Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What to do during the holiday distraction?

Have you noticed how trying to conduct business now is almost impossible?  I had a meeting today and the person didn't show up.  Not because they were being rude but because they were focused on the North Pole ... Christmas, shopping, making sure everything was perfect for their family.  Ugh...

Keep up the fight!  Although some of you may be distracted by the same theme, don't forget to use this 'in between' time to catch up on your list of follow-up items, letters that need to be written and your game plan for 2011 and how you're going to get the business, grow your business and make sure you are clear and concise in how you sell your product or service.

It's a time for you to build momentum by knowing that you are poised and ready to go for the new year.  Remember, next week won't be any better because people have New Years on their minds and the potential parties they may attend.  It's just two weeks of no serious business that provides all of us self-employed, business builders with free time to re-group, revise and put together new strategies.

Use this time wisely and productively and don't forget to assess how your efforts turned into business.  That's an important part of being a good business owner.  You always evaluate, get feedback and make the necessary changes as you move forward.

Happy Holidays to All !!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Customer Satisfaction...or not

Something we all want is customer satisfaction.  Customers are the reason we are in business.  Whether you are a consultant or a retail business or an artist or writer...you are doing what you do (because you love it..hopefully) and ultimately you are hoping someone else will too so it is important that you place "value" on your customer to be sure your attitude matches.

It has always been interesting to watch clients manage their customers.  Some work very hard to provide high quality products and services and get very few complaints.  They are enthusiastic about their business and value their customers.  In fact they proactively seek out feedback so they can continue to provide top service or products.  However, there is a fraction of businesses that perhaps have gotten tired or are struggling and their anxieties & fears come through when their customers complain.  I have witnessed business owners getting very angry and critical of customers who dared to complain or voice dissatisfaction.  They respond in a combative manner and suggest to the other employees that the customer is the "real problem" - this is never a good sign on many levels.  Note to reader:  if you find yourself feeling this way about your customers...it's a good time to step back and consider talking with someone about these feelings.  It means that there's something else going on that needs to be addressed.

Some customers or clients are absolutely demanding and hardly enjoyable to deal with but there are ways to manage these people and create a win-win result.  In some cases it may be time to fire a customer because no matter how hard you try they are not going to be satisfied.  The key is to know when you've reached this point.

Here is an article that will hopefully be helpful to you with customers issues Handling Customer Complaints.  It's always good to consider the many options available and to check your own attitude regarding these ideas.  Remember, getting a good result has as much to do with your personal feelings and attitudes as it does with the person in front of you complaining.  Remember, it is a good thing that they came to you because they are giving you the opportunity to fix the problem.  Unfortunately for every one that comes to you there are probably some that don't but if you  'listen & learn' from these folks, you are minimizing further issues going forward.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No one cares as much as you do -

If you've been working hard, trying to make contacts, networking like there is no tomorrow and expect that others are going to care as much as you do about building your success, stop now...NO ONE cares as much as you and probably no one is thinking about you or your business like you are.

I've joined a networking group and have met some great people who have very successful businesses.  They're established and doing well, even in these economic times.  One in particular has more business than expected in a time that is usually quiet.  She is a wonderful individual who has built a very successful business.  But she cares the most about it's success.  Another man has the same thing going for himself.  He's a wonderful person who has worked hard to build a successful business.  Like the other, he values his customers and employees and both know it but no one cares as much as he does about the success of his business.

Networking is an art and process that almost takes on a life of it's own.  In some respects it's another 'job' that people do in order to get customers.  It's really about building relationships that may, over time, MAY result in a business connection but it's not necessarily the way you're going to build you business base.  

In my recent experience I've not gotten any referrals but I've met many wonderful and qualified professionals.  This is always a good thing but on a few things that I've asked for help on, the responses didn't come.  How many times do you follow up and remind people before it becomes a futile attempt?   This is what I mean about 'No one cares as much as you do.'

People are well intentioned but busy.  Everyone is trying to focus their energy on keeping the business they have and building from that so they are not thinking outside their box - they are focused in their box so they can sustain themselves through these rough times.  However I do get disappointed and you will too but you can't let these experiences shade or taint your own optimism about what it is you want to accomplish.  In fact, I'm believing that it may be a sign that the 'fit' just isn't right for getting the business that I want.

Those of us in service businesses are competing against equally qualified people who (also like us) are trying to make ends meet.  It is your job to distinguish yourself from the others and set out to sell that which is unique about you to your potential clients.  For me, although I do bookkeeping, it actually is a small part of the overall services I provide for my clients and that part is what I need to get better at when I'm talking about what I do.  

Remember that no one cares as much as you do about your success ... so, start each day with that idea and work towards developing the personal strength to make your business happen!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Just where have I been?

I would like to say that I've been away on a European vacation but that is definitely not so.  I've had some personal matters to attend to that took all of my focus.  Funny how things that involve our deep emotions are so labor intensive.  I just couldn't focus on anything and realized, anything I wrote would have the wrong under tone attached to it.  I so appreciate all of you readers who hopefully find value in what I write, so thank you for your patience and know that I have returned.

I'm busy reading the NYTimes and INC Magazine to see what gems of info I can pass on to you.  It's Sunday - have a good one and I will be writing more shortly.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Advice from the Experts - Tax & Entity Formation

This week I have information for all of you who are wondering about the type of entity you should operate under.  Sole-proprietorship, S-Corp, C-Corp or ???  There are always reasons to be considered before you make a decision and one of my colleagues, David Herndon who is a tax and business advisor has written the following article about this subject.

Many times clients ask, when opening a business, “what about an LLC or an S Corp?”  The question is really a bigger one—should I operate as a Sole Proprietor, or operate through an LLC company, or in the form of a for-profit corporation?  I wish it were this easy, but to answer this seemingly simple question means asking lots of questions and gathering an intimate knowledge of the client’s situation.

Assuming a viable profit model for their business, I first ask questions trying to determine whether there is a need for some form of liability protection for their business.  Each states’ laws are different, but generally they all offer for-profit corporations and limited liability companies under their laws.  For the purposes of this discussion, I will assume we are dealing with a sole owner—that is, we are not talking about a business that will have two or more owners.

If there is a need for liability protection above and beyond that provided by a commercial or professional liability policy, I will then rule out the sole proprietorship form for the business.  I will next try to assess what the client’s ability is to keep pristine legal records and to follow a more rigid legal structure [which is both more stringent in a for-profit corporation than in a limited liability company] and whether their business model will have employees, other than the owner.

If the business will have employees other than the owner, then the business will have to process payroll and file payroll tax reports, etc., without regard to how we pay the owner.  If however, the business will not have employees, but only compensate the owner for his/her services, then the LLC form versus the for-profit form of entity may be the easiest for the owner to deal with—particularly if a less rigid legal structure seems easier for the owner to operate under.   If however the business appears to be one that will have profits in excess of that which the owner “needs” to live on, I will tend towards a for-profit corporation.  An LLC is reported on a Schedule C of the owner’s form 1040, personal income tax return, and the full profit is subject to ordinary personal income tax as well as self-employment taxes [social security and medicare].  Any profit left for savings or reinvestment is left over after maximum taxes have been applied.

But with a for-profit corporation, the owner is presented with a couple of choices perhaps limiting the income tax and social security/medicare tax bite.  This could represent a considerable annual cash savings for the owner.  With a for-profit corporation, although a more rigid legal structure, one can decide to leave the corporation taxable [referred to as a C Corp] or avoid the corporate level tax by a tax election under the income tax law [referred to as an S Corp].

But with either of these approaches, the owner needs to include him/herself on payroll from the corporation.  If the owner is going to be running payroll for other employees, then the small cost of processing payroll for him/herself is nominal—and the owner is already dealing with the fact of payroll reports, payroll taxes, workers compensation insurance, etc. for the employees.

