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Some thoughts on growing a business

If your business does something that brings an influx of new clients then that’s great, but it doesn’t mean your work is done. You need to keep that momentum going by figuring out what consumers want next.

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If a business stands still for too long then it ends up in a rut. Perhaps you’ve already achieved some level of success in your company, whether it’s a small business or a large organization. However, success can only be maintained if a company is willing to “change with the times”. Nothing remains the same in the world of business. The entire concept of selling commercialized goods to a consumer market is based on the idea of growth. People want newer and better versions of the things they already own if they’re going to part with their money. That’s why the businesses which remain on top have mastered the art of reinventing themselves over and over again. They might be selling identical or near-identical products to the things they were selling ten years ago, but the important thing is that they repackaged their service. They evolved.

You need to grow, in other words. If your business does something that brings an influx of new clients then that’s great, but it doesn’t mean your work is done. You need to keep that momentum going by figuring out what consumers want next. Your goal is to find a gap in the market and then find the next one. Once you’ve found a profitable solution to a consumer problem, every other company in your industry is going to copy what you did so that they can emulate your success. You might have some loyal clients who become accustomed to your goods and services, but your customers in the wider target market might simply choose whichever business is offering the cheapest or newest deal in your industry. That’s why you’ve got to stay on top of your game. Continuous growth is the key. And if you want to make that an integral part of your business then here are some thoughts on expanding your company.

Start investing to improve your business.

Your business can’t grow until you put something back into it. Maybe you started your company from the comfort of your home, or maybe you got a few friends together because you had a great idea. Whatever the case, your humble beginnings may have served you well in the early days, but there’s only so far you can get with limited resources and limited people. At some point, you’re going to need more employees, a bigger office, and other improvements that all cost money if you want your company to grow. You want to deliver a more extensive service to a wider client base, but that’s going to require some investment on your part.

However, if your company is still small and its profits can’t quite stretch to cover the necessary improvements you had in mind then perhaps you could look into alternative means of financing your next big business venture. You might even want to look into the property market to open up a new source of income that would fund the necessary business investments you had planned. You might want to check out this new launch property as a good place to start when trying to turn over a healthy profit outside your business. Property is a smart way to invest your excess funds. The point is that you need to find some way of funding business improvements. Investments are a necessary risk if your company is going to grow.

Become a more productive company.

One of the best ways to grow as a company is to increase your levels of productivity. And you can do that by putting the focus on your employees. Motivated people work harder, so you need to keep your workforce happy. You could give them incentives such as a bonus or a free lunch for working hard. You could even spruce up the office so as to create a more pleasant working environment. Above all else, you need to remember that your employees are people and they want to work for people. You create a much more loyal workforce when you demonstrate that you care about your workers as more than statistics or machines that keep your business running. You need to humanize yourself as the boss. That doesn’t mean you need to be friends with everybody in the office, as a professional relationship is still important if you want to ensure that you’re respected in the office. However, respect is a two-way street; you need to recognize the value of your workers. Your members of staff will be far more productive if they feel that they’re valued as individuals in a personal and a professional sense. The more productive they are, the great your company’s growth.

Of course, happy workers might still struggle to be as productive as possible if you don’t optimize the way in which they work. If you’re overloading your members of staff with too many different tasks to complete then you’re not putting their work hours to good use. You might want to make things easier for your employees by automating certain processes in the workplace. Repetitive tasks only waste precious hours of the day, but such tasks are also irritating for your members of staff. You can both make lives easier for members of your workforce and create a more productive work environment by automating certain administrative tasks that take up time during the day. If you let technology take control of generating invoices and other tasks then your workers will have more time to devote to the more technical aspects of their job roles. Your company will be more productive, and your employees will be happier.

Get ambitious with your marketing techniques.

