Do You Have Too Much Wishbone and Not Enough Backbone?

Do you have too much wishbone and not enough backbone?

James Cash Penney was born to a poor, farming family in 1875. His humble beginnings taught him the value of hard work, and he worked his way up the ladder at the Golden Rule store chain until he eventually bought the business and changed the name to … J.C. Penney.

There’s much more to the story, however, than just his hard-scrabble upbringing, re-branding of the store chain and the J.C. Penney you recognize today.

You see, Penney (and his business) was hit hard by the Great Depression, losing $40 million and finding himself $7 million in debt. He became ill with tuberculosis and was close to his death bed when he decided to do something amazing: Cheat death and rebuild his business.

Armed with a loan, he did just that and lived to the ripe old age of 95. His namesake store chain, which is still alive today, is currently in some financial trouble — but his story of success, failure and renewal is that of the American entrepreneur.

Penney also became famous of saying:

“Some folks have a wishbone instead of a backbone.”

Of course, Penney’s quote applies to the value of hard work, blood, sweat and tears.

But I also apply it to the would-be entrepreneur who is either too scared or too paralyzed by analysis to jump in, start a business, change his or her lifestyle and realize his or her dream.

As I wrote in this previous post, it’s the risk takers who make the world go ’round.

Am I suggesting that you should put your family at risk by immediately quitting your well-paying job (that you might hate) to jump in with both feet and start your own company? Not necessarily.

But there are some great resources out there to help set you on the path to your dream:

  • In his book, Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss provides some great how-to advice on finding and testing your business idea (what he calls your “muse”), while you’re still employed at your current job.
  • Marianne Cantwell, writing in her book, Be a Free Range Human, also provides an excellent blueprint for putting your business idea in motion on nights, mornings, and weekends until you can quit your current job and start living your dream.

I highly recommend both of those books for motivation and advice and to read some case studies of people just like you who minimized their risks, and added backbone to their wishbone to change their lifestyles and career paths.

James Cash Penney was penniless and dying. He turned it around and built an American icon.  His dream (his wish) was vital, but it wouldn’t have come true without his backbone.

What’s holding you back from taking bold steps to start your business, change your career path, take charge of your lifestyle or take your start-up to the next level?

4 Helpful Tips for Successful Small Business Travel

Small Business Travel Tips

My companies works with clients across the country and, as such, we do quite a bit of business travel.  We’ve picked up some good tips along the way, and wanted to share them here to help you in your business travel.

Successful business travel, especially for a small business owner, is all about preparation. Leaving the office isn’t easy, but it’s more difficult for someone who is running a small business. Small business owners and managers are often forced to be the jack-of-all-trades in the office and are constantly changing tactics to get things done. With a little planning, you can have a productive trip and keep things rolling at the home office, while you’re away.

1) Leverage Existing Relationships

Running a small business means juggling a lot of responsibilities. Examine the relationships you’ve already established and see where you can take advantage to simplify your life. For example, when you apply for an American Express card, you’re also opening a door to a wealth of resources for your small business to take advantage of. Instead of micromanaging your travel arrangements you can utilize America Express Global Business Travel. They boast over two thousand service locations worldwide and best in class prices on airfare, car rental and hotel.

Can you leverage trade services for things like hotel rooms, rental cars or workspaces? A penny saved might not exactly be a penny earned, but it is a penny that can be invested more wisely toward the future success of your business.

2) Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

A business trip has a lot of moving parts. Transportation, lodging, meetings and people all have to be planned well in order to have a successful trip. Plan to arrive early enough that secondary and tertiary transportation plans can be implemented in the case of delay or cancelation. If you arrive early, you can use the extra time to find a place to relax, get your thoughts in order and check your email or get yourself acquainted with your surroundings.

3) Stay Connected

Since this is a business trip, you will want to stay connected to the office. As a small business owner, it’s difficult to take yourself offline, even for a personal vacation. Technology exists to make it easy to stay in touch with your home office. So use it. If you have an important presentation to make, of course you’ll want it on a hard drive or USB key, but keep it on a Drop Box server, too. If your computer fails or isn’t compatible with a projector or monitor, you can simply download it to another device. If an employee needs you to look at a project, you can download it instead of hoping it gets through an email firewall.

