Monday, December 7, 2009

Seminar on Profitability on December 15th

Hey everyone, the Floidster is back for yet another small business seminar on Tuesday, December 15th at 7:00 PM. This seminar is about some best practices on how to increase your business' profitability and maintain it.

If you're a small business owner living in New York City, this event is one you shouldn't miss. The information you can gather from here is priceless, and the investment minimal.

RSVP at http://www.papersnyc.com/classes

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Seminar on November 10th

Yes, it's been literally an eternity since last I posted. Business has been quite busy and many delays are still yet to be overcome!

Anyway, I wanted to jump in and quickly note that I'm running a seminar on how to protect your business on Tuesday, November 10th. If you live in NYC, be sure to attend this seminar. You can RSVP here: www.papersnyc.com/classes Just choose "Protecting Your Business" and sign up!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Explanation for lack of posts

Hey guys, you're probably wondering why I haven't been posting regularly. That's because the Gravy Train is about to leave the station.

In other words, exciting things are coming soon! So stay tuned! The birth of something great is very close! ;)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Guest column: Dress for Success

My good friend over at the Biased Cut was generous enough to write a guest column on the importance of keeping a good image. As we all know, especially to entrepreneurs, image alone can sometimes make or break a deal.

Yes, I know I was supposed to post on Sunday...but hey, at least I'm fashionably late, right?

Without further adieu, here begins the guest column. It's a great read:


There are a couple things this post won’t do. First is to discuss how to appropriately dress for an interview. That can be done here. And here, here, and perhaps best of all, here. Second is to preach about (or even presume to know about) the latest fashion trends. For that, go to any one of the infinite fashion blogs in syndication today.

For entrepreneurs, there is a more generalist approach that needs to be taken, one that can be applied to and understood by every demographic in the budding-business world. To the extent that everyone has their own personal style, and every situation is unique, there is no perfect advice for how to truly “dress for success”. Because, as entrepreneurs, you may be meeting with high-powered Wall St. financiers in one hour, then, in the next, pitching to the mechanics at the local repair garage about the benefits of installing a new electric car plug-in station. What it ultimately boils down to is awareness: awareness of audience, awareness of setting, awareness of personal style. And, of course, understanding the affects of dress on each of these.

Nearly everyone appreciates the value of dressing appropriately. But too often entrepreneurs are unsure, or even sorely mistaken, about how to outwardly present themselves. To me, it all starts with observation. Wherever you are, begin to observe the setting around you. Who are these people, and what are they wearing? What does their choice of dress convey? How does each individual fit in with the larger group surrounding them? Training your mind to consciously think of how other people are physically expressing themselves is essential to managing the perceptions your audience makes when subconsciously sizing up you.

First, understand the setting. Clearly, suits are de rigueur in the boardroom (unless it’s your boardroom – then anything goes). But what about that alumni happy hour coming up where you hope to score potential customers? Or maybe you’re canvassing neighborhoods this weekend, and don’t know how professional to look?

Next, think about the audience. This often runs in parallel to the setting, but not always. Just because you’re going to a manufacturing plant doesn’t mean you won’t be meeting with senior level management. Also, understand the other person’s dress style, and consider shifting your own style tendencies a little closer to theirs. It helps to build comfort in a relationship. But maintain the integrity of your own image – who would you trust more to fix your computer, Bill Gates dressed as Bill Gates, or Bill Gates dressed as David Beckham?

Finally, think about yourself. What do you want to convey? What is the purpose of this meeting, presentation, conversation? What fits me well (figuratively and literally), and what styles / clothing should I avoid?

Unfortunately there is no universal piece of advice for each and every situation. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a personal wardrobe specialist (or a significant other that makes these hard decisions for you), you’re going to have to use your best judgment. And the only way to build that judgment is to educate yourself. Begin by observing. Learn what works, and what doesn’t work. If you want to become more ambitious, start reading up on the latest fashion. Whether you want to simply improve your corporate wardrobe or you’re seeking to spot the next best trend there are resources out there.

As entrepreneurs, you don’t need to be reminded again of the importance of first impressions in marketing. So be sure to put lots of thought into each and every one of yours. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to be different, but in the business of sales, you MUST be aware of what image you portraying.

*************************************************************************************
Post courtesy of the Biased Cut

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Always set concrete deadlines

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” - Douglas Adams (British comic)




The term "deadline" has always been a grim term. We've all had to deal with them, whether it was back in our school days or at work. I mean heck, it's even got "dead" in it. However, many of us take a deadline's importance for granted in our general lives. Without deadlines, business as we know it wouldn't function properly.

Deadlines are an extension of the simple universal law that dictates that everything that has a beginning must have an end. We deal with deadlines all the time, which is why we take them for granted when we need them for ourselves. The fact is, whenever we are given a predetermined deadline, we work harder to make sure all the work is completed by that date.

Imagine, if you will, that you knew you were going to die in 6 months. I am willing to bet good money that 99% of us would try even harder to live life to the fullest before our "deadline" approaches. The problem is, all of us don't know when our own "deadline" looms, and so we become complacent and comfortable. When it comes to our own lives, most of us don't set deadlines for our goals and/or dreams. As such, we find ourselves drifting from day to day, month to month, constantly deferring what we need to do until "later." However, there's only so much time you can use to defer something until it becomes too late.

It is the ability to predetermine an end that separates successful people from the rest. Any entrepreneur who planned for their business seriously has made religious use of deadlines (i.e. a launch date). Any goals you've set for yourself must be specific not only in nature/amount but also specific in terms of a timeframe.

Here are some tips in setting deadlines:

  • Make them specific. In other words, don't put down "a month" Make it "July 31, 2009"
  • Don't be generous in the timeframe, but be realistic too. Don't give yourself too much time to achieve your goals. Saying that you'll, for example, travel to Europe within 10 years is MUCH too generous. To borrow a term from the "4-Hour Workweek" you should set impossible deadlines. Reason for this is that you will work that much harder to make sure your goal is achieved.
  • Set a deadline for each critical task that needs to be done to achieve your goal. Every journey has its milestones. That's how you keep progress, pace and most of all...motivation.
Deadlines can be used for all aspects of your life. Use them religiously. In fact, use them on your loved ones...and you'll get your grilled cheese sandwich sooner than you thought! How it's delivered to you though...well...that's up to you ;)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Getting burnt out is temporary

"Successful people are successful because they form the habits of doing those things that failures don't like to do." - Albert Gray (one of those habits is perseverance)


Otherwise little Joey here is going to stomp you out like a used cigarette. Capish?

Anyone who works hard for a living will always experience the dreaded phrase we call "burn out" It is when you are always tired, hate what you're doing and wish you could just retreat to a tropical island and never have to worry about anything. There are those who keep persevering, and then there are those who simply give up.

The old belief is that "Quitting never gets you ahead in life." I don't mean to shock you, but that phrase can be WRONG. We've been programmed to automatically assume a negative connotation with the word "quit" Sometimes, you need to quit something to get ahead.

For example, to quit wasting time definitely gets you ahead. Quitting smoking saves you money. Quitting telling dumb jokes saves your reputation. It's not necessarily a question of WHEN to quit, it's a question of WHAT to quit. Once you know what to quit...then you know when to quit (which is usually between Right Now and Immediately)

To avoid burning out, or to recover from burn out, you need to define what to quit. A lot of times, it's the little things that break the camel's back. So...what are some things you can quit to improve your experience?

