Featuring My Comprehensive, Thinking Business Owner’s Guide™

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Post No. 6: Some Organizational and Time Management Tips for the New Year for Your Small Business

Organization and Time Management Tips

© 2013 and 2015, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

A few months back, I was contacted by a young lady who indicated that her management of her small business consisted of chaos, and that she was extremely disorganized.  She reached out to me for some simple advice, and I jotted down a few things which immediately came to mind.  Over time, I will come up with some other recommendations.   However, since this is the New Year, I thought it appropriate to share these with you so that you can start the New Year on a good foot.

1.       I used to have my employees perform re-organizations of their offices every Memorial Day (I called it Spring Cleaning), and every Thanksgiving. If you do not periodically conduct a major cleaning, you will continue to live in chaos or a state of disorder.  In my view, it affects your ability to think clearly and organize your life;

2.       Your body's ability to handle things, as well as your mind, and your energy, all fluctuate.  Only perform difficult tasks and hard work when you feel your best and are highly motivated.  When you are not, do not;

3.       A corollary of No. 2 is that if you monitor your typical day, you will note various patterns.  For example, when I worked in an office, I found that I typically drifted off around 3:30 – 4:00 pm, so I started leaving the office and going to the movies, working out, or running to the dry cleaners, and then returning later;

4.       I wake up every morning to a "to do" list.  Break down the items into Today, Tomorrow, and During the Week categories. Make sure that your "Today" list is realistic, and that you do not unduly place pressure on yourself.  Each day, shift over the things that you are unable to complete, and re-formulate your list;

5.       Keep a clean desk, and have any resources, reference materials, and supplies which you use regularly close by so that you do not have to get up and look for them. Also, keep them in ample supply;

6.       On your clean desk, only have one task or matter in front of you at a time. After all, you can only work on one matter at a time. Having multiple tasks on your desk only makes you feel disorganized;

7.       The same principle about clutter applies to your e-mail inbox. Clean it out at the end of the night, and only have 10 -15 e-mails in your inbox. Use them as a sort of "to do" or reminder list;

8.       Get in the habit of using a "tickler" or reminder system. You might also buy a large 2'x 3' calendar and put it on your wall. Use red ink for events where you have to show up, black for business, blue for personal, etc.  I like being able to turn from my computer and look up on my wall and figure out what I have to do for the entire next month or two.  Doing so with a small calendar on an electronic device screen is far more difficult to use to gain a comprehensive view of what you are doing down the road;

9.       Not everything in life is digital or electronic in form.  Get yourself a 4 or 5 drawer file cabinet, or buy some heavy duty reinforced "Banker's Boxes" from Staples or Office Depot, and some file folders, and PUT EVERY PIECE OF PAPER IN A FILE FOLDER, with oldest docs in the back, newest in the front, and in chronological order. At the end of the day, make sure that every piece of paper is in its proper file folder, including the task you were working on just prior to retiring. You will not believe the sense of "order" you will feel;

10.     When you receive your mail, attach the envelope in which it came to the paper inside, and write the day and date on the envelope. By noting the day of the week, it will refresh your memory as to what happened or what you were doing when you need to remember it later;

11. If it helps you, use different color paper for different purposes. I print out or write notes to the file and internal stuff on blue paper. Copies of things I send out are on yellow. The overwhelming majority of incoming docs are white. I use green to keep track of financial stuff, such as checks, time sheets, expenses, etc., which are accounting and book keeping issues.  When I need to flip through a paper file, I can quickly find what I am looking for; and

12.     If something is complex, write out a chronological timeline for yourself, or an outline of the important issues.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Post No. 5: We Need More Jobs Here at Home to Truly Be a Strong Nation

© 2014, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

This is a tad longer than my typical post of 750 words, but I feel that we Americans need a tongue-lashing, since we can’t whip one another since the Adrian Petersen muck-up.  (This post is not only directed to my primary audience, college students, but to all citizens.)

My other blog, The View from Outside My Tiny Window, is about personal responsibility, choices, and making decisions, and is directed toward college students. However, what I have to say here is directed to all citizens.

We "killed the messenger" when Jimmy Carter tried to “warn” us in 1979 during his speech which has been derisively referred to as the “Malaise Speech.”  He described it as the greatest threat to American democracy.  The truth be told, we Americans have become lazy and spoiled.

