Branding vs. Direct Response: Which is right for you?

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As I’ve written before … several of my real-life experiences influence my blog posts.

A colleague of mine asked how could he leverage a popular email list and drive them (consumers) to a retail store to purchase his product.

My explanation and recommendation led me to explain the difference between branding and direct response marketing.

You see, driving a consumer to a store to “take action” is more “branding”. Branding is a form of marketing where a consumer sees or hears your message (albeit email, TV, print ad, radio) and then takes action. The action isn’t immediate (i.e. “direct response”) it typically involves going to a retailer to make the sale (or “convert”).

The marketer has to hope that once the consumer sees/hears the message they remember it. (Advertising studies show that the average consumer needs to see a message 7-8 times before it becomes familiar to them). Then, hope that consumer has enough loyalty or name recognition from that product that when they do go to the retailer to purchase, they don’t get distracted by other competitive products.

Branding is hard to measure. Usually, you tie into the timing of your campaign in to retail sales for the specific product during that same time period and make assumptions.

As opposed to “direct response marketing”, where there is generally one strong message with a compelling offer. One platform (i.e. an email, a newsletter ad, a direct letter, an online ad). You see, it's more controlled … you’re directing the consumer where to go next (i.e. “Click here now”) and your message will be the only one in front of them at that time. In addition, it's quantifiable … easier to measure … looking at metrics like open rates, click through rates, response rates, conversion rates. You can directly calculate your ROI (return on investment), which helps the marketer offset any advertising costs from the profits. Plus, typically direct response marketing overall is more cost effective than branding.

Branding efforts take time, as you have to develop your brand loyalty with the list first to help overall conversions (think of loyal brand followers of well-known products like Nike, GE, BMW, McDonald’s, etc … these companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars on brand development). Branding is also not as accurate to measure.

For businesses – especially during the current economic environment – unless you’re a Fortune 500 company, the most reliable marketing method in my opinion is direct response marketing.

What smart marketers are doing NOW to bring in leads & cash

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I recently started several discussions in targeted Marketing groups in the popular, LinkedIn professional social network. I asked, “How are you marketing your business during this economy?”

Here’s what I found out…

· Local advertising. Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
“I am using primarily local business-to-business networking in an effort to capture those first dozen or so customers. My web site is optimized to attract hits as well.”

· Word of mouth marketing. Social media (SMO)
“My best marketing tool is wearing my line of jewelry…. I took on social networking a couple months ago, and plan to have a blog also. I am also networking with a travel agent as her most common question is, ‘What do I where on a cruise?’ ”

“As a consultant, testimonials and referrals are very important. I have great clients and the majority of my business in 2009 has been from referrals. I also network at lot through all the major online social networks.”

· Social Media. PR.
“I use are social media, (mainly Twitter, Facebook and Youtube), Press releases, Forums, articles, blog posts. I find that forums are great places to talk to targeted audience.”

· Networking. Leveraging expertise.
“…Definitely local networking is working for me for through various groups as well as the chamber of commerce … I also teach classes and offer my services as a speaker to groups.”

· Event marketing.
“I have been marketing my services through gift bag requests.”

Thanks to all that have taken the time to post comments in the various LinkedIn Groups where I asked this question.

As you can see, most everyone that commented is utilizing low/no cost marketing channels as well as being creative thinkers with their marketing tactics…both proven approaches that I’ve written about many times on this blog and are featured in my SONAR marketing method.

What have YOU been doing to market during t his tough times…let me know!

3 ways to measure your social media efforts

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Many people have been using social media because they “think” it's what they should be doing. After all, it's all the rage. Everyone seems to have a Twitter or Facebook account. But social media may not be the right channel for some businesses. Even more disturbing, some businesses are putting all this time and effort into SMO because “everyone else is doing it” and they're not even measuring their efforts to see if all this work is really paying off.

It's not that they're lazy or sub par marketers, it's just that they may not have a direct response or PR background — in other words, they're not familiar with how to measure ALL of their marketing efforts … including social media.

Well, I'm here to shed light on this important topic.

Below is an article I wrote while I was VP of Marketing and Business Development at Early to Rise.

Check it out…Have a question about measuring social media or using social media for profits? Drop me an email!


