Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Story About Negativity and Focus


Let me tell you a story.

My husband Ralph is a serial entrepreneur. He has done everything from sell used cars in his driveway to run a kid's clothing store. He currently has a fairly successful window washing and chimney cleaning service.

His longest-lived dream, however, was starting a coffee shop. He nurtured this dream for eight years, spending hours and hours on Pinterest and eBay, dreaming about the exact equipment he would buy, mapping out every detail in his head. It would have chalkboard-topped tables with chalk so that people could draw on them. It would feature cakes and fudge baked and served in Mason jars to minimize waste and maximize reuse. It would have Charlie Chaplin movies showing on a big-screen TV; comfortable furniture; used books and CDs to peruse and buy; organic Haitian coffee; chess, checkers, and backgammon; wi-fi; ... in short, not just a place to drink coffee, but a real home-away-from-home living room experience in which everything possible was repurposed, reused, and recycled.

You can imagine Ralph's delight when the owner of a local garden and antiques store approached him, saying that she wanted to open a coffee shop in her store. The rent was right, the location was great, he would have built-in foot traffic with her customers; everything seemed perfect.

They agreed that she would move her office out of the space for the coffee shop, which would give him six months to get it cleaned, remodeled, plumbed, and ready to open in time for summer tourist season.

So Ralph started happily accumulating used furniture, books, coffee dispensers, and all of the things he would need for his shop, a little bit at a time, and stored them in our tiny apartment. His goal was to open his shop debt-free. And in the meantime, he and the shop owner kept their conversation going.

At one point, Ralph was working on a potentially lucrative window washing contract with the city, which he would turn over to his employees after he opened the coffee shop. Delighted, he told the shop owner about it, thinking she would be happy for him.

Her response was, "Oh, I don't want to waste my tax money on that!" She was a fixture at city council meetings and shortly afterward, the window cleaning contract negotiations fell through.

Meanwhile, two months, then three months, then four months marched by, and the shop owner didn't make any effort to move her things out of the space. Ralph offered to help, but she refused his help. He asked if she still wanted the coffee shop in there, and she said, "Oh, yes, I want you. I'll clean the office, don't worry".

Six months came and went and the garden shop owner's office space remained untouched. Meanwhile the furniture and supplies for the coffee shop continued to pile up in our apartment.

Finally, after eight months, Ralph decided to simply move ahead without the shop owner's permission. He brought his ladder and his construction supplies, moved her stuff out of the space and started working. A month later, after a Herculean nightmare of remodeling, plumbing, and health and building inspectors -- all the while continuing to wash windows and clean chimneys until the last possible moment -- Ralph opened his shop, proudly debt-free.

The garden shop owner complained, "You're late. You should have been open by now. I don't know what took you so long."

Ralph settled in and started his new routine. He learned how much coffee to make so that there was as little waste as possible.

The garden shop owner started giving away coffee for free at the front of the store.

Ralph learned to bake cakes in Mason jars.

The garden shop owner started buying up the Mason jars in town and stocking them in her store.

Ralph put up a nice awning over his store front so that people would know his shop was there.

The garden shop owner moved several display cases in front of Ralph's coffee shop, blocking his windows.

After two months, Ralph's coffee shop was beginning to gain a steady clientele.

The garden shop owner demanded that Ralph get his insurance in order.

So Ralph made phone calls, pulled his paperwork together, and started scraping together the money for the premium. It took a couple of days because he had to clean some windows and then wait for his clients to pay him.

He had just sent the check off to the insurance company when he got a text from the shop owner. "We need to discuss an exit strategy."

One week later, Ralph's shop was closed and all of his things moved out. He got a check from the store owner for the plumbing work.

While Ralph was moving his shop out, the garden store owner was moving her things in.

...

It would be easy at this point to waste a bunch of time and energy being angry at the garden shop owner, telling and re-telling the story, maybe even seeking to get even by trashing her reputation around town. In fact, I'll confess, I did spend a couple of sleepless nights (that I'll never get back) dreaming about ways to get revenge.