  • Quit doing things that do not directly contribute to the completion of your primary task or make you any money. Activity does not necessarily equal productivity. Do NOT work for the sake of work.
  • Quit getting distracted. This means constantly checking email, responding to unimportant messages, or taking social calls during times you should be productive. Productivity relies on momentum. Distractions only hamper your momentum.
  • Quit sacrificing personal time to work. When you're tired, stressed and/or unhappy, you are less productive. Be resolute in making sure you get some time to spend for yourself (and your family...if applicable). This one of the biggest mistakes people do, and why they get burnt out quickly. As the old saying goes, "When something's important, you MAKE THE TIME."
And lets say you did all that, and you still feel burnt out...then you should reconsider what you're doing entirely. It may be as simple as your job/business just isn't fulfilling to you. In that case, you should move on to something else that's more fulfilling, even if it means earning less money. You don't need to be rich to be happy. You need to be fulfilled to be happy.

If any of you have read the book "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss, you will find that these concepts are quite similar. For those of you who haven't read the book, I HIGHLY recommend you buy it. It is extremely useful.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Be a "dad" to your business

I wonder what the card would have said...

Yes, in case you were wondering, this is a Fathers Day themed post today. First off, I want to wish everyone a Happy Fathers Day. I would also like to make a quick T-shirt recommendation for the future:


Because everyone's celebrating their fathers (or at least pretending to ;) ), I will keep this post quite short.

The reason I say you should be a "dad" to your business is that, in a lot of ways, your business is like your child. The younger your child is, the more attention you need to give it to make sure it grows up to be healthy and independent. As such, when you have an embryonic small business, you need to be there for it all the time until it can "walk" by itself.

As a "dad" you want to ensure that your business grows up with your values, but with the ability to be independent. A lot of entrepreneurs sometimes hit a plateau or wall in their growth because they get so consumed in their business, that they cannot start new businesses or just grow their current business beyond tiny increments. (See: "Don't be a helicopter entrepreneur")

At times, just like a child, sometimes you will need to stomp your foot and make tough decisions for your business (i.e. cutting employees, services, etc.). For entrepreneurs, "tough love" is sometimes a necessity to ensure your business' survival.

When you small business grows up to be healthy and strong, make sure to buy yourself a crappy T-shirt ;) Oh, and I know we have women in the audience here. You can be "dads" too, just PLEASE don't overdo it ;)

Happy Fathers Day!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Get out of your comfort zone

Sorry, I found this picture to be too funny to not use, even though it's totally irrelevant.

On the subject of gold chains and mohawks, I pity the foo' who does the same things over and over and expecting different results.

If you look at any successful entrpreneur, they all have many things in common fundamentally. One of those things was the sheer determination to do things that most people would be uncomfortable or afraid to do. It is precisely because they do what most don't that leads to their inevitable success. Of course, that's not to say that these people never fail. In fact, all successful entrepreneurs will fail AT LEAST several times before finally succeeding.

Failure is uncomfortable. No one likes to fail. Many people will refer to the quote, "Play with fire and you get burned." Well...so what if you get burned a little? You become all the wiser. It is the fact that you made a mistake or failed that teaches you to appreciate not only what you have, but to appreciate what you're aspiring for.

When you can bring yourself to do things that most people won't (within reason of course...I'm not saying go walk naked out on the streets...) you will find that there's very little competition on the other side of the fence. If being an entrepreneur was easy, don't you think everyone would be one then?

I know I used this quote in a previous post, but it begs to be repeated. A successful entrepreneur once told me, "You know why people never get ahead in life? It's not because they set the bar too high. It's because they set the bar too low, and they keep jumping over it each and every time in a ritual of sheer habit."

As an entrepreneur, you will be faced with many unknowns. You will have to become something you've never been educated or trained to do. You will learn as you go, and you WILL make mistakes along the way. However, don't let it get to you, it's just part of the process of being successful. Starting something is always the hardest thing to do.

Take running for example. When you first start your run, your muscles burn and you're practically wheezing...because you've went from a state of comfort and low activity to a state of motion. However, you find that after the first 10-15 minutes, your body adapts to being in a state of motion...your breathing slows down and your muscles stop burning. It is a simple example, yes, but it is true of any endeavor in life. It will always be difficult at first to get out of your comfort zone...but when you do (and persevere), you will go far.

And with that, I shall leave you with a wonderful quote by Mark Twain:

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect."

Ok, seriously. New Post on Tuesday (6/16)

Through ice and hellfire, I WILL have a new post up, even if it means staying up until 3 AM Tuesday NIGHT (and no...that doesn't mean 2 hours from now...for you wise-cracks out there) to do it. Stay tuned.

...YES, I know it's technically Tuesday. ;)

-Floid

Monday, June 8, 2009

Apologize for the delay

Hey everyone, the next post on the blog will be next Sunday, June 14th. Business demands my time, so I need to give it the proper attention before it kicks and screams ;)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Be a relationship builder, not a client controller


Alec Baldwin's character in "Glengarry Glen Ross" was definitely a client controller with his "brass balls"


If you were to ask any successful entrepreneur on what sustains his/her business, most (not necessarily all) will tell you it is repeat business and referrals. Entrepreneurs are not just leaders, but they all have to be salesmen at heart. When you go out there to get business and promote yourself, you are a salesman for your own company.

There are two kinds of salesmen out there. The first type are called "client controllers" These salesmen are true hustlers. They will use pressure tactics, and every trick in the book to "beat you into submission" and get you to sign on the dotted line, regardless if the sale is even beneficial to you or not. To them, ABC (Always Be Closing) is a religion for them, and they are its fanatics. These salesmen are good at getting customers quickly, but rely on a steady stream of new business. Depending on what kind of person you are and what you sell, this is not necessarily sustainable nor recommended.

The other type are known as "relationship builders" These salesmen, although not necessarily as aggressive as "client controllers" are even more effective in the long run. These types of salesmen do not necessarily "sell" you, they get you to "want" or "need" something. They do what is best for the client, even if it means sacrificing a juicy payment or sometimes even an entire sale. These salesmen delay gratification to reap the long term benefits. To many people, salesmen that actually have their best interests at heart are rare. However, many customers appreciate honest salesmen. It is the old phrase, "If you do good by me, I'll do good by you."

As a relationship builder, you will find that your customers will be more loyal to you, and they will be more than happy to give you referrals. In business, referrals are your lifeblood. When you have a referral, it makes selling MUCH easier. Don't be afraid to take the high road, even if it costs you profit. I cover this in my previous post "Be selfishly honest"

So what are key things you should do to be a "relationship builder"? Here are some key ones:

  • Develop a strong rapport with your customer through sharing things in common (i.e. both of you love baseball, etc.) and some humor
  • Take the time to really understand what your customer needs and show the customer how you can address their need with your product/service. Fulfill their needs, not your paycheck.
  • Always maintain regular contact with your customer. Send them a birthday card, or just check in on them to see how they're doing. This is a great opportunity to sell further to them, or just simply get more referrals.
  • ALWAYS ask for referrals. Be sure you treat those referrals with the same professionalism and attentiveness as with your original customer. It'll make your customer look good in front of the people he/she knows.
As an entrepreneur and a salesman, just be genuine, go the extra mile and most of all, always put your customer's needs first.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Always see your customers' perspective


"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" - George Carlin

Perspective is a tricky thing. How you view something can either be similar or vastly different than how someone else views it. When it comes to business, perspective is everything. Successful businesses go to great lengths to ensure not only getting their branding right, but also develop and perfect ways to make things better for the customer.

