Payday Collection Deception


 

 

On classic episodes of the Tonight Show, affable sidekick Ed McMahon sought guidance from Johnny Carson’s all-knowing Carnac character. But as demonstrated by a recent FTC law enforcement action — which involved a company’s misleading reference to the late Mr. McMahon — you don’t need a psychic to know that challenging deceptive debt collection practices remains a top priority.

According to the complaint, defendants Luebke Baker & Associates, CEO Kevin Luebke, and other corporate managers used illegal tactics to collect a variety of debts, including magazine subscription debts, many of which they knew or should have known weren’t valid. Some of the magazine debts traced back more than a decade to a company the FTC had successfully sued for deceptive marketing. Despite the fact that the defendants had been notified of a 2003 federal court order that placed special restrictions on anyone attempting to collect payments related to that seller, the FTC alleged the defendants ignored those requirements and repeatedly told people the debts were due and payable.

The defendants’ “rebuttal sheet” — attached as an exhibit  to the FTC’s court papers — offers insights into just how far the defendants went to try to collect debts. For example, when people refused to pay, the defendants directed their representatives to illegally threaten to contact their employers: “I am trying to help you out. I definitely don’t want be the bad guy but our client sent over your employment information and I would like to handle this with you on a voluntary basis before we have to get your employer involved. Blah blah if getting nowhere.”

If the consumer still balked at paying, the defendants read off the person’s work address and threatened to get law enforcers involved: “A sheriff will deliver a summons to either your place of employment or your home. It depends on what we instruct the peace officer.”

If people exercised their right to ask for documentation for the alleged debt, the defendants really turned up the heat: “Typically when someone requests proof and it’s clear to us that this is their bill, you may possibly receive your requested credit card itemization stapled to a summons to appear in court.” In addition, the FTC says they falsely told people that magazine subscription debts are exempt from the statute of limitations and illegally threatened to garnish wages and take other actions with no intention of following through.

So how did Ed McMahon’s name enter into the story? According to the FTC, the defendants tried to hide their identity by sending untruthful Caller ID information — for example, by falsely posing as prize pitchman McMahon.

But the illegalities didn’t end there. The FTC says that in addition to violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Section 5 of the FTC Act, the defendants marketed a “credit repair” CD in violation of the Telemarketing Sale Rule, which makes it illegal for companies to charge up-front fees for credit repair goods and services. (Note to self: A debt collection outfit charged with FDCPA violation? Perhaps not the best source for information about “repairing” credit.)

The defendants entered into a settlement  that bans illegal tactics in the future. The order doesn’t just apply to the corporate defendant and the CEO. Also named individually are the Director of Operations, the General Manager, and a Collection Manager. In addition, the settlement imposes monetary judgments against the defendants totaling $3.1 million — including a $420,000 judgment against Kevin Luebke’s wife, Julissa Luebke. Most of the judgments are suspended due to the defendants’ inability to pay, but if it’s later determined they gave false financial information, the full amount will become due.

Two message for debt collectors. First, the law draws clear lines between lawful practices and illegal tactics — and debt-related abuses remain a top enforcement priority. Second, should you conclude that even with an “Inc.” after a company’s name, defendants may be held individually liable for law violations? In the words of Mr. McMahon, “You are correct, sir!”

By Lesley Fair

S. Tyler Stapley
Apex Direct Marketing – CEO / Owner
Office- 714.203.7577

Cell – 714.717.9303
E-mail – tyler@apexdm.net
Website | LinkedIn |Twitter |
“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Samuel Goldwyn

 

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Hard Work Wont Get You Ahead


Late last week, I had several different challenging projects on my plate, each with fast-approaching deadlines. Feeling the pressure, I awoke earlier than usual in the morning and got to my desk by 7:00 am.

Four hours later, I was still sitting there, barely having budged from my chair. To my surprise and frustration, I still hadn’t finished my project.

At first, I attributed my failure to the difficulty of the task. But the more I thought about it, the less that made sense.

A Faulty Instinct to Work Harder
Suddenly, it dawned on me. Anxious about all the demands on my plate, I’d defaulted into a way of working that doesn’t work.

I hunkered down, powered through, stayed the course. Along the way, something insidious, inevitable, and mostly unconscious happened.

