Investing Wisdom From Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital

Investing Wisdom from Howard Marks of Oaktree CapitalMy regular listeners probably heard one of my earlier segments where I spoke about Howard Marks, the 67-year old billionaire who co-founded investment management firm Oaktree Capital which now manages about $84 billion in assets and is a publicly-traded company with ticker symbol OAK.Oaktree focuses its investments on high-yield bonds, distressed debt and private equity, and has delivered a whopping 23% average annual return over the past 25 years… so Marks has rightly earned his fame and fortune. To give you an idea of just how much a 23% rate of return is: If you invested $10,000 25 years ago, it would be worth $1,769,000 today.And, like Buffett, Marks too sends out folksy memos to Oaktree clients where he outlines his views on investing, the markets and the economy that are insightful, direct and sharply written. And today, I’m going to share a few insights from Marks’ latest memo – morphing his thoughts so they apply to individual financial planning. I’ve decided to break this up into a two-part series – with the first half of Marks’ memo today, and the rest to follow next week.Key Questions to Ask FirstSo in this latest memo, Marks first addresses philosophical questions on what to consider in setting up your investment portfolio. Once you have a clear idea on what your investment goals are, based on your retirement needs, Marks says you should discuss the following questions with your advisor:- Is it possible to build a retirement portfolio that can beat the market? If yes, then how, and to what extent can we beat the market?- What’s the best way to manage risk?- How do we define success, and what risks are we willing to take to achieve investment success?Then, as you build your portfolio, you’d want to balance it out between index investments (where you should not expect market-beating returns), individual stocks such as dividend payers, and perhaps some alternative investments to a smaller extent. If you’re closer to retirement, you might also want the safety of inflation-protected bonds. And for the safety of bonds, index investments and dividend stocks, you should be willing to accept “average” performance. But for the alternative investment portion of your portfolio, you should expect above-average or superior returns, as Marks calls it.Pick Funds that Dare to be DifferentFor your alternative investments where you’re seeking superior returns, look for funds that are backed by a strong track record, and where fund managers dare to be different. You see, if you pick a mutual fund that’s run by a manager who is essentially following or mimicking what others are doing, you’ll just end up paying high fees without getting any real bang for your buck.So for this alternative portion of your portfolio, look for managers that are courageous enough to be different and open to being wrong… managers who assemble a portfolio that is different from those held by most other funds. As Marks puts it, to be a top performer, the fund manager has to “escape the crowd” by being active in unusual market niches, buying things others haven’t found, don’t like or consider too risky to touch. A good alternative fund manager avoids what the market considers to be a darling, or all the rage, and engages in contrarian cycle timing, and concentrates heavily in a small number of things that he thinks will deliver exceptional performance… everything that personifies great investors such as Howard Marks and Warren Buffett.As Marks puts it “the cautious seldom err or write great poetry” in referring to fund managers that follow the herd.So look for fund managers who dare to be different, have a consistent history of market-beating performance and are transparent with their investors. That said, you also need to recalibrate your expectations with such alternative funds because their investments often could take longer to bear fruit… so only invest a small portion of your funds that you’re not planning on touching till you reach retirement… because if you picked the right alternative investment fund, those superior returns could compound very nicely over time.Now I know that it’s near impossible for most individual investors to really evaluate alternative investment funds, so this is where a good, qualified advisor can offer advice and help kick some of your returns into high gear.And as I mentioned above, Marks’ company – Oaktree Capital – is publicly traded with ticker symbol OAK, so you can buy shares to participate in Oaktree’s success; When you invest shares in OAK, you are not buying into Marks’ portfolio, but rather participating the company’s profit from its portion of the investment it takes for itself and the fees that are generated from his clients. Oaktree shares also offer a pretty compelling 7.7% dividend yield at current levels… but this is not a recommendation so please do your own research should you consider buying Oaktree.Most great investments begin in discomfort.Most people feel good about making investments where the underlying premise is widely accepted, where recent performance has been positive and where the outlook is rosy – but such investments are high in demand and are unlikely to be available at bargain prices.Bargains are usually found among things that are controversial, that people are pessimistic about, and that have been performing badly of late – investments