any deals online and that I’d have to come in to discuss price (nice sales tactic..). The second offered me an actually good deal from the get go, and told me who to ask for when I arrived.

When I went to the first one, the salesman exhibited all the classic signs of the hard sell. He tried to get me to test drive one of the models that was the same color as my shirt (he guessed wrong), used phrases while I was test driving the car to try to make me think of myself as already owning it, and tried his best to create a sense of urgency. When we sat back down in the dealership, we started talking about price. He tried to tell me that they couldn’t go any under the MSRP because, and I quote, “Hyundai really doesn’t mark up their cars much at all. If we went any under MSRP, even $500, we wouldn’t make any money”. Apparently, I had a “I’m stupid and today is my first day on earth” stamp on my forehead. I told him I wasn’t buying it and that I would be going to another dealership. He tried to call my bluff, and told me good luck, but I would never find the  kind of deal I was looking for, especially not with the service that he could offer.

The second dealership was like a dream. Before the test drive, since I knew who to ask for, the salesman pulled my email (which included what car with exactly what features I wanted) and went and grabbed that exact car. During the test drive, I did all the talking – asking questions as I saw fit. Once back in the dealership, I negotiated down a bit more (which was shockingly and unexpectedly simple and non-combative), and we figured out I qualified for all of the current factory incentives (yay!). I’ll leave out the boring paperwork details, but it seriously was a breeze. I bought my car that day.

Guess what I came to find out? The first dealership, with the salesman who was trying to sell me, operated off commissions (like most dealerships do). Thus, the salesman wanted me to pay the absolute most possible because that directly impacted his paycheck. The second dealership, with the friendly it’s-all-about-you salesman, operated off a salary and a bonus structure. Basically, it didn’t matter what price I negotiated. The salesman would get $50 for every car he sold, and at the end of the month would get a bonus if he sold the most. That’s it. Cut and dry. Why? Because this second dealership wanted to make sure the experience was about customer satisfaction instead of having each customer that walked through the door have figurative dollar signs over their head.

Now, I’m not saying that a commission structure is bad, or that not having one is better. What I am saying, however, is that no matter which model your business chooses, you had better have a kind of fail-safe built in so that your sales team knows how they should approach a customer, and that that customer feels as good about their buying decision years down the road as I feel about mine now.

What are your company’s best practices when it comes to sales? Do you have any great stories or nightmarish ones we could learn from? Share in the comments below!

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The Common Misconceptions of Military Marketing

This morning at one of my Chamber of Commerce committee meetings, I was tasked with the chance to get up an speak for 5 minutes. While I am used to doing this and talking about my company, this was different (and a little nerve-wracking). I had to speak about how the knowledge I have gained through my business could relate to and help all the other 49 businesses represented at the meeting – without trying to sell my own products.

Of course, I psych myself out whenever humanly possible because the student inside of me still feels like I have to get an “A” (probably something a therapist would have a field day with). I instantly had visions of talking about what I thought would help other businesses and people thinking it was useless information or not applicable, or that maybe I would secretly be selling my own company while thinking I was not.

When all was said and done, I actually got some really positive feedback from my peers. So, I thought I’d psych myself out again and take to the World Wide Web. Here it goes…

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions out there about marketing to the military community. First of all, some people think that they are judged as terrible people if they do not offer a military discount. While the military spouse in me loves racking up the savings, I promise – we are not mad at you if you do not offer one. Honestly, if you just have a little sign on the counter that says something about appreciating the military men and women, that goes a long way. If you are trying to market to the military, “thank you” are two of the most effective words you can utter or print. You may not think much of it, but we really do sincerely appreciate it. And, your business will stick out in our heads.

Second of all, if you do offer a military discount, think of it as a marketing opportunity as much as you think of it as a way to say “thank you”. I’m sure I’m getting some glares thinking this is selfish, but it’s not. It’s just smart marketing. By this, I mean if you are going to actively publish and mention your military discount, whatever you offer should stand out. Think about it: the point of marketing is to make your business stand out from the competition. Now think again: what do you think of when you hear “military discount”? 10%, right?