You need to get ambitious with your marketing style if you want your business to grow. Use the internet to help you out; if you advertise a good enough deal then people will spread the word online for you. You could offer coupons and discounts to people who refer your business to your friends. You could also target new markets by offering incentives and deals to certain demographics. Perhaps you could offer 20% off your products to students in order to reel in a younger audience, for example. It all depends on the nature of your business, of course. The point is that incentivizing consumers with deals is a great way to spread the word about your business. If you use social media properly then people should share your posts and spread the word for you. And if they get discounts for doing so then they definitely will.

Connect with existing and potential customers.

We briefly discussed this in the point above. Impressing customers can be a marketing technique to spread the word about your business and increase your client base, but it can also be a way of making a direct connection with the target audience. This will help your business to grow because it’ll improve the reputation of your brand name. Excellent customer service is a good way to start with this, of course, but you can go deeper than that. You could send handwritten letters to clients as a way of thanking them; this requires more time and effort than an automated response. It’ll show your customers that you really value them.

You could even give away something valuable on your business’ website in order to entice people to try out your business before they spend any money. Again, it’s all about making a connection with the customer. The best way to do that is to give them something that you can afford to give away for free but which is very valuable to them. This will make them feel as if your business really cares about rewarding its clients. Plus, they’ll return to your business to buy more goods and services if they liked the initial freebie. If you make a real connection with your clients then your business will naturally start to grow.

Health & Wellness

Heavy drinking into older age adds 4 cm to waistline

More than half of drinkers aged 59 and over have been heavy drinkers and this is linked to a significantly larger waistline and increased stroke risk, according to a new UCL study.

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More than half of drinkers aged 59 and over have been heavy drinkers and this is linked to a significantly larger waistline and increased stroke risk, according to a new UCL study.

The study, published in the journal Addiction, examined the association between heavy drinking over a lifetime and a range of health indicators including cardiovascular disease.

The researchers used data from the Whitehall II cohort, which collected information from UK civil servants, aged 34-56 years at study outset, since 1985-88. The final sample for this study was made up of 4,820 older adults, aged between 59 and 83 years. The mean (average) age was 69, and 75% were male.

It found that heavy alcohol consumption over a lifetime is associated with higher blood pressure, poorer liver function, increased stroke risk, larger waist circumferences and body mass index (BMI) in later life, even if you stop drinking heavily before age 50. However, stopping heavy drinking at any point in life is likely to be beneficial for overall health.

Dr Linda Ng Fat (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care), first author on the study, said: “Alcohol misuse, despite the common perception of young people binge drinking, is common among older adults, with alcohol related hospital admissions in England being the highest among adults aged over 50.

“Previous studies have focused on single snapshots of consumption, which has the potential to mask the cumulative effects of drinking. This study raises awareness of the effect of alcohol consumption over the life-course.”

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A heavy drinker was identified using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test for Consumption (AUDIT-C), a standard screening tool for GPs. The screening tool consists of just three questions, and assesses how often you drink, how much you drink, and how often you binge (have six or more drinks). To provide an example a person who has three or four drinks, four or more times a week, would score positive as a hazardous drinker on the AUDIT-C.

Participants were asked on a single occasion to complete the AUDIT-C retrospectively for each decade of their life, from 16-19 to 80 and over. This information was used to categorise their life-time drinking pattern: never hazardous drinker, former early hazardous drinker (stopped before age 50), former later hazardous drinker (stopped at age 50 or after), current hazardous drinker, and consistent hazardous drinker (during every decade of their life).

More than half of drinkers (56%) had been hazardous drinkers at some point in their life, with 21% being current hazardous drinkers and 5% being consistent hazardous drinkers.

Current and consistent heavy drinkers were mainly male (80% and 82%, respectively), predominately white, and likely to be in senior level jobs (61% compared with 52% in the total sample).

Former later, current and consistent hazardous drinkers had significantly higher systolic blood pressure and poorer liver function, than never hazardous drinkers, after adjusting for lifestyle factors. Among current hazardous drinkers, systolic blood pressure was 2.44 mmHG higher and gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), a marker of liver disease, was elevated by 22.64 IU/l, compared with never hazardous drinkers.