that generate discomfort for most people. And this is where good alternative funds excel. For example, Oaktree Capital focuses on distressed debt – bonds issued by companies that are on the ropes in some way or another, bonds that are priced at pennies-to-the-dollar… bonds that comfort-seeking investors would not even think about. This discomfort is what causes distressed debt to be priced cheaper than it is really worth, and it’s one sector that has helped fuel Oaktree’s outsize returns. This area of investing is practically impossible for the typical investor to get into and one has to have superior skills in order to avoid being burned badly if things don’t work out.Marks also says; Dare to Be WrongMarks also reminds us that with courageous, discomfort-generating investments, you must also be prepared for failure as an inescapable potential consequence of trying to do really well. In other words, be prepared to lose money on this alternative portion of your portfolio… it’s not something anyone wants, but get into alternative investments with the understanding that non-mainstream investments could be harder to liquidate and have greater risk, and while your fingers are crossed for the upside, be aware that you could also lose money. That said, a good alternative investment fund should protect you significantly on the downside too.So look for alternative funds that invest judiciously, have more successes than failures, and make more on their successes than lose on their failures.Alas… No Magic FormulaMarks also cautions us that there is no easy formula to produce superior risk-adjusted returns – because if there were, everyone with a positive IQ would be rich.Or, as good ol’ Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s Partner bluntly puts it, “Investing is not supposed to be easy. Anyone who finds it easy is stupid” and does not understand investing’s complex and competitive nature. Hardly the words of someone who wants to be politically correct, but he makes a good point. Why should successful investing be so easy that the uneducated and lazy investor achieves superior rate of return? It just doesn’t happen that way.Superior investment results can only come from a better-than-average ability to figure out when risk-taking will lead to gain and when it will end in loss. And this is not easy task. So it’s good to look for fund managers that ideally have a strong background in economics, financial math, accounting and investment analysis.Okay, I’ll wrap up here for today, and continue with more on Howard Marks’ thoughts on investing next week.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

How Do I Get Visitors to My Site? (The Truth About SEO)

Think of your site as a physical location. How would you get people to come and see you? Direct mail, newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, word of mouth, flyers, business cards, T-shirts, packaging, FaceBook, Twitter, email campaigns, banner ads on websites – traditional advertising works for websites too.Then there are those methods you can only use for websites: click through advertising and search engine optimization (SEO). Click through advertising costs either by the ad, like traditional advertising, or by the click – each time someone clicks on your ad to get to your site, you pay. As with other advertising channels, the more people who are known to view the page where your ad resides, the more you pay. Ads can appear on various web sites, or at the top of search engine pages. The most popular pay per click app is Google AdWords. Click through advertising may be a good option for you.This article will focus on the other online only method: Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is all about getting your site to the top of the list when someone does a search in Google, Bing/Yahoo or another search engine.Watch out for Snake OilMany claim that search engine optimization (getting your site to the top of that list) is science or magic or some other sort of mystery that only a few very special people have the brains to understand. – NOT TRUE! Effective search engine optimization is a lot of work. And it does take some technical knowledge. But the basics are just that – basic.The purpose of this article is to demystify SEO so that you can select an honest SEO firm. Or if you have a bit of tech savvy you can see that it’s not impossible for you to do on your own. And even for those of you who love to browse, but aren’t so comfortable with the technical details, there is a lot of the SEO job that you are more qualified to do (or at least supervise) than any SEO firm.How much SEO do you need? Is your site for your school and everybody who will ever want to find it on Google already knows it exists and will look it up by typing in “Peoria Middle School”? Then you need just the tiniest bit of SEO.Is your site for your family car dealership and the tri-state area sees Uncle Joe on TV every spring hopping up and down in a bunny suit inviting “y’all” to “come on down to the Kalamazoo Kia Kangaroo Sale”? Yours is not the only car dealer in town and when people search for car dealers they will probably type in something like “Kalamazoo cars” rather than “Kalamazoo Kia”, although if they really like Uncle Joe’s bunny suit, well you never can tell. This situation calls for a little SEO.Is your business is entirely online? Say you sell remanufactured camera parts that you refurbish in your garage nights and weekends. Then