Now let me note – there is absolutely nothing wrong with 10%. We really, truly appreciate it. However, from a marketing standpoint, do something DIFFERENT! This is absolutely not to say that your discount has to be bigger, because it doesn’t. But if you get a little creative, you can think of a way to word it so that it stands out, even if it equates to the same dollar savings. For example, a restaurant might try a free app, dessert or drink with minimum purchase. Doing the math out, this very well would come out to 10%, but by wording it differently, you just made your business stick out (in a good way).

Third of all, there are subtle ways to gear your marketing toward the military without plastering combat boots, camo, tanks and flags everywhere. Think subtle but attention grabbing, and you’ll get our attention in a very positive way without overdoing it.

Finally, there are a lot of military groups out there that you can work with to bolster the effectiveness of your paid military campaign at no additional cost. Marketing can’t be completely free, but it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, either. Feel free to comment here – I am happy to help you build your military marketing campaign (I figure this student loan debt should help more than just myself to be worth it :)).

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What Every Business Owner Needs to Know About Marketing

I get it. In the world of business ownership, much like the world of home ownership, it seems like the expenses never stop coming. You need to pay your employees, pay the rent, utilities, licensing fees, insurance, get products in the store, etc, etc, etc. So when you’re balancing the budget and trying to keep your checkbook from catching on fire, you look for things to cut. Typically, marketing is one of those things – seen as a luxury which would be nice to have, but isn’t realistic. And all those advertising salespeople ringing your phone off the hook just make you want to put your guard up and say “No, we’re not interested, we can’t afford it right now”.

What I want to say to you is why can’t you afford it right now? And before your guard goes up, I’m not a salesperson. So just think about why. Is it because sales aren’t going quite the way you thought they would? Or because you’ve spent money on everything else so you want to wait until some people start rolling through the door to bankroll an ad campaign? Don’t get defensive, these make sense. BUT, you need to adjust your way of thinking. Let me give you an example.

When you go to the store and buy a bunch of groceries, you know that money is never going to magically reappear in your checking account. Groceries are certainly a necessity, and are a lot more economical than eating out all the time, but the $100 you spent isn’t ever coming back. Now, think about when you buy a stock. You’re not buying it to eat or serve some other purpose, you’re buying it in the hopes that you’ve done enough research to be reasonably confident that the $100 you forked over will multiply and become $150 or $200 or more. So while you might subtract it from your bank account for the moment, the chance of that money coming back exists.

THIS is where most business owners go wrong when they think about marketing. Marketing is not like groceries – it’s like stocks. It is an investment made in your business that, if done well and through the right channels for your particular industry, should bring you a positive ROI. When business slows, marketing absolutely should under no circumstances be the thing that gets cut. After all, if it is designed to improve business and increase brand awareness, why would you get rid of it at a time of year when you need these things most? I get that you only have a defined amount of cash, but if you treat marketing like the necessity it is, then you can typically find other areas to trim to make the budget work.

Now, I’m not saying that you should suddenly buy into every single advertising opportunity that comes your way. You’d go broke real fast if you did that, considering how many different media channels exist and the fact that not every type of advertising is right for every business. But if you change the way you think about marketing, do your research, and work with someone who understands your company and who your target market is, then paying to promote your company won’t be a minus sign in your books for long.

Need specific advice? Have any particularly good or bad experiences with marketing you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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The Aftermath of PCSing

When you receive orders to a new base, you immediately think of all the big things to take care of – and for good reason. You need to start planning to move out of your current residence, find a new place to live, decide if you’re going to do a DITY move or have the government take care of it, take care of all the change-of-address hassles, take care of school for the kids, etc, etc etc. But when you actually arrive and the cloud of stress and constant activity begins to settle, you find yourself getting back to your real life. And in real life, you need more than boxes, packing tape and forms.