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Current hazardous drinkers had three times greater risk of stroke and former later hazardous drinkers had approximately two times higher risk of non-cardiovascular disease mortality compared with never hazardous drinkers.

Lifetime hazardous drinkers had significantly larger waist circumferences and BMI than never hazardous drinkers, with the magnitude increasing with more current and consistent hazardous drinking.

Former early hazardous drinkers on average had a 1.17 cm larger waist than never hazardous drinkers, whereas former later hazardous drinkers, current hazardous drinkers and consistent hazardous drinkers had a waist circumference that was 1.88 cm, 2.44 cm and 3.85cm larger respectively.

Dr Ng Fat added: “This suggests that the longer adults engage in heavy drinking the larger their waistline in older age. That is why it is beneficial, along with other health benefits, that adults reduce heavy drinking earlier rather than later.”

Professor Annie Britton (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care), senior author on the study, said: “Despite high prevalence of stroke and liver disease steadily increasing… heavy drinking remains common among older adults.” And so “early intervention and screening for alcohol consumption, as part of regular check-ups, could help reduce hazardous drinking among this demographic.”

The research was carried out with University of Cambridge. It was funded by the UK Medical Research Council/Alcohol Research UK and European Research Council.

It is worth noting that alcoholism is an issue for many members of the LGBTQIA community. In 2017, for instance, a study found that bisexual people have higher odds of engaging in alcohol use behaviors when compared with people from the sexual majority. This is according to a study that – also worth highlighting – similarly found that bullying mediated sexual minority status and alcohol use more particularly among bisexual females.

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Travel

A third of Poland declared ‘LGBT-free zone’

Local municipalities in Poland adopted resolutions that are specifically “against LGBT propaganda” or are “pro-family”, thereby creating hostile spaces for non-heterosexual people or those who are not deemed to be for the so-called “natural family”.

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Hate thrives in parts of Poland, apparently.

Local municipalities in Poland adopted resolutions that are specifically “against LGBT propaganda” or are “pro-family”, thereby creating hostile spaces for non-heterosexual people or those who are not deemed to be for the so-called “natural family”.

According to an “Atlas of Hate” map, a Polish area greater than the size of Hungary has effectively become an “LGBT-free zone” in the heart of Central Europe. Almost 100 municipalities adopted the resolutions (with municipalities starting to pass the first revolutions in March 2019), including five voivodships (the largest administrative unit in Poland) in the southeast of the country, and dozens of counties and other smaller units.

The resolutions are actually non-binding; but these still highlight how a handful of Polish politicians are denouncing of “LGBT ideology” as a “foreign import” that is supposedly threatening the Polish nation and its antiquated Christian values.

One of the resolutions, passed in April 2019 by the local council in Ryki, a town 100 kilometres southeast of Warsaw, states: “In relation to the aggressive homosexual propaganda, promoted and conducted as part of the ideological war by leftist-liberal political circles and ‘LGBT’ groups, which are threatening our fundamental norms and the values of our social and national life, our council adopts the declaration ‘Powiat Rycki free of gender ideology and LGBT.’”

This resolution also states that its purpose is to “defend children, youth, families and Polish schools from sexual depravity and indoctrination, which lead to many pathologies already existing in Western countries, such as accepting pornography, abortion, sexual criminality, the crisis of the family and many others”.

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It similarly decries the “promotion of homosexuality” and sexual education in schools, the “early sexualisation of children” promoted by the World Health Organization, the “pressure exercised by homopropaganda” and the “imposition by LGBT activists of… programmes and an ideology leading to the depravation of children”.

Human rights campaigners – including the European Parliament – have condemned the resolutions, saying they are discriminatory and undermine LGBTQIA rights.