If the owner has the ability to put aside a cash savings each year, to accumulate an amount of money without regard to needing it for reinvestment in the business currently, then a C Corporation might be best.  If the owner is otherwise at a high personal tax bracket, then the bottom federal rate of 15% might offer a 20% +/- savings on up to $50,000 of corporate profit each year.  The tax law currently allows you to accumulate up to $250,000 in a C Corporation without any “need” to justify retaining this amount of corporate profit.  So the basic financial model would be to form a for-profit corporation, do not elect S Corp tax status, put the owner on payroll, and “manage” the corporate profit at year-end by possible bonuses to the owner—you would target closing the books with $50,000 of taxable corporate profit for the company.  In addition to the tax rate spread difference in cash savings, the owner saves self employment taxes on the amount of profit left behind in the company versus what otherwise would have to be paid in either the Sole Proprietor or LLC mode. 

If however, the business model is a profitable one, but the owner may need all the money to live on or grow the business on, then an S Corporation tax election may be the preferred choice.  Under an S Corp model, the owner still must be on payroll as the IRS requires that the company pay the owner a reasonable, comparable salary for their labors and work efforts.  But the balance of the profits, representing a return on the investment to the owner as profit for money invested or business risk taken, can pass through to the owner’s personal income tax return free of any self employment [social security and medicare taxes] thus saving those two taxes being imposed on the S Corp income.

Ask questions and be sure you give complete information so that your advisor can give you their best advice concerning your true situation.  Building an effective business/tax model for a client is no different than building an effective estate plan for a client.  The adviser must ask lots of open questions, gather data and information, then apply his/her years of knowledge of the tax law and experiences with other similar client situations to best advise the new client of his/her opinion of the legal and tax route the client should take.

David Herndon
Herndon Co., Tax Accountants
4411 Holland Loop Rd
Cave Junction, OR 97523
541-592-6688 [office]

So after reading this you should be giving consideration to whether or not you are operating on an entity that is most appropriate for you.  This is why having an advisor that is not only familiar with business but taxes is a valuable asset to your support team.  In my experience not all CPA's or tax preparers 'advise' small businesses and not all business consultants have an in-depth knowledge of the tax laws and how they impact a business structure.  Take the time to find the right people to help you and in the end they will earn their weight in fees by protecting you from any unnecessary financial consequences.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

More Banking Info

My colleague at US Bank is a high energy, committed to top customer service banker and because of that he has sent me more information on how he and his bank can help small business customers sustain and grow their business through business loans.

Business Loans:
In small business, a lot of times business owners would use their own capital or liquid assets. It is always good in the beginning or some what in their near future after growth of the business to get some sort of credit product. In doing so, it builds your businesses credit, and makes it credit worthy for any future big loans, like a loan for buying a building, equipment, or expanding the business. A business loan is also advantageous, because it can free up your liquid assets, or for those who have are waiting to receive payment from customers or vendors, it can provide that cash flow.
Things US Bank provides in business credit products are: basic as a Business credit card( a great way to start business credit), Equipment financing(Flexible terms, great rates, possible tax savings), Cash flow lines of credit, Quick loans (Term loans), Commercial Real Estate loans.
Depending on industry risk of businesses, US Bank also provide SBA loans for those in business less than 2 yrs. We also provide SBA Patriot Express loans up to $25,000 for those applicants or spouse that is a veteran or current member of military, reserves or national guard.
Thank you!
Andy Yang
Branch Manager
Menlo Park Office
1105 El Camino Real
Menlo Park CA 94025
Creating a strong banking relationship is something that happens over time.  Because you are doing so many things when you are running your own business, even if you are self-employed, knowing that your money is in good hands and that you are getting the best rates for business checking accounts and savings accounts or business loans is something that creates peace of mind.
So when time is available give Andy a call and see what he can do to help you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Keep Going!

Keeping to your vision is quite a feat of courage and resolve.

Maybe it's me but there are times when so many opinions come at me about what I should do...how I should do it...why I'm not a sales person...don't have the "killer" instinct to close...maybe I should get a government job...the list goes on and on.  All intentions are good intentions but over time and when there's a lull in productivity...I get to wondering myself.  Just what the heck am I doing?

No one really knows what it is that is driving you but you!  People who know you 'think' they know what's going on in your head but in fact they only have their opinions and experiences of you.  Even those folks who are very successful sometimes can make comments that really have no basis for you to move forward.  These comments are based on their path to success and no two people are alike...right?  So what do you do when you're on overload and feeling a bit confused about what you're doing and where you're going?

JUST KEEP GOING...know that these periods of questioning are just part of the journey.  Things come our way to challenge our resolve.  Do we have what it takes to build a business that will take care of our financial needs and allow us to have a life that is comfortable?  One thing you can do is get out and change your daily pattern.  Get out into the world and observe what's going on.  Interact in areas totally unrelated to your business and feed your head with pleasant and enjoyable experiences that will re-generate and relieve any anxiety or tension.  Take a yoga class ... walk in the park ... if you golf, go out and hit balls or play 9 holes.  Give yourself an opportunity to re-charge your batteries.  Stop the rumination over work and provide yourself with input that will feed your sense of doing what is right for you...what feels good and what you know is all you can do right now.

We live in challenging times and society applies pressure on everyone to get educated...work hard...put in long hours...sacrifice so you get ahead....don't give up...work work work....make sure you buy all the symbols that signify success...on and on and on.  DON'T GET TRAPPED...be clear on who you are...what you want...and where YOU want to go - stay on track...and just keep going!  One step at a time.  Don't give up the idea that you can have your own business.  The opportunities are there...just rest your mind and unconscious and allow solutions to bubble up.   You'll be surprised what might just 'pop' into your head!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Find a good Listener

Being on my own has taught me many things but one thing I've learned is how important it is to have someone you can talk to who is a good listener. 

Now maybe you have this already and that's great -- but if you don't seek this person out.  They may be a former teacher, or a friend or a banker or???  But it is important to have someone around that you can have that you trust to listen and provide good observations to your current situations.  The Small Business Association has retired professionals who will meet with you and give you advice as to how you can build your business.  It's a place to get started if you are in search of this person. Think of people you have worked with who you developed a strong relationship with...are any of these people available to brainstorm with?  Sometimes people who have built their own business are willing to help others and this would be a great resource on many levels and lets not forget associations that are formed around various industries can be good resources in making contacts that can provide the support, camaraderie and insights into what it's like to build a business.

The point is that you can find hundreds of articles on line that provide information and you can become part of an on-line support group in your industry...but what really makes the difference is the actual one-on-one discussions that allow you to hear yourself talk about what you do and what areas are challenging to a person who can understand what you are going through.  Their immediate response to your ideas, their body language often give you clues into your presentation and communications skills.  Personal interaction is key to developing strong relationships and in the end what you are really doing with your clients/customers is building those relationships.

Don't be disappointed if this kind of person takes time to find.  I've met with so many people recently who were so happy talking about themselves.  Yes, they would pose a question or two to me...but then the conversation turned to them.  These people are not helpful and probably not the appropriate people you are looking for when it comes to needing your ideas or experiences validated.  Sort through and find people who understand what "listening" is all about and are good at it.  Unfortunately because there seems to be such a lack of good listeners...many people hire professionals to do the listening.  Whether they are therapists, consultants, coaches or the like....these people get paid to listen and help you sort these things out.  If money is tight...I suggest being up front with a professional and tell them about your budget constraints and ask if they have the flexibility to work with you.  I have found that many people will be flexible and find a way to make their services available to you and a fee that you can afford...but you'll never know unless you ask.

Good listeners are hard to find.  If you have one - make sure you show your appreciation and don't take them for granted.  They are a rare commodity in a world filled with people trying to get heard.  No wonder listening is hard to find.  Go out and find your listener.  Next become a good listener to them.  Learn the skill of listening and reflecting back what you've heard.  This skill will bring you more success with your clients and customers.  Remember how good you feel when you know you've been heard or understood.  Your clients are no different.