It doesn’t unravel all at once, but bit by bit you begin to realize that you need something you no longer have a person for. You need your hair cut, a massage (if you’re really lucky), an accountant, pest control services, heating and air professionals, a handyman, a plumber, a car repair shop, a shipping store, jeweler, gym… and the list goes on. All those errands and day-to-day things you did before the move still need to be done, but there’s the added burden of needing to figure out where to go and who’s reputable.

The tough part about finding many of these types of businesses is that “word of mouth” is generally thought of as the way new customers (ie you) are referred to them. And now you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place because when you just moved, you don’t know anybody! And those you do know, you just met. Sure, they might be willing to tell you who they use, but you don’t yet know them well enough to know if their “stamp of approval” matches up with yours.

I’m not going to pretend all those things are of paramount importance, but you do need them and it’s easy to forget that you do until your car starts to smoke or your hair starts to act the way it does when it’s time for a trim. So my recommendation? Use this resource as your jumping off point. The businesses that are listed are here for the sole reasons that they understand the value of the military community to their business, they want to say thank you, and they are reputable. I used this to find just about everything I needed when I arrived, and I have yet to be disappointed. So take a look around the Business and Professional Services section of any of our base guides, give these wonderful people a call, and let them know how you found them.

And if you wish, let us know how your experience was. Tweet us @militarymedia_ or leave us a message at Facebook.com/MilitaryMediaInc

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Why I Had to Stop Biting My Tongue

So, we’re going to break a huge business no-no and (kinda) talk about politics. But before you click away from here for fear of a heated party-based debate and anger placed one way or the other, it’s not like that. I promise. No, what I have decided I cannot hold back on any more are the military budget cuts being proposed, and what they mean. I might be a little ranty at first, but I have a really important point to make, so just stick with me here.

Today, it dawned on me that it seemed every day I was receiving a new email in my inbox talking about one cut or another proposed to the commissary or the DoD budget. So, today I went and checked. And as it turns out, it didn’t just seem that way. I’m not becoming crazy with how busy I am (well, at least on this… overall is really another story). That thought I had is really, truly, depressingly the case. And when that became apparent, I decided I was done biting my tongue. Sure, I’ve posted articles on the company Facebook and Twitter pages about what’s going on from time to time, but I’ve tried extremely hard to state the facts and nothing more. Every time I saw something wonderfully opinionated, calling out someone or another for what they’re proposing, I basically sat on my hands to stop myself from re-tweeting it. Really, guys… I’ve been good.

But I’m done. And thankfully, my computer is keeping me from yelling. Because I’m much more calm and reasonable when I have a keyboard.

Now trust me, I obsessively budget my own finances and have for years, so I get it. If you need to make cuts, it has to come from somewhere. Money, as much as we like to hope it would, just doesn’t appear out of thin air. But why, WHY, does it seem the FIRST PLACES looked at are the DoD budget and military benefits? That’s like me deciding to cut my rent payments out of my budget to save money, but choosing to keep my wine budget in tact. Because after all, I spend a LOT more money on rent than wine, so that totally makes sense right?

Honestly, these men and women are putting their lives on the line every day, whether they’re deployed or not. Because the truth is, that could change at any second, and they signed up for that. Their families are thrown for a loop either dealing with deployments and/or moving way more than anyone should ever be asked to, all because they’ve decided their country, their loved ones, and the service is worth it. The retirees and vets have been there and done that, too, and guess what? They deserve a break. So, why does the government think that the commissaries, one of the few great day-to-day benefits provided to service members, are an easy place to start the slashing? Or that the already horrendous Tricare system should be battered even more? Oh, because it costs the taxpayers a lot of money? Is that it?

Well, last time I checked, government salaries and insane pensions and benefits cost the taxpayers a lot of money, too. And all those random projects that aren’t doing any hardworking American any good sure cost a lot of money. But those are being rolled out like donuts at a Krispy Creme.