I started reading emails, and responding to them. I remembered little things from my to-do list, and decided they were actually quite urgent. I made some phone calls. I rewrote my to-do list. Feel familiar?

This isn’t the sort of thing that should happen to me. I run a company called The Energy Project, and we’re in the business of energizing individuals and organizations to be more productive and higher performing by learning to balance work with strategic periods of renewal.

Alas, I’m also human. I violated the very lessons we teach.

Professionals live today in a world of relentless demand. To meet their obligations, their default instinct – including mine, if the pressure gets high enough – is simply to push harder.

The problem is human beings aren’t meant to operate the way computers do: at high speeds, continuously, for long periods of time. To the contrary, people perform best when they pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy – not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Unfortunately, rest and renewal get no respect in the organizational world. Most managers view the need for downtime as weakness. The problem is that when their employees work without pause, they very quickly get decreasing incremental returns on each hour invested.

Just as I did, you stop thinking as clearly, creatively, and strategically, and you take more time to get less accomplished.

Though you may not realize it, you’re physiologically designed to operate in cycles of approximately 90 minutes, during which you move from higher to lower alertness. These phases are called “ultradian rhythms.”

Don’t Ignore Your Body’s Signals
When you need a break, your body sends you clear signals, including fidgetiness, hunger, drowsiness and loss of focus. But if you’re like most people, you override them. Instead, you find artificial ways to pump up your energy: caffeine, foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, and your body’s own stress hormones – adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol.

Relying on these hormones for energy prompts the state we all know as “fight or flight.” It’s great for escaping danger, and terrible for performance. In fight or flight, people become less capable of thinking clearly and reflectively, more emotionally volatile, and burn down their energy at a rapid rate.

The Value of Working in Spurts
The counterintuitive secret to great, sustainable performance is to live like a sprinter. In practice, that means working with the high intensity, uninterrupted, for periods no longer than 90 minutes, and then taking a break to renew and refuel.

For the first several books I wrote, I typically sat at my desk for 10 or even 12 hours at a time. There was no way to stay fully engaged the whole time, so I found ways to distract myself along the way. Each of the books took me at least a year to write.

For my most recent book, I wrote without interruption for three 90-minute periods in the morning, and then took a break in between each one. I wrote no more than 4 ½ hours a day, and I finished the book in less than six months.

Obviously, it’s not possible for most people in most companies to work in a series of uninterrupted sprints the way I did. Let me challenge you instead to try a smaller experiment.

For the next week, take on your most challenging task first thing in the morning, for 60 to 90 minutes, uninterrupted. Then take a break. You’ll get an amazing amount done – and feel better the rest of the day.  By Tony Schwartz

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Solving the Sales Conundrum…


Jeff Hoffman explains the primacy of data, the gap between interest and desire, the power of introverts, and other things fast-growth CEOs don’t understand about selling.

The relationship between growth and sales seems easy enough: Sell more stuff and your business gets bigger. But it’s not quite so simple—and a failure to understand that could be the difference between success and failure, says Jeff Hoffman, founder of MJ Hoffman and Associates, a Boston-based sales consultancy. Hoffman, who teaches sales at Harvard and MIT and works with companies large and small (he recently created a sales-training program for Google), recently spoke to Inc. magazine executive editor Larry Kanter about what sales-conscious CEOs need to understand to navigate today’s market.

What’s the biggest thing CEOs of growing companies don’t understand about sales?
When you’re going through periods of high growth, the sales are coming in in such a frenzy that it can almost seem as if every deal is happening a different way—say, through a referral, a marketing event, a lead, a list, etc. A CEO can easily come to the conclusion that there’s a randomness to the growth. And that’s very dangerous.

Why is that?
Because even in the hottest markets, there are trends and shapes to the sales process that can allow you to determine what your optimal customer acquisition looks like. And that is critical when you start to scale your business.

So it’s not just a question of finding customers and selling them things and then finding more customers and selling them more things.

There are generally significant events that occur in a relationship between a buyer and a seller. In the business-to-business world, it might be a meeting or a product demonstration. In the business-to-consumer world, it’s a click-through or a request for information. For a business owner, it is very important to understand which of these events have the greatest impact, which ones really accelerate the sales process. You want to be collecting data on every step of every sale and looking at that data, and constantly fine-tuning the process.