Measuring Social MediaBy Wendy Montes de Oca, MBA

If you’re an online marketer or publisher, chances are you’re well aware of the power of social media optimization (SMO). If you’re new to the world of Internet marketing, you’ll be interested to know that this breakthrough method is a truly inexpensive (practically free) way to create buzz about your products, increase traffic to your site, build trust about your company, and boost your sales.

Today, I’m going to show you a simple way to get started in social media marketing – and an easy three-step process you can use to measure how well it’s working.

In a nutshell, social media is an interactive platform where people can correspond – via chat rooms, forums, bulletin boards, networks (as in MySpace, Facebook, Classmates, LinkedIn, Bebo), user-generated content sharing (as in Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit), wikis (interactive online encyclopedias), and blogs – with like minded individuals who share similar interests, whatever those interests may be.

Cutting-edge businesses and marketing-centric companies have jumped on the social media bandwagon to leverage the increased popularity of this phenomenon. Companies large and small got their marketers to create MySpace, FaceBook, or LinkedIn profiles in order to have their fingers on the pulse of the market, correspond with consumers, and create buzz about their products.

Here at ETR, we’ve been on the Web for some time now, dabbling in all sorts of social media activities with content syndication, viral marketing, and online PR efforts.

Recently, we started leveraging the presence of our individual team members on LinkedIn. If you’re not familiar with this site, it’s a network community for business professionals. Users can set up profiles highlighting their corporate experience and areas of expertise.

Edwin Huertas, one of ETR’s search engine marketing specialists, answers select questions on LinkedIn that are related to his area of expertise. He also uploads blog posts about a variety of search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), pay-per-click (PPC), and social media practices. This helps create buzz about ETR (through Edwin’s profile and position at ETR). Plus, he sometimes supplements his posts with links back to relevant articles on our website – which helps drive traffic to the ETR site.

This is a practice you can emulate easily. Simply register as a member of one of the social media groups. Then begin to participate in the discussions. For instance, if a LinkedIn member posts a specific question about SEO, Edwin will try to find an article on our ETR site that addresses that issue. He then answers the question in his own words, but recommends that the member also read the ETR article, which has more valuable information. By answering questions posed by your fellow members (making sure you add relevant links back to content on your website), your posts will begin to generate “free” traffic.

Another site that works well for us is This site directs Internet surfers to Web pages based on the surfer’s pre-selected categories every time they click on the “Stumble” icon on their toolbar.

You can install the StumbleUpon toolbar on your own computer and recommend articles on your own site. This allows you to give any page a “Thumbs Up” or “Thumbs Down” rating. It also allows you to include a brief description and category for your submission. If you rate your article, it will appear in the StumbleUpon rotation – which, again, means ‘free’ traffic to your site.

Getting started is super-easy. But the key to making social media work for you is the same with any marketing medium: You need to have a way to find out if it’s working.

Although many marketers have been going all out with their social media efforts, most haven’t a clue as to how to actually measure the campaign’s success or failure.

Let’s say Early to Rise just published an article on goal setting for 2009. The article is followed by a related product ad in the ETR issue, as well as by a separate e-mail promotion for a related goal setting product, like our Total Success Achievement program. Product sales are generated from the e-mail and from the ad. Meanwhile, the social media aspect takes over.

The article content is syndicated via RSS feeds, as well as top article directories (like EzineArticles, GoArticles, ArticleBase, Buzzle, and others) and user-generated content networks (such as Digg and Reddit). Readers may also discuss the article on goal setting and self-improvement blogs, forums, and bulletin boards.

So how could you measure the social media aspect of such an effort?
It’s easy. By using the same metrics that are used to measure a public relations effort: Outputs, outcomes, and objectives – what I like to call the “3 O’s.”

1. Outputs (measures effectiveness and efficiency)
For our example, I’d look at Google Analytics for spikes in traffic to the Early to Rise homepage in the days following the article’s publication. I’d look specifically at traffic sources, visits, unique visits, and visit percentages. I’d also look at referring sites and search engines to see whether the traffic is coming directly from social media platforms. And I’d look for an increase in new ETR subscriber sign-ups (leads) during that same time period.

