Monthly Archives: December 2007

New Year’s Resolutions….Mutual Success and Interconnectedness

The New Year tends to provide us with an excuse to make promises to ourselves, or start something new.  Every day actually provides us with this opportunity, but somehow, the New Year seems to be a point where a new start seems more important or portentous.  While small, measurable goals are easier to accomplish, this past year, setting a “theme” worked well for me, so I am doing the same for 2008.

The Theme for 2007- Let Go of Fear 

Last year, my resolution and promise to myself was based on getting rid of fear as an obstacle in my life.  I had found that for a long time, I would choose to avoid doing things or take chances based on fear of failure or fear of success, and what might happen as a result.  By making an active choice to remove fear from the equation, and start making choices based on strengths and opportunity, truly amazing things have happened.  It’s been a year of wonderful changes and opportunities, many of which I can chalk up to this decision.  Once you stop being afraid, you can really start living.

What does giving up fear sound like or look like? Mostly, when someone says “You can’t do that!” – you respond with looking at their concerns, and often responding, “Well, I can- watch me!”  If there’s an obstacle in your path, you can give up, or the non-fear way is to look for any other way around this obstacle.  Som people let obstacles or difficulties stop their forward progress.  Successful people use these obstacles and learning opportunities and places to push off, change direction slightly, but never stopping the forward progress towards their goal.

The Theme for 2008-Mutual Success / Interconnectedness

This coming year, my theme or big idea in to find the win/win in as many situations as possible.

I spoke with a close friend the other day, who does significant business in China. He spoke about how the Chinese respond to American negotiation tactics.  While capitalism, for some people, is based on a win/lose paradigm- I can only win if you lose.  This often means people treating the other side of a deal as less worthy, or simply trying to take advantage of them- neither position does much to build long term, positive working relationships.   And in China, the relationship and respect is a cornerstone to how they see the world- a “deal” is not a one time thing, but a start of a long term process, that means much more than any one transaction.

In a world that is ever more connected, working on long-term business relationships is not a luxury- it is a necessity.  This means having respect for the other side of any negotiation or transaction.  It means trying to structure deals in a way that results in a win-win.  The “beating the other side into submission” Machiavellian tactics aren’t going to work for very much longer.  If you are too difficult to do business with, there are plenty of other players in a global marketplace who don’t see blood on the walls as success.  Trust and respect are becoming fundamental in this new era of globalization- there will be little long-term success for those who see humiliation as a goal in negotiations.

This is ultimately what transparency is about.  Both sides of any issue understand the other side as well as their own.  They know what a reasonable profit is, and what arrangement would suit both parties.  (With the internet and Google, there are far fewer secrets that we want to acknowledge, anyway).  Sometimes, you will need to take your business elsewhere, but respectful negotiations with the other side won’t foreclose future opportunities, where blood-lust based ones will leave a very bad taste in the mouth of both sides, making future business unlikely.

We have to change our attitude away from “I win, you lose” to “How can we work together?  How can we both get what we want?”  This makes all the difference in dealing with people, and building up long term trust, long term equity in relationships.

What do you think?  Isn’t all (successful) business really based on friendship and liking the other side, not feeling subjugated to someone else?  How can we make this happen in every day interactions?

What are your themes for 2008?

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Financial Disparities and Inequities

One of the things that always strikes me as unfair in our capitalist system is the disparate impact problem.

If you have money in this country, things actually get cheaper and more affordable. If you don’t have very much money, you are much more vulnerable to any economic swing. Let me explain.

A rise in gas prices from $2.50 to $3.00 a gallon means for a 15 gallon tank refill, this is a net $7.50 per tank increase; assuming you fill up the tank for your commute only twice a week, this is a fifteen dollar increase in your expenses, totally out of your control. If you make $150,000 a year, cutting back on a latte or two can make up for this; if you are only making $30,000 a year, this $60 a month and $720 a year takes a much bigger bite out of your salary, requiring much more corner-cutting, economizing, and sacrifice.

Banks have changed their policies on check cashing, removing the float or grace period people used to depend on. Banks have also raised penalties for things like bounced checks. If you bounce a check for your electric bill, that usually carries a penalty that can be as high as $30. If you didn’t have the money for the electric bill, that extra $30 puts you behind the eightball; couple that with an increase in gas prices, and things are going from bad to worse quickly. Yet, if you have money, you can often get preferred checking privileges and overdraft protection, making it essentially impossible to bounce a check. This means even if you have to economize a little in inflationary times, you are still okay and don’t take extra economic hits from the bank, if money gets a bit tight paycheck to paycheck.