In practical terms, what do you advise entrepreneurs to do?
I like to think in terms of an abbreviation that’s been around for years—AIDA, or attention, interest, desire, action. No matter what you’re selling, you have to guide a prospect through each of those emotional states, and each one requires a different focus, a different language, and a different strategy. In the simplest terms, you want to make sure that you’re building your process so that each of those letters is being represented.

So how are you getting your customers’ attention? Is it through a website, word of mouth, through buying lists, through a direct-sales organization? From there, how do you get them interested? How do you communicate why they should give you their attention? Maybe it’s through demos or free trials or testimonials. Then it gets even harder—most young companies have the biggest hurdle getting from interest to desire, getting someone to go from understanding what you do to actually wanting it. And even if you can create some kind of event or process around that, you’re not done. You have to have another strategy or event around the customer actually buying.

Now, all these things can happen on one phone call or one meeting or one visit to your website. But all four of them have to be contemplated.

And in your experience, that does not happen?
Generally, people make educated guesses. But what’s really important is that you start asking, What is happening here? Am I getting too much drop-off at a certain stage? Am I seeing a bottleneck at any particular point? Do certain events speed things up or slow things down? Capturing these things in real time is the difference between companies that have high growth, stumble, and then die and companies that have high growth, maintain it, and continue to grow exponentially.

You talk about capturing and responding to this data in real time. How do you do that?
There’s a wide variety of CRM and automated tools available. But even without technology, you need to make sure that you’re recording the activity aligned with each of those four stages. So if you believe that the best way to get the attention of a customer is through a database and outbound calling, you have to capture your team’s efforts. It could be as simple as tracking every call in a spreadsheet. But you need to generate numbers that allow you to calculate your conversion rate. Because there are two ways to take advantage of a sales process: You can increase the volume of activity in each of these four stages; or you improve the efficiency of each of these stages.

In other words, how many interests does it take to get someone to actually desire your product? Imagine you’re selling high-level enterprise software that has a starting price in the millions of dollars and takes 18 months to sell. Imagine the power if you can start to shrink the time between interest and desire by 10 percent. The same holds for products or services with much shorter sales cycles.

A-I-D-A makes sense, but it strikes me as being as old as selling itself. You can imagine the same calculus going on in the mind of a rug merchant in the Grand Bazaar in Constantinople. But here we are now in 2012, in a very tricky marketplace.
You have to be more surgical than ever. There is a tremendous amount of consumer fatigue. People are subjected to a tremendous number of attempts, being made by all kinds of organizations, to get their attention. At the same time, the buyer has a variety of ways to self-educate and even self-buy. In the old days, the sales organization owned the whole process. Now, a customer can make decisions and purchases with no company involvement at all. The salesperson’s ability to touch the customer has changed. So you have to be much more creative.

Does this require a different kind of salesperson than we’ve become accustomed to?
I think it may. When I was coming up in sales, the classic great rep was that kind of C student who had three jobs to put himself through school, who wasn’t book smart but was street smart. But I’m seeing a lot of companies doing things differently, moving the profile to someone with extraordinary intelligence. In the current environment, the best reps may be those who are curious, can expand a meeting to talk about things that they may not have been prepared to talk about, who can learn from customers and can get deeply engaged. And those people probably are not the old-style reps.

How do you get someone who is reluctant to sell to embrace sales?
I often coach people to think less in terms of selling than learning. Once you approach your prospects and customers from the point of view of “what can I learn from you,” you will feel anxiety start to melt away. No one wants to talk about what a salesperson thinks will work. But prospects do want to talk about what they think will work. Salespeople need to indulge that.

I wonder if the negative impressions many of us have about salespeople stem from the way they are compensated. If the bulk of your pay comes from commissions, doesn’t that add a kind of intensity or even desperation to the process?
Ultimately, sales commissions are designed to inspire what most people have difficulty doing—closing. Who would subject him- or herself to hundreds of no’s a week, many of them in a rude fashion, if he or she didn’t also have the promise of great earnings? Now, there are different ways to structure compensation. Some organizations are beginning to tie compensation not only to the sale but to the life cycle of the customer—which mitigates the impulse to get bad deals just to get a deal done and collect the commission.

