Category Archive 'Business & entrepreneurship'

The Business Retreat

Business & entrepreneurship

Ahh, the restive feeling of a man who just left a business retreat.  The team-building exercises, the delicious food, the “re-charged batteries of my soul.”

Ok, so it wasn’t exactly like that.  I did have a business retreat this weekend–as i explained in my prior post on the importance of business systems–but my company is just me.  It really made that team-building exercise where you fall back and learn to trust (when the other person catches you) quite difficult.

And instead of catered food, I had Boston Market.  And instead of relaxing the whole weekend, I pretty much worked 16 hour days trying to improve my business.  But I still feel oddly satisfied.  I can’t say my whole business has been “turned around,” but I do think there have been some improvements.  Let’s review some of the work I accomplished this weekend (along with, perhaps, an overview of my descent into madness (j/k)):

Drafting a Written Business Plan

When I left the professional group where I was working, I had a great plan: for starting my own business.  The startup phase is something I’ve thought about for years.  I’ve always wanted to have my own business.  People were even amazed at how quickly my business “came together.”  You know how sometimes a person will have their whole wedding planned out even before they’re even been proposed to.  Yeah, that was me.

The furniture was delivered as the business cards were hot off the press.  The website was up and it looked like my business had been around for decades. I had everything, everything I tell you!   Everything…..but clients.  Clients and any idea of how to actually run the business after the startup phase was over.

The next six months were a whirlwind of trying to learn the technology, customer service, accounting, and other practices that would keep my doors open.  It was, well….exhausting.  Totally exhausting.    I never took the time to write out an actual business plan.  Or to brainstorm the specific systems I should have in place within my business  to make it run smoothly.

This weekend I wrote out my business plan.  I brainstormed.  I ate Boston Market cornbread and I envisioned where my business is and where I want it to be.

In full disclosure, I must admit that I also did some soft and cuddly things like designing a “Firm Mission Statement.”  Then I called my wife who was out of town this weekend and she said she liked it (but probably cracked up as soon as she hung up the telephone).  But I also did some of the difficult strategic thinking my business has so long needed.  I decided upon what types of clients I would take versus which ones I would refer out.  I created the profile of my “ideal client.”  I mapped out short-term and long-term goals, and systems I would have to improve to make my business into something bigger than me.

Drafting a Written Marketing Plan

I also focused on how I can consistently generate new clients.  How does my website fit into the overall structure of my business’s marketing plan?  How can I ensure more referrals?  What systems should I put in place to create a larger sense of customer satisfaction?

Handbook

Then I started really going crazy.  I worked my Keurig machine so hard that it asked for a transfer. I put M83’s “Midnight Children” on permanent repeat and I dug deep into the inner recesses of my own entrepreneurial fetishism.  I sat down at my computer and in a caffein addled state of delirium had my Jerry Maguire moment. (“even the cover, looked like the Catcher in the Rye.”)  What did I do?  I wrote out a fifteen page company handbook.

It described everything about how my business should be run.  It even listed my vacation schedule for my employees.  And yes, I know I don’t have any employees.  But dammit!  I want to have employees!  That’s part of my business plan.  Yeah….it was kind of sad, in a way.  (in every way).

I outlined the telephone procedures for my business.  I created intake forms for the areas of my business.  I chastised non-existent employees for being rude to customers.  I almost cried with joy when I learned how to “hyperlink” within Word documents.  I redesigned my entire conflict list system.  I made a sheet outlining my pricing policies for different types of matters.  I set written standards and/or redesigned my systems of ordering supplies, backing up data, billing and invoicing, storing new contact information, filing, opening and closing business matters, and calendaring meetings and other documentation.

It was one wild ride, baby…one wild ride indeed.

Informational Pamphlets

Then I designed pamphlets providing some information about my business and the areas of my business.

I even spent some time reading The Essential Drucker, because I am nothing if not addicted to reading.  Then I woke up this morning and bought some more Boston Market.   And I’m not even sure I like their food.  But dammit that rotisserie chicken tasted different this morning.  It tasted like…..victory.

 

 

 

The Recession Generation

Business & entrepreneurship, Career, Parenting, Personal finance

I saw an article on Yahoo News that stated the the Recession has affected people in their twenties and thirties the worst.    I am of this generation.  Generation Y.  The Recession Generation.  I wasn’t surprised by the study cited in the article.  After all, my generation graduated from college during the worst economy since the Great Depression.  My friends have lost their jobs because they were the last hired.  The world changed.

But a lot of the comments at the end of the article were from older generations.  These folks said the “Young Generation” can’t find employment because we’re lazy, obnoxious, and essentially lacking the general attitude, aptitude, and work ethic to keep a job. A typical comment went something like this: “of course they can’t find a job—they are happier playing video games living in their parent’s basement.”

Occupy Wall Street was also cited in the comments as a justification for my generation’s unemployability.  Such arguments are not unique nor endemic to modern times.  Even in Greek philosophy it’s not rare to read how, in an older generation’s mind, the younger generation is worthless.  Those Baby Boomers who, perhaps are more to blame for the current state of world affairs than any other generation, were themselves once decried by their parent’s generation as “hippies” or “radicals.”  The circle will, I’m sure, continue.  I know I was surprised to learn that the generations younger than mine are no longer taught to write in cursive.