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Health & Wellness

Study finds more mental heath visits decreases risk of suicide among youths

Youths with psychiatric disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, and substance use should be routinely assessed for suicide risk and receive high-intensity, evidence-based treatments for suicidality, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

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A multistate study of Medicaid enrollees led by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that suicide risk was highest among youth with epilepsy, depression, schizophrenia, substance use and bipolar disorder. In addition, the odds of suicide decreased among those who had more mental health visits within the 30 days before the date of suicide.

Researchers compared the clinical profiles and mental health service patterns of children and adolescents who had died by suicide to see how they differed from the general population. The findings published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

“To the best of our knowledge, no studies have examined the clinical profiles and health and mental health service utilization patterns prior to suicide for children and adolescents within the Medicaid population,” said lead researcher Cynthia Fontanella, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. “Understanding how health care utilization patterns of suicidal decedents differ from the general population is critical to target suicide prevention efforts.”

This population-based case-control study merged mortality data with US Medicaid data from 16 states spanning all regions of the country and accounting for 65% of the total child Medicaid population.

The study looked at 910 youth aged 10-18 years who died by suicide between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2013 compared to a control group of 6,346 youth that was matched based on gender, race, ethnicity, Medicaid eligibility category, state and age.

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For both groups, researchers examined health and behavioral health visits in the six-month period prior to date of suicide. Associations between visits, clinical characteristics and suicide were examined.

Clinical characteristics included psychiatric diagnoses (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia/psychosis, substance use and other mental health disorders) and chronic medical conditions (diabetes, seizure disorders, cerebral palsy, asthma or cancer.)

“Our study found that 41% of youth who died by suicide had at least one mental health diagnosis in the six months prior to death, a finding similar to those of previous studies on adults,” Fontanella said. “Our findings suggest that youths with psychiatric disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, and substance use should be routinely assessed for suicide risk and receive high-intensity, evidence-based treatments for suicidality, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.”

In the US, the suicide rate among people aged 10-24 years has increased by 50% since 1999. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in this age group, accounting for nearly 6,800 deaths in 2017.

“Suicide among young people is a major public health problem. Based on our findings, we believe that implementing suicide screening protocols for youth enrolled in Medicaid – targeted on the basis of frequency of visits and psychiatric diagnoses – has the potential to decrease suicide rates,” Fontanella said.

Members of the LGBTQIA community encounter more issues related to mental health.

In November 2019, for instance, a study noted that sexual minorities were around five times more likely to experience high depressive symptoms (54% vs 15%) and self-harm (54% vs 14%). They also had lower life satisfaction (34% vs 10%), lower self-esteem and were more likely to experience all forms of bullying (i.e. peer bullying 27% vs 10%) and victimization (i.e. sexual assault/harassment 11% vs 3%) .

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In September 2017, another study suggested that experiencing anti-bisexual prejudice, internalized heterosexism, and identity concealment appears to be related to feelings of loneliness and ultimately psychological distress and suicidality among bi individuals.

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Technology

In politics and pandemics, trolls use fear, anger to drive clicks

“As consumers continue to see ads that contain false claims and are intentionally designed to use their emotions to manipulate them, it’s important for them to have cool heads and understand the motives behind them.”

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Facebook users flipping through their feeds in the fall of 2016 faced a minefield of targeted advertisements pitting blacks against police, southern whites against immigrants, gun owners against Obama supporters and the LGBTQ community against the conservative right.

Photo by @uck from Unsplash.com

Placed by distant Russian trolls, they didn’t aim to prop up one candidate or cause, but to turn Americans against one another.

The ads were cheaply made and full of threatening, vulgar language.

And, according to a sweeping new analysis of more than 2,500 of the ads, they were remarkably effective, eliciting clickthrough rates as much as nine times higher than what is typical in digital advertising.

“We found that fear and anger appeals work really well in getting people to engage,” said lead author Chris Vargo, an assistant professor of Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design at University of Colorado Boulder.