Each day make a point of practicing 'good listening' and see how it changes your relationships.  Report back on any discoveries you make.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Asking your self some good questions is important

Whenever you are thinking about working for yourself or starting your own business, it is very important that you ask yourself many questions about the entire concept and grow to understand what is motivating you to move in this direction.  Sometimes necessity is the trigger for one being on their own (lost job) but other times people reach a point where they are burnt out on the idea of getting up and going to the same place day after day, working in an environment that is not interesting or stimulating and in some cases working for a boss that they have challenges with.  Whatever the reason...stepping out on your own is not a baby step...it's a big step and you should gather information from sources that you can trust.

You need to do your homework too.  Gather information about the industry you are thinking of entering.  Talk with people doing what you want to do.  Remember, in general, you are not doing something new.  In fact most things have been done before and it is up to you to figure out why these previous attempts may have failed...and why you won't.  What's your spin?  How will it produce different results?

I read an article this morning by Scott Gerber (don't know if he's related to Michael Gerber who wrote 'The E-Myth') entitled  Why "Be Passionate" is Awful Advice.   In it Mr. Gerber provides some key questions that anyone thinking of starting their own business should consider.  I think his list is a good one to keep and review while you go through your own process of evaluating what you are going to do, why you are doing it and if you have the resources to make it a go.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quick Computer Password Info

Computer intelligence can take time to get up to speed on.  Knowing how to manage your computer information takes focus and the time to really think about back up, passwords, protection etc.  Because most of us gather and disseminate information via our computers/laptops it behooves us to be at least minimally informed.  Have the proper back up system in place (and do regular backups) and if we don't have the time, find a reliable source for this area of business and get that person in to review and advise what's working, where your holes are and make recommendations on what you might need moving forward as you grow.

Here's one article on passwords.  There's some good information that will be helpful.  Just one more resource for you to have.  5 Password Myths Dispelled

Here's another article on passwords that provides useful information.  How a Pas5word Can Sink Your Company   This one is from the NYTimes who has a comprehensive section on business.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Work together and Support Small Business

After talking with a local merchant a couple weeks ago, I just can't get out of my mind the notion that local business owners may not be working together to survive a challenging economy.  This morning I read a really touching article that talked about a time when all hope seemed lost for many people.  The town was Canton, Ohio and the period was the depression.  One man, anonymously helped others.  Not in huge or grand ways but in small and important ways.  Kindness in Canton   Now I know times are different and I think doing things anonymously seems like it would be more challenging but the point is someone who was able helped others. 

We can do that too.  Now more than any other time we all need to work together to come up with ways to bring business to our small communities.  Retail merchants need to rally around each other and put together 'events' that draw the residents of the community to come and enjoy their local merchants.  We are not competing with each other we are experiencing the economy together...why not?  Aren't we our best resource for support and new ideas?

The other way we can support our local small businesses is to do our best to buy local.  I know there are many people who are shopping for families and they have to search for bargains...but many times small local shops are not too far off from the larger stores.  We need to build our local economies so they can support the families that live within.  These local economies, if they are thriving they are hiring...and this is important for our kids and adults who search daily for employment.

For those who are self-employed...our communities are our best source of small jobs that will keep us going and growing.  These small businesses need help in so many areas but can't afford to "staff" their business so each are opportunities for people with talent to get a contract and help a business.

As I've said all along...though the times are challenging....they are also times that are forcing us to see making money in a different way.  Being creative, inventive, original.  Think about things you need or see that can be done better or differently.  Instead of sitting and being focused on what isn't happening...think about what is and where you can fit in and get work.

If you are one of the lucky ones who are flush with cash ... maybe you can be one of the quiet heroes of your time because you are helping your community in quiet and anonymous ways?  We can all do our part...in small ways...to support ourselves, our families and our community.  It just takes doing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Getting Started...each day!

Sometimes it's tough to be optimistic and other times it's just plain tough to get off our butts and move.  There are so many things that end up on our personal agendas that we can get to a place where we feel overwhelmed by all that needs to be done.

I think it's especially challenging for those of us, self-employed, trying to make a living.  Besides having to be the creative director of our future...we need to pay bills, take care of family commitments (if we have families) pay health insurance [which is really a bugger] and get out and meet and greet people, hoping to make contacts and drum up business.

What I do when I'm feeling stuck is I just do one thing.  I get myself re-involved with what needs to get done by making a 'To Do' list.  It helps me see that first, I do have work to do and that is a good thing; and second, that I do have ideas and possibilities for more work.  Third, I am part of a community and not isolated and alone and all I have to do is get out and re-connect with that community.

Sometimes all it takes is walking down the street, saying hello to those I meet.  Other times I go to a shopping center and walk around and see how many people are out and about.  I find when I just let myself relax and get out, that my creative sense ignites and ideas start flowing.  This always gives me hope for the future and my ability to creative a business and a life that flow together.  My instincts tell me that I need to be doing that which helps others.  I know that's how I'm made...so my business is all about helping people be prosperous - in life and /or in their business.  It's not just about getting their bills paid and money collected.  No, it's making sure that they are are the right track, for them, so they can be successful and prosperous in a life that means something.

Of course sometimes we lose track of such ideas because now, more than ever, we are working hard to either get new business or keep the business we have in an economy struggling...but when we can clear our heads from the anxiety about all that is going on around us and come back to what our part is and how we can do better at our part...somehow it brings back the positive energy and clarity that helps us all wake up excited about the new day!

Today is Sunday...make it a day that will re-energize you and your attitude for today and tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Advice from the Experts - Banking

As I mentioned, I'm trying to incorporate a feature called "Advice from the Experts" which will have articles addressing topics like banking, taxes, entity formation, marketing and any service small business owners would need and use. 

Today I have information on banking and small business banking services provided by one of our local banks, US Bank.  I've met with the Branch Manager, Andy Yang, who is enthusiastic and committed to top customer service that helps the individual customer as well as small businesses throughout his local community.

He has put together some of the services US Bank offers to small business owners.

1) Accounts: How we at US Bank help out new business owners or sole proprietors, is starting out with the basics. First essential thing is establishing a business account, and not use a personal account for business activities. Reasoning behind it is, you can use a business account for tax purpose(write-off, etc. but speak to a CPA for tax questions), and business account builds for future business lending needs and it establishes your business.
Because we know new businesses need a place to start, USB provides Free Small Business Checking account. It comes with NO monthly maintenance fee, 50% off first checks up to $75, free cash reward debit card, 150 free transactions per month, and free online banking access.
USBank's focus, is in line with my focus, which is to build deeper relationships with our clients.
Andy Yang
Branch Manager

Menlo Park Office
1105 El Camino Real
Menlo Park CA 94025

I think all of us have had our share of good and bad experiences with banks and bankers.  I can tell you from personal experience that Andy Yang is what we are all looking for in a personal banker.  When you walk into his branch in Menlo Park, he greets you and takes the time to find out how you are, what you need and how he can help you find a solution. 

In fact, one day I was in the bank making a deposit for a customer and a gentleman came in carrying his luggage.  Andy greeted the man (who he knew because he was a customer) and found out that he needed to call a cab.  Andy moved his luggage to the side and brought him over to his desk where he got him the ride he needed.   This is what Andy offers to his customers...a personal relationship that is not just about banking but about helping you in small ways that can make big differences in how you feel about your bank.

So, if you to create a business banking relationship, a small business loan or are looking for the personal touch that may be missing at your current banking institution, give Andy Yang a call. 

Learn more about US Bank by visiting their website US Bank .

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Should you hang a "hazard" sign around your neck?

A behavior that I've observed in many small business owners is their inability to get out of their own way.  By that I mean, sometimes they are not the best person to do the job, run the business, market the business or simply grow the business.  They become the bottleneck...as I've heard it described.  Anyone who has worked with this type of individual will know immediately what I am talking about.

