Category Archive 'Business & entrepreneurship'

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:


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.



Experiments with My Business

Business & entrepreneurship

“When your business is ready for change, you must change it.  If you don’t, things will get bad.  Sales will slow or refunds will soar, or your best employees will walk out on you.  If you stubbornly insist on sticking with the old ways, the damage could become irreversible.”  -Michael Masterson, Ready, Fire, Aim.

I’ve been in business six months now.  That doesn’t provide too large of a sample size, but it’s enough time for me to start realizing some of the flaws in my business practices.  You see, I’ve never had any formal business training.  I’ve read a ton of books about business and worked towards my “Personal MBA” (, but mostly I’ve learned and worked to improve within my field.   Now, I have both a “profession” and a “business.”  A great book on this dichotomy is Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth.”

Experiments with my Business

Systematic Marketing

One of the biggest problems with my business is a reliance on “fairy godmother” type new business generation.  I’m always counting on a referral or a big break.  I’m not sure where it will come from, but like the Field of Dreams I’m hoping to just “build it” and hope they come.  Although in a professional business referrals are important, this mentality has left me feeling anxious.  It has also led to many up and down months.  I would like more consistency.

One of the things I’ve learned from my business readings is the importance of a systematic marketing plan.  For instance, perhaps I should be sending out a certain numbers of mass mailers each month.  If I can get to the point where I know how much business these will bring in, per every thousand sent (for example), then I will have a better idea of business generation and how to grow my business.  The same would apply for advertising or other marketing endeavors.

Web Presence 

Another part of my business that has been hit or miss is client generation from my web presence.  Sometimes my website will get me two new leads in a day.  Then I might not get a single call from my website for a month.  I suppose that’s to be expected with a new website, but I’ve redesigned and hired someone to do a little SEO consulting.  I’m hoping these will create a more regular stream of business leads.

Can My Business Run Without Me?

Well no–I’m its only employee right now.  But one of the thing’s Gerber’s book pointed out was the need for the business to not rely totally upon its owner.   If it does, then you will never be able to sell the business (when the time comes) for the price it deserves.  I have seen blogs sold where a “committee” of writers take over—and have seen this done with success—but I also think there is a value in being able to keep your business running even if, for example, you have a major health problem.

I’ve tried writing out instructions for my business in hopes of making it easier should something happen to me or should I bring in employees.

Emphasis on Customer Service

Everyone likes to preach customer service, but few deliver.  In Joe Calloway’s great business book Indispensable, he makes the point that (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘every business has a mission statement promising great customer service, but few actually deliver anywhere near those lofty goals.’

I worry about that being the case with my business, but I’ve been working on ways to ensure a better customer service experience.  Who hasn’t walked away from a perfectly competent accountant or doctor because they (or their staff) were rude?  I don’t want that to be my business.  I want to be both polite and competent, and to exceed the expectations.  Wow, that sounds almost like a lofty “Mission Statement,” doesn’t it?  Looks like it’s time for some more experiments.  For the survival of my business, I need to deliver.

What are some of the qualities of your favorite companies?  What have you found successful in your own businesses?  As always, I’m looking forward to your responses.


But I’m a Man—I Should be the Breadwinner!

Business & entrepreneurship, Career, Personal finance

I’m not trying to be controversial with this post.  I’m just trying to describe my own feelings.  These are my feelings and not those of the owner of this site or anyone else, for that matter.  With that disclaimer in mind, here goes:

As I’ve written about many times on this site, I recently started my own business.  In many ways, it has been rewarding.  In other ways it’s been difficult.  One of the toughest things for me to deal with is not being able to contribute to the financial resources of my family like I used to.  Before I started my own business, I was an equal partner (financially) in the marriage.  I may have even been (by a slight margin) the breadwinner.  I know it sounds old fashioned, but I’ve always wanted to be the breadwinner.  Now don’t get me wrong, I want my Wife to earn a ton of money.  But I want to feel that I’m playing my part too.  It’s disheartening to me that my Wife is under so much financial pressure because I started my own business.  It doesn’t help that I’m always working on my business, so I’m not around a lot either.

My Wife has never made me feel bad about not being able to contribute to the family’s finances much (and in the beginning of my business, not at all).  She has been more supportive than I have any right to deserve.  But again, there is this (perhaps) old fashioned feeling inside me that says things like: “you’re not a man, you’re a freeloader living off the hard work and health insurance of your Wife.”

I know we’re in the twenty-first century, but it still pains me to not be able to be an equal partner in terms of paying our mortgage, student loans, etc.  I hope that doesn’t make me sexist in any way, but it is how I feel.  I know if things were reversed she’d feel a similar pressure,  as our house requires two salaries to run.  We have six figure student loan debt.  We pay $2,500 each month for our mortgage.  We are struggling.

Sometimes that pressure is compounded by the uncertainty of operating a new business.  You never know if the business is ultimately going to succeed.  You like to think, “well I can put up with some lean times because it’s going to all pay off in the end.” But there is no guarantee that it will.  None at all.  The business might never generate a decent living.  I might have to give it up and go back to working for someone else, having only wasted my time and lost out on months (or even years) of a steady salary and benefits package.

Those inner fears sometimes make me take on clients that I shouldn’t.  They sometimes make me take on difficult clients or clients who can only pay (1/2) up front.  (And I know I’ll never see the second half).

I’ve tried to pick up more freelance writing income to supplement my income and help pay some bills.  That’s been a big help. Before, my freelance writing income would pay for a fancy vacation each year.  Now it pays for groceries.  I’m grateful for it.

But I can’t help but feel bad for my Wife.  I want her to have everything she deserves, and right now I can barely provide her with anything.  Just my big old stupid self.