The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, is the first to take a comprehensive look at ads placed by the infamous Russian propaganda machine known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and ask: How effective were they? And what makes people click on them?

While focused on ads running in 2016, the study’s findings resonate in the age of COVID-19 and the run-up to the 2020 election, the authors say.

“As consumers continue to see ads that contain false claims and are intentionally designed to use their emotions to manipulate them, it’s important for them to have cool heads and understand the motives behind them,” said Vargo.

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For the study, Vargo and assistant professor of advertising Toby Hopp scoured 2,517 Facebook and Instagram ads downloaded from the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence website. The committee made the ads publicly available in 2018 after concluding that the IRA had been creating fake U.S. personas, setting up fake social media pages, and using targeted paid advertising to “sow discord” among U.S. residents.

Using computational tools and manual coding, Vargo and Hopp analyzed every ad, looking for the inflammatory, obscene or threatening words and language hostile to a particular group’s ethnic, religious or sexual identity. They also looked at which groups each ad targeted, how many clicks the ad got, and how much the IRA paid.

Collectively, the IRA spent about $75,000 to generate about 40.5 million impressions with about 3.7 million users clicking on them – a clickthrough rate of 9.2%.

That compares to between .9% and 1.8% for a typical digital ad.

While ads using blatantly racist language didn’t do well, those using cuss words and inflammatory words (like “sissy,” “idiot,” “psychopath” and “terrorist”) or posing a potential threat did. Ads that evoked fear and anger did the best.

One IRA advertisement targeting users with an interest in the Black Lives Matter movement stated: “They killed an unarmed guy again! We MUST make the cops stop thinking that they are above the law!” Another shouted: “White supremacists are planning to raise the racist flag again!” Meanwhile, ads targeting people who sympathized with white conservative groups read “Take care of our vets; not illegals” or joked “If you voted for Obama: We don’t want your business because you are too stupid to own a firearm.”

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Only 110 out of 2,000 mentioned Donald Trump.

“This wasn’t about electing one candidate or another,” said Vargo. “It was essentially a make-Americans-hate-each-other campaign.”

The ads were often unsophisticated, with spelling or grammatical errors and poorly photoshopped images. Yet at only a few cents to distribute, the IRA got an impressive rate of return.

“I was shocked at how effective these appeals were,” said Vargo.

The authors warn that they have no doubt such troll farms are still at it.

According to some news reports, Russian trolls are already engaged in disinformation campaigns around COVID-19.

“I think with any major story, you are going to see this kind of disinformation circulated,” said Hopp. “There are bad actors out there who have goals that are counter to the aspirational goals of American democracy, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to take advantage of the current structure of social media.”

Ultimately, the authors believe better monitoring, via both machine algorithms and human reviewers, could help stem the tide of disinformation.

“We as a society need to start seriously talking about what role the platforms and government should play in times like the 2020 election or during COVID-19 when we have a compelling need for high-quality, accurate information to be distributed,” said Hopp.

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Health & Wellness

COVID-19 linked to cardiac injury, worse outcomes for patients with heart conditions

COVID-19 can have fatal consequences for people with underlying cardiovascular disease and cause cardiac injury even in patients without underlying heart conditions.

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COVID-19 can have fatal consequences for people with underlying cardiovascular disease and cause cardiac injury even in patients without underlying heart conditions, according to a review published today in JAMA Cardiology by experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

Experts have known that viral illnesses such as COVID-19 can cause respiratory infections that may lead to lung damage and even death in severe cases. Less is known about the effects on the cardiovascular system.

“It is likely that even in the absence of previous heart disease, the heart muscle can be affected by coronavirus disease,” said Mohammad Madjid, MD, MS, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of cardiology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Overall, injury to heart muscle can happen in any patient with or without heart disease, but the risk is higher in those who already have heart disease.”

The study authors explained that research from previous coronavirus and influenza epidemics suggest that viral infections can cause acute coronary syndromes, arrhythmias, and the development of, or exacerbation of, heart failure.