He or she has a difficult time being open to feedback.  They believe that they know the 'best' way to do things or execute things; they react negatively to employees who offering alternative solutions by seeing why those suggestions won't work and they usually end up with employees who have no voice in making things better in their own working environment.  In the pre-economic crash time these businesses also had a higher turnover of their valuable employees.

If any of you have had the opportunity to work for a really great manager you instantly know the difference and that difference shows up in employees who are committed to the success of the business or their department or their team.  They know their opinions and suggestions are valued and want to be heard so these employees become the businesses own 'think tanks'; what a great thing to have...people who's creative juices have been turned on because their boss / manager / leader has instilled in them his/her need to always be evaluating and thinking of new ways to minimize costs, process time etc while maximizing results.

Some business owners are the exception and they realize (sooner or later) that if their business is successful that they need strong and talented people around them to grow it to the next level and they cannot do it alone.  A recent example I read about this morning was the founder of Twitter, Evan Williams finally made such a decision and the article about it shows you how these things evolve.  Not everyone is born that great leader.  Time, experience, failures mold you into that which you desire to be...if you are open and willing to go there.

Read the article and you'll get a sense of this guy's history and then be able to watch what happens with Twitter and where it goes from here.  Why Twitter's CEO Demoted Himself

Have a great day!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Supporting your local business Community

Yesterday after meetings I walked down Santa Cruz Avenue here in Menlo Park.  It's the main street in Menlo Park and it's where all the local shops are gathered.  Retail merchants of all kinds.  I noticed an absence of congestion and thought, hmmm, maybe I just hit the street at a time when people are picking up kids or running to the grocery but I guess it's not an uncommon sight.

I walked into a small clothing shop to see what styles they were displaying for the winter and I was the only potential customer there.  The woman in the shop (who was one of the owners) was a delight to talk with.  She was upbeat, great sense of humor and more than willing to talk with me about how things have been going for her business.  Unfortunately, the story I heard from her was one that we are reading about each and every day.  Business down...foot traffic down...people are not shopping as they once did.

Since nothing was happening in the store we talked at length about how business has changed over the years she and her sister have had the stores and about the many things they have done in the way of marketing their business but in the end there just aren't as many customers shopping...which is the cold reality of the times.

A story that we are all hearing about reminds me once again that each and every one of us who are self-employed, running small businesses or starting them...we need to build a community that we look to for guidance and support.  We need to shop in our local communities so we are doing are part to support those that we want to support us.  Maybe we can't do it in all areas as a family with kids but very little income needs to consider the place that offers the best price...but when at all possible we need to remember our community and support the business people who are struggling to maintain during these challenging times.

Perhaps even take a moment to talk with your local merchants and ask how they're doing.  Let them know that you appreciate their business being there because they are part of the community you appreciate!  It doesn't take any extra time to let our local merchants know that they are valued.  I know it's not always dollars in their register's but it does help to know that you are aware of their world and how difficult it might be for them.

Do your best to support your community!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Advice from the Experts

I am going to be introducing a new feature to my blog and that will be to include an article from an 'expert'.  These articles will be written by individuals who have been working their respective professions for some time and who have developed a level of knowledge and experience that will be helpful to all of us working on self-employment or starting small companies. 

We all need to understand what we need to do as far as having the right insurance or knowing how to set ourselves up from a tax perspective or knowing how to 'pitch' our service or product and I thought what better way to get this kind of help but to go to the sources themselves.

As with any projects beginning, I have sent out my inquiries to the experts I know and have begun to hear back from them.  All, so far, have been willing to help with this new idea and I am looking forward to starting next Tuesday with the first of many.

Remember, there are many resources available to us when we search the Internet but it is always good to be hearing from people in different fields from a variety of backgrounds because if someone has been doing their job for many years....it is highly probable they have some good advice to share.  The fact that they are willing to do that I think is part of the supportive community I think all of us need to create so small business thrives and survives each challenging period we face.

There will be articles written by accountants, recruiters, insurance brokers, executive coaches, bankers and attorneys and if there are any other specific professions you would like to hear from, please let me know by emailing me at lavpoe@gmail.com.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Prepare for the Year End Mindset

It is almost November which means all the marketing for the holidays will be everywhere.  The push to the Christmas holidays will begin and everyone will be focused on getting through these times.

This makes our jobs much more challenging...to get our potential clients to think about how we can help them can become tougher.  Depending on what your business is you may have to be creative in how you go about selling it but it's always good to be prepared for how seasonal changes can create selling challenges.

In my business, bookkeeping & business management, I have a good opportunity to help people get through this busy & stressful time.  By bring their books current and organizing their tax in formation, I bring relief to them during a stressful time.  This makes for a reasonable selling point because once people get through the holidays they begin stressing about taxes.  They usually aren't prepared for their CPAs so help looks good at this point in time.  When they receive a tax preparation packet from their CPA they know the clock is ticking to tax time.  It's a great opportunity for me and one that I try to tap into when working to get new clients.

For you, I don't know what your opportunity is but it's always good to think about and re-evaluate your position in selling yourself.  Always be aware of your customer's 'state of mind' what are the challenges they are facing for the business they are running?  If you can tap into that place it will give you clues to how you might be most effective in presenting yourself and selling your business to them.  You'll know immediately if you've got it right because their reaction will tell you that you understand their position. 

I remember the many companies I worked for and how people were not as focused during the holiday season as they were the rest of the year.  As an employee it can be a really enjoyable time but when you're in business for yourself...it can be a challenge and one you'll need to prepare for.

Put on your thinking cap - it's Monday, another week for opportunities to be explored!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't let your anxiety get the best of you!

Are you having one of those days when you're about ready to jump out of your skin?  Is your anxiety level reaching a point where it's taking away from your ability to remain positive and productive about your opportunities?

If so then you need to get busy "investing" in your future.  By that I mean, go for a walk/run/bike ride - something to use up some of your excess energy and wake up those "good hormones" to get moving around in your body & mind.  Next, make sure your desk is cleared of clutter.  Seeing clutter can make you feel even more anxious and out of control.  Organize your desk, your closet, your car...garage, whatever appears to be a mess.  What this will do for you is again, use up some of your excess anxiety/energy and give you a visual that will show you immediate results.  Yes, you did it!  You cleaned up and organized these areas and it will feel good by giving you a sense of accomplishment.  You need this because as time goes by and no client calls, no calls inquiring about your services, you begin to feel more and more removed from your successes.  Don't let that happen.

This is when it becomes a mind game...mind over matter..I'm sure you've heard this expression many times and that is because so much of our life is about that.   The reason I bring this up is because it is an important point.  So many people accomplish things in their life not necessarily because they are smarter, more talented, more lucky or financially more able...sometimes what gets them to their goals is their ability to mentally stand strong. 

I had a landlord who ran marathons like they were just a walk to the corner store.  He did them regularly and without any physical problems.  As time went on he decided he wanted to challenge himself so he made the decision to train for the ultra marathons and this for him was the big endurance run held up in the Sierras...the name escapes me right now.  Anyway, as I mentioned, running 26 miles was nothing and even working up to 50 was pretty much ok but then as he increased past that mark it became more and more difficult.  Now I would have thought that maybe it just was to much on his body but one day I bumped into him one day and asked how training was going and he said he'd given up the goal.  "What?!!"  I remarked.  He proceeded to explain that he learned he that he could get ready physically but he just couldn't make it mentally.  No matter how many times he tried...at a point he couldn't mentally push on and through the wall.

The same holds true for the many people out there who are self-employed, running a small business or ramping up a start-up...it becomes a game of mental strength. Pushing yourself mentally through those days when all seem hopeless.  I had a day like that yesterday.  I felt do discouraged that driving home from a meeting I realized tears were running down my face...why?  Because it's scary out there...it's not easy putting yourself on the line each and every day.  It's not fun, sending out your letters or flyers or cold-calling when you are tired and seeing your bank account get closer and closer to being empty.  But these are normal reactions to the world of self-employment.  To a world that could be very new to many of you.