Have you ever experienced such a situation?  Am I a total sexist jerk?  Please tell me I’m not, because I swear it’s all well-intentioned.

I look forward as always to reading your responses.



Attitude And Selling

Business & entrepreneurship

Most people aren’t born to sell.  We’re not raised to sell either.  Growing up we’re taught modesty.  Moreover, most of us do not wish to sell.  We learned medicine, law, accounting, plumbing, teaching, etc.  Then we go out into the work force and realize that every job is selling.  If you’re a customer service representative you’re selling a brand image.  If you’re a teacher you’re selling your students on learning and the administration that you’re a good teacher.  If you’re a doctor you still need to find patients somehow.

In my recent business endeavor, I’ve found the generation of clients to be difficult.  Just getting the telephone to ring can be challenging.  Then there’s the matter of closing the deal.  I’ve learned that it’s important to have the proper attitude.  As the saying goes, if you don’t believe in your own product (or yourself), then nobody else will.

Different Styles

That’s not to say that everyone should try and become something their not.  I’m not a hard seller and I’m not that smooth.  My sales pitch is one of honesty.  But at the same time, I can’t undercut my business or my skills.  That kind of modesty can destroy opportunities.  At the same time, some people are turned off by salesmanship that seems too polished.

When You’ve Sealed the Deal, Shut Up

This is something that comes up in a lot of books on sales.  Once you’ve got the deal, shut up and get out of their before you mess it up.  It’s natural to want to shore up details, but perhaps that can wait until later.

Seek Help From Others

I recently had a business request a “sales proposal.”  As I didn’t go to business school I wasn’t even sure what he meant.  I told him I would get him a sales proposal within a few days and then called around to get some forms.  There’s no need to reinvent the wheel–particularly when you’re version of the wheel may not even be round.

Think Before You Speak

When a person is nervous, it’s only natural that they might say something they’ll regret.  Nerves increase word volume, verbosity, etc.  Nerves can get in the way of a sale.


From my reading, it seems that enthusiasm is almost always a good quality.  Whether you’re selling yourself at a job interview or trying to sell a prospect on your business, enthusiasm is a natural seller.  There’s a limit of course, but I always err on the side of being too enthusiastic provided it’s natural.

Take Something From It

If you don’t get the sale maybe you still keep the person as a contact and try and help them when you can.  Maybe it becomes an even bigger sale later on.  Maybe you offer to sell something smaller and work your way up from there.

Only Sell What You Can Deliver

Some people will say anything to seal a deal, but they are the ones who are going to find themselves miserable when they can’t perform.  As they say, you can only fool the public for so long.  It’s important to get the deal but also get the price you’re worth, the work load you can handle, and to set the parameters early on in the relationship.


The above are some of the common themes (and a few personal anecdotes) I’ve noticed while reading more than a few books on sales.  What would you add?




Traits of Success Based on Reading dozens of Presidential Biographies

Business & entrepreneurship

I’ve recently been attempting to read a biography of every United States President.  While like any country, we’ve had both good and bad leaders, it can’t be denied that each of these men have reached the pinnacle of their profession.  While being raised with “blue blood” and a lot of money helps (as does marrying well), there are still some lessons commoners such as myself can take from these CEO’s of politics.

Rising Early

Want to emulate the success of U.S. Presidents?  You can start by waking up while it’s still dark outside.

It seems like almost every biography I read about a President mentions how they: “Always rose early and often had more work done by lunch than most people would accomplish all day.”

Although Mark Twain once famously refuted this belief when he said:  ”Therefore, how is a man to grow healthier, and wealthier, and wiser by going to bed early and getting up early, when he fails to accomplish these things even when he does not go to bed at all?”  It appears that the majority of great achievers get an early start each morning.

Like Twain, this is not good news for me.  I am a natural night-owl, and remember even as a kid preferring to stay up late.

President Truman was known to be up by 5:30 a.m., each morning.  George Washington was also known to be an early bird.  This is not surprising due to each men’s background in farming.  Benjamin Franklin–although not a former president–was perhaps one of the biggest proponents of early rising, however, and he was a printer/writer.  You would think that if there is anyone who likely would prefer a late schedule it’s a writer/printer.

It appears that waking up early is a key to success in business/life.  I wish this wasn’t the case but it appears to be true.  It must allow you to focus more time during the morning/afternoon when work is being done and less time wasted at night when personal pursuits are more commonly pursued.  (such as watching television).

Dress the Part

Another, perhaps less surprising trait of great achievers is their placing a high importance on how they dress/appear.  As I am currently learning from the George Washington biography I am currently reading, Washington sometimes perhaps cared more about appearance than even the skill or ability of his men.  Besides being almost obsessed with his own appearance, he had a height requirement of “between 5-8 and 5-10? for his secret guard.  In other words, he sought guards who were very tall for the time–but not quite as tall as he.

President Truman, who prior to his presidency owned a haberdashery  boutique, was also often described as a “sharp dresser.”  One wonders if he would have achieved half of the political success that he did if he didn’t strive to “look the part.”

Take Risks

Most of the best presidents were daring.  Teddy Roosevelt moved by himself to North Dakota to try and start a ranch.  The ranch ended up being a failure but later pursuits proved more fruitful.  Most of the presidents have moved between private and public sector work.


Wake up early, take risks, and try to dress well—fair or not, those seem to be three reoccurring themes, and I suppose it makes sense: one has to wake up early enough to find time to “dress for success.”   Although these are pretty standard pieces of advice, I did find it interesting how they played such a large role in most of the president’s lives and personal success.

What are some other reoccurring traits of success?