But I only saw Ralph let this shop owner get to him a couple of times in the year he had been working with her. He knew what was coming. Everybody knew this woman, and they all warned him about her. But he decided that the advantages to going ahead with his shop outweighed the disadvantages in terms of experience, making connections, and gaining political capital.

Now, thanks to his stint at the garden center, Ralph has signed a contract to open a coffee shop at our local college. He's opening there tomorrow. He'll have no rent to pay, no equipment to buy, no overhead other than supplies ... and no garden shop owner to work around.

In short, it's an even sweeter deal than what he had at the garden store.

As entrepreneurs, we don't have the luxury of allowing ourselves to get distracted by the negativity that is constantly regurgitated by everyone around us. Any time and energy that we spend on negativity is time and energy we could be using to help us manifest our dreams.

Any time we catch ourselves getting frustrated, discouraged, angry ... we need to ask ourselves, "Is this train of thought helping me get where I want to go?"

If the answer is "No", we need to declare that train of thought "irrelevant", cut off all attention to it immediately, and re-focus on where we are going.

Leave the negativity to the office rats who are bored to death in their 8-to-5 jobs. They have the time and energy to waste on gossip.

We don't.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

4 Things I Love About Having My Own Business

I left the employee world to start my own business for a number of reasons: the changing economic landscape (corporate dinosaurs are dying; jobs are going away and not coming back); the dearth of appealing jobs in the rural ghetto; being a control freak (yes, I admit it!); being too impatient, restless and easily bored to make for nice, well-behaved employee material...

That said, starting my own business has been the hardest thing I've ever done. Even harder than getting divorced or kicking alcoholism.

But in spite of the heartache and poverty and ended friendships and hard work ... even though I'm sick to death of rice day in and day out, the poor Honda is quickly approaching the 300,000 mile mark with no relief in sight, and I haven't had a day off in nine months...

I'd do it all over again in half a heartbeat.

Simon Sinek said it better than anybody else: "Working hard for something we don't care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion."

So what do I love most about the path of entrepreneurship?

1. That nobody else--no boss, no coworker, no company layoff--has the power to ruin my life.

2. That even though my business may fail, I will still have my wits and my creativity, I can use those to build another business, and nobody can take those away from me.

3. That I'm not working to fulfill someone else's dream. I'm working to fulfill my own dream, and to help others fulfill their dreams.

4. That I take the knocks -- and I reap the rewards -- for what I do. Period. 

What about you? What rings YOUR bells about having your own business?

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What Are the Perks Of Owning a Small Business?

By Jane Chin

Aspiring and current small business owners are familiar with the grim survival rates of small business entrepreneurship. We hear time and again, how a large percentage of small businesses fail within a few years of founding.
I have been a small business owner for more than a decade, and appreciate the dismal realities of starting and sustaining a small business. I have written about the downfalls of owning a small business , and these downfalls are by no means trivial. These downfalls probably contribute to why many small businesses fail to thrive.

Yet we are drawn, moths to the flame of entrepreneurship. The perks of owning a small business override downfalls, and these perks are by no means trivial. These perks probably contribute to why, in spite of statistics, we still aspire to own a small business:

Your vision comes into form.
Your experience as a small business owner.
Your identity as a small business owner and entrepreneur.
You have the flexibility to match your small business demands to major life decisions.

Read the original article here


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Thursday, October 2, 2014

10 Common Myths About Being a Business Owner

photo credit: jaycoxfilm via photopin cc
Before I dive into pointing out some of the flawed premises that seem to consistently crop up around the idea of entrepreneurship and small businesses, let me just stop to say something completely irrelevant:

I believe that these southern-style canned collard greens that I got from the Food Bank last week are some of the tastiest darn things I've ever eaten!

I know, canned collard greens sound icky...but I've always been a little weird. When I was about six years old and Grandma sent me to the garage to get something "out of the freezer", I ignored all of the cakes and ice cream and came back with a package of broccoli.

What can I say?