Just keep going.  Keep focused on who you are and what your business is...involve yourself in one of your marketing tools.  Examine your 'target market' and see what you can do to improve your approach.  I was reading an article about just this subject   How to Define Your Target Market  Read it and work on answering the questions.  In fact, take your laptop and this article and go to your local coffee shop or park and work on this in a different environment.  Change your location and you'll change your state of mind but keep moving forward!

Looking back is only a reminder of where you came from...focus on where you're going and how successful you will feel when you get there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More work on your mindset...

Just a brief article that adds to what I was talking about in my last post ... your mindset and how it enables or limits your ability to see success as someone starting, running & building their business.  So much of all that we do revolves around how we see things, feel things and the filters we've created that interpret information.

This article reminds us that when we are working on our business, it's not just about the bottom line, new strategies, marketing...it's also about working on our attitudes and mindsets.  

Three Reasons you are not Making Money-  Another suggestion off of this would be to check out INC Magazine.  I've said it before ... it's a really inexpensive resource for business people who are faced with the daily challenges of running their business.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do you believe you can be successful?

I just finished reading an article from the times entitled "Culture of Poverty" makes a comeback and what struck me when reading it was how the thoughts behind this article may apply to anyone considering working for themselves...going out on their own.

There are many articles about families who, for generations, maintained family businesses.  Did it happen because these families had a belief system that "they could" thus reinforcing their future endeavors of self-employment and running their own business or was it something else?  Whatever the answer is it is always interesting to learn about business families and how they came to building a business.

As you work to develop your own business and build your client base check your thoughts.  Do you find your mind filled with thoughts that undermine your success?  Is it difficult for you to visualize your future and your business future?  No one in my family who has ever worked for themselves...why do I think I will succeed?  Does your family support your efforts?  If you are in a relationship, are you leaning too much on this person and not really striking out with both feet out the door getting fully committed to the process

Sometimes I think it is difficult to visualize building a business because of our own insecurities and perceptions and our family's perceptions of what we are capable of; how we view the world of opportunity.  I can remember in my family no one would have started their own business.  Absolutely not.  These people grew up and experienced the depression and that experience made a strong impression on them.  If you had a job you kept that job and never risked the family's sense of security.  Yet, others who were in business at the time stayed put and some survived in creative ways. Yet they saw a different picture.  They saw that having a job didn't mean anything because you could lose it and be out in the cold but having your own business gave you some sense of control over your lively hood and they worked night and day to keep their small businesses going.  Now many highly educated people are unemployed and I bet that they thought their jobs were secure.  They thought that they had reached their goals; good jobs, great families, nice houses, a sense of security around their "job" yet it was a false security and when the economy dropped, their jobs were dropped as well and their plans and their future were forced to change.

What I'm getting at is how you see yourself and your opportunities can strongly influence your success in building your business.  I've said many times that being an employee creates a set of invisible "blinkers"...yes, those things they put on race horses so they only see what's in front of them.  I think it's an apropos visual because as employees that's what we do.  We look straight ahead, do our jobs and whatever time is left we give to family, friends and recreational activities.  However, because of these "blinkers" we miss what's happening around us.  We miss other possibilities that exist outside the work environment.  We miss the opportunity to create a more meaningful life by growing something that is ours alone and something that can make all the difference in how we view our world and our life.  Being self-employed does not have to mean struggling and getting no where...to the contrary, it can mean building something worth working at that grows each day.

Don't be a victim of 'employment poverty' - empower yourself to see the world as a place filled with opportunities, because if you change your perception of what's out there, you'll be amazed how those opportunities will show up for you.  Remember those 10,000 hours too.  Anyone who has worked as long as you have certainly possesses the ability to do something with confidence and skill.  It's Monday...make this week one of discovery and creativity.  Start it by checking your perceptions and making adjustments and end it with a strong mindset that believes you can do this!  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

10,000 Hours

Did you know that to become an expert; someone really good at something, you need to spend 10,000 hours practicing your skill to achieve this?

If you use a regular work year which is generally, 2,080 hours, that would mean 4.81 years focusing on one area.  Seems like a long time?  Not really when you think about how many years you've been working in your field or doing the technical tasks you do that you are now providing to others as a self-employed individual.  It's actually quite comforting to know that you've done your homework and have probably put in at least those 10,000 hours and can feel confident that you do have something to offer.

Sometimes I'm sure you don't feel that confident, especially when being on your own means there's no guarantee that next client will show up.  There's no one handing you a project or giving you a task...it's all up to you and the days can present many challenges that being an employee does not prepare you for when you stepped away from the job and moved into self-employment.

I've noticed since the days have been slowly getting shorter I've been getting more anxious about each day and how I'm going to get the business with less daylight hours to work?  I almost feel like the farmer who worked from sunrise to sunset.  When the days are long much can be accomplished, however, as winter grows near, daylight is lessened and to some degree so is our time to be out there building business.  No, the hours available are the same but somehow the feeling is different. 

This morning when I was reading the article that talked about the 10,000 hours, I thought about how long I've been working and with a rough calculation I found that I've worked over 85,000 hours!  First, how is it possible that I've worked that many hours? Second, that means there's a high probability that in that time I've developed an 'expert' skill at something and third, I feel pretty good knowing I've put so much time into working with and learning to understanding people, small business management, office management and financial statements.  When I look at that span of time, the numerous positions I've held and the number of business environments I've worked in I realize that I definitely have something to offer BUT...being self-employed, on my own, working daily to build a business...now, that's a different story.  I haven't put in 10,000 hours being self-employed...maybe 1000 with only 9,000 to go.

It's actually inspiring to me to think that I've only got 4.33 years before I reach a point where even building a business will be something I would have put 10,000 hours into and I believe I will do it...why not?  What's another 4 years when one considers all that will be happening during that time.  Building a business is such an exciting adventure...and one that seems to be the culmination of all the other 85,000 hours.  It's not like I'm going off without any experience.

So, why don't you start your week by thinking about how many hours you've spent developing your skills.  Make your own calculations - how many hours have you been working in your field?  I bet that once you find out how many hours you've put into your profession, you will feel stronger, more confident and better able to look at each week as one week closer to your own 10,000 hours. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Getting Your Message Across

Sometimes I think that an idea or solution is so perfect that I believe everyone else is going to believe it is as well.  I have such excitement and enthusiasm when describing it that the energy exuded by me is almost infectious but the question I have to ask is this:  Does my client buy into this solution and does their understanding share the same enthusiasm?

I think we are all guilty of thinking we got our message across only to find out that it got lost in translation.  I recently had that happen to me.  I was working on finishing up 2009 books for a client and there were credit card statement entries missing.  I explained to the client if she would just let me enter the credit card charges on a regular basis, it would be easier for balancing purposes.  To get things done for taxes however, now that we were in a crunch, I suggested that I could do summary entries, meaning I would enter one credit card charge for all supplies, one for all fuel, one for all computer supplies, etc and then be able to balance and get the books done for taxes.  Well, when she spoke with her tax preparer she conveyed that as I was planning on 'jamming' balancing journal entries in to make it balance.  Huh?  How did one become the other?

These misunderstandings are very common, because we take for granted and don't think about, the assumptions we are making in each and every situation.  In this one, because my client isn't involved with doing books on a regular basis, she didn't understand what I was meaning but it translated in her mind as she described.  Not her fault - but it served as a reminder to me that I need to be very clear with what I am saying and make sure the party I am speaking to has really understood my message.

Let's take this to another level - let's say you are meeting with a new client who is looking to hire you to create a marketing plan.  You assess the situation, make your presentation with recommendations and then begin implementation.  In the process the client begins to balk and starts asking questions and revising written materials and soon you realize things are getting off message.  How did this happen?  You thought the client understood the vision you had developed for them but now it appears they really didn't and want to make changes.  What do you do?  How do you recover?