2. Outcomes (measures behavioral changes)
For this metric, I’d look at feedback from our customers… e-mails, phone calls, comments posted on our ETR member forum. I’d also do some reputation monitoring by searching the Web for keywords like “ETR,” the article title, and the product name to see if others were talking about it in chat rooms, external forums, and bulletin boards.

3. Objectives (measures business objectives/sales)
The most obvious and directly related metric is direct sales of the product that are tied to the editorial. Orders generated from an e-mail link or ad link are coded for tracking, so attributing sales to those sources is definitive. If the sales come from a product page on our website where the true “source” cannot be tracked, I’d look at the sales during the corresponding dates of the campaign for correlations.

Finally, for each of the above, I would compare the current campaign data versus the year-to-date (YTD) average and year-over-year data to clearly illustrate pre- and post- campaign performance. In other words, I’d check out website traffic, unique visits, specific product sales, etc. – all for the same time periods. That way, I’d have an established benchmark against which to measure our current social media efforts.

Social media is a low cost and effective way to spread the word about your company and products, as well as to conduct market research. By understanding the “3 O’s” and how they work, you can actually quantify your efforts with hard data… a critical component for any direct marketer.

[Note: This article appears courtesy of Early To Rise. For a complimentary subscription, visit]

8 "Must See" Tips For Smarter and Cheaper Online Media Buys

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With the current economy the way it is, many marketers and business owners are opting to forgo online media buys in their marketing mix and spend more time on little-to-no cost tactics such as search engine marketing/optimization and social media marketing.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of cost-effective tricks to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck when buying online media.

I say, “market smarter, not harder … or more expensive.” Media buying (albeit pay per click/display ads, banner ads, text ads, paid newsletter sponsorships, and email list rentals) should always have a part in your online marketing plan…even if the percentage is small.

Like an investment portfolio, never put all your eggs in one basket.

Having a variety of online marketing tactics, strong creative, and always testing helps put the odds in your favor for meeting or exceeding your overall goals.

Below is an article I wrote while I was VP of Marketing and Business Development at Early to Rise. Now, more than ever, the tips are invaluable! Check it out…

Have a question about your online marketing mix? Drop me an email!

Muscle Media Buying
By Wendy Montes de Oca,MBA

If you’ve got have a strong e-mail campaign going but you’re looking to expand your direct-response tactics to include online ads, chances are you will do some media buying. Why? Because purchasing banner, text or other display ads can be a very cost effective way to attract customers.

As a multi-channel marketer, many of my responsibilities over the years have required me to buy ad space in magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, and the Web. Along the way, I’ve become an expert (especially with online media), and picked up a few techniques that could save you hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars.

But before I explain further, I’d like to point out that there are differences in online advertising.
You can focus your ad to be direct-response-oriented, which includes lead generation (acquiring e-mail names) and product sales. Or you can focus your ad on branding. Branding isn’t direct-response marketing – meaning it doesn’t require an immediate action from the consumer. Its goal, rather, is to build awareness and name recognition of a product over time and help it stay in the minds of prospects. In the offline world, think the battle of the cola giants. In the online world, it’s typically video ads like the ones you see for a new car or truck.

Because results are harder to measure with branding, many online marketers lean toward the direct-response model.

Your job as a media buyer is simply to try to get the best bang for the buck when purchasing media units. It involves allocating money for advertising in various outlets, print or online, and negotiating the actual advertising agreement with the publisher. This agreement is known as an IO (insertion order), and will cover the ad unit cost, size, placement, and other critical components (which I’ll address shortly).

Here are some helpful hints to keep in mind when buying media for your sales campaigns.

Hint #1: Keep up with the industry.
Sign up for free industry trade papers, such as DM News, Response Magazine, and Target Marketing, and as many free e-letters as you can read. One of my favorite e-letters is, because it covers the online marketing world in a comprehensive and dynamic way. I also like, which keeps you abreast of the latest media-buying news, and, which provides some of the marketing industry’s best practices, trends, and forecast reports.

One current trend is flash banners. These ad units support audio/video use (which engages the viewer and is great for branding), but they are more costly than standard flat (no animation) or animated banners.