What I’m trying to say here is we, as a country and individuals, need to appreciate our military way more than the bulk of us do. It’s not enough to simply have the valiant supporters go to events, wear the t-shirts and protest what is wrongly being done. We need a cultural shift. Our freedom to act and be any way we want to has been taken for granted, and our country isn’t even that old. We need to think back, and I mean really think back to how awful it must have been to not have it. Because if the whole military went on strike tomorrow, we’d be in a LOT of trouble. Unimaginable, almost inconceivable trouble.

Now most people and business owners I run into, especially around here, are very pro-military and supportive. But I do run into the occasional person who is almost anti-military… and it’s quite disturbing. It’s something I just don’t understand. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to be against war and violence, fine. Whatever. That’s your opinion and that’s alright. But when you cross the line to being anti-military, I just can’t handle it. How can you be actively against the group of people who have stepped up to defend you when they don’t even know you? That takes character, and heart, and bravery.

So, let’s ramp up. Let’s show these men and women just how much we support them. Let’s show them that there’s no end to our appreciation of their service and sacrifice. And let’s show them that we’re willing to make some sacrifices for them, too. Because at the end of the day, our lives would be a lot more terrible without them.

 

If you’d like more information on how you or your business can show your support or would like information on upcoming charity events, please leave us a comment here. Thank you all!

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Coupons Should Save You Money (Not Coax You to Buy Something Because It’s Cheap)

You caught me: I’m the worst kind of complainer. I hate asking people if their business offers a military discount. I know, cue the world’s smallest violin. But seriously – you fellow military spouses know what I’m talking about. We all want the discount, but asking everywhere you shop can eventually make you feel like you’re being cheap or annoying the perfectly nice business owner. And what if they don’t have one? Awkward.

Assuming at least some of you are just like me, you’ve tried to remedy this by taking to your keyboard. And you’ve probably spent a good amount of time searching for the business you needed and then trying to find out which one had a military offer of some sort. In the end, you’ve typically saved a few bucks, but at what cost? Your eyes were all glossed over, your head was foggy, and you just realized you missed out on a solid two hours you could have used pretending you were going to go to the gym. But now there’s a solution: GIsave.com – a coupon-based website dedicated exclusively to showcasing military deals offered by our adoring local businesses.

Now I know, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of these coupon sites out there that are all virtually the same and offer some crazy low prices on things. While I’m all for crazy low prices, most of the coupons are not for places I shop at on a daily basis, or for things I actually need. More often than not, I find myself trying to rationalize why I suddenly need an 8-mode digital pulse massager, just because it showed up in my inbox. And though the ones for restaurants give me a great excuse for a night out, I could really do without the annoyed stares when I inform them of my coupon. Not that I can blame them, because there are way too many people out there that take the discounted price as an excuse to tip lower (please, please, please – don’t do this!), but it’s unfortunate to get caught in the crossfire.

And like I said, when I need to go out into the community I actually live in and get some pet supplies, have my car’s oil changed, get my hair cut or go to the dentist, most of these coupon sites are useless to me. GI Save helps me save money at the places I am already going to, and helps me find businesses I know are reputable when I need something but don’t know of a place to go. And let’s face it, if you are military or part of a military family, you know what it’s like to move. You know what an absolute pain it is to find all the places you need again and how awful it is to waste money at a store or on a service that just wasn’t what it should have been. GI Save gives you an avenue. It helps you find places run by good people, and it saves you money while it does that. And you can very well think I am just embellishing because I work for these people – but guess what? That’s a good thing. It’s because I work for these people that I know exactly who is going out and finding the businesses that are featured. They all have a conscious and want to do the right thing. What’s more, I have watched each one of them not work with a business if they thought they weren’t going to stand by their customers. That says something.

Thankfully, with GI Save, all the businesses are local. That’s why the home page has you pick your base before it shows you deals. Every single one of these companies is happy to have military business. And not one of them thinks that the discount they are offering is too over the top. Why does this matter? Because your experience when you go somewhere with one of these mobile coupons is pleasant. You leave feeling great that you saved some money, but better that you found an awesome place where the owner really appreciates your business. They help you, you help them, and you both help some really good military charities by supporting GI Save.