When you are starting out in the world of self-employment, you are always being tested; either by yourself or by your potential clients - it's part of what makes being on your own thrilling and frightening at the same time.  Each person I have talked to about their business experiences have had these experiences.  But when you are new to selling a message or vision you are still, on some level, continuing to develop your message. The more you can create opportunities to deliver your message, the more skilled you will become at making it clear and concise and easy to understand.  

Getting your message across is a little like being a stand-up comic...you get up and deliver your message (joke or funny story) hoping to get a laugh or applause from your audience.  We in business hope to gain a new client...however, if they don't laugh and ask you to leave the stage it's a good indication you probably need to get new material.  Try it - make a goal of delivering your message to a mixed bag of people.  Then ask them to paraphrase what you just said and see what happens.  It's a great tool in helping you develop messages that leave very little room for being misunderstood.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Keeping your roots in mind!

I have been very busy trying to finish a couple projects so it's been difficult to focus on writing but this morning I read such a great article about the man that runs "Tods" the Italian shoes that have been around for such a long time.  I'll include the link to the article because there is an important lesson to be learned from it for all small businesses and that is cheap is not always the best way to proceed in business.  Sometimes staying with the quality of the product or service you've sold in the market place is far more important than always finding cheaper ways to do things.

Diego Della Valle A Shoemaker's Story who took over the business of producing the Tods shoes from his father, tells a charming story of how important it has been to him to keep production in Italy.  It has become part of his branding and unlike other companies who have sought to reduce costs by going elsewhere where production costs are less expensive, he believes that part of what he is selling is the fact that production remains in Italy, thus preserving the quality that has been part of why his customers pay the premium for these shoes.

In this story are business lessons we can all learn from...that the success we are working towards has more factors than just our bottom line.  We must not forget how we started and the people and ideas that inspired us along the way.  These are the things that become part of the story we sell that our customers and clients buy and if they can connect with the 'heart' of the business we have a great opportunity to join with them in developing a business partnership based on common values. 

Something to remember is not everyone is our customer and that is ok.  But we need to really know ourselves and the ideas and values we are representing so that our message is consistent - no matter whether it's on a website, tweet, any social media or paper advertising. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Are you ready for October 15th?

If you know what that title means then you are probably rushing now to get your business information to your CPA or tax preparer because you did not get things done on time to file your 2009 taxes by April 15th.  Well, you are probably in good company because many people file taxes late. 

One thing you need to understand, especially if you're self-employed, is that you need to file your taxes in a timely basis.  Not having the money to pay your taxes is a separate and distinct issue that can be a real concern for any taxpayer, but is one that you can discuss with the IRS and work out a payment plan.  The IRS is not unreasonable to deal with and in most cases if you are paying your quarterly estimated tax payments (or at least attempting to do so) and you file your taxes on time, you will probably be able to work things out with the IRS representative you end up talking with.

However, if you have made a lot of money in your business (good for you) but you haven't been paying your estimated quarterly tax payments (bad for you) and then you file taxes and don't pay the taxes due (another bad for you) it is then when the IRS can get a bit testy - why?  Simply put -- you made the money, you had the money but you didn't pay your taxes!

I am no tax expert.  I am the one that prepares the information for the CPA's, Tax Attorneys and tax preparers so my goal is to prepare, throughout the year.  Have all the information input into Quick Books or some format the client is using and make sure their estimated tax payments are made and their back up is organized but when small business owners or self-employed individuals are "doing it all" they seldom have the time to be that organized.  My suggestion is to always have your documentation and financial records in order and ready - it is the responsibility of any business owner to do this because the IRS considers you a business - even if it is only you and really who wants to be on a first name basis with the IRS because you're behind with your tax payments or you aren't filing your taxes?

It's only the 5th of October ... make a point of making 2010 the year of change and filing your taxes on time!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Business and Parenting and all those Dynamics

Do you believe that to run a business smoothly you need to be a "Good Parent" ?

From my reading, observation and personal experiences working with or in a small business requires not only the usual business savvy, drive and desire to succeed but the desire to be a 'Good Parent', setting the appropriate expectations, limits and boundaries that translate to employees who know what's expected of them and work within the guidelines that are established.

Easier said than done though because like every family, there are the many dysfunctions that make it work or not work.  Some would say that even with the dysfunctions the 'family' still functions and that is true and fine for the family but when you are running a business you cannot expect to have a thriving professional environment if you allow a family attitude develop that only transfers your family dysfunctions over into your business. 

I have worked the majority of my career in businesses with 25 or less employees and for the most part they were run pretty successfully but the ones that seemed to have the most problems were run by people who brought the family dysfunctions that they may have grown up with or created in their own homes to the office place.  As you know, the behavioral patterns that we develop [good or not so good] are a result of our experiences, reactions and desires to please or survive the situations we encounter.  It would seem to make sense that if we lived in a family that used boundaries, limits and expectations as a way of managing the home and kids that these people would bring this method of seeing and organizing their world to their business?

If a man was a passive husband, passive father and didn't really step up and be an active part of the 'team' raising the family, wouldn't it follow that he might run a business in a more passive way?  If a woman had to be a single mother 100% responsible for her family and home, in order to survive and stay in front of the curve she would have to develop a set up skills that would allow her to keep everything moving forward.  She would have to be organized, solution-oriented, clear in setting expectations ... the list goes on.  Doesn't it seem to follow that she would run a business in a similar manner.  Then there's the couple who work as a team, sharing the responsibilities of the home and raising a family - creating a united front when faced with challenges and the decision making that goes on day to day.  I believe these people would run their business in the same manner, supporting teamwork and respect and combined decision making.  It doesn't make sense that their default would be otherwise.  But there are all kinds of ways people run their business which is something I find very interesting to study.

What do you think?  Anyone reading this who would be willing to sit down and be interviewed for an article I want to write please contact me.  I think now more than ever self-employment which is another word for "small business" is on the rise and I want to support every one's effort through information and education which is why I want to write more about the experience.

So ask yourself, how am I being a good parent to my business and those who work for me?  Tell me what you come up with.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's new?

Another week is almost done and what's been accomplished?  For me, besides celebrating a birthday I've learned so much about what gets me going each day and how my business ideas are developing.  That is the value of talking with others about your ideas.  When you have to sit with several people in a week and describe what you do and what your ideal client is, you really hear your own personal excitement (or not) ebb and flow throughout the conversation.

In order to get out and market yourself, you need to really understand what you can enthusiastically sell.  If it's a product, you better be really excited about it and what it can do because if you aren't who will buy it?  The same with the services you want to provide.  If you cannot articulate what value-add you bring to the table by someone hiring you then the same thing will be true ...who will want your service?

Sometimes in the development of our business, we aren't really sure.  You start out in one direction and then as you test the waters you find that the need you were planning on filling really isn't out there...or now that you're in there providing the service you're finding that it's not that exciting and self-employment isn't very glamorous.  This is part of the process ... it's almost like a new relationship.  In the beginning things are great!  It's new exciting and one never knows what's around the corner.  New business the same.  It's a new routine, a sense of freedom that you hadn't experienced before...it's exciting and the unknown gives you a thrill...but as the days go on and things become more familiar and more routine you begin thinking; "Do I really want this involvement?"  "Did I do the right thing here by starting my own business?"

When these thoughts set in it's time to get out there and meet people.  Remember, networking is key to building relationships than can help you build your business.  Networking doesn't usually occur in the comfort of your home office.  People just don't walk up to your door and say, "Hi, I hear you have a quality service to offer?  I'd like to come in and hear about it."   Sure would be nice if they did, especially for those of you who disdain cold-calling.  But getting out in the field, changing the scenery and meeting people helps you get refreshed and re-energized.  Being open to hearing what their stories are out there and what people are looking for is critical to knowing the market & your customer.   Remember, when you are networking you are always working to establish relationships - practice being good at it.  Practice being able to listen and reflect back what you've heard them tell you are their concerns and their needs.  That's the key - hearing and reading between the lines.  If you don't work to develop this skill...how will your potential customer know you  understand their needs?