Hint #2: Know the ad units.
There are many types of banner ads to choose from: leader boards, skyscrapers, buttons, micro banners, and more. You can find a full list of types of ads, as well as industry guidelines for how and when to use them, at All of these ad units are available on most websites, but not every type is effective.

For instance, it has been my experience that leader boards (ads that run horizontally across the top of a Web page) or skyscrapers (ads that run vertically along the side of a Web page) are the least effective. The best placements are typically LRECs – large rectangles, such as 300 x 250 IMUs, at the top or middle of a page or within the content. (IMU stands for Internet Marketing Unit.) Putting an ad inside the body of an article is a great placement, since the reader must breeze over the ad while absorbing the content. A recent eyetracking study by The Poynter Institute supported this observation, indicating that banner ads at the top left of the page, as well as ads close in proximity to the body of an article, garnered the most attention from viewers. This is where you want your message to be!

Hint #3: Master the art of negotiation.
You will be required to analyze many proposals when you’re looking for the right ad space. You’ll need to determine if the prices are cost effective and comparable to industry rates. If you’re looking into buying ad space on, for instance, check out the prices for that same ad unit and timeframe on similarly ranked news websites. Also, check out various ad networks to see if any include in their coverage. (For more on ad networks, see Hint #7.)

Since many variables can affect ad prices, I recommend starting an “ad unit matrix” to keep track of rates. Break down a spreadsheet into columns for ad unit type, size, placement, website, impressions (how many times the ad unit appears on the website), and CPM (cost per thousand impressions). Click here to se a great tool that easily calculates the CPM for you.

Another factor that can affect pricing is seasonality. Internet traffic typically drops during July and August (because so many people are on summer vacation) and, depending on the industry you’re in, can be slower around the holidays as well. So, when you’re negotiating your media buy, try to get lower rates during those times. If you’re running near a typically slow time, let’s say around Thanksgiving, you may want to pause your ad unit the day before the holiday and the day after so you don’t waste impressions.

To help ensure that you’re getting a comparable rate, check out each site’s traffic ranking and page views to see where it stands in relation to its competitors in terms of popularity and reach. It’s best to get this information from a subscription ranking service, like Nielsen//NetRatings or ComScore – but if you don’t have access to such services, consider the free Alexa ranking website (

Hint #4: Reporting rules.
Make sure, especially if you buy media from an online ad network, that you have full access to the OAS (online ad server) reporting system. Look for key performance indicators, such as impressions served (ad units that ran), and click-thru rate (the percentage of people who saw your ad and clicked on a link in it). If you are testing various ad units and sizes, each one should have a unique tracking code. If your advertiser doesn’t give you access to their OAS, ask about getting daily or weekly reports from your account executive. These reports will be critical in refining your ad to get maximum results.

As a general guideline, the average click-thru rate for a banner ad/text ad is 0.5 to 2 percent, and the average click-thru rate for a dedicated e-mail (an e-mail ad that a third party sends to their subscribers on your behalf) is 7.5 percent.

Hint #5: Know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
In your insertion order, have a clause that allows you to terminate your advertising commitment without penalty at a given time (an “out clause” or “termination right”). For instance, most online campaigns can be optimized in about a week. If you’re watching your reporting daily (which I suggest you do for the first two weeks) and notice that not many viewers are clicking on your ad, then you should switch to a different ad. If the second ad is not working, you may want to initiate your termination right, end the campaign, and pay only for the impressions you were served.

Not all advertisers will offer this option, but you should certainly ask for it.

Hint #6: There are no stupid questions.
If you’re buying banner ads or other advertising spots on a website, it’s key to find out a few things from your account executive:

Will your ad be ROS (run of site)? Typically, this means your ad will randomly appear on a site’s home page and most (if not all) subpages within the site. This is more cost effective than a targeted ad in a specific section of the site.

Will your ad position be fixed or rotated (shared) with anyone else’s ad? If shared, what percentage of impressions will your ad receive?

If you’re considering buying a dedicated e-mail from a third-party, find out the size of their e-mail list, how often the list gets mailed, the AUS (average unit sale) per subscriber, and whether or not there will be an introduction or implied endorsement by the list owner. (According to copywriting genius John Forde, this can often help boost response rates by 25 percent or more.)