pull out all the stops. You need lots of SEO.Put Yourself in Google’s ShoesLook at SEO from the perspective of the search engines. What’s their objective? The same as yours: lots of visitors. How do they attract all these visitors? They put the most useful sites at the top of the search results list. How do they decide which sites are most useful? They look for the most popular ones.That’s right. SEO is not rocket science. It’s a popularity contest.So then, how do you make your site more popular? First let’s define popularity in search terms – links from other sites to your site. Think high school. Popularity equals friends. So you want lots of friends, and not just any friends, you want popular friends. But well, when push comes to shove, not so popular friends are better than no friends at all. Translation – friends equals links and you want lots of links, but not just any links. You want links from sites that have lots of other sites linking to them. And those sites should have lots of sites linking to them and so on and so on and so on. A link from CNN.com is going to get you a lot more popularity points than a link from your local newspaper website. But then a hundred links from so-so sites might be better than one link from CNN. It’s hard to tell.And that’s where the mystery/science SEO legend takes hold. The search engines are not going to tell you exactly how they rank pages. If they gave away all their secrets the cheaters would fake everything necessary to get to the top of the list.There is a subculture of SEO gurus who spend their entire lives trying to unravel the precise algorithms the major search engines use to rank pages. And then they figure out how to use that information to their advantage. It’s a trial and error process. Eventually they get sites to rank high. Then the major search engines catch on and tweak things a bit so the SEO gurus have to start over again. It’s a never ending game of tug of war.Not all these gurus are bad guys. Most are honest business people working to get the edge on the competition. But how much careful tweaking does your site really need? And how much money do you want to spend? It’s one of those diminishing returns things. Up to a point spending more time and money will yield a greater and greater ranking, and then, boom, a huge amount more will yield almost nothing.Is there anything to SEO besides links?Yes. KEYWORDS. These are the words and phrases that are typed into the search bar. In order for the search engines to find your site these keywords must be coded into almost every page on your site.The nitty grittyI am going to show you:
How to pick keywords and
Where to find sites willing to link to yours.
That’s it. That’s the gist of the whole SEO thing. No big mystery.KeywordsThese are the words (and/or phrases) that people type in the search bar when they are looking for sites like yours. They also tell the search engines that your site exists and what it is all about.You need to pick words that people will use to find your site, but that will yield few enough results that you are more likely to appear near the top of the list.Let’s use the example of Kalamazoo KIA. You don’t want to use “car” for a keyword. I tried that and Google gave me 4.9 billion results. What’s the likelihood that Kalamazoo Kia is going to be anywhere near the top of that list? Zero. Kia” would be better, but still too broad. “Kalamazoo cars”, “kalamazoo kia”, “michigan kia”, “kalamazoo new cars”, these would all yield a smaller pool of results. So how many keywords do you need? 10 or 15 is good. Too many gets us to that diminishing returns thing again. So I’ve thought up four words on my own and now my imagination has run out. What other words might potential Kalamazoo Kia customers type in? I can’t read minds, but I can find out. There is this cool tool, Google AdWords, and it is free. Once you register you can type in various keywords, “Kalamazoo Kia” for instance, and find out what related searches people have used and how popular those search terms are. Da! Da! – more useful key words. I found “kalamazoo kia dealerships”. After doing a Google search for “kalamazoo kia” I found out why it was necessary to add the “dealerships”. Kalamazoo has “kia’s” that are not even cars. Who’d a thunk?So you’ve got your key words. What do you do with them? Use them in your url (site name – http://www.mykeywords.com ), have your web designer add them to the title and description tags on your web pages, and use them liberally, but not too liberally throughout your site copy.Now that you have your keywords entered on your site pages, the search engines can categorize you by these keywords. Next you want to make sure that people searching for your category find you and not your competition.LinksYou want to be popular. You have got to get links. It’s time to pound the cyber pavement. SEO professionals can do this work for you but if you’re on a budget you can do most of the work yourself.Get listed in industry directories. If you are selling necklaces you could search for “jewelry directory”.Pursue reciprocal links. Look for sites that may be willing to link to your site, so long as you link to theirs. Continuing with the necklace example you would search for “jewelry add url”.If you have a physical location, get your site listed on local directory/yellow page type sites.Participate in industry forums, and if the forum allows, work a link to your site into your advice.If there are