To be successful in business, you have to be able to consider the perspective of others, and not just your own internal perspective (whether it is your company's or just yourself). I've touched upon this concept here and there in my previous posts, but I want to reiterate just how important this principle is.

Normally, every thing in existence will have its proponent and its critic. However, there is an issue of concern if something has way more critics than proponents. It is extremely vital to always be collecting feedback from external parties, whether it be friends, family or complete strangers (such as customers). What may seem "easy" "useful" or "affordable" to you, may not necessarily apply to others.

Failing to understand the perspective of your customers can cost you dearly. Therefore, there are two useful exercises you should do. This applies to whether you have a business already or you are planning to start one:

Exercise 1: Ask yourself 50 negative questions (i.e. "Why should I care about xyz product/service?") and then answer them. Don't worry if you can't reach 50, just try your hardest to get close to that number. The reason for that is that it will force your mind to think from an outside perspective. You may find this exercise a bit sobering, but it will save you later.

Exercise 2: Get your friends and even strangers to test out your product/service and collect their feedback. Make sure they give you HONEST feedback and have them elaborate on their feedback. For example, if someone says, "I think xyz is great." Ask them why. Why do they find it great? You need to understand exactly what you do well, and what you don't do well. Most likely, feedback will end up clumping into a handful of similar issues. People simply have different ways of expressing their thoughts. It's up to you to interpret feedback into coherent themes that you can act upon.

We've all seen businesses who have terrible customer service and/or weak value propositions. Usually, those businesses either suffer greatly or collapse completely. You won't share their fate if you always do your best to understand your customers' perspective. Whether someone loves or hates your business...they'll always be willing to give you a piece of their mind. Use that to your advantage. Most importantly of all, always be critical of yourself.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Don't be a cog in "The Machine"

One of the reasons Pink Floyd is a legendary band was that a good deal of their songs were powerful social commentaries that caused you to really think.

One of their songs, "Welcome to the Machine" although originally written as a criticism of the soullessness of the music industry, is also, I believe, a reflection of society as a whole. Like I mentioned in previous posts, society is crucial to maintain order. However, in order to maintain order, things must be predictable and controllable.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying you should go out, grab a bazooka and fight "the establishment." What I am saying though is that you should NEVER let ANYONE tell you how to live your life. To be an entrepreneur, you need to be prepared to go against the grain of society. You need to be independent. It's your life, not anyone else's.

With that, I present to you Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine." It is a very powerful song, indeed. For those of you viewing this post on Facebook, you will have to go onto my blog directly (http://gogravytrain.blogspot.com/) to view the video.





Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been?
It's alright we know where you've been.
You've been in the pipeline, filling in time,
Provided with toys and 'Scouting for Boys'.
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn't like school, and you
know you're nobody's fool,
So welcome to the machine.

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream?
It's alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star,
He played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar.
He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the Machine.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day: Never Forget


I, and many of you, have either friends or family in the military that are currently fighting in Iraq & Afghanistan or will be deployed soon. Never forget that each and every one of them is a hero. Anyone who volunteers to put their life on the line for the defense of his people is a hero. Movies, and even the media sometimes, cause us to forget that soldiers are normal people just like us.

These men and women face fear and danger very few of us will ever comprehend. To quote William Sherman, "War is hell." Without them, our way of life as we know it today would not exist. The best way to honor these men and women is to help build the country that they sacrificed themselves to defend.

Start a business, do volunteer work, better your community, do whatever you can do to help make your country better. Every little thing counts. As you look back upon the triumphs of your life, never forget those who made it possible for you.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Always set goals


There's no journey without some sort of destination.

...at least that's what I keep telling myself ;)

But in all seriousness, as a future or current entrepreneur, you must get in the habit of setting goals for yourself. If you read the success stories of great entrepreneurs (both small and big), one of the key secrets to their success is that they set goals for themselves. In a way, we all set goals for ourselves, at least internally. However, that is not always enough. Often times, the goals we set for ourselves are not high enough either.

I was once told by a successful entrepreneur, "You know why people never get ahead in life? It's not because they don't set goals. It's because they set the bar too low, and they just keep jumping over it time and time again."

To really harness the power of goal-setting, you need to make your goals a realistic challenge to achieve. It's the same concept in sports or martial arts. If you want to get better, you need to challenge yourself and never be afraid of failure. Often times, you need to pit yourself against people who are "out of your league." It's the sincere effort in conquering that goal that makes you stronger.

Make sure that your goal is specific (put a number to it) and that it is within a self-imposed deadline. For example, "My goal is to make $100,000 a month by the end of 2009." Your brain, believe it or not, will subconsciously do whatever it takes to achieve that goal, as long as you are sincere and focused. WRITE your goal down and place it where you can see it everyday.

Well, off to my journey. I knew I should have made a left turn at Albuquerque...

Just as a reminder, the new blog update days are Sunday & Wednesday. See you then!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The first step is always the hardest

Floid Factoid: A plane or shuttle burns the most fuel during take off.

If you ask any serious entrepreneur what were some of the most difficult times of his/her venture, it'll usually be "the start-up phase" It can also happen to be the most fun, but it all depends on your mindset and your determination.

From what I've garnered from personal experience and the experience of others, most people become intimidated by the often daunting task of starting a new business. As you may have read in my previous posts, it takes iron determination, a good deal of homework and a passion for what you do. If you were to survey salesmen or entrepreneurs, most of them fail/drop-out in the beginning stages (1st year usually) of their endeavors. Out of those who make it past the initial stages (after 1-2 years or so), very few end up dropping out in the mid to late term. That is why entrepreneurs are a minority. If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it, right? However, that is why the rewards are so great.

Newton's Law of Inertia applies to people too. Objects that are stationary remain stationary, and objects in motion stay in motion unless an external force interferes. When you first start a business, you're going from a stationary state to a state of motion. However, the greatest amount of force exerted is in the initial acceleration phase. As the factoid above mentions, a plane/shuttle burns the most fuel on take-off in order to overcome friction and gravity. If you're in a state of motion, momentum will keep you going. In fact, with momentum, things get a lot easier.

As a future or a current entrepreneur, don't let the daunting tasks in the beginning deter you. Yes, you will have to work hard. Yes, you will have to make sacrifices. Most importantly, you will have to venture into the unknown. However, keep in mind that for every day you work hard now, that is one more day you have earned for yourself in living the life you want in the future. You are making an investment in the present to generate a great return in the future.

Just keep pushing forward. Eventually, momentum will take over.

Whew, looks like I JUST made the post right before 12:00 AM ;) By the way, I'm changing my blog update days to every Sunday and Wednesday. The next blog post will be on Sunday, May 24th.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Out For Lunch - Be Back Thursday"

Hey everyone,

I know today's update day, but I have a mountain of work to take care of...so stay tuned for a new blog post on Thursday!

-Floid

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Be different, but be useful

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” -Albert Einstein

Word...