Speaking of deals, many companies seem obsessed with the big deal: identifying it, chasing it, closing it. And then moving on to the next big deal. Is that a problem?
It’s sexy—you’re the big whale hunter. We all want to know if you closed Ford, if you closed Hilton. It’s a big brand, and there’s also the hope that it can have a domino effect and lead to more sales. So organizations put a high value on these whales. But I often advise companies not to make a big investment in the whale hunting. The most profitable space for many organizations is the next tier down—the large midmarket account space. A $1 million deal looks better than a $100,000 deal. But if the $100,000 deal can be closed with four steps and the $1 million deal takes 30, which is the better path to success?

So I often advise people to go after the big whales but do it judiciously. If you’ve determined that in your market there are 100 big whales and 10,000 midmarket opportunities, you should spend your resources in the same ratio.

Inc.com

Larry Kanter

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You Just Lost a Big Client, Now What?


Learn from four big mistakes. Then get up, dust off, and jump back in the game.

We just lost a big and important customer. We don’t lose customers very often, and if we do, in most cases, I can rationalize why the client made the wrong decision to leave us. In this case, I had no excuses—the client made the right decision, and it hurt.

For the last 18 months, we at the Beryl Companies have been working on a completely new technology platform that will impact all aspects of our current and future business. It is very exciting and will further solidify our leadership role in the health care services industry. Unfortunately, our clients don’t really care what happens two years from now. They have current needs that must be met, and if not, they’ll bolt.

Here are the mistakes and hard lessons we learned this time:

1. We chose not to invest in short-term solutions.

We had a few products that, while not big revenue generators for the company, were not performing well. Our clients were frustrated to the point that it was starting to impact the larger revenue business we had with them. Rather than make short-term investments that might have solved their current needs, we chose to invest the time and money in the longer-term solution. Big mistake. Long-term projects always take longer and cost more than expected, and can’t come at the expense of current offerings.

2. We didn’t deliver on the promises we made.

Clients are generally very patient and reasonable. But when you make a promise and don’t deliver, you lose trust, and credibility. It is unacceptable to let a deadline pass without proactive communication. If you make a promise, deliver on it. If you can’t, communicate in advance, and you’ll likely find a client very willing to negotiate a new date.

3. We were arrogant enough to believe we were untouchable.

By most accounts, we are the best in our industry and have a stellar reputation. We have a client retention rate in the high 90s. Even still, if we let our guard down and lose trust, our clients will leave us. There is a big difference between loyalty and satisfaction. Loyal customers will forgive mistakes and stay with you—they won’t shop. Satisfied clients are open to alternatives, and when things go south and another option presents itself, the risk of a change is lower than the risk of staying with you. Always look to build trust and loyalty.

4. We didn’t listen.

In general, silence is not golden. A quiet client is an unengaged client and should raise a red flag. What’s worse is a client who is engaged, tells you exactly where you stand, and then you still don’t deliver. That’s what happened with us. We should always listen, and always respond to our clients.

What are the positives that came out of this situation? First, we were fortunate that this client doesn’t represent a large chunk of our revenue (less than 1%). We learned that lesson years ago when the loss of a big client took us two years to recover from.

Second, this situation gave our team and me a needed kick in the pants. We’re learning from our mistakes, reprioritizing which projects we need to fix immediately, and putting in place stronger triggers so we know when a client is “at risk”. In the end, I know we’ll be better for it.

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By Paul Spiegelman | Inc

Virtues of the Quiet Entrepreneur


You don’t have to be loud to be a great leader.

Think back to your elementary school report cards. Does this sound familiar? “Linda needs to work on deciding when it is appropriate to speak.” “Malcolm needs to contribute more in class.”

In our culture, expressiveness plays a big role, and people are generally rewarded more for being chatterboxes than silent observers. Being a confident talker and a persuasive speaker can get you attention in meetings, get you the sale, and even get you elected. No one gets kudos for sitting quietly, or saying, “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.” Shy people may end up feeling overlooked, like mumbling Milton with his red stapler in the movie “Office Space;” his desk is moved further and further away until he is in the basement.