any events associated with your site, list them on online community calendars.Get an article, listing or mention about your site on the sites of any industry associations you belong to.Write a press release and submit it to free press release sites like freepressrelease.com.Try to get the sites that link to yours to use your keywords in their link.BAD – Click here to find out about refurbished camera parts.GOOD – Click here to find out about refurbished camera parts.Don’t hide from the search enginesDO have your web designer generate sitemap.xml and robots.txt files add them to your site. The search engines look for these files when they are trolling the internet for sites.Do NOT expect the search engines to find your keywords in the sections of your site that use: keyword links in images or javascript, frames/iframes, Flash or dynamic pages.Don’t make the search engines madPlaying dirty tricks, in an attempt to make your site appear popular, can get you blacklisted. Yep, the Search engines will turn their heads and pretend you don’t exist. You will not appear anywhere in the listings. If this happens you can appeal but your chances are not good. Your best hope if you are blacklisted is to start over with a brand new site.So what are these dirty tricks? Some are simple, and some are complicated, but make sure your SEO firm doesn’t do any of them. They include repeating your keywords multiple times, keyword stuffing (hiding keywords by making the text the same color as the background), using keywords that don’t relate to your site’s content, automated programs that generate fake links just to make you look popular, robots that create zillions of pages for your site that are really just copies of your existing pages with a few changes here and there, to make you look important and popular. There are many others, but generally speaking, anything that attempts to make you look more popular than you really are is bad.Putting SEO to workLet’s go back to our 3 examples from the beginning of this article. How do we apply SEO to each one?Peoria Middle School – a few keywords – “peoria school” “peoria middle school” and for those who can’t seem to get it right “peoria intermediate school” should do it. That way people who look you up on Google rather than by typing in your url http://www.peoriamiddleschool.com will be able to find you.Kalamazoo Kia- most of your potential customers already know who you are. They’re “either looking for a new car or a new KIA car. They’re looking for deals, pictures of the latest models, or they want your phone number or customer service hours. There aren’t too many car dealers in town so you are popular among car dealers by default – not too much need to worry about links. You’ll need your keywords. Then you can list with the “local directory” sites and the car dealer and KIA directories. Are you participating in this year’s food drive? Make an announcement on your local online community calendars. A couple of popularity points won’t kill you but you don’t have to work too hard.Cal’s Re-engineered camera parts – you are a needle in a haystack. You need all the help you can get. You’ll need keywords of course. And a comprehensive linking campaign. You might not have much money to spend on an SEO firm so you must work like the tortoise: slow and steady. Do a few press releases, check out all the industry sites and camera buff sites and organizations. Respond on forums – become an expert. Find some reciprocal links. Get listed in directories. Do a little bit everyday. Eventually you will become known to those who are looking for refurbished camera parts.Who can help me get the job done?Help! You said SEO wasn’t rocket science. This is getting complicated. I can’t do this all on my own – who will help?Well it’s not rocket science and it’s not magic; neither is styling hair, but you won’t find me anywhere near anyone’s head with a pair of scissors. SEO does require specialized knowledge. If you have that knowledge, great, you can do this on your own if you choose, but for those who don’t the purpose of this article to get you to understand the basics, show you which parts you can do on your own (I can’t cut my own hair, but I do wash and brush it every day), and to help you find an honest vendor for the rest.SEO firm – as long as they have access to the back end of your site they can do it all for you. Refer to this article and ask questions. Make sure the firm is above board.Web designer – Your web designer should be able to put your keywords into your pages and create and upload your sitemap.xml and robots.txt files. Beyond that their ability and willingness to help with SEO will vary greatly. You may prefer a web designer who specializes or one that does it all.What you can do on your own if you choose – you know your business/project better than your web designer or SEO firm. You are in a better position than they are to figure out your keywords and to determine which sites you want to link back to yours. You can also do a lot of the leg work if you choose – contacting sites and asking for links, writing press releases, making announcements on community calendars, participating in forum discussions, etc.If you do all of the above, tailored to your specific situation of course, you will be ahead of the SEO game. Use common sense. Spend the time and money you need, but don’t go overboard and reach the point of diminishing returns. And remember, SEO takes time to yield results.