All of these factors will help determine the value of the list and, ultimately, the cost you’re willing to pay to access the people on it.

Hint #7: Be on the lookout for low-cost options.
If you’re targeting a specific audience or a niche buyer, go directly to the website’s publisher for an advertising quote. Cutting out the middleman (ad broker) may get you a better rate. PLUS, it will help you build a relationship with the publisher – which can be advantageous for you down the road.

If your goal is to reach the biggest, broadest audience possible, and you want to run an ad on various websites that have a distinct “channel” or genre (such as entertainment, finance, health, etc.) within the broader subject range of the site, consider an ad network.

Ad networks have an agreement with a variety of popular websites to serve up their ads, and they can sort by website type. Since they typically buy their ad units in bulk from the publishing sites, the networks can pass the savings down to the advertiser and charge a lower CPM rate. Some popular networks include and You can find a full list at

Just remember to get proposals from more than one network. Some of the lesser-known (Tier 2) networks are looking to make a name for themselves, and may offer better rates. But be wary of “micro” sites, which have little traffic or Web presence. Be sure to ask for a sample of the network’s site listings. I always go for quality over quantity.

Depending on how many impressions you buy from these ad networks, your average cost for an LREC can range from $2 to $5. For blog ads and blog networks, you can often find CPMs lower than $1 or even 50 cents. And if you’re looking to save even more money, ask if remnant inventory is available. Remnant inventory is simply an advertising unit that is not as popular as other ad units on a site and is unsold. Depending on your marketing goal, these ad units may accomplish your objective – and to make them more attractive, networks usually offer them at a lower rate.

Hint #8: Show your poker face.
In this industry, it’s all about confidence and knowledge. If you come across as someone who is savvy to media buying, you’re less likely to be taken advantage of.
Do your homework and follow some of the recommendations above… but your best lessons will happen as you buy.

[Note: This article appears courtesy of Early To Rise, a free newsletter dedicated to making money, improving health and secrets to success. For a complimentary subscription, visit]

"Partner up" for leads, sales, editorial and more!

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Trying to think of new, cost effective ways to grow your list, get added exposure, tap into another market, or increase sales?

Many business owners and marketers completely overlook leveraging editorial, lead generation, and sales opportunities with synergistic “partners” because they are either afraid of the competition or think it’s a waste of time.

I say, “test it out” and see if you have a winning strategy.

If you find the right list to go to, the possibilities are endless and you could forge a long-term, mutually beneficial venture for both you and your “partner”.

And best of all, it’s virtually at no advertising cost.

Below is an article I wrote last year while I was Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Agora Publishing/Early to Rise. Although the article is a year old, the principals are timeless.

Check it out…

Let’s Get Reciprocal: Maximizing Ad Swaps, Guest Editorials, and JV Opportunities
By Wendy Montes de Oca

Now is a great time to look to your competition for opportunities to help grow your list and add extra revenues to your bottom line for little or no cost.

For example, here at Early to Rise I just completed media buy (i.e., outside advertising purchasing) recommendations for all of our newsletters – Early to Rise, Total Health Breakthroughs, and Investor’s Daily Edge. My advice was to reduce them to help control costs through the end of 2008, as the tough economy continues to impact everyone. But my number one focus is, instead, for each marketing manager to concentrate on leveraging the marketing and editorial relationships we have with our fellow publishers and aggressively pursuing ad swaps, guest editorials, and joint ventures (JV).

The idea is to develop synergistic relationships that are mutually beneficial – to look for areas of deficiency in your competitors and think of ways your company can fill the void.

One potential partner may have a great front-end product (e.g., a low cost e-book) but no up-sell (e.g., a higher-priced related kit containing DVDs, CDs, and workbooks). Another potential partner may have an innovative back-end product but no cost-effective front-end product to bring new customers in the door. Still others may have large, qualified lists but need editorial to bond with their lists. (This frequently happens when marketers collect names through their websites or direct mail, but don’t have a regularly scheduled publication – such as an e-newsletter – to offer people who sign up.)

Some tips to keep in mind when looking for potential partners:

• Do your homework. Find out, in advance, who will be at industry events that you’ll be attending. (Check the program for speakers, vendors, and participants.) Sign up for their e-newsletters. Read their promotional e-mails. Maybe even purchase some of their products.