In a clinical bulletin issued by the American College of Cardiology, it was revealed that the case fatality rate of COVID-19 for patients with cardiovascular disease was 10.5%. Data also points to a greater likelihood that individuals over the age of 65 with coronary heart disease or hypertension can contract the illness, as well experience more severe symptoms that will require critical care.

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According to the study authors, critical cases are those that reported respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction or failure that resulted in death. “It is reasonable to expect that significant cardiovascular complications linked to COVID-19 will occur in severe symptomatic patients because of the high inflammatory response associated with this illness,” said Madjid, who also sees patients at the UT Physicians Multispecialty – Bayshore clinic.

The novel virus that causes COVID-19 was first identified in January 2020. This novel virus originated in Wuhan, China, and by March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization had declared it a global pandemic. The three most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Other less common symptoms are muscle pain, sore throat, nasal congestion, and headache. Symptoms can appear as soon as two days after exposure to the virus to up to14 days after. There is a high viral load in both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients, meaning asymptomatic spread between person to person is likely.

Previously identified coronaviruses known to cause severe illness in humans include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). SARS-CoV was first identified in southern China in 2002, and by 2003 it had killed over 8,000 individuals in 29 countries. Data suggests that SARS-CoV may have resulted in cardiovascular complications, such as acute coronary syndrome and myocardial infarction. MERS-CoV was first discovered in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. As of 2019, 2,494 cases have been confirmed along with 858 deaths in 26 countries.

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Current COVID-19 treatment options are being researched, and there is a large effort to develop vaccines for prevention and to test antivirals for the treatment of the disease. In the meantime, the study authors encourage all individuals to consult with their health care providers about being vaccinated against influenza and that at-risk patients seek advice on receiving a pneumonia vaccine from their primary care physician. While these vaccines will not provide specific protection against COVID-19, they can help prevent superimposed infections alongside COVID-19.

Study co-authors include Payam Safavi-Naeini, MD, of the Texas Heart Institute; Scott Solomon, MD, of Harvard Medical School; and Orly Vardeny, PharmD, of the University of Minnesota.

It is worth noting that cardiovascular issues greatly affect members of the LGBTQIA community.

A 2018 study in the US, for instance, noted that lesbian, gay and bisexual adults have a “disproportionately high risk” of heart disease and other cardiac problems when compared to heterosexuals.

Another 2018 study noted that trauma, including abuse and neglect, is associated with higher cardiovascular disease risk for lesbian and bi women.


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Travel

Colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex retained in Singapore

Gay sex is illegal in Singapore. The ban carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts.

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Gay sex is illegal in Singapore.

That’s the gist in the decision made by Singapore’s High Court, which ruled that its colonial-era law criminalizing sex between men is constitutional and would be retained, overturning a bid by gay rights activists to scrap it.

Singapore is one of former British colonies still clinging to Section 377A of the Penal Code (the “anti-buggery law”), which came into force in 1938 after being adapted from a 19th-century Indian penal code. Though rarely enforced, that the law exists at all is an affront to equal treatment sought by the LGBTQIA people particularly of Singapore.

In Singapore, the ban carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail for homosexual acts.

The latest attempt to overturn the law was spearheaded by three gay activists who lodged court challenges seeking to prove that the law is unconstitutional. But the High Court dismissed all three after hearing them together behind closed doors. The High Court ruled that the law does not violate articles of Singapore’s constitution regarding equality and freedom of speech.

The High Court similarly stated that just because the legislation was not enforced, it did not “render it redundant,” stating: “Legislation remains important in reflecting public sentiment and beliefs.”

Speaking outside the High Court, M. Ravi, a lawyer for one of the complainants, said that the decision is “shocking to the conscience and it is so arbitrary. It is so discriminatory, this legislation.”

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This is not the first time that the law was challenged. In 2014, the first challenge to the law was also dismissed, highlighting that the city-state is still conservative.

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