By Einstein's definition, most people are insane. But then again, society teaches us that if enough people believe or do the same thing, it is "normal" That sounds pretty insane to me. I've always believed that the true measure of one's intellgience and character is being able to understand and rise above our basic instincts and "machine-like" responses.

It's one thing to be different just for difference's sake, it's quite another to be different to get what you want. Being different just simply to be different means you're still a conformist. You just simply conform to the other side of the fence in society.

Lets take music for an example. Death Metal is VERY different than anything else...yet it's probably one of the most unpopular forms of music...mostly because it's just a lot of throat growling, very angry and unintelligible lyrics. It's one thing if you truly like the music, it's quite another when you listen to it...just simply so you can be "badass" or to fit in with a crowd.

And that brings us to entrepreneurs...I've seen some aspiring entreprenerus come up with some seriously wacky business ideas and totally "avant-garde" marketing ideas. Then when you ask them, "So uhh...why are you doing this?" Not a single answer that comes out of them is even remotely based on fact.

In their machinations, they were conditioned to believe that being different automatically equals being successful or useful. They were doing what they were doing, just for the sake of being different and "cool" when fundamentally, they were "useless." It's like a bent fork...sure it's different, but you'd sooner throw it in a trash can, or show a silly picture of it to your friends before actually using it.

It is very important to ask yourself a key question before you start a "different" or "unique" business or a project:

"Why hasn't anyone, or very few people, done this before?"

Again, just like a bent fork, it could simply be that that the idea may actually be of very little use or value to people. However, if the facts support the potential usefulness of your product/service, and you're simply a first/early mover...then go for it.

As an entrepreneur, you can't be different JUST for the sake of being different...because you only end up being the same as everyone else. As I've stated time and time again in this blog, you need to provide value to people.

The moral of this story? Be different, but be useful.

I shall leave you with a HILARIOUS clip to drive the point home ;)



Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Business is nothing personal...

"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate...leads to suffering!" -Yoda (no...not KERMIT!)



Emotions...most illogical...

Ok, nerd hour has officially ended. By the way, Star Trek was an awesome movie.

Emotion is a double edged sword. Emotions can be a great source of strength when they are used positively. Note that I didn't say "positive" emotions...because whether an emotion is positive or negative depends on the context of the situation. For example, a "negative" emotion like Anger can actually be very helpful in certain situations, especially when that energy is channeled into a positive thing. On the other hand, emotions can be a fatal weakness as well.

In business, the only room for emotion is when it is used in positive ways. Unfortunately, they are often used in negative ways. A great example is with some of my friends who are small business owners. EVERY business will always have a few clients that are complete divas. Even when there is no problem with your operation, they will find something to complain about.

There is a great quote to remember: "Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience."

In business, there's a concept called "Cost of retaining a customer." There have been many debates on whether or not you should keep a difficult customer. The answer is No. The reason being is that your time and energy can be used to get new, better customers or strengthen the relationship with your good & loyal customers. However, if it comes down to showing the customer the door, do it professionally, and don't get emotional. Remember, business is nothing personal.

A great entrepreneur once told me, "Listen, business is a mix of sport and war. You'll fight many battles, but ultimately, it's just a competition." I advise you to take this to heart. No one is out to destroy you or kill you. People who are serious in business want to cross the finish line. Some play dirty, but those people usually don't last long. When you start taking business personally, you only cripple yourself.

Oh, and an update on that story with the senior staff jumping ship from that company I spoke about in "No One Can Provide For You Except Yourself" (April). Unfortunately, their office is now closing down. However, as a testament to their strength, they aren't taking it personally. In fact, they're having a yard sale next week, which should be pretty fun ;) They'll get far because they know how to channel their energy in positive ways. We can all learn from their admirable example.

Live long and prosper! Till Saturday!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

You're more than a Working Class Hero

"It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe." - Muhammad Ali

Being part of a society is an important thing. It provides the needed cooperation and order to ensure the progress and advancement of a people. However, for something to be orderly, it must be predictable. As such, society has measures, both consciously and unconsciously, to ensure this. It's known by many names..."The System" "The Man" "The Establishment" whatever suits your fancy.

The greatest flaw of "The System" is that you are never taught how to provide for yourself. Every single one of us have had a teacher or a few say "Well, when you get a job..." or something to that extent. I want to be clear, there is nothing wrong with working at a job, as long as you learn everything you can to provide for yourself and then move on.

Don't let "The System" sell you "the ladder". The tool shed is right over there, build one yourself and go as high as you want. Don't let the pebble in your shoe (your doubts) stop you from conquering the mountains.

I want to leave you with a song from the late, great John Lennon titled "Working Class Hero" It is definitely one of his darker works, but it is very true.



As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so f'ing crazy you can't follow their rules

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and class less and free
But you're still f'ing peasants as far as I can see

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There's room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill

A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

If you want to be a hero well just follow me
If you want to be a hero well just follow me



Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The big fish in a fish bowl...


There was once a tale of a fish who swam the great seas with his school. The fish had a wild imagination, and the wonders of the ocean never ceased to amaze him. He would ask "Why?" everywhere he went. He pictured being a great fish one day. He imagined exploring foreign lands beyond the ocean, he imagined other fish cheering for him and he imagined a life where happiness would never end.

The fish grew stronger and more mature as time passed, and he went from one school of fish to another, until suddenly, a fish came to him and said, "You are indeed a great swimmer, you're very smart, and I could use a bright fish like yourself to help me!" And so the older, bigger fish tested him, he asked him many questions and finally said, "You will be a great fish someday! Come with me."

The fish followed the big fish for a short while, and then saw a beautiful bowl of glass. It shined as bright as the crystal sunlight above. "Inside..." the big fish said "if you do a good job, you will never worry about going hungry...I'll even let you go outside the bowl once or twice every now and then!" The bright young fish agreed. After all, never going hungry? That was generous of the big fish!

As the years passed, the bright young fish became an older, bigger fish...just like the one that approached him so long ago. He went from bowl to bowl...gazing upon the rest of the ocean but never venturing outside. He didn't want to go hungry... Eventually he took in many bright young fish like himself. He would test them, and ask them many questions.

When the fish became old, he decided to retire to the vast oceans once more. Alas, he was too old to swim and explore. As he floated in the middle of the vast ocean, ignored and weary...he looked upon the happy fish that swam freely.

With a heavy heart and a frown on his face, he asked himself a question he used to ask all the time as a young fish:

"....Why?"

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Life absorbs the positive energy you put into it


If life was a box of chocolates, then you'd end up with cavities and diabetes.

Huh? RUH ROH! This is a post on positivity ;)

I like to think of all of our lives as plants. Plants need light and water to grow (for the most part - for you "technical" people). If we assume that "water" is our actions, then the "sunlight" must be our positive thinking. Since the dawn of civilized man, a negative attitude has always been associated with darkness and death. When you think negatively, you are suffocating your own life. A plant withers and dies without light.

What you have to remember is that everything in life is based on your perception. A life worth living is forged through the fires of adversity. You simply can't afford to be negative, because there is no way to avoid challenges and obstacles. We can't avoid, we can only overcome.

Often times, you'll find that bad things might actually be good in the long run. If you look at the success stories of famous entrepreneurs, they all had some sort of negative event happen to them that sparked their entrepreneurial flame. What did they all have in common? A relentless optimism that kept them going. They did not let the fires of adversity consume them. Through their positive thinking, they allowed the fires of adversity to forge them.