• Look at EVERY opportunity as a way to maximize your company’s brand. When you go to industry events, don’t eat dinner alone in your hotel room. Go to functions. Mingle. Network. Have a genuine conversation with a potential partner… then, if there’s a synergy between your two companies, exchange business cards.

At this year’s ETR Info Marketing Bootcamp, I noticed that attendees were really taking advantage of all the opportunities to network with each other and the ETR staff…during presentation breaks, lunch time, cocktail parties – whenever and wherever – making the most out of the experience!

• Before you contact a potential partner, get familiar with his products and target audience and figure out how your company may be able to dovetail with his product line or marketing efforts.

So, once you’ve made the connection, now what?

Ad Swaps
Assuming you both have e-newsletters, you can test the waters and see how your lists will react by doing an advertising swap. In other words, you run an ad in his e-newsletter and he runs an ad in yours.

To make sense out of the results of that test, you have to know your “opportunity cost” – the “cost” you will incur for running an outside ad to your list instead of your own ad. If you normally sell ad space in your e-newsletter, this cost could simply be the flat rate fee you typically charge. Or, if you know the average revenues an issue brings in, you could calculate the potential “missed opportunity” of letting another ad run to your list on a given day.

You should also agree to share important information with your partner. Before his ad runs in your e-newsletter, point out any creative issues. (Perhaps the copy is too inflammatory for your list. Perhaps it’s too competitive.) Provide your partner with your e-newsletter’s sent and deliverability sizes, open rate, and ad click rate. Exchanging performance data is critical to a long and mutually beneficial relationship. It has to be a win/win situation for the partnership to work.

Whether your goal is to attract names for your e-list (lead generation) or to make sales, reciprocate in kind. If your partner is letting you do a name collection ad to his list, for example, let him run the same kind of ad to your list. But first make sure his list is approximately the same size as yours. If it’s substantially smaller, you may want to hold off on an ad swap with that publisher until he builds his subscriber base. You don’t want the initiative to be one-sided.

However, on a case-by-case basis, it doesn’t hurt to extend “good will” to a fellow publisher with proven marketing muscle. For example, when Total Health Breakthroughs launched in summer of 2007, I reached out to several industry friends and colleagues, asking if we could run a lead generation ad to their lists to help us build our subscriber base. We had little to offer in return at the time. (We barely had a list of our own.) But, thankfully, many agreed. The THB list grew in no time, and we were soon able to reciprocate.

Guest Editorials
You can also look into doing guest editorials in other publishers’ e-newsletters – with an editorial note or byline that links to your offer. This is a great way to get introduced to a new list with the “implied” endorsement of the publisher. His endorsement gives you credibility. And if you provide his readers with good, solid, useful information, they will bond with you quickly.

This is a soft-sell approach that may or may not yield results on its own. But when coordinated with either a dedicated e-mail (if your partner is on board with a revenue split) or an e-newsletter ad the same week, your conversion rate (the number of people who go on to buy your product) will dramatically improve.

Joint Ventures (JVs)
I’ve got one more idea for you: joint venturing. This is a quick and cost-effective way to make money with your list even if you have not yet developed any products.

With a JV, you have an instant product line with no overhead costs. Your partner will supply the products, fulfill orders, and provide customer support. All you have to do is promote the products to your list and split the net revenues with them. For an even a more turnkey approach, you can sell e-reports through sites like, where everything is automated.

To determine the viability of a potential JV product, there are several strategic marketing variables to consider. I like to think of them as “PPPGS”:
P = Product quality
P = Price point
P = Performance (when promoted to your potential partner’s house list, as well as to outside lists)
G = General market demand
S = Subscriber interest (when promoted to your list, as determined by feedback, surveys, etc.)

Remember – you’re looking for long-term partners, not one-hit-wonders. So carefully select the people you approach, making sure their products make sense relative to your business…and, together, you can reap the unlimited profit potential of reciprocal marketing!

[Note: This article appears courtesy of Early To Rise, a free newsletter dedicated to making money, improving health and secrets to success. For a complimentary subscription, visit]