So the last time I was picking up reading materials in the airport, I was surprised and pleased to find both a new bestseller called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, plus an issue of Time magazine with the headline “The Upside of Being an Introvert (And Why Extroverts Are Overrated),” by Bryan Smith. Suddenly, reserved people are having a moment in the sun! In her book, Cain battles the “omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.” In his article, Smith says, “It may be time for America to learn the forgotten rewards of sitting down and shutting up.”

The louder people of the world tend to treat the quieter people of the world as if there is something wrong with them that they must surely want to fix. In my experience, however, quiet people are quite content to be as they are. When Judith Warner reviewed Quiet in The New York Times, she said: “My neighbor…once told me I was the most introverted person he’d ever met. I took this as a compliment. Who wouldn’t?”

I can tell you who…corporate America and many organizations. I’ve been working in business for more than 30 years and in many ways there’s still a gap between the value of expression and how it’s perceived, just like in those elementary school report cards.

Our culture has over-simplified what it means to be quiet with what it means to be social (or non-social). So far I have put many different words into play in this article, including “quiet,” “shy,” “introverted,” “gregarious,” “bold,” and “extroverted.” It was deliberate—these terms are related, but they are not interchangeable, and they are not opposites.

A typical introvert is often expected to be reserved, solitary, and focused inward—but are there not introverts who are also entertainers? A typical extrovert is supposed to be people-loving, outgoing, and talkative—but can’t a people-lover also be reserved? Some quiet people have very strong feelings, but they don’t wear them on their sleeves. Those who enjoy solitude may in fact also be quite social. You don’t have to be loud to be a good friend.

“Introvert” and “extrovert” lumps two different brain functions—thinking and behavior—into tidy, corporate-ready packages. Either boldness and people-power (“extroversion”) or data-driven, quiet focus (“introversion”).

People are far more complex than that, though, and really these characteristics are like apples and oranges. Your social thinking is an apple; it’s your level of interest in being empathic, compassionate, caring, and supportive. Your expressiveness is an orange. It’s a behavioral attribute anyone might notice about you, and is the amount of energy you bring to explaining to the outside world what is going on inside your head.

This thinking and behavioral mix means a lot for you as a leader as well as your business. I think about a CEO I worked with whom I heard give a rousing speech to his employees. He did a fabulous job and seemed like an energetic, fascinating man. When he left the stage and sat next to me, I was thrilled. I love a good conversation, and I was sure we would have lots to talk about. It wasn’t the case. He barely even spoke to me. Obviously he could be highly expressive, but—without a strong degree of social thinking in his makeup (which I’m aware of because I read his Emergenetics psychometric thinking and behavioral workplace profile)—he wasn’t innately attuned to personal connection.

This CEO had worked his way to the top by using attributes including his behavioral expressiveness (prototypical “extroversion”) and conceptual thinking, but not necessarily an empathic connection to others (social thinking).

It’s often harder to realize how to be a quiet leader, so here’s a few tips for you (and your employees), especially if any of the descriptors above sound like you:

  • Be aware that other people are not mind-readers
  • Remember to speak up
  • Maximize your influence in writing
  • If you need time to reflect, ask for it
  • Schedule your socializing for the mornings when you      are fresh, and leave solitary tasks for the afternoon
  • Try business breakfasts instead of business lunches
  • Even though it will tire you out, dial up your      expressiveness for phone calls, meetings, or teleconferencing

People will appreciate that your solutions are always thought out well. Your calm demeanor and ability to listen will serve you well if you can harness it. You don’t have to change who you are in order to be a successful entrepreneur…no matter what your report cards used to say.

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Your Brain at Work | Geil Browning

The Best Way to Silence Your Critics: Offer Them a Job


In life as in business the best way to silence a critic is to involve them. Sometimes they surprise you, but usually, they realize they don’t have a better way at all.

There is an old joke about railroad worker that gets stuck cooking because he complained about the food. Realizing he hated the job he set out to get someone else to complain about the cooking. So he made a pie out of moose turds. A giant of a miner came in and sat down and took a big bite! Can you guess what happened?