Whenever adversity hits you, just remember...it could have been worse. Adversity is a time to learn valuable lessons. It always makes you stronger. It is a fundamental truth of our existence that our life is a manifestation of our mental attitude. Life is what you make of it. Don't turn out the light.

And remember...there is no greater wall than the wall in our minds. Tear it down and let your light shine into your life. Nourish your life with positive energy, and it will grow tall and strong.

Ok, I'm going to go and have some chocolate now.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Just be yourself

I would make a normal post...but this song conveys what I wanted to say beautifully. Enjoy!



Someone falls to pieces, sleeping all alone
Someone kills the pain, spinning in the silence
To finally drift away

Someone gets excited
In a chapel yard and catches a bouquet
Another lays a dozen, white roses on a grave

Yeah and to be yourself is all that you can do
Hey, to be yourself is all that you can do

Someone finds salvation in everyone, another only pain
Someone tries to hide himself, down inside himself he prays
Someone swears his true love until the end of time
Another runs away, separate or united, healthy or insane

And to be yourself is all that you can do, yeah
(All that you can do)
To be yourself is all that you can do
(All that you can do)

To be yourself is all that you can do
(All that you can do)
Hey, be yourself is all that you can do

Even when you've paid enough
Been pulled apart or been held up
Every single memory of the good or bad
Faces of luck

Don't lose any sleep tonight
I'm sure everything will end up alright
You may win or lose

But to be yourself is all that you can do, yeah
To be yourself is all that you can do

Oh, to be yourself is all that you can do
(All that you can do)
Hey, to be yourself is all that you can do
(All that you can do)

To be yourself is all that you can
Be yourself is all that you can
Be yourself is all that you can do

--Credit given to Audioslave: "Be Yourself"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Prioritizing is essential to success


CLEARLY, this guy's got his priorities wrong. In fact, I don't even know why this image came up on a Google search for "prioritizing tasks" ;)


"He who takes a minute from me, takes something he can never return." -Anonymous

Whether you own a business already or are in the process of starting one, it is easy to get caught up in A LOT of things. Time is the most valuable resource we have, but it is also the most scarce and most elusive to notice. Like many things, we don't realize its full worth until it's gone.

Money is the lifeblood of every business. However, time equals money. Therefore time equals the lifeblood of the business. Like my math there? ;) This is true whether your business exists or not. Only difference is that in the beginning, that lifeblood is needed for the "embryo" to become a live "child". If you already own a business, then it's to sustain the life and growth of the business.

Often times, when starting a business, new entrepreneurs get caught up in activities and tasks that are not necessarily the most vital. Some entrepreneurs spend way too much time thinking about fancy marketing campaigns or other non-essential "hot air" even before they've fully fleshed out their product or service. BIG mistake. Spending time thinking about bells and whistles will do 1 or 2 things (or a combination of both):

1) Delay your launch
2) Ensure the failure of the business

The most essential tasks that you need to prioritize are those tasks which directly relate to the operation of your business. I'm talking about the skeleton and muscles of the business. The foundation underneath that allows you to earn revenue. Once the core is in place, then you can worry about the skin and make-up.

Pretend that you've already done all your research and your business idea is a great opportunity. In the startup phase, some key tasks you want to prioritize and tackle first are:

  • Developing a solid plan of how your product/service will make your business money
  • Ascertaining WHAT suppliers and/or labor you will require and HOW you will get it (and of course, how much it'll cost)
  • Plan for your business on how you will deal with too little or too much demand
Basically, your priorities should be about PLANNING PLANNING PLANNING. Then execution. Any activity that is not absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, essential to the launch of your business must be placed in a lower priority. Marketing for example, is one such item that is a lower priority. You can't market what doesn't exist. There will be plenty of time to go out there and market the business once the foundation has been established. There will also be plenty of time to come up with new ways to market the business afterwards.

Before you spend time on a task, always ask yourself, "Does this directly contribute to the launch of the business? Or is this something that can be done after launch?" If the answer is "It can be done after launch" then set it aside and tackle more immediate needs.

Now...for those of us who already own a business, the playing field is a bit different. As a current business owner, your priorities must be towards value-added activities. ALWAYS. For any task you're about to do, you should ask yourself, "Will this activity boost/retain my profit?" If the answer is, "No" or "Not really" then set it aside for now...or don't even bother with it. Your time is limited.

Any task that is required for the maintenance and growth of the "skeleton and muscles" of your business, it must be given highest priority. Notice that I specified "PROFIT" in that question. Boosting revenues is nice, but if you're spending just as much as you're gaining, then you've gained nothing. Lowering costs is good too, but if that lowers your revenue (i.e. because you've cut service, etc.) then the benefit is nill.

You cannot let non value-add activites consume you. (see my post "Don't be a helicopter entrepreneur" on March 31st).

Not convinced? Everyday in the news, you hear about companies going bankrupt. Some are liquidated, others are what they call "restructuring." Restructuring is a HUGE business. Consultants love it. Restructuring is exactly what I just stated above. It is doing what NEEDS to be done. Restructuring efforts prioritize tasks that directly relate to the skeleton and muscles of the business (its core foundations). Bells and whistles like cool marketing, events, or whatnot are CUT until the core of the business is stabilized. It's almost like performing emergency surgery on a dying patient. The first priority is to stop the bleeding, then repair the damage, then give the patient the ability to recover and continue onwards.

Often times, companies enter into bankruptcy because they fail to prioritize correctly. They let cracks in their foundation to fester and grow until the entire house is on the verge of collapse. They keep focusing on trying to sell more and more and come up with crazy marketing campaigns while the core problems (i.e. the quality of their product/service) is deteriorating) is eating them alive. There's just not enough time.

If the lifeblood (time and money) of the business is not being pumped to its "vital organs" it will die. Bankrupt companies are the ones that pumped lifeblood into non-vital areas.

In fact, some companies I've seen were so terrible...I'm convinced all the lifeblood was pumped into their hair or something. "Hey, we're losing millions of dollars, but we're a great company!" Famous last words? Probably.

With that said, I want to leave you with a quote from a philosopher who's name has been lost to time....or maybe it's just me...I don't remember:

"To look outward, you must first look inward. It is the power within that determines what your fate shall be."

Hmm, yeah...actually that is my quote...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Entrepreneurs can be a great force for good

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -Edmund Burke

Chuck Norris knows this!

Actually, I want to add to that quote. It also triumphs when good men don't do enough.

People have many different reasons why they become entrepreneurs. However, with great power comes great responsibility as well (I did NOT get that from Spider Man!). There are many people in the world who don't even have the luxury of clean drinking water or clean clothes to wear. As a current or future entrpreneur, you should always be grateful for what you have and the opportunities and education you were given. Gratitude cannot be expressed in words or feelings alone, however, it must be expressed by actions as well.

Like I mentioned in my previous post ("Be Selfishly Honest" - April), it is a fundamental law of our existence that if you give, you shall receive. Whether you call it a blessing, karma, mutual cooperation, etc. the concept is still the same. The world is whatever we make of it. Our entire lives have been shaped by the actions of generations before us, and by our actions, we shall shape the generations after ours. It is our responsibility...no...our RIGHT...to give back to our world and do as much good as possible before our short time on this Earth is over.