But the more I tried to justify my generation in my mind, the more I began to wonder about the cumulative affects of the modern age.  This: post-modern age.  Maybe it’s because I just read Don Delillo’s White Noise, but I began to suspect maybe there’s more truth to those comments then I’d like to believe.  How much time does the average person in my generation devote to entertainment versus the average man or woman one hundred years ago?  I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s a great deal more time.  And has the “helicopter parenting” nature of my parent’s generation as well as their financial success created a “generation of losers,” as one poster called us.

I know that I am not personally immune to such weaknesses.  I was raised to value education over almost anything else—including knowledge.  I know what you’re thinking and yes, they are not mutually exclusive.  I went to college because a degree was thought to be a ticket to somewhere: namely the suburbs.  Graduate school was, for me, just more of the same.  It was just me following a roadmap somebody else created. But it wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve actually taken an interest in knowledge.  Maybe it’s maturity or just the fact that I am more of an independent studier, but I find myself relishing reading or learning things I used to curse back in college.  And I regret all that I wasted by floating by during my college years.  All that time trying to fit in with a crowd I don’t even talk to anymore.

Now that I have my own business, I feel upset with myself for reading histories, biographies or other works outside my industry.  I should be spending all my time reading about the law, or practice management, I think.  But other times I feel so ignorant in general that I can’t help but continue on my quest for knowledge, no matter how tangential it is to my most important priorities.  I am twenty-eight years old, and I am ignorant—both in and of the world.  Seven years of higher education and all the schooling before it hasn’t changed that.  I’ve never read the Bible all the way through but I can name the five best picture nominees from each of the last twenty years.  And I don’t even own a video game system or have cable.

Some argue that Americans have been dumbed down over the decades.  Take a Life Magazine from the 194o’s and it will seem as hard to decipher as Shakespeare.  When Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea was first published in Life Magazine, that copy sold something like 5 million more copies than usual.  People were hungry for good fiction.  Is that still true today?

The grammar, style and vocabulary of even a few decades ago is a world apart from where we are today.  Clear writing and clear thinking are more linked together than we’ll ever know.  I sure wish I had a more crystallized notion of each.

We are the Recession Generation, and I worry that we’re bankrupt in more ways than we can even understand.

New Business Owners—Don’t Be Charitable

Business & entrepreneurship, Career

If you’re a new business owner, then you need to avoid being charitable.   Think I’m kidding?  I’m not.  You need to tell your favorite charities to stay away for a while.  Unless required, you need to limit or stop donating your time or giving “pro bono” advice.  Why?  Because in most circumstances, getting a new business off the ground will require all the time and money you have.  Later on, when your company is on solid economic footing: that’s the time to start giving back.  Right now, you need to do everything you can to keep the lights on.

I know I must sound like the Grinchiest Scroogiest son of a you know what to ever own a business, but in most instances what I’m saying is true.

When I first started my business, I tried to keep up with my charities.  My business was in the red but I was still donating $100.00 a month to XYZ charities.

Even worse, I took on a lot of “pro bono” work.   That means I was doing work for free, when what I really needed was to be out finding paying clients.  This work ended up bogging me down and taking away from my ability to find paying customers/clients.  It almost destroyed my business.

Later On….Be Generous

In a few years when your company is hugely profitable, then give as much as you’d like.  But when you’re first starting out, you’re either using up what little money you have or you are running your business with debt.  Your creditors are not going to be as charitable if you don’t pay what’s owed each month.  As mentioned above, time drains can be an even more serious issue.

Tax Issues

Some people will recommend giving to charities (money—not time) for “the tax benefits.”  But when you’re first starting a business, you’re unlikely to be earning much money, so the tax benefits (if any) will be limited.  Even if you’re completely altruistic, you might have to face the reality that giving to others is one of the first things you’ll have to limit for a while.  If you’re about to become a charity yourself, then perhaps that charity might have to “start in the home”—or in this case, your business.

Giving to Get Business

It’s not such a large secret: not all giving is altruistic.  Besides the tax benefits, others give in hopes to “look good in the community,” “get a foot in the door with a certain company” etc.  If that’s the case then perhaps what I’m saying doesn’t apply, but again, it’s still turning charity into a business decision.

Conclusion

Every situation is different, but for most small business owners, it might not make sense to be overly charitable in the first fews months/years of their business.  The startup is a monster with its own needs, and it needs to constantly be fed.  In other words, if you can’t afford to pay your rent, then you might want to cut back on giving to charities.  And if you can’t find time to find paying customers, then perhaps you shouldn’t be donating much of your time either.

And if despite all that, you still decide you want to give like before, well….then you’re a nicer business owner than I.

 

Should You Be Spending Money on eBooks?

Business & entrepreneurship

I must admit that over the years I’ve read many eBooks, books, and blog articles. I’ve also spend a few hundred dollars on these premium guides. This may seem foolish on the surface but I’m a firm believer in the saying that knowledge is power.