When my kids were young I coached T-Ball and Coach Pitch Baseball. Those with this experience will tell you the kids are seldom a problem. One day during a critical game one of the parents, a consistent magpie and critic, was in rare form. He criticized the coaches and the kids as he sat on the sidelines. Growing frustrated, I decided I had reached my limit. I walked to the third base coach and told him he looked ill and should sit out. He assured me he was fine and I assured him he was not. He got the message and sat down. I went straight to the critic and told him to coach third base. I did not wait for a response as I turned and walked away. As I got to the pitcher’s mound I turned and saw him approaching his new post.

We played the remainder of the game and not once did he utter a single word to anyone, not even the players who made it to third base. At the end of the game I politely noted that he had not coached the players and to let me know if he wanted to work with one of the real coaches in the future. He attended every game after that and never made a sound.

In life as in business the best way to silence a critic is to involve them. Sometimes they will jump in and surprise you, and you may have to eat a little crow and say, “Thank you.” Usually, they learn enough about what’s going on to realize they don’t have a better way at all. But everyone benefits from the experience and it can bring a team together by removing the barrier of unfounded criticism.

So how did the giant of a miner react to the pie? He jumped up and knocked over his stool and screamed, “THAT’S MOOSE TURD PIE! It’s good though!!!”

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THE TURNAROUND SPECIALIST | Glen Blickenstaff

Inc. Magazine

Stop Markeing Your Company and Focus on PR?


Magazines © by Hector Alejandro (2009)

Whether in architecture, dry cleaning, plumbing or legal services, it is critical business owners understand the importance of marketing their brands. Marketing, after all, is a central mechanism for business growth.

Too often entrepreneurs get lost in the decision of which marketing channels to choose. Direct mail may be effective for local businesses, while national television ads tend to suit large corporations well. Most recently, online marketing tools like websites and social media have taken center stage.

Entrepreneurs with limited budgets must choose which marketing mix best suits their particular businesses. If implemented well, any marketing channel can be effective. Unfortunately, high costs are usually associated with strong campaigns.

The most powerful and cost effective marketing tool is publicity. Publicity, the art of attracting media attention, directly increases a brand’s target market visibility, which directly boosts sales.

While advertising is paid for, publicity is prayed for. This is easy to understand. As an entrepreneur, would you rather pay $100,000 for a Forbes back cover ad or be featured on the front cover editorially at no charge? Would you rather purchase a $40,000 commercial ad during the Daily Show or be an invited guest on the show?

Unlike the paid science of dollar-per-inch advertising, publicity is an art of skillfully presenting and persuading journalists to cover stories. Ad space is sold, while editorial space is earned. Getting featured depends solely on newsworthiness and compel, not payment.

The publicity appeal is clear for young entrepreneurs, whose greatest asset is often business savvy and greatest hindrance is usually cash availability. Since advertising requires tremendous monetary investment and publicity requires only time investment (and sometimes minor costs), the latter is clearly preferable.

Passionate entrepreneurs who lack cash can successfully market their ventures with publicity. And those who do so will find additional benefits that no advertising campaign can deliver:

  1. Credibility. A      cover story in TIME magazine or interview an on CNN brings      tremendous credibility to you and your brand. Being featured in the media      establishes prestige and an implied sense of endorsement from the network      that covers your story.
  2. No tune-outs.      With the advent of online and social media, consumers have learned to tune      out ads and focus on content. People are more likely to remember an article      on your firm than an advertisement. Marketing campaigns that focus on      content (publicity) attract viewers, while those centered on ads      experience high tune-out rates.
  3. Ability to use as marketing collateral. Once featured in a media outlet, you can incorporate      the coverage into your marketing package. Whether reprinting a magazine      article to include in your marketing presentation or embedding a      television interview on your website, showcasing your coverage in the      media can be a great marketing tool for impressing potential clients,      investors and other stakeholders.
  4. Tremendous cost savings. Being featured in the media is free. While there may      be minor costs associated with a successful publicity campaign, the      overwhelming required input is time.

Zach Cutler is a dynamic entrepreneur and communications expert that founded Cutler Group in 2009. He has expertise in helping high-tech companies achieve major media attention. He is also a member of The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization
comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.