Okay, back to the topic at hand. Let's take a look at these small business myths:

10 Common Myths about Being a Business Owner


1. You'll be rich

This one is so old and tired that I'm surprised it's still around, but maybe the following statement will finally put this poor, miserable thing to death once and for all:

No, you won't. Not at first.

Some smart apple somewhere along the line came up with the following rule of thumb when it comes to what business owners actually live on vs. what their business earns. I also wrote about it here.

  • 30% of business earnings goes into COGS (Cost of Goods Sold)
  • 30% goes into labor
  • 30% goes into operating expenses 
  • 10% goes to the business owner to pay for rent, food, utilities, etc.

This means that if a business earns $125,000 in a year, the business owner gets to live on $12,500.

This works out to about $6.01 per hour.

Which is why I get our food from the Food Bank and know what southern-style canned collard greens taste like.

2. Your friends and family will help you spread the word about your business.

If they do, you're very, very lucky.

Unfortunately, for most entrepreneurs and small business owners, our friends and family may mean well, and they may love us very much, but unless they're also entrepreneurs or business owners, they just won't "get it" that our survival depends on serious hustling.

In fact, many business owners won't be much help either, since they're too busy hustling their own businesses in order to survive.

So, since it's your butt on the line, chances are you're doing to be doing 99% of your own marketing, until you can afford to pay someone to do it for you.

3. You'll be able to work four-hour days.

Eventually maybe. But for the first five years or so, you'll be working 24-hour days, seven days a week. No holidays, no weekends. So you might as well get used to it.

4. You'll be your own boss.

Actually, at first you'll be exchanging one boss for five or six or 10 or 20 or however many customers and clients you have. Once you are earning enough to hire someone to do the actual work directly for your clients, THEN you get to be a boss.

5. Build it and they will come.

This kind of goes back to No. 2. You might think that having a great downtown location with tons of foot traffic, or a gorgeous website with all the squeeze pages and bells and whistles, would attract customers to you like ants to a dropped ice cream cone.

In fact, this is sort of like sitting at the bottom of a mountain and trying to wish yourself to the top without lacing up your boots and taking the hike. Unless people have heard of you--you're out there smiling, shaking hands, and offering free samples--they're not even going to know you exist.

Hey, even the Law of Attraction likes a little grease on its wheels.

6. If nobody else is doing it, you'll have a corner on the market and your business will be wildly successful.

Ah, I fell for this one hook, line, and sinker.

I looked around town, saw lots of hyperactive dogs, poked around online, asked a few of my doggy buddies, saw nobody else offering dog walking services, and thought, "Perfect! I like dogs; I'll start a dog walking service!"

Two years later, and I still only have one dog walking client.

Errrrrnt.

Turns out that there's a good reason that there are no dog walkers in my town. Nobody is interested in having their dog walked.

The lesson: just because you think your service is needed or that you have a really great business idea doesn't mean that anyone else agrees with you.

7. It's easier than being an employee.

I suppose this depends on how you define "easy".

On the one hand, it's nice being able to do something you love, are passionate and knowledgeable about, and are good at. It's also nice not having to deal with anyone's incompetence besides your own.

But if "easy" means earning money while you lie in a hammock sipping beer...um, no. You're going to be working harder than you've ever worked in your life. And when your next business decision may result in you living in your car and standing in line at Social Services, the whole "buck stops here" thing can really suck.

8. You need to have lots of money to start a business, so you need to take out a business loan or get lots of funding.

This one's a pet peeve of mine, because it entraps people who can least afford it into a system that will not relinquish them easily. I wrote more about it here.

Think about it: if you take out a business loan, you don't own your business; the bank does.

Once that money is gone, what are you going to do, take out another loan? And another? And another? Start maxing out your credit cards? Asking your family for cash? Selling your children?

What if your business fails? I can guarantee that the bank don't care, and now, in addition to a failed business you're going to have to pay off a business loan. Talk about rubbing salt in your wounds.

In my not-so-humble opinion, you should avoid going into debt at all cost. Write down your dreams and keep them in a safe place, but start small.