Believe me, if you take a chance and do some extemporaneous walk in and introduce yourself calls...I guarantee you that you'll find yourself getting excited all over again, just like you were in that new relationship and when you decided to build your own business.  It happens to me every time and I am always glad I did it.

So that's my week - what's yours been like?  Learning more about who we are, what excites us and what we're all about is the hard work, but in doing this you are that much closer to defining your business and understanding how you will be growing and shaping it in the weeks to come. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Simple Ideas can funnel big dreams!

Are you an idea person?  Do you get visions of better ways to do things?  Check out the program " How I Made my Millions "episode that just aired.  What an interesting program and inspiring.

Today I read an article that said of the 14.9 million people unemployed, more than 2.2 million are 55 and older and face the possibility of never re-entering the work force.  What a great way to start the week.   It was also noted that at the current rate of 82,000 new jobs a month, it would take at least eight years for all of those people to re-enter the work force.  You do the math; if you're 55 or older now you're 63 or older in eight years - who's going to hire you then?  So what's your options?

Well, I refuse to believe that we are all over the hill and should just give up...which is why I continue to encourage anyone who is unemployed to look deep inside and find the thing they can do to create an income and personal satisfaction.  Certainly all your years of employment taught you something? What skills can translate into a self-employment venture or a new idea for a business?  When I see programs like this I smile big because they serve as a reminder to me that ideas are all around us every day and there is no better time like now to give ideas a try. 

The business ideas were based on common things; flowers, junk, recycling, shredding, shaving your head, selling things for 99 cents and bees. But the people who built these businesses all had a point at which they were able to see these things in a new & different way and were able to translate their vision into a product or service that the consumer needed and would buy.  Their stories provide inspiration...to say the least, because their stories can happen to you! 

So tomorrow instead of searching the Internet for a job, take time to search your world and let your mind wander and explore all kinds of possibilities.  Ask yourself questions about the things you see, the things you do and the simple stuff you use each day.  Explore your reactions to things and dig into your ideas on how you think your world could be improved. 

Remember, simple ideas can make dreams come true - just start to regularly explore thinking outside the box?  How can it be worse than sitting on the computer searching for a job that's not due to arrive for another eight years?  Be inspired now; let your mind wander.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How's your week been?

One thing I always do at the end of the week is make sure I review how it's been, identify what I did towards my goal of building my business and also make sure I continue to encourage myself to continue moving forward.  Being my own cheerleader is a challenge but what can us self-employed people do?  If we can't cheer ourselves on who will?

I look for little victories...not those big successes; why?  Because in my business, that is mostly what I am accomplishing.  Acquiring small accounts that will add up to a bigger number which will amount to being able to take care of my expenses, put some in savings and provide me with the ability to enjoy my life in different ways.  A trip to NYC to attend The New Yorker Festival would be a great reward for my hard work.  But all of you need to be reminded to look back and see what you did that worked and identify what you did that needs tweaking.  It's critical to building momentum and not using the same tactics that really aren't getting you where you want to go.

If any of you out there have seen the movie "What the Bleep do we know?" you will remember how they talked about the pathways we create in our brain through repeated behaviors.  This ties into how we get so addicted to behaviors...they give us something that we think we need.  But to change those neural pathways we really have to work hard.  Wow!  I don't know about you but I'm already tired from working hard doing what I do...now I have to work on something else?  YES!

Continuing to repeat patterns that don't work is just plain insanity...why?  Because you already know the outcome and that outcome didn't pay off.  However, if you find you are repeating these patterns then you need to ask yourself why?  It's another part of the review, evaluate and reward process.  To reach your goals you must be willing to be critical of your behaviors and patterns so you can learn, regroup and continue evolving as an individual and a business person.  More work???  Of course but that's what it takes to build a successful business and if you are balking at the idea that you need to evaluate if you are meant for this kind of work?

This morning I read an interesting article  The Effort is the Prize and this research suggests that there are two mindsets; "a fixed mindset, which occurs when someone believes that personal qualities like intelligence are immutable, and a growth mindset, which occurs when someone believes that skills and characteristics can be cultivated through effort."    I know I'm the latter because academics were a challenge for me when I was young and so I never believed that I had the ability to excel in that way...however, I knew and believed that if I worked hard and researched information in my own way...I could become accomplished in that which was important to me.  Maybe in my case the key is "important".

Mindset, attitude and the importance of the thing(s) we want are all key factors in how we move forward [and sometimes backwards] and I believe and will always say, that they can be used to our advantage or not.  We can change them and be flexible in them in order to make it to our respective destinies...yet, they can also become walls that keep us stuck in old patterns. This is why the ability to look at ourselves and evaluate own mindsets and attitudes is critical.

Review, evaluate and reward...try it and see how you do...and while your at it, check out the movie.  It's very interesting and should at least get you to thinking about things in a different way. 

Have a great weekend!!!!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Who's running your show?

I am always looking for inspiration, pearls of wisdom and ideas that connect the things & people around me.  It seems to drive me and I get great rewards from finding connections that actually help others move forward in their business process.

This morning I thought it was time to change my inspirational line on my email signature and this one popped out at me:
"To the degree we're not living our dreams; 
our comfort zone has more control of us than we have over ourselves."  
Peter McWilliams

How appropriate that this should pop into my line of sight as I believe it is default for so many of us.  We excel in what we know and what has worked for us in our life.  It is our default when the struggle gets more difficult and we can't see the answer at hand.  Of course we fall back to what is comfortable, easily understood and well within our reach...yet what a disservice we do to ourselves.  By being willing to 'fall back' we are preparing ourselves for the status quo...more like accepting the status quo when what we really could benefit from is moving away from that.  

I believe we can use that 'fall back' mode as a signal to us.  Be painfully aware of when you retreat to that safe place where you know all the answers and don't have to worry.  Use that behavior and/or response as a 'signal' that it's time to push through the fears of moving away from what you know into the vast unknown.  I think it's a great tool to use.  What better way to know yourself and to put up your own red flag for behaviors that do not serve you if success is still looming "out there".  Yes, stretching, pushing and being that person who against all odds move through the fears is the person who gains the greatest benefit...not just in furthering their business goals but in furthering their own personal growth and development of self-esteem.  

As many of you know I like recommending resources and one of my favorites is Norm Brodsky from INC. magazine.  I have read his columns for many years and the reason I like him is his advice is based on his many years of real-life experience that anyone can relate to.  He writes like he's having a conversation with you directly and he is never one to put anyone down.  He methodically helps you find your way through intelligent questions that [believe it or not] you already know the answers to and then helps you move towards identifying the answers you need to find.  The other great thing about him is you can email him directly and ask a questions.  Check out his many articles:   Norm Brodsky Articles  He is one of the better resources I've come across over the years and INC. Magazine is well worth reading.

So today when your going through your day...make a concerted effort to gently push yourself away from your comfort zone and into your future path of success!  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Don't give up!

This morning I had to dip into my savings to cover my taxes and bills.  I was on the phone with a lovely Charles Schwab representative who sounded young enough to be my daughter.  But as the conversation ended she and I extended it to the economy and how things were going and I shared my story with her.  Why I am sharing it with you is because I found myself telling her how "hopeful" I was that these turn of events will wind me up on a really good path. And so I wanted to share that sentiment with you.

Don't give up...don't give in and don't stop believing that you can make it!  Yes, the times are challenging us in ways we really never wanted to believe were possible but that also means there are new opportunities out there that were never ever possible.  What I found myself sharing with this young woman was the importance of believing in yourself as well as the importance of being able to shift your paradigm...and create a new vision for how you will work in this new economic time.  It can be an exciting adventure and one that moves you to reach a much more comfortable place in your life.  I know people who still have plenty of financial resources but have no idea what they will do for the rest of their life.  They are young, in their 40's and are lost in the freedom they currently are experiencing.  Sometimes I think the person who is struggling is more adaptable than the person who is financially secure because they are in a survival mode which keeps you on edge...moving, vigilant and on the hunt for the next money making opportunity.