Coupons are the number one thing military spouses ask for – so here they are. Now all you have to do is get the word out so we can have even more deals and businesses to throw our debit cards at. Thank you, internet.

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Giving You More Than The Right To Play Candy Crush

It’s easy to tell you the obvious reasons why you should appreciate the military: They are the reason you have and will continue to have the freedoms you so depend upon. They’re the reason you even have the option to debate gun rights, speak out against politicians, or use your entire day to watch cat videos on YouTube (oh, and watch “If It Fits, I Sits”… then thank a service member). But you should know all of that. And if you don’t or you don’t believe that, then shame on you, but that’s your right.

What I’m getting at (or going to be getting at) here is a different reason the military should be appreciated: the economy. For those of you without ties to a service member, all you may hear are the ramblings on the news about defense spending and budget cuts and blah blah blah… all stuff that probably leads you to think the military is just a big, expensive organization. And while it is expensive, it also offers a great deal of stimulation to local economies.

Think about it: in or around areas where there are one or more military installations (and there are a LOT of these areas), constant influxes of new people are more or less a certainty. Even if someone coming in means someone going out, moving is anything but cheap. Both of these individuals or families will be spending lots of money getting things they need. The incoming family will need to find a new place to live, storage, food, etc. They’ll also need to find a place to get their cars serviced, get their hair cut, buy new clothes… everything they may need now or in the future. Not only this, but military bases employ a large amount of civilian contractors, sometimes equaling the number of active duty personnel. More working people + more paychecks = more money to be spent in the local economy. That’s the kind of math even I can do.

And then, you have examples like us, Military Media – a private business specifically established with military bases or clientele in mind. There are plenty of other businesses of all kinds that fit this bill, and we all succeed ONLY because of this demographic. For example, we started out producing base guides and maps, a business endeavor which would be 100% pointless without the bases (obviously). While we may now work with bases throughout the country, do you really think our home office would be here, employing locals? …Nope. Sure, it might be someplace else, but why have only a few economically booming areas when you can have many? The military makes that possible.

The military is also responsible for building up areas which may otherwise be extremely underpopulated and struggling. Take, for example, the real-life community situation over here. The Panhandle region, Pensacola to Destin, specifically, may be on prime real estate with beautiful beaches and generally great weather. Sure, tourists would come here whether the bases were here or not. But let me ask you this – what happens when the peak season is over and the tourists go home (or somewhere else)? Yep – the remaining residents and businesses sit in the quiet and struggle to make it through without the tourists to visit their businesses and stimulate their economy. Every off-season is a gamble, and many businesses do not make it. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times in other areas.

But, fortunately, that’s not the way it is here, thanks to the military. There are certainly peak and off-seasons still, but thanks to approximately SEVEN military installations (many of them small), there are roughly 66% more people living here full time than there would be otherwise. And an estimated $8.2 billion in annual value to the local economy.

The numbers don’t lie. Just like your ability to say funny things on Twitter followed by the hashtag #firstworldproblems doesn’t lie. So be thankful. Whether you realize it or not, the chain effect the military has on your well being is astounding on so many levels. Reach out and show your appreciation in some way. And if you need a little help, we’re here.

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Giving Things Away is the Worst Way to Make Money

Yes, I really had to say that. Since the big bang of couponing took over in the late 2000s, the practice has been adored by deal-hunting consumers and demonized by profit-conscious entrepreneurs. And how could it be any different? People love saving money when they go out shopping, and business owners love to (and need to) make a decent profit. But wait – this paradigm seems conflicting! Why?

Because it is.

And this has been especially true since daily deal sites became so popular, requiring deals to be at least 50% off the normal purchase price. And here’s the kicker – that fraction of your typical profit is slashed even further when you give the host site their cut. This may seem ridiculous to some, but in this economy, customers are looking for it and business owners often turn to it to make their doors swing. So what do you do?