I know of a young man who started his coffee business as a cart outside a grocery store, selling nothing but plain black coffee in 8-oz paper cups. No pastries, no fancy espresso drinks, no smoothies...nothing but plain coffee (with cream and sugar of course). And no debts.

He has expanded his offerings gradually over the last five years and is currently doing just fine.

9. You'll get to help out your local economy and hire your friends. 

Again, initially, no. A friend told me recently that it costs between $9,000-$13,000 to hire and train a new employee before they actually start pulling their own weight and you get a return on your investment.

10. You need to have a big, fancy website with all of the social media bells and whistles from the get-go.

This is a favorite rant of Meredith, cohost of "Paycheck to Passion", podcast extraordinaire.

Many startup businesses make the mistake of investing in a big, beautiful website right out of the starting gate...and then one of two things happens: (1) nobody visits, they get no business from the website, and they get discouraged and take it down; (2) they run out of money to pay the website fees, or the business folds, they are unable to maintain the website, so they take it down.

The Internet is littered with dead websites. It's like a website graveyard.

Think of your website like you do your business. Start small. Start free. Work on getting to know people and establishing a base of raving fans. Then gradually build it up as you get more customers and fans, so that when you DO build your big, beautiful website, you'll have an established fan base to send over to it.

Conclusion: 

Don't worry. I'm not all about bummage and being a wet blanket; I just think it's better to know the possible pitfalls ahead of time before the walls come crashing down around your ears. Next week, I promise, I'll be writing about the BENEFITS of being a business owner, so keep your spirits up and stay tuned!

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship

Image courtesy of Inc.com
On one level, our society idolizes entrepreneurs. But as it states in this article from Inc.com, "It's like a man riding a lion. People think, 'This guy's brave.' And he's thinking, 'How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?"

If you have ever looked around at your new business and your new life and thought, "What in God's name am I doing here?"... if you have ever felt like a charlatan, a fake ... if you've ever slapped a happy, optimistic face over a churning stomach or even suicidal thoughts for the benefit of your clients, you are not alone. 

As rewarding as it can be, the path of the entrepreneur is often a very lonely one. It's not uncommon for entrepreneurs to feel like there is nobody else who really understands what we're doing. Our friends and family -- the people who are supposed to love us the very most -- through no fault of their own, just don't "get it". At best, they might glaze over and change the conversation. At worst, they might ridicule us under the guise of "joking". 

As a result, sometimes we find ourselves editing a very big part of our lives out of our conversations. It can feel like not being able to talk about our kids, or the fact that we have cancer.

We as entrepreneurs need to learn that it's okay to ask for help, to lean on each other for support.

Nobody has to go it alone.

Jessica Bruder talks about the psychological price of entrepreneurship in this award-winning article from Inc.com. I hope you find it as helpful as I did.

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By Jessica Bruder
By all counts and measures, Bradley Smith is an unequivocal business success. He's CEO of Rescue One Financial, an Irvine, California-based financial services company that had sales of nearly $32 million last year. Smith's company has grown some 1,400 percent in the last three years, landing it at No. 310 on this year's Inc. 500. So you might never guess that just five years ago, Smith was on the brink of financial ruin--and mental collapse. 
Back in 2008, Smith was working long hours counseling nervous clients about getting out of debt. But his calm demeanor masked a secret: He shared their fears. Like them, Smith was sinking deeper and deeper into debt. He had driven himself far into the red starting--of all things--a debt-settlement company. "I was hearing how depressed and strung out my clients were, but in the back of my mind I was thinking to myself, I've got twice as much debt as you do," Smith recalls.
He had cashed in his 401(k) and maxed out a $60,000 line of credit. He had sold the Rolex he bought with his first-ever paycheck during an earlier career as a stockbroker. And he had humbled himself before his father--the man who raised him on maxims such as "money doesn't grow on trees" and "never do business with family"--by asking for $10,000, which he received at 5 percent interest after signing a promissory note.
Related: The Fearsome Nightmare Entrepreneurs Never Talk About
Smith projected optimism to his co-founders and 10 employees, but his nerves were shot. "My wife and I would share a bottle of $5 wine for dinner and just kind of look at each other," Smith says. "We knew we were close to the edge." Then the pressure got worse: The couple learned they were expecting their first child. "There were sleepless nights, staring at the ceiling," Smith recalls. "I'd wake up at 4 in the morning with my mind racing, thinking about this and that, not being able to shut it off, wondering, When is this thing going to turn?"
After eight months of constant anxiety, Smith's company finally began making money.
Successful entrepreneurs achieve hero status in our culture. We idolize the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Elon Musks. And we celebrate the blazingly fast growth of the Inc. 500 companies. But many of those entrepreneurs, like Smith, harbor secret demons: Before they made it big, they struggled through moments of near-debilitating anxiety and despair--times when it seemed everything might crumble.
Read the full article at Inc.com