There are many people in the world that are good-hearted, but they either don't have the means or the strength to take action. However, as entrepreneurs, we have the means and we have the strength. We can inspire people through leading by example. Heck, we look good doing it too. There's nothing wrong with embracing the practical benefits of doing good. It's in our nature. You did something good, therefore you get rewarded. Nothing wrong with that. I believe that as a society, we've been brainwashed by hypocrites to believe that unless we suffer or be 100% selfless (which is impossible) in our good deeds, then we are being selfish and bad.

There are many promising start-ups out there that are making a real difference in people's lives. Whether it be making $100 laptops (One Laptop Per Child) , micro-lending (Kiva.org), or eco-friendly shoes (Autonomie Project Inc.). There are SO many ways as an entrepreneur that you can make a positive difference in the world. That is the beauty of entrepreneurship, you have the FREEDOM to do whatever you believe in. With that freedom, comes your responsibility to your fellow human beings. As an entrepreneur, you are your brother's keeper. Never forget that.

If you want to improve your communities and the world, you need to start doing something about it.

...or else Chuck'll roundhouse kick you in the face ;)


In a future blog post, I am going to dedicate the entire post to list some great examples of social entrepreneurs and their companies. I'd like for you guys to submit your ideas to me. Email me your submission to floid@gogravytrain.com

You can also contact me on Twitter (user name: GravyFloid). Or just click on the little Twitter button on the right side of the blog.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No one can provide for you except yourself


"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -Ralph Waldo Emesrson

Ever since we were kids, we were taught to become increasingly self-reliant (...well...most of us anyway). We learned to go potty, tie our own shoes and many other things that for some reason I'm convinced some adults haven't learned properly ;)

Since childhood, we have come so far in our lives. We are able to do things that we couldn't possibly do by ourselves as kids. And you know what? It's exhilirating. As we grew up, our freedoms increased. Why? Because we became more self-reliant. Imagine if you always had to rely on others for even just the basics in life? You'd be a slave to your own inability.

We learn so much and have such a determination to be a unique individual...but why do most of us stop? How come most people have not learned how to provide for themselves without relying on someone else to cut them a pay check? Have our bosses become our new parents?

It is one thing to serve another in order to learn and grow. It is quite another when you serve in order to live.

It's true, you cannot become a great leader until you know what it is to serve another. Unless you apply that knowledge, however, you will become a slave. Just as you gained greater independence from your parents, now you must gain independence from your bosses. Just like most things in this life, self-reliance is earned, not given.

Great leaders are not superhuman. They are people, just like you and me. The only difference between a servant and a leader is that a leader empowers him/herself through action and the application of knowledge. No one has a "master plan" where victory is assured. Leaders are just as uncertain as everyone else. Like anything in life, sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith and hope for the best. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

One key lesson people MUST learn is that in business, nothing is personal. Your boss might be a great person, but don't forget: you're there because you're useful to your boss. You do not owe any further loyalty to your boss beyond doing your job well...nor does your boss owe you any further loyalty than rightfully compensating you for your work.

Adversity is a true test of one's character. I've witnessed and heard many stores of offices where everyone got along like a family. When tough times hit, all loyalty jumped out the window. One story was a boss who jumped ship to another company and left a bunch of good people in the lurch despite having a personal rapport with them. Rather than feeling a sense of loyalty to his employees and trying his hardest to keep the ship afloat and going down with it if necessary (like any true Captain would), he jumped ship. He took a handful of the most senior people who he saw as the most useful to him and left the rest to fend for themselves. Oh well, nothing personal, right?

Think that's pretty bad? Take a recent example in the news. Frank Scudere, a lawyer who survived the Hudson River plane crash, was let go from his job. Even though he almost died trying to do his job, he still got canned. His performance reviews were all very good. He was the model employee by many respects. The day he got laid off, his medical benefits were immediately cut off and was told he had three hours to leave the law firm's offices before security escorts him out. Of course, the business had to lay off people to cut costs. That is understandable. However, notice that even though he was a great guy, ultimately, it didn't mean anything. In fact, he was almost treated like a trespasser on the day of his lay off.

If you think that someone else is going to make you rich or successful, you are WRONG. Only YOU can make you successful. Only YOU can make you happy.

People want you to work for them because you are useful, not because they like you. While it's nice if your boss is taking you wherever he goes, it is in fact a curse. You are destined to be his servant, limited in your freedoms and exposure. Imagine if you worked for someone for most of your life, and then that person leaves? What then? It's just like the child who never learned how to tie his shoes. The child is at the mercy of others. When you rely on the mercy or provisions of others, you are not free, you are a dependent.

Don't stop learning. Your quest for self-reliance is not over. Until you can live a life where your destiny and well-being is entirely driven by you, you will never live the life you always wanted. You will look back, and instead of remembering the triumphant victories of your own efforts, you will remember the time your master gave you a pat on the back when you were forced to miss your child's birthday.

To wrap up, I want to leave you with a poem from Saxon White Kessinger called "Feeling Important?"

Sometimes when you're feeling important,
Sometimes when your ego's in bloom,
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You're the best qualified in the room;
Sometimes when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out, and the hole that's remaining
Is the measure of how you'll be missed.
You can splash all you want when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore;
But stop, and you'll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.
The moral in this quaint example
Is to do just the best that you can;
Be proud of yourself, but remember
There's no indispensable man.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You have to put the SOCIAL in Social Marketing...

I'm hiring by the way ;)

Social Marketing: It's all the rage these days. For good reason too. It works.

A lot of people do it, but not many realize what they get themselves into though. Social marketing may seem like an innovation or a new concept, however, it is nothing new. Social marketing is merely the successful aspects of traditional marketing. Ever since the dawn of trade and commerce, there has never been anything more effective than the power of the spoken word...when your own customers sell for you without you even trying.

We do it in our everyday lives. We recommend great movies, restaurants or products to our friends. If we're not getting compensated for doing that, then why do we do it? Because when you recommend a good product or service to someone else, it makes you look good. In a way, it is also a way of repaying your "gratitude." Of course, there are those who do it because they want to share more things in common with their friends/loved ones to strengthen the bonds between them. Whatever the reason may be, the result is still the same. The company benefits without having to lift a finger or convince you further.

Effective salesmen and marketers for hundreds of years have known that the key to being successful is to connect with your customers and prospects on a personal level. It is what is known in persuasion science as "Liking" Of course, the most common reaction is "Well, duh!" Unfortunately, it's not that obvious. How many times have you run into terrible salesmen or dreadful marketing attempts? Too many times I bet.

One case in point: Tupperware. We've all heard of it, and they are wildly successful. How do they sell products so well? They hold "Tupperware Parties" all over the world. The company reaches out to existing customers and help them set up a tupperware party at home and invite all their friends to come. These parties would often just be normal get-togethers. House moms would share cooking with each other, socialize and have fun. All the while, the benefits of using tupperware are shown throughout the party in a very casual and personal way. Most customers would probably have done these parties for free, just for the social aspect. However, the company generously compensates them based on how much tupperware is sold after the party. Genius? Yes. New concept? Absolutely not.

The current craze for social marketing is not a revolution by any stretch of the word. If you remember from my previous posts, change is usually incremental. The reason why social marketing is so wildly popular now is because now we have new tools that make it easier than before to connect with people on a personal level. New tools for an age-old concept.