Then there’s the problem with easy credit, allowing people to mortgage themselves up to their eyeballs, until their economic house collapses under the weight.

To this point, I saw Tucker Carlson speaking with a representative from John Edward’s campaign this weekend. They were discussing Edward’s plans to make credit card terms more reasonable for consumers. You can see the clip here. (Many thanks to Jim McCusker and red Lasso for making this possible).

The mistake the Edward’s campaign representative made was not telling Tucker Carlson that the real problem here is based on the lack of economic education we give people in school. We don’t teach kids about budgeting and how credit works. We are more than willing to tempt people with short term gains for long term pain, but that is not really disclosed, and it helps people accelerate a dive off a financial cliff.

Credit card companies send my nine year old solicitations for cards; they offer toys and prizes to sign up at airports and sporting events, not to mention on campus inducements for college students. I don’t think I’ve been to a bricks and mortar store recently that hasn’t asked me to sign up for their credit card, often with a substantial discount on current purchases if I sign up then and there. The credit game involves the drug dealer mentality- the first taste is free, but then, it’s gonna cost you, and cost you huge if you don’t understand the game as well as the banks. And people are looking at the thing they want then and there, not thinking about the long term affect n their credit score, whether this get today, pay tomorrow plan is really in their best interest. (And I know very few people who call their financial advisor or spouse before accepting one of these very tempting offers.)

I know I learned very little about financial management at home, and less in school. Money seemed to be a topic you just didn’t talk about in our home, and it meant I knew very little about managing my own money before leaving home. And I learned a few painful lessons early on in my life on my own as a result. They were important lessons in fiscal responsibility, one of the most important being short term gain needs to be carefully balanced against long term ability to pay, and the sacrifices it will entail.

During law school, I met with a financial planner with my husband; we set out long term goals for savings, investing, money management and the like. As a result, today, our financial ship is sound. We don’t live past our means, and we do what we can afford. We’re conservative in this way, and are unconcerned about keeping up with the neighbors. We research our big purchases with consumer reports, and are as cautious as if we had far less resources at our disposal, and we’re willing to spend a little bit more if there’s a big quality difference- quality lasts longer, and it’s worth the extra up-front cost.

Economic education is something we need to make a priority in this Country. If we don’t make it a natural part of growing up, we will continue to have problems with low savings rates, foreclosures and defaults on student loans and credit cards. Each economic sway, up or down, will continue to claim more and more casualties, until we make basic money management and economics part of education starting at Middle School or even earlier.

And in these days where overall recession and economic hard times are imminent, can we afford not to teach our kids about how money and credit works? I think not.

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More on the iPhone

It’s been almost three weeks since the iphone entered my life.  The love affair continues.   It does not do every task perfectly, but it does everything adequately.

Yes, when it is in EVDO mode, website loading can be slow, and certainly not as fast as my high speed internet connect at home.  Yet, when I am in a wifi zone, the upload is pretty snappy.  Interestingly, it seeks out any wifi network around, making it a pretty good wifi detector on its own.  (And you would be surprised at how many unsecured networks exist near local stop lights….)

The google maps acts as a defacto GPS and direction service;  the stock feature gives me updates on my investments; I have one button access to weather, and easy access to my email on the go.  The notes feature allows me to keep to do lists going and notes to myself.  The calendar feature and alarms syncs up with ical, which syncs with google calendar as well.  The alarms keep me on track as well.

It may not be perfect at any of these tasks alone, but it does them all very well, and has become a mobile phone/PDA/GPS/Internet and even an adequate ipod as well.

Visual voicemail and gmail together manages my messages as best as anything can.

I am so very happy with this little device, and I encourage everyone to give it a test drive. I am really impressed.

Here’s a good story that shows its functionality.  I produce some podcasts called OB GYN to Go, geared for resident education.  I was at the doctor’s the other day, and while we were talking, I mentioned the podcast.  The doctor was interested, so I called up the website on the iphone, and began streaming the podcast for him to hear, right there, on the fly.  This was awesome, and let me share something with another professional on the fly.  I could not have done this with any other device, other than my full laptop, but I had that functionality in my palm.   This was cool and useful.