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Starting My Business: 10 Things I Would Go Back and Do Differently

photo credit: Express Monorail via photopin cc
My previous workplace has been on my mind lately. The memories are still as clear as if it were just yesterday: sitting at my desk in my old office, in tears from the latest out-of-the-blue tongue-lashing, fighting Monday morning nausea, tearing my hair out in frustration because a time-sensitive email sat in my boss's inbox for a week -- again! -- and we lost another client as a result.

I was unhappy, yes. It was an abusive situation, yes. I had to get out of there, yes.

But there are still things I could have done to make my transition easier.

Ah, if I only had it to do over again...

1. I would have paid attention to the writing on the wall earlier on.
I was just coming off of four years of unemployment and was grooving on having a steady income again. But even six months into my new job, I had an uneasy sense that something nasty was coming down the pipeline. It was then-- three years before I actually quit -- that I should have started planning my exit strategy.

2. I would have started laying the groundwork for my transition earlier.
Knowing what I do now about the local job market -- basically, that there isn't one -- I would have started thinking about starting my own business much, much earlier.

3. I would have done way more market research.
I would have asked more questions. I would have mentioned to people, "Hey, I'm thinking of starting a dog walking business -- what do you think? Would that fly here in town?" Or, "Hey, I'm thinking of going into blogging and social media consulting -- what do you think about that?"

4. I would have started my business in a field that I really loved (blogging, social media, and online marketing. Here's my business website: symblemeservicesonline.blogspot.com).
I came across a quote recently that says, "If  your answer isn't 'Hell yes!', it should be 'Hell no!' I knew too much about the pet care industry from being a veterinary assistant and shelter worker, and I went into the field with reservations. I realize now that part of the reason that my dog walking business didn't take off was that my heart wasn't in it 110%. Without gung-ho energy behind it, even in a great market, a business's performance will only be mediocre at best.

5. While I was still being paid, I would have scaled spending back to the absolute bare minimum and paid it forward. 
I was pretty much there anyway, but there are still some things I could have gone without. For me, setting aside money in savings doesn't work very well, because the money is too easy to get to and spend. So I would have moved in with my fiancé sooner and used the money I saved from that second apartment to pay forward on rent. I would have foregone buying the bagpipes and the extra clothes and taken some classes and gotten certified in my new field. I would have invested in things I could sell later when money got tight.

6. I would have looked for and found a mentor sooner.
As a lifelong employee, from a family of lifelong employees. I had no idea how to run a business. I was totally a deer in headlights. I could have gotten some help with figuring things out that whole time.

7. I would have started networking sooner.
This is tough for me as a raving introvert; I love being a hermit. But while I was still out in the "real world", I would have started asking people about social media, or what they thought about dog walking. I would have floated more crazy ideas past everybody: clients, friends, businesspeople even family. Heck, my stepmother is getting an MBA--talk about missing out on a great resource!

8. I would have spent way more time and energy daydreaming about, studying, and researching my new business.
I would have read everything I could get my hands on. I would have built my website sooner, and started building my email list sooner. I would have tried harder to keep myself in that juicy, creative, positive place and get some really great spin about where I wanted to go, instead of wasting time and energy on my incompetent boss.