The key to successfully using these tools is to use a little common sense. Often times, I see quite a few people on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook endlessly spam links and sales pitches. I guarantee that the "throw crap on the wall and see what sticks" approach does not work very well. If you want people to be open to your marketing efforts, you need to show them that you are an actual person that talks and listens to them. The most effective people I've seen on Twitter do that, to great effect. They don't just blitz people with useless quotes, dumb links or empty sales pitches. They connect with people, and make an honest effort to be SOCIAL.

That's how you get the word-of-mouth referrals, by connecting with people, not spamming them. Besides, you'll have fun doing it, and meet some really cool people in the process! Some successful salesmen I know have made lasting friendships with people they've sold to in the past.

Of course, remember another principle I've always said in this blog, you need to add value. Tweeting/FB'ing about how you just took a giant dump is not connecting with people. It's true too, people do that...a lot. I saw one guy tweet about that he's currently brushing his teeth. I don't want to even know how he managed that. Others will try the "I'm hanging out with XYZ right now! Fun time!" Seriously? If you're having fun, then why are you on your phone updating others about it? Sounds like you're kinda bored to me ;)

So, what are some tools out there to connect with people on a social level? Well, these are probably obvious, but for references sake, here are some that work well:

  • Blogging - Remember to try and keep it interesting and relevant to your target market. Try to have some interesting insights that people can learn or respond to!
  • Forums/Message boards - Hang out in forums that are relevant to your target market.
  • Facebook/MySpace - Great way to connect with people on a personal level. Try to stick with people that fit your target market.
  • Twitter - An excellent way to interact with people and promote your business. In my opinion, it's even more effective than Facebook or MySpace due to the sheer ease of following people's Tweets and replying to them. Again, stick to your target market whenever possible.
There are others of course. However, these are some of the most popular ones out there right now.

Remember, the point is to have fun while doing it. Use a little common sense, and you'll get far!

Oh...by the way, I'm compiling a list of "Tweets Gone Wild" (i.e. tweeting while taking a dump). I am accepting submissions and will post the list on this blog when I have enough good ones. You can submit either by messaging me on Twitter, posting a comment here or messaging me on Facebook. For those of you who want to use Facebook, I'm known as "Floid Roflcopter" ;) Otherwise just click the Twitter link on the right side of the blog.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

It all starts with KISS'ing...

I got splinters...

...sometimes you gotta paint the fence for an hour...gents ;)

To start, the term KISS stands for: Keep It Simple, Stupid. I sure as heck didn't mean the band. The term can also stand for Keep It Short and Simple...but that just sounds stupid. If it were up to me, I'd call it KISD - Keep It Simple, Dufus. The power of the word "Dufus" is so vastly underrated. Yes, I know it's also spelled with 2 o's, but that's for dufuses.

Anyways, I digress...

This principle of keeping it simple (dufus) is an essential principle to not only being a successful entrepreneur but as a person in general. That's not to say that anything you do should always appeal to the lowest common denominator. Otherwise you'd never have new and exciting innovations, and comedians would only do fart and dick jokes (which are always funny).

I talk to a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs. They're very ambitious, go-getters and great people in general. However, when they talk about their conceptual businesses with me, I sometimes feel my brain is about to hemorrhage. Heck, I've been guilty of this too in the past. It's natural. Entrepreneurs are people who want to change things, that's in their nature.

However, one must understand that change is incremental. We as human beings build upon an already existing foundation of knowledge and improve upon it. Some may argue, "Oh yeah? What about the internet? That was a revolution!" Not really. The internet has been in existence for DECADES, however, it was used primarily for military and - to a degree - academic purposes. It wasn't until it was commercialized and made much simpler that the masses began to adopt it.

Some of the greatest revolutions in history were YEARS in the making. It wasn't until things got much simpler and people realized "Oh, looks like I need to get outside and protest" or "Looks like I need to pick up my sword/gun and fight." that revolutions actually gained steam and created real change. Back before then, the seeds of those revolutions were complex. They'd start with a few intellectual treatises, debates, etc. Even the beginnings of the world's major monotheistic religions were seen as foreign and complicated concepts to people at first. One God? Heaven? Hell? Resurrection?

Change is similar to a volcano building up magma and pressure before that big eruption.

What can entrepreneurs learn from this? That if you really want your business to shine with flying colors, you need to make it simple and it needs to be an improvement over an existing concept, idea or technology. This doesn't necessarily ALWAYS have to be the case. The point is that you need to be able to serve an undermet need or create a need for your service or product. No matter how "revolutionary" a technology may seem, it is almost always an improvement over an existing technology. Don't be fooled. There are exceptions to everything, true, but we're not in the business of focusing on just exceptions.

Take, for example, the huge success of Twitter. 2 years ago, barely anyone heard of Twitter. Now it's all the rage. Why is Twitter successful? First of all, it's really mind-numbingly easy to use. You type in what you're doing (in 140 characters or less) in a nice little text box and press a nice big "UPDATE" button. Want to follow someone? No problem, just press the nice "Follow" button. Everything else is taken care of.

Twitter is just yet another manifestation of the ever growing social networking craze that was made popular by Friendster and then MySpace and Facebook. Twitter's an incremental change, they're not a revolution by any means. Many people STILL wonder, "Why the heck do people want to know what everyone's up to?" Well, because being connected is a social need, and Twitter's meeting that need. We're increasingly living in an age of instant gratification and an ever increasing fear of being lonely.

Lets take another example: Facebook. With MySpace so overwhelmingly popular at the time, how the heck did Facebook blind-side it and actually beat it at its own game? Facebook and MySpace are fundamentally the same. However, Facebook made a number of critical incremental improvements. Facebook kept user profiles very clean and simple. You have no idea how many MySpace profiles I've run into that have almost given me a seizure just by looking at them... Facebook also introduced very nifty features like a news feed, status updates, organized photo albums and other simple things. Facebook is clean, organized, and very easy to use. In fact, it is almost dufus-proof. Any schmuck can start a Facebook profile with ease without having to read the help section or ask someone for help. Same goes for Twitter, any schmuck can do it.

For a more classical example...Henry Ford was one of the pioneers of modern industry because of his invention of the assembly line. By giving each worker a very simple, dufus-proof task for each step of the manufacturing process, he was able to mass produce his cars and offer them to the masses. He kept it simple, real simple. His concepts are STILL used today. The core concept of "Lean Manufacturing" simply means making your manufacturing process dufus-proof and require a minimal amount of thought on the part of the workers. For all you uppity "experts" out there, KISS my ass, it's true ;)

As a current or aspiring entrepreneur, that's what you need to aim to do. You need to try and make all aspects of your product or service dufus-proof and require minimal thought on the part of your customer. People want things yesterday, and if they need to think hard, you've probably lost a good deal of them. If you got this "awesome" website, you better make sure people can use it without much trouble. If you have a great product...well...can someone use it with minimal guidance? Remember my previous blog post ("Size Doesn't Matter" - March) about the vegetable peeler guy? One of the reasons why he was so successful was because he showed people how SIMPLE it was to use his product. Boy, he wasn't kidding.

Before you launch something, take the time to let average joes try using your site/service/product. Then collect their feedback. You want to especially pay attention to their feedback on what they found difficult to understand or hard to use. You want to take that feedback, and make the needed improvements. In fact, KISS doesn't just apply to your customers, it also applies to you. Try to keep your own business as simple as possible to run. Automate where you can, and use COMMON SENSE. Keeping your own operations simple will also help keep your product/service simple for your customers.