I believe that people can make their own success but that goes hand in hand with creating a lifestyle that matches the opportunities that are out there.  If you have big dreams and a big lifestyle then you are going to need to work big and work harder to maintain that.  If you have small dreams and a smaller lifestyle then your needs can be met through a smaller economic goal.  But, if you have big dreams and a smaller lifestyle then all your financial success can create a greater opportunity to not only take care of yourself and/or family but to have something left over that you can use to help others with their dreams.

So...if this Monday morning is another reminder to you that you're still struggling to make things work...don't give up....just stay committed to your process...re-read your goals and make a new list of ways in which you can bring income in and stay afloat while you hone your skills as a small business owner.

I'm here in the struggle with you...wishing for the best to come to all of you!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hiring People to help you with your Business -

I was just contacted by someone who has a small business that they run out of their home office.  This is the type of client that I really enjoy working with...why, because there are so many things I can help them with besides getting their books set up or cleaned up. 

As I've written before, this economy has created new opportunities for people who would otherwise be gainfully employed.  People are going down new paths by starting their own businesses or exploring self-employment or contract work.  Often these folks are just moving forward quickly without much planning.  In fact, I think it is probably the rare individual who actually takes the time to do a formal plan...at least that's been my experience.  Of course many self-employed people are providing services and those types of businesses are pretty easy to get started.  Low overhead, low cash outlay.  But even these people need help recording their transactions and keeping organized so tax season isn't a fiasco... which brings me back to what I wanted to mention here.

It is very important when you are meeting with your new bookkeeper, insurance broker, graphic designer or even attorney that you have enough conversation to determine if they are listening.  I have met with people who fired their last bookkeeper or insurance agent or???? because they didn't believe that the individual was listening to them or understood where they were coming from.  No matter how experienced, talented or informed they may be, if they are not good listeners, over time, things will probably get off track and you will become frustrated and not even realize why.
Listening is an important skill for anybody.  Without this skill you will be missing one of the most critical factors in developing a relationship with your client.  When you can listen and actually encapsulate what was expressed to you and repeat it back ... you will be surprised at the reaction of the party on the other side.  Why?  Because when someone feels they have been heard they are more likely to move forward with this person whether it is a business relationship or a personal relationship. When you know you are heard...that this person "gets you" you are far more likely to want to work with the person.  The same is true for people you interview to work for you.  If they cannot reiterate what you've told them then something is missing.  There is nothing more frustrating than having people around you who don't listen.  There is enough on your plate without adding this variable to your otherwise busy life.

So once you've determined that someone has the skills to do the job you want them to do, take the additional time to test their listening skills - then decide if you want this person on your team!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How do you arrive at the right price for your product or service?

I was just asked by a business associate, how did I went about arriving at pricing for my services and I explained to him that I started out many years with a figure based on my experience and a few calls...but as the years went by I raised my price to it's current level.  The per hour rate I charge is not based on my overhead but more on the type of service I provide plus a bit of a premium that helps offset other miscellaneous costs.  It's not very scientific but again, it's an evolving factor in my service business.  I am selling a personal business specialist that can help you manage your personal finances or your small business issues.

Now that sounds good, in theory, but as all of us business owners know...it doesn't matter how good it sounds to us if no one is willing to pay for our product or service.  That's where the cold hard facts of reality set in.  No matter how talented you are or how educated you are, the customer you are seeking is still only going to pay what they think your product or service is worth.  Now more than ever, customers are shopping.  They may be willing to pay a little more in some instances but usually they need to be convinced of the 'value add' you are bringing to the table that will justify the premium they will be paying.  So we all need to do our homework when it comes to setting the price point that gets the job or sells the product.  It's part of the job that we all struggle with and trusting your gut might work but there needs to be a little more involved if you're going to get it right and build your business.

Norm Brodsky who is an entrepreneur and writer for INC. Magazine shared some good advice in his column when someone asked him the question, how do you set the price for your product or service.  Solving-the-pricing-riddle?   Hope it gets you thinking and working on finding the right formula that will work for you.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mistakes when starting a business -

Saw this info on one of the emails I receive and thought it would be good info for all of you thinking
about starting a business.  These principles apply even if self-employment is your goal -- any information is helpful to digest and incorporate in your minds eye when it comes to building a business.

Mistakes you'll make when starting a business 

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Boy's Rules

I just read this blog and thought I should include on this blog as I am always speaking to the heart of the matter...at least I feel I am.  Steve Blank is what is referred to as a 'serial entrepreneur' Learn about Steve Blank
who has a great blog that offers great resources on business and starting companies but the recent posting that I find so interesting is about how women have to circumvent the business world.  Read on  and let me know what you think.  Boy's Rules - Girls Lose 

Checking in on our business status -

Believe it or not the end of August is here and we are eight months down for 2010.  Next month estimated quarterly taxes are due and I find it a good time to review things and see how I'm doing.  Some of you have more time into the "self-employment" path than I do but regardless it's never a wrong time to put on paper the goods, the bads and things that need to be changed so you can evaluate and make adjustments so the last quarter of the year produces improved results.

Of course have you been entering your transactions in either Quicken or Quick books or even a simple Excel spreadsheet?  That is the question right?  If you haven't now may be a good time to get started as you will have a difficult time getting a picture of how you are doing without the historical information on hand.  However, as any self-employed individual will tell you..."I know (in their head they know) how I'm doing."

I've always loved that statement because to a great degree it is true.  The person who wears all hats is the most hands on expression of the business.  They know who their customers are, if they are asking for more services, if they are paying their bills and of course they know if the business is growing by virtue of how busy they are.  Yet, the specifics of how they spend their money and what that amounts to or what percentage of their revenue is spent on certain things usually remains to be seen.

People I have had the pleasure working with who were self-employed or just wanted their finances tracked were always, without exception, surprised when the data was organized and put together and they could see, in black and white, where their money was going.  It's quite a wake up call even if you believe you are the most knowledgeable about your finances. 

So, take the opportunity now, before you pay your taxes or the end of the third quarter (9/30) to take the time to put your information together in a way that works for you.  If you're not quite up to speed with Quick books or even Excel, just buy accounting paper and make your own financial statement.  The good thing about this exercise is you will continue to learn about what you know and what you don't know about your business.

Remember, any questions can be easily answered if you take the time to think about them and don't be afraid to talk with others who are self-employed as they are struggling with the same issues as you.  I've found it very interesting to walk into the local retail stores and if they aren't busy, talk with the managers and find out how they think things are going for their business.  You'd be surprised how willing people are to talk about their perception of the economy and how their business has made changes to accommodate the economic challenges and keep business profitable.  Sure, their business is different than yours but we are all challenged by these economic times and it never hurts to check in with other business people who live and work in the same world you do!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Short & Sweet and to the point that deserves a reminder!

The other day I was reviewed  a list I have of motivational business quotes and this is the one that struck me as being important considering all of us are building our future business in challenging times, wondering will it work?  Is the business out there?  Are we crazy???  The following quote summed up what I think are the most important points we need to remember:

"Success in business requires training and discipline and hard work.  But if you're not frightened b these things, the opportunities are just as great today as they ever were."
David Rockefeller

Anyone who has reached any level of success has had to become good at all three parts.  Learning a skill, trade or profession takes training...be it on-the-job, school or the hard knocks of life but becoming an individual who is trained at something is the first step. 

Next is discipline.  I have almost had a romantic notion about writing and how wonderful a life it would be to be an author.  But when I've read interviews with successful authors what stood out was the discipline by which they met each day.  Write write write...each day, every day.  And finally, hard work.  There are those people who think that success just happens.  Let me correct that thought...success does happen after hard work that is consistent, focused and disciplined.

If you can integrate these three ideas into your goal of building a business the odds are with you that you will be successful...why?  Because most people give up too easily; too quickly and find success much to "hard" to achieve.  You know differently so go for it!