9. I would have spent more time "whatiffing" and "howtoing".
I would have tried my best to prepare for the unexpected. I would have asked myself, "What will I do if/when I run out of money? What is my bailout plan?" I know it's impossible to anticipate everything, but I could have done better.

10. I wouldn't have held onto my job nearly as long as I did.
Three years of my life, gone. It's okay; it was what it was. But I could have chosen happiness sooner.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Lies Your Mind Tells You to Prevent Life Changes

photo credit: °]° via photopin cc 
I love this. And I've used every lameass excuse Leo Babauta mentions.

My quintessential favorite, however, is #2: "He/she can do it, but that doesn’t apply to me."

What's YOUR favorite?

~ Catharine

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By Leo Babauta

The mind is a wonderful thing. It’s also a complete liar that constantly tries to convince us not to take actions we know are good for us, and stops many great changes in our lives.

Scumbag mind.

I’ve had to learn to watch these rationalizations and excuses very carefully, in order to make the changes I’ve made in my life: a healthier diet, regular exercise, meditation, minimalism, writing daily, getting out of debt, quitting smoking, and so on.

If I hadn’t learned these excuses, and how to counter them, I would never have stuck to these changes. In fact, I failed many times before 2005 (when I started changing my life), because these excuses had complete power over me.

Let’s expose the cowardly mind’s excuses and rationalizations once and for all.

First, the main principle: the mind wants comfort, and is afraid of discomfort and change. The mind is used to its comfort cocoon, and anytime we try to push beyond that comfort zone very far or for very long, the mind tries desperately to get back into the cocoon. At any cost, including our long-term health and happiness.

OK, with that in mind, let’s go into the excuses:

1. I can’t do it. It seems too hard, so we think we can’t stick to the change. We don’t believe in ourselves. This can be countered from the fact that many other people no more capable than us have done it. For example, Oprah ran a marathon a little before I started training for my first marathon, and so I told myself, “If Oprah can do it, so can I!” I was right.

Read the rest of the article here:

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Emotional Cycle of Change

Graphic from connerpartners.com
This is a terrific article from The Simple Dollar, inspired by Don Kelley and Darryl Connor that was a godsend at this stage in my employee-to-entrepreneur journey. 

Experientially I know about this emotional cycle from my own recovery from alcoholism, but I didn't know that a smart apple had actually mapped it out. I'm definitely in the middle of the "Informed Pessimism" stage right now with regards to my businesses, pretty darn close to those bailout arrows. But I know from my journey with alcohol, and now I also know from this map, that if I can just...hang...in...there...

So, thanks to Don and Darryl for creating this map, and to Trent Hamm for spreading the word about it! I hope you find it as helpful and encouraging as I did.

~ Catharine

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By Trent

As many of you know, I had a bit of a financial epiphany in April 2006. I came home from work one day, picked up the mail, and sat down to pay our bills, only to realize that we didn’t have enough in our checking account to pay all of those bills. Because neither of us would get paid for at least a week, at least a few of those bills were going to be late, and it was going to be a tricky balancing act to get out of it.


That very night, I resolved to make some changes. I grabbed a bunch of personal finance books from the library – two of them, Your Money or Your Life and The Total Money Makeover, had particular impact – and started taking a lot of difficult financial actions.


I was caught up in a wave of optimism with regards to positively changing my life.

Yet, by late summer, I started to become rather pessimistic about things. All along, I had this sense that if I made all of these changes, I would somehow change – but that wasn’t really true.


I began to doubt that things could really change after all.


Psychologists Don Kelley and Daryl Conner actually mapped this phenomenon out very well in a sequence that they call “The Emotional Cycle of Change.” In it, they identify five distinct phases that people go through as they implement major changes in their life:

Stage 1: Uninformed optimism.
Stage 2: Informed pessimism.
Stage 3: Hopeful realism.
Stage 4: Informed optimism.

Stage 5: Completion.

Read the complete article here:


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