Ok, time to press the big orange "Publish Post" button. Hehe, me so smart.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Be "selfishly honest"

For this blog's more "refined" audience (myself included):

"It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime." - Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

For everyone else (myself included):


It sure is!

In fact, I posted up this picture because it brings about a fond memory. Anyone who lives in New York City will almost always see a panhandler on the streets or in the subways. Some are genuine, a lot of them are BS'ers. In fact, some of the younger ones on the street are actually film/acting students (How do I know? Word on da street...nukka.)

It is no mystery that the most successful panhandlers are the ones that earn their money. What I mean by that is that they either A) Seem honest (either they look really beaten up, etc.) B) Are funny or C) Demonstrate a talent of theirs. What do all 3 options have in common with each other? They're honest.

One night, I was walking in the streets of the city with some friends when a funny-looking man with disheveled hair and clothes walked up to us with a toothy smile. He stopped in front of us and said, "Hey brothas, could you care to make a donation to the United *insert N word that ends with "a" and an apostrophe* Pizza Fund?" We laughed of course. I then ask the man, "And what's that for?" Without skipping a beat he said, "It's a donation for pizza and beer, for
*insert plural N word* "

I gave him money, and so did my friends. Rather than BS us about coming out of prison or feeding 6 kids, he honestly told us he was going to spend it on pizza and beer. It was a refreshing dose of honesty in a craft that is so often deceitful. Now, I'm not saying I'd have given the guy money if he said "Hey man, can I get money for some blow?" There are exceptions to every rule, of course! Being honest is one thing, being foolish is quite another ;)

So, what lesson can entrepreneurs learn from this? That you need to be "selfishly honest."

The beauty of moral values is that they are not only what make us human and noble, but they are also in our own best interests. Morality is why society is able to exist. If people didn't know right from wrong, you'd have chaos and destruction everywhere. You shouldn't feel bad if an act of kindness was "selfish." And yes, even getting "an emotional high" can be seen as a selfish motive. Whether you're religious or not, it is an undeniable truth that your actions eventually catch up to you. If you've done good things, good things will come to you. It is a simple law that for every action, there is a reaction (but not necessarily equal or opposite, as evidenced in physics!).

There are people out there who have either a persistent (or sporadic) world-view of, "Good people finish last. Only corrupt and ruthless people get ahead in this life." That's a dangerous belief. Subscribing to this belief corrupts you as well. Remember, while it may seem like we live in jungles of metal and stone, it doesn't mean we have to be one of the "apes" in it. Human beings are, by nature, good. That's why we have a natural compass between right and wrong and why we have a natural propensity towards order.

As an entrepreneur, you want to run an honest business. Why? Because people appreciate that. Think of the friendly waiter who doesn't recommend you the most expensive dish for example, but one that is actually cheaper but much better. Because of his honesty, you tip him more. The waiter in that example was selfishly honest. By being good to you, you reciprocate and be good to him. The waiter knows this. Besides, being nice to restaurant staff also ensures that your food doesn't come with any "extras" if you know what I mean...

In psychology, this phenomenon is called the "reciprocation" principle. By making a "sacrifice" or doing someone a favor, it triggers a natural instinct in the other person to repay the "debt" We have a fundamental revulsion to being indebted to someone and seek to repay the debt however we can. That's why even to this day, people who can't pay their debts are punished and looked down upon. In fact, it is no mystery that if you do someone a favor, they usually repay the favor in kind far beyond the actual favor's value. Why do you think we revere heroes so much? Think about that.

So...as an entrepreneur, you want to be honest to your employees and your customers. Care for them, and don't try to BS your services or products!
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. (That's coming from Honest Abe...or was it also Bill Cosby? JELLO!!!)

If you cannot run a business without resorting to BS, then you should reconsider why you're in business. It is not sustainable. Listen, that's not to say you shouldn't be very enthusiastic and sell your service or proudct like it was the best in the world. However, there's a difference between enticing people and misleading people.

There have been many studies done that show that what people appreciate the most are responsible businesses. Businesses that care for their customers and have strong values. It is because of strong values that these companies provide excellent customer service. You'll find that even if you're not the highest quality or lowest price player out there, you'll still have many loyal customers. Surveys of employees also favor an employer who embraces strong values and honesty. What matters most to us as human beings have always been those things that are intangible.

It is in your best interests to be honest and good. So go ahead, be selfish about it! We are all selfish. It's in our nature. There are REAL benefits to embracing goodness and honesty. That's the beauty of it all! We're not beasts of burden or sacrificial lamb! Even if being good causes you to lose out on something in the short-term, you will gain much more in the long-term. Be good, be patient and always perservere! That is the hallmark of a true entrepreneur.

Oh cool, my pizza and beer are here. Later!

...(just kidding ;) )

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Change is earned, not given...


How else would you change the channel then?

Hold on...let me just recover from temporary blindness...

Ok, I'm fine now.

Change is important. However, many of us fear change...and for good reason too. We don't like to deal with the unknown. The unknown scares us because we have no control over it. Human beings have a natural tendency towards order and predictability. This tendency is both a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, this natural tendency is essential for society to function and guarantee the survival of the human race. You can't get anything done when there's chaos. On the other hand though, it makes us become our own worst enemies. How, you ask? By making us live a life of habit.

Most of us probably do the same things everyday. We wake up in the morning, go to school/work, do what we're told and then go home and maybe watch some TV or go on the computer. On the weekends, we hang out with our friends, talk about things, get wasted and stumble back home to nurse a hangover the next day....only to repeat the cycle again and again.

Rinse and repeat.

Picture a scenario for a moment. Lets say your TV was displaying a channel you didn't like (*COUGH* like the one above *COUGH*) Would you:

A) Change the channel?
B) Sit there, tolerate it and even convince yourself that it's actually good?

Most of you would say you would choose A. Words are nice. However, actions speak louder than words. Most people, through their actions, choose B every single day of their lives.

This brings me to the point. Change is earned, not given.

You can't change the channel unless you take some sort of action. You need to grab that remote control or go up to the TV and press the button. The same goes for life. You cannot change the "channel" of your life unless you get up and take action. The channel isn't going to change itself.

Many people I've talked to say, "Man, if I only had more money" or "I hope XYZ happens to me.." etc. If you want change, you need to act. By taking action, yes, your habits will be disrupted, things will become unpredictable. If history, religion and our lives have taught us something...it is this fundamental law of our existence: Nothing good comes without sacrifice.

I want you to remember this quote: "A courageous person is not a person without fear, it is a person who feels fear but overcomes it."

We're all afraid of things, it's natural. Those stories you read about great leaders? They were scared as hell, but they kept going. We like to remember them as fearless, almost god-like, because we like to revere things that are not like us. On the contrary, these men and women were just like us. We forget that every single one of us is human...and that we're ALL capable of great things.

Only YOU can change the channel. No one else can do it for you. Why? Because then you'll just keep relying on them...and nothing changes. You will not only be a slave to another, but a slave to your own inaction. An orderly, predictable slave. Anyone who tells you they can change you, make you successful, rich or happy is a LIAR. Only YOU can make YOU successful, happy and/or rich.

And I say to you: Get up and change the channel.