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 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 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

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 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 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 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 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'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,'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 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'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, 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 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!