Should you be spending money on eBooks? Yes I feel that any investment in yourself is a good investment. Today I’m going to look at both sides to the argument so that you can better determine if it makes sense for you to invest your money into online products.

What are the benefits of reading and investing in eBooks?

  • You pick up someone else’s expertise. When you read an article or pay for a premium product you’re acquiring an abundance of knowledge. You know have learn from the expertise of someone that has been there and done that.
  • You speed up your growth. With picking up expertise from someone else, you can now speed up your own growth. You won’t make the same mistakes as others and you’ll be guided in the right direction.
  • You get ahead of the competition. While your competition is making the same mistakes and being led by the blind, you can invest your time into premium products that will help you stick out.
  • You learn new tips to apply to your life. I’ve never been a big fan of just looking at the cost of something. I try to look at the value. I consider what the value of the book is to me and my life at the point in time. I figure that a $10 book on networking will at least yield me a $100 over the next few months. Now imagine what a life changing guide on fitness could do for your life? What if that manually finally forces you to start your business? How do you value that?

With those benefits being listed, what are some of the negatives involved with spending your money on eBooks?

  1. Information overload. There’s only so much new content that your mind can retain. Your eventually going to peak. You’re going to overload your mind with information.
  2. Waste of resources. Your time and money are both valuable. If you get nothing out of a premium product, it’s going to be a waste of your resources.
  3. You can find the same information for free. When you purchase a premium product, you’re paying for convenience. You have the convenience of having all of this information in one place. The setback is that you can find this same content for free without spending your money on it.
  4. You need to do more. There’s only so much that you can read about. I certainly became an information junkie. I would consume information and not do anything with it. This is a sad way to live life. I eventually start to read less and apply more. I’ve seen much better results through the latter strategy.

At the end of the day the decision is all yours. Will you invest your time and money into eBooks? Where will you focus your energy?

Into the Wild: The Importance of Knowing Your Limits

Business & entrepreneurship, Career

I recently read John Krakauer’s Into the Wild.   This book details the true-life story of Chris McCandless, a twenty-four year old drifter who died in the Alaska Wilds back in 1992.  McCandless came from an upper-middle class family and graduated from Emory University with a 3.72 GPA.  He had the privileged background and intelligence to perhaps accomplish anything he desired. But he was restless, and instead fled his family for a nomadic lifestyle.

His heroes were London, Tolstoy, Thoreau.   When he entered the Alaskan “bush”, he did so with only five pounds of rice and a gun that was unlikely to kill larger game.  He ended up starving to death after just four months of solitude.   He died pursuing a dream, but there has been a lot of criticism.  Some argue he had a death wish, or that he was too “unprepared.”   That he was arrogant and lacked the survival skills to accomplish his dream, which also makes him selfish.

I don’t want to compare something as common as starting a business to going into the Alaskan wilds–but I related to this character.  There have been times where I’ve second-guessed myself and thought perhaps I should have worked for others longer, so that I would be better prepared for owning my small business.  After all,  wasn’t it somewhat arrogant and selfish of me to start a business so early?  My family depends on me and so do my clients—wouldn’t a little more seasoning have been ideal?   Despite these doubts, I know I was ready.   But perhaps you’re facing uncertainty in your own life?  Perhaps you’re worried you lack the experience, money, etc….

Then again, you never truly know what you’re capable of until you take that risk.  No business is guaranteed to succeed and you won’t know for sure until you try.  So long as you have the basic competency required, who’s to say that waiting would be better?  After all, how many people spend their whole lives talking about what they are “going” to do rather than just going ahead and doing it?

Ways to Prepare

 

Maybe you’re considering starting your own business.  Perhaps you’ve already started but find yourself in over your head.  Here are some ways to prepare for the daunting journey that is being self employed:

Mentors

It’s almost a cliche, but nothing is more important than having a trusted mentor (or multiple mentors).  When you’re stuck, these are the people with the experience to help you resolve your issues.  Just remember that mentorship is a “two way” street.  For example, I try to remind my mentors of business opportunities, to have them speak at events I throw, etc., so that hopefully I’m giving to them as well.

Books/Reading

I’ve always learned best from reading.  Perhaps I’m a visual learner.  Reading relevant books and/or magazine/newspaper articles in your industry is one of the best things you can do to learn and stay ahead of newer developments.  In many fields, this isn’t just recommended: it’s a requirement.

Seminars/Classes

This is another way to prepare and in many instances is a bare minimum of what is required.

Start/Join a Group

Perhaps you can start or join a group to learn more about your field.

Blog/Teach/Speak

Teaching is one of the best ways to learn.

Bring in Another Expert

Ask for a second opinion, bring in another expert (if so permitted in your field).

Research

In this modern age, the answer is likely out there somewhere.  There’s probably not any issue you can face that someone hasn’t already dealt with.

Conclusion

There’s no worse feeling in the world than being in over your head.  When you’re starting a business, however, there are going to be times when you feel stressed out and unable to deal with certain problems or issues.  When that occurs, I hope the above list helps you out.  And if you feel you lack the requisite skills, then perhaps the above can help give you the confidence to finally break away and start your own business.