4) Keep Good Records

Small business owners are notoriously easy prey for IRS audits. Co-mingling personal and business expenses is easy to do and a fantastic way to be put under the microscope when it comes time to file your taxes. Many travel expenses can be partially or wholly written off. Consult an accountant or use resources like IRS.gov or Sba.gov to find out what you can legally and ethically write off and how to document it correctly.

3 Ways to Grow Your Profits without Growing the Size of Your Company

Grow profits while keeping business small

At first glance, the title of this post may seem a bit confusing.

After all, isn’t growing your company the same as growing your profits? Well, maybe yes … and maybe no.

I have friends who have grown the physical size of their company (more staff, more office space) while growing their profits.  I’ve also had colleagues who have grown their profits while remaining a one-person shop (I fall in the latter category).

Of course, I’ve also known people who have grown the physical size of their company while their profits tanked.

The question of whether or not you should grow the size of your company is the topic of an upcoming post, but for our purposes here, I share three ways you can grow your profits without adding costly staff and overhead:

1) Strategic Partnerships

The most effective way I’ve been able to grow my profits is through a growing number of strategic partnerships that I’ve built through the years. These partnerships are made up mostly of entrepreneurs like me who specialize in different areas. For example, one partner may specialize in graphic design, while you specialize in strategy and content. The partnership brings together the best of both worlds for you to jointly pitch clients (or for you to bring in the partner on projects that fit.)  I currently have a roster of five strategic partners with whom I work on a variety of projects. Not only have these people become great business associates, they’ve become some of my best friends.

2) Freelancers

I’ve also been able to leverage freelancers from a variety of disciplines to help me serve and grow my clients.  In this previous post, I wrote about the benefits of using freelancing Web sites, but I also work with a variety of freelancers whom I’ve met through friends or casual networking.  These include designers, writers, ad buyers and virtual assistants.  I may only have the need for a graphic designer once every few months, so it’s not cost-effective for me to hire a full-time designer who I’d have to pay during significant “down-time.” These freelancers have other clients, and are more than happy to engage when I have a specific project for them. It’s a win-win.

3) Working from Home or Office Sharing

For the past seven years, I’ve worked from home, and it’s been great. As I wrote in this recent post, there is also a great case for having separate office space.  However, in my experience, if you’re a entrepreneur who wants to keep your overhead light — consider shared office space.  I highly recommend Regus, which offers a variety of shared office space options.  With Regus, you don’t have to worry about furnishing your office, and they also (depending on your package) provide virtual assistant, phone and mail support — and can provide access to their office space at airports and in cities across the world.  I also know several people who share office space with their strategic partners.  It keeps rent light and helps offset overhead.

As I wrote above, in a future post we’re going to deal with the question of whether or not you should stay small or grow. I’ve decided to keep my businesses small, and the above three tips are the best ways I’ve found to grow my profits, without growing the physical size of my companies.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please leave them in the comments!

3 Reasons You Need to Set Time Expectations with Clients

3 Reasons You Need to Set Time Boundaries with Clients

I’ve run my own businesses for the past seven years, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned (albeit the hard way) is the importance of setting time expectations and boundaries with your clients.

In some ways, clients can be like small children in this respect. For example, if you give your kids candy every time they cry, they’re going to learn to cry more often to get their sugar-high.  If you put them to bed every night at 7 p.m., they’ll learn to go to bed at 7 p.m.

With clients, if you pick up the phone every time you see them calling on your Caller ID, they’ll expect a pick-up every time.  If you consistently reply to their emails at midnight, they’ll come to expect 24-hour email responses.

That’s why setting time boundaries is extremely important. Of course, you can write such boundaries in your contract from the outset, but there are also a number that you can set simply by setting expectations through the client management process.

Here are three reasons why setting these boundaries is so vital:

1) Your Sanity.

It took years of interrupted dinners and frantic 11 p.m. email responses to wear me down and realize how important setting boundaries is to my mental health (and that of my very patient wife).  The problem was that I had set a precedent with several clients that I would take their calls or reply to their emails at all hours of the day or night.  And my clients were all too happy to take advantage of that fact.

Don’t get me wrong — sometimes emergencies happen that require after-hours response. But random brainstorming sessions and non-urgent calls and emails do not fall into that category.