You find a better way. And there is one. The good news? You can afford it (I really mean it), it’s trackable, and (when used properly) can really increase your customer base. The bad news? It will require a little marketing savvy on your part to transform them from a one hit wonder to a loyal, repeat customer. But don’t worry – I’m here with my fancy degrees and cheap laptop (cause and effect?) to help you.

First of all, the better way is www.GIsave.com, a coupon-based website geared specifically towards the military communities in the Southeastern U.S. (though there are plans to expand). More than any other demographic, military families need to find ways to stay on budget while finding new favorite places to frequent as they bounce around from base to base. As a future military spouse, I can tell you there is not one time someone has said “military discount” and my head hasn’t turned. And now, there’s a whole website of people screaming just that – and I don’t have to leave my couch or my sweats to hear it. Beautiful.

I know what you’re thinking: Why would you gear your couponing to just this one demographic? That seems silly. Well, because the military community makes up almost TWO THIRDS of the Emerald Coast economy. Scout’s honor – look it up. Not so silly. And even better, it’s not Groupon or Living Social. We’re not asking you to sell your first born child to afford the price slash. We don’t tell you how much to discount. You just come up with something you’re happy with and we make it visually appealing… not to mention able to be comfortably accessed by military families in their favorite obnoxious headbands and scrunchies (it’s OK for the 90s to live on in your own living room, right?).

Now here’s where my free advice to you lovely business owners comes in. DO NOT… I repeat.. DO NOT succumb to the desire to throw the phrase “10% off with ID” on your GI Save coupon. This is not to say that 10% is a bad discount, or that military families do not appreciate it (because trust me, they really, really do). However, doing this works against you in a couple of ways. First of all, you probably honor that discount with the simple mention of it or the flash of an ID card, don’t you? And again, thank you. But how on earth are you supposed to know how impactful your GI Save program is if you don’t make people tell you? And what about your deal makes you stand out from any of the other businesses?

So, pick a dollar amount, or offer a free something with the purchase of another something. Anything that will get that person’s attention and get them to show you their virtual or printed coupon so you have that wonderful peace of mind that what you did is working. Makes sense, right?

Now continuing the free advice, do something AWESOME when we customers make our way into your business. Make us want to come back over and over again. And, I’ll let you in on a little secret here – we’re easy. Awesome can sometimes mean a sticker. That’s right – that little shiny thing that costs a fraction of a penny can make you stick out. Seriously. So, go find something. It could be a little bonus gift, a different coupon to use on another visit, a referral program punch card that gets your new customer free/discounted stuff when they tell their friends… the list goes on and on. It doesn’t have to cost you much of anything; it just needs to be thoughtful enough that Joe around the corner isn’t doing it. Boom – you win.

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There Is No Hotel Deal Fairy

It has to be one of the most Googled phrases in recent travel history: how to book the best room for the best rate. And while I wish I could say I hadn’t wasted my time doing this… a lot… I have. And the outcome is almost always one of two things. Either the information is completely useless and makes searching “cheap hotel rooms” seem like a revolutionary, Nobel prize worthy idea; or the results are achieved by nothing short of calling out sick from work for two weeks straight, developing a masterful spreadsheet, and probably getting put on some sort of government watch list. But don’t worry, you’ll get the room five dollars cheaper per night (maybe).

So, in response, I’m going to try to give you my version of it. Part of me thinks this is futile, but the other part of me tells me this: I’m better with technology than your average person, but I’ve also had to teach people how to use it. I work full time and I work on a Master’s degree part time. And I will fight you if you think I’m going to waste time doing anything else when I could be watching football. Why should you care? Because that means I’m not going to suggest something so painfully obvious your great grandmother would know to try it, or something so complicated you need a doctorate in engineering to do it. I’m also not going to suggest things that “ain’t nobody got time for”. I welcome your criticism (or loving praise) after you read this.