I love it.  And best of all, besides being beautiful to behold, it just works seemlessly, and I am a satisfied customer.  All those holding off for the next generation, go right ahead.  I am happy now.

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Entrepreneurial Woes

I was talking to my friend, Michelle Wolverton yesterday, who works as a virtual assistant.  This means she takes on various tasks for clients on a project by project basis, helping them manage their businesses and time, on an as-needed basis.  Like many service based professions, including lawyers, income flow is not steady but sporadic for her, as is equally true for her clients.

I was also talking to a close friend who is a physician, whose husband is in private practice.   The story here is much the same as it is for Michelle’s clients-  “Dr. Dan” can only see so many patients by himself, and accomplish so much on his own.  This will limit his income potential, unless he expands his practice in some way.  If he works more hours, he takes time away from his family and young children.  If he gets a partner, that can help build the practice, but it can have headaches and disagreements associated with it as well.  As a result, he sticks with an “as-is” situation, and becomes a little frustrated, but is nervous about all the work that will go into changing the status quo, even if the long term benefits seem attractive.

We all reach this wall at some point in time- we are spending out time as efficiently as we know how, but we aren’t getting enough accomplished, or have reached the limits of our own expansion potential.  This is the time when people have to consider options such as outsourcing work.  And to outsource work, you need to know what you need to accomplish, compartmentalize tasks, be able to trust someone else with the work, and be able to pay them for that work, which means hopefully charging any client enough to cover your work and that of your assistants/subcontractors, plus make a profit.

It may seem like alot, for example, to pay a lawyer $250 an hour to write your wills or manage a legal problem for you.  But out of that $250 an hour, you have to consider that they have to pay secretaries, paralegals, rent on their office, rent on the copier and all sorts of other costs-meaning the attorney is not pocketing the $250 an hour, but actually paying a whole host of people out of that hourly rate.

Likewise, for working moms, hiring a nanny means they have to be making a wage that allows them to support a whole person taking on their “mom” duties, plus pay taxes, plus make enough money on top of that to make “outsourcing” of the Mom and home duties worthwhile, financially as well as mental health-wise.  You have to be making enough money outside the home, and enjoy it enough, to make it worthwhile hiring an at-home replacement. (because regardless of how we try, those silly tasks like dishes and laundry keep on coming….)

For many entrepreneurs, this means taking some real time to calculate their economic value to themselves and to others, what any replacement costs for their own “free” work might be involved, and where and when they hit the wall on their own work capabilities.  I know so many people, like “Dr Dan”  who don’t expand their business because they simply can’t wrap their minds around the process of hiring someone new, worrying about supporting them on the payroll, and everything else involved, even if this is perhaps the only way to eventually increase productivity,  overall income, and maybe even buying yourself some leisure time.

Likewise, I know that I currently need help from a virtual assistant, particularly with some website maintenance tasks I have been avoiding.  I have no doubt that these jobs are worth outsourcing, because I am not particularly thrilled with the housekeeping aspects of the job,  and I know how glad I will be when this project is just done-so paying someone like Michelle to come help me on a short term basis to get me back on track is perfect.  It is worth my money, and the time I will save not doing it myself.  other tasks, like audio editing, are more of an art- and as much as I can get tired ears after a while, this is not an aspect of producing my podcasts I feel comfortable outsourcing.  This is the “art” part- the part that is my value add, so I can’t really give this part away to someone else.

In order to expand a business, you need to be able to manage and delegate your duties to yourself and others.  You need to be a good leader, and you need to be organized.  If you can’t take the time to consolidate your tasks, you will most likely not accomplish everything you want, and you certainly can’t see where and  what might be easily outsourced to others.

This is a whole area entrepreneurs struggle with- in part, it is due to the high rate of ADHD among entrepreneurial types, where they are great at generating ideas and solving complex problems, but aren’t as good with the”ground work” and day to day tasks required for execution of these ideas and plans.  The only answer is to find a team, where everyone uses their talents to the best of their ability, and outsource those things that are not particularly enjoyable tasks to someone who loves them.

Best businesses thrive when everyone is doing what they do best.  Figuring out what you do best and focusing on those areas as your value add takes a significant amount of self-evaluation and self-reflection.  This can be time consuming, but in the long run, it is the pre-requisite to success.

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