Just because your clients have sleepless nights or email addictions doesn’t mean you have to, as well.  Set the boundaries early. One thing that helps me is batching my emails and not checking my inbox after 5 p.m.  I also don’t answer the phone after-hours.  I’ll check my voicemail and, if the matter is urgent, I can deal with it.

2) Your Productivity.

It’s not only after-hours emails and calls for which you need to set boundaries. It’s also the (misguided) notion that every email and call deserves an immediate response. If you are constantly replying in real-time to every email that hits your inbox, your clients are going to come to expect immediate responses.  And, odds are that if you’re spending your day dealing with real-time email management, you’re not being very productive on the actual task list you had set for the day.

Once again — setting boundaries is vital.  Email batching is important.  I also find that using my Out of Office notifications are also very helpful. For example, if I’m going to be in a series of meetings, or simply have to crash on a big presentation for a few hours, I’ll set my Out of Office notification to let people know that I’ll be unavailable for a few hours.  Again, if it’s urgent, they can call and leave a voicemail.

3) Your Profit.

Of course, if you’re not very productive, and your clients are driving you crazy — your cashflow is going to suffer. They key to being able to handle a large client base is working efficiently. If you have one client monopolizing all your time, you’re going to find it hard to manage your other clients.

In what other areas do you find the importance of setting time boundaries with your clients?  Do you have any funny or interesting stories to share?  If so, we’d love to read and share them in the comments section below!

You Have No Excuse for Being Trapped in a Job You Hate … Or Not Chasing a Life You Want

Trapped

You have no excuse.

No excuse for being trapped in a job you hate.  No excuse for living in a town you hate. No excuse for being stuck in a lifestyle that leave you anxious, stressed and unhappy.

Of course, you may think you’re trapped. But the reality is that being “trapped” is only a short-term condition.

Anyone, anywhere, at any level of education or financial status is capable of putting together a plan to get “untrapped” and start enjoying life, work … whatever.

Now, depending on your lot in life, that plan might be a much longer-term endeavor. If you want to be a rocket scientist but don’t yet have your GED, that might take a few more steps than, say, if your dream is quit your job and start selling cupcakes.

The idea, however is the same.  You have a dream, you put together a plan, and then you execute.

Rest assured, however, that by “plan” I don’t mean an endless stream of sleepless nights, pages of notes and analysis paralysis.  In some cases, a plan can/should really focus on what Getting Things Done guru David Allen calls, “the power of the next action decision.

Allen applies this, of course, to your daily/weekly productivity to-do management, but it can and should be applied to any long-term life and career planning process.

Sometimes, the planning process itself so overwhelms us that we are unable to see the first, small steps that will actually send us on our way toward accomplishing the goal that was previously seen as unattainable or overwhelming.

Focusing on that very next action — the very first step — will send you on your way, overcome the inertia of inaction, and start the ball rolling.

For example, let’s say you want to turn around your life, but you didn’t graduate from high school.  You may have determined that your first step toward him achieving your career goals is to attain your GED. In fact, you would be wrong.

In order to get your GED, you need to take the test.  In order to pass the test, you need to take a class.  Before you take a class, you need to find out the time, date and cost of the class.  So, actually, your very next action decision is to find out where and when the class is, and how much it costs.

That next step is actually a lot less imposing than the thought of taking the GED. And it’s such an easy first step to accomplish.

Just look at the example of Jon Morrow, who decided he was sick of living in his apartment, in a city with horrible weather.  His goal was to move to Mazatlan, Mexico. His first step was to visit and scope out the real estate market.  A year later — he was a happy resident of Mazatlan.  But that’s not the only part of his remarkable story:

Well, what might surprise you is I left out a piece of the story. It’s the part where I have a fatal disease, I can’t move from the neck down, and yet I essentially get paid to help people. Let’s talk about that part next.

I know it’s horribly cliché, but if I can quit my job, risk the government carting me off to a nursing home because I can’t afford my own healthcare, convince my poor mother to abandon her career and drive my crippled butt 3,000 miles to a foreign country, and then make enough money to support myself, my mother, my father, and an entire nursing staff using nothing but my voice, then what can you accomplish if you really set your mind to it?

You don’t get much more “trapped” than Jon Morrow.

No money. Horrible job. Fatal disease. No problem.

You have no excuse.

Untrap yourself today.