  1. It’s already time for the tough love.

No matter how good you are at this, how far in advance or last minute you’re looking, or if it’s a Tuesday and the weather is bad – you are not going to get a stellar deal every time. Sometimes, all your tricks and research just lead you to the sad realization that the cost is what it is. But hey, at least you know you’re not getting ripped off by whatever hotel or site you book through.

  1. Analyze your circumstances.

Ask yourself a few key questions before you start looking. Is your trip soon or in the distance? Do you need a specific neighborhood or will anything in the general area do? Do you have the funds to pay up front, or do you need to be able to pay when you check out? Is your trip flexible enough that you’re comfortable booking something the same day you want to check in? These are all important questions, and I will address them in the “Tips” section at the bottom.

  1. Use more than one website. But don’t go crazy.

I know, there’s websites like Kayak and Priceline, as awesome as they may be, that insist you only need to search their site to find the best price. But only trying the deal sites just tells their marketing departments that they’re as brilliant as they think they are. I generally pick one deal website, and then Google something like “hotel specials February 7-9 in Fort Walton Beach”. Sometimes, a coupon or something will pop up. More often, though, I get a big old list of hotels across the top of the page. And now, I compare. Go through your deal site and try to find a price you like. If you don’t see one, find a hotel you like that might be more money than you’d like to spend, but isn’t so far gone you can’t find a better deal.

  1. Compare Simply.

Baby steps here. Let’s assume you’ve now picked a hotel or two (or three or four) from the deal site. Next, go to the hotel’s website itself and run a search. Sometimes, the deal site is better. Sometimes, it’s the same. But other times, you might find that if you select a AAA rate or military rate (from the search box when you’re typing in your dates and number of people…typically in a drop down menu or under “advanced search”), the price ends up being lower than the deal site. Think about it: the deal site can’t assume everyone booking qualifies for a discount. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Refer to point #1.

  1. Compare Creatively.

Don’t get stuck in a rut. I know you’re probably thinking I’m breaking my time rule here, but the above two steps shouldn’t take you more than five minutes (ten if you’re researching a lot – but you should save that for the end). Quickly skim through and cross reference the deal site’s list with your Google list. Just like Southwest Airlines tickets can only be purchased from their own website, not all hotels allow deal sites to work with them. When you see some on Google that you didn’t on the deal site, do a new search for that hotel. Here’s the best part: quite often, since the hotel is not participating in a deal site, they’ll have some pretty great deals. Especially for multi-night stays.

Tips:

Now that I’ve given you some ideas, back to those questions I asked you to evaluate in point #2. The best way for you to treat the following bullet points is like a matching quiz in school. Figure out what applies to you based on your answers to the questions, and then take my advice accordingly.

  • If you’re in a situation where the deal site and hotel site are the same price, consider this: deal sites require full payment up front and are rarely refundable; direct hotel sites typically do not actually charge you until check out and have pretty lenient cancellation policies
  • Monitoring the price of a hotel you like over a period of time can typically lead to a decreased rate. If you see it drop, grab it.
  • Many hotels have last minute deals. I don’t mean the week before, I mean the same day you want to check in. You can use the hotel site, deal site, or an app like Hotel Tonight
  • Unless you really can’t afford a hotel at the initial price you find it, don’t play the bargain game if it’s going to really put you in a bind to stay anywhere else
  • Pick up the phone after you’ve found a hotel you like. The vast majority of the time, their best deals are online. But some offer secret promotions you’ll never find out about if you don’t call and ask

The bottom line here is establishing your priorities, then doing what you need to do to achieve them. There might be a lot of stuff here, but if you ask those key questions first, you shouldn’t need to spend more than 15-30 minutes finding the best deal possible for you. Any tips or tricks of your own? Post them here and share the wealth!

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Sleep is for Suckers. But so is Powdered Creamer.

Vacations, day trips and long weekends are some of the greatest treats in the world. Way more decadent and exciting than a piece of fudge (I’m not knocking fudge.. I could write a whole story on it. I’m just saying). Going out and having all sorts of adventures that develop into great stories to tell is one of my favorite things to do in life. But, on the contrary, the call to relax while on vacation is loud and clear. So what do I do?

Oh, that’s right – coffee. I am absolutely addicted to coffee.

But here’s the problem on vacation: I don’t know where I am. And while I genuinely enjoy finding local coffee shops with their unique blends and homey touches that combine to make everything just phenomenal, I enjoy doing this AFTER I’ve had my iced coffee I know I can rely on. Because otherwise, who has the energy for that? So, you can imagine my panic when I travel that I’m not going to be able to find a satisfactory cup of coffee to hold me over until I find a fantastic cup of coffee. Just the thought of those places that don’t have iced coffee but think they can trick me by putting hot coffee over ice (worst thing ever) makes me want to stay home and set up shop in the Dunkin drive thru.

While you may find it easy to Google the nearest Dunkin Donuts (no offense to them… I’m a die hard fan), you should live by my rule while you’re on vacation: you can’t go anywhere you can go at home. So, without further adieu, here are a few of the best places to get a coffee when you’re traveling in Florida. Warning: caffeine jitters may occur.

Fort Walton Beach:

Region: North, Panhandle

  • Maas Coffee: This gem in the heart of downtown Fort Walton Beach has a great atmosphere, free WiFi, and truly delicious coffee. Boasting hand-roasted Arabica beans from more than twelve countries, you can really taste the quality and care in your cup. They specialize in everything from regular to snazzy, and even perfected the iced coffee. The only thing that might top the coffee is the gorgeous view of the bay you can get from the relaxation of their outdoor patio. Because as we all know, what good is coffee without something pretty to look at?

Miami:

Region: South, East Coast

  • Eternity Coffee Roasters: If you love social responsibility and great coffee, this is the place to be. Eternity Coffee has some of the highest quality coffee you can find anywhere, and the taste leaves no doubt! The coffee is roasted in house and customers absolutely rave about the divine scent that fills the shop as a result. Get your coffee to go, or decide to enjoy the atmosphere. Eternity is warm, inviting and comfortable – great for some relaxation, studying or meeting business associates. And for those of you wanting to feel a little fancy (but just a little), try ordering a latte and see what cool design you get in the foam.

Tampa Bay:

Region: Central, West Coast

  • Buddy’s Brew House: With an ambiance as friendly and inviting as its name, it comes as no surprise to patrons that this awesome coffee shop started as a hobby of owner, Dave Ward. With passion comes excellence, and this coffee is truly amazing. They even have a cool refill program that allows you to buy a mason jar for $4 (be honest, you would buy a mason jar even if it didn’t have perks attached to it) and get discounted refills every time you bring it in. We love it!

Orlando:

Region: Central, East Coast (ish)

  • Drunken Monkey Coffee: Ok, clearly we’re a little transparent on this one… we explored it for the name. But, come on, they nailed the whole marketing thing. And they didn’t disappoint. This coffee shop has a distinct feel that is welcoming, free-spirited and enjoyable. The coffee is incredible, top shelf and roasted in-house. And if that wasn’t enough, their food rivals in taste and quality. A great spot for everything from chatting with friends to taking advantage of their free stand up comedy night on Fridays.

Jacksonville:

Region: North, East Coast

  • The Coffee Grinder: If a regular old coffee shop bores you no matter how great the coffee is, this place is for you. Not one to be considered boring, The Coffee Grinder jams to live music from local DJ’s five days a week. And if you need some visual appeal to go with the treat your ears get, they have some really cool, intriguing art hanging up. Not that we’re professional art procurers, but we don’t seem to be alone in this thought. Of course, not to be outdone, the coffee is delicious and satisfying. With a coffee of the day keeping things interesting, you’ll never get sick of this place.

What’s your favorite? Leave us your comments, questions or input below. We’d love to hear it!

 

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