We do not like being inconvenienced or questioned.  Our notion of personal freedom and pursuit of happiness may always outweigh what is needed to defeat the enemy we find embodied in the current group of terrorists, unless we have 9-11s of greater intensity and more frequency.  The changes we had to make as a nation since 9-11 are relatively minor inconveniences.

In my view, Americans are the most spoiled people on the planet, and most of us still are not satisfied.  It is why we seem to want our cake and eat it too, and have difficulty balancing competing interests so that they add up to a 100% course of behavior or conduct.  Instead, we want 50 here, 60 there, and 20 in some other place.  It’s one of the reasons why we are incapable, as a nation, of solving problems.  Right now, we are a nation which wants the terrorists to go away, but at the same time, not engage in a war which might accomplish that goal.

The intransigence and polarization we are experiencing are not solely attributable to the current President.  It is who WE have become as a people, and consistent with that notion, we decline to take responsibility for that as a people, especially on an individual level.  Instead, we point the finger at easy targets.  However, it is unfortunately what happens to humans who have grown accustomed to comfortable lifestyles and seen economic conditions improve for so long that they become “expectations” and “emotional entitlements,” pretty much through no effort on their individual parts, only to see things later fall apart.

When I traveled throughout Europe in the 1980s, my bags were regularly searched, the heels of my shoes torn apart, and I had to undergo extensive interrogations.  Flights to certain cities (London to Athens and Cairo) were cancelled for extended periods.  It was a royal pain in the ass; however, I was just a visitor.  Just before I was scheduled to go to Cairo, the militia started storming the tourist hotels near Giza because they found out that they were going to have to serve 3 years instead of 2 years.  I was in Europe very close to the time of the Leon Klinghoffer killing and the taking of the Achille Lauro in 1985.  The people of Britain and Europe know what it is like to have bombs raining on your homes and exploding in your subways.

In the mean time, we’ve become a nation of dilettantes, yours truly included.  Consider what Americans did to VOLUNTEER during WWI and WWII (real, practical, substantive, and tangible activities), and what they were willing to do without.   (Tangentially, this summer I generated an incredible number of yellow squash and cucumbers from one plant each, and when I showed them to my 93 yr old Father with dementia, he said that he remembered people here growing Victory Gardens during WW II.)

While making a selfie or posting support on Twitter for our troops or revolutionaries in the Middle East may provide some personal satisfaction, pounding a keyboard is not going to be very effective against ISIS.  Right now, you see very few people over the age of 30 voluntarily doing anything to aid in this fight.

Instead, we leave it up to others to handle, and sit comfortably in our homes ingesting an overwhelming diet of sitcoms.  The constantly changing, theoretical, individual right to keep and bear arms, to protect us against our government’s activities, those with whom we disagree or feel are undeserving, and those who strike fear in our hearts simply when we encounter them, seem to outweigh those things that we could do to effectively make this a better, stronger, and more secure nation for our collective benefit.  But we bitch about “someone else's” handling of the mess, which is a classic human mess, and not one really specific to our time.

And do you really believe that a legitimate, major, world power can function with a volunteer army?

These factors are also the same factors which, if we allow them to continue, will contribute to our decline as a world force.  We’re dun fur if we do not think more comprehensively, and come to the realization that we are part of the global community, and that others have values dear to them which are different than our values.  (Thus the subtitle of this post on my other blog, "They Can't Be Bought, and Don't Seem to Mind Dying.")  There is an argument to be made that we might rally a little bit during the next 20 – 30 years (and I sure hope so), but I’m afraid that we collectively do not care enough anymore.  We’ve learned to dodge inconveniences.

Add that to the fact that we allowed Corporate America, although its conduct was legal in nature, to sell us out to China (who was our ideological enemy not that long ago) thus decimating our middle class and creating a massive security risk.  We no longer even have the manufacturing capabilities to transition into making arms and supplies should we really get into a war like we did in WW II, not to mention a war with China. Furthermore, our internal infrastructure is so poor and in need of critical repairs, that if the enemy landed on our shores, we’d be hard put to mount a credible defense.

Having adequate, decent paying jobs here at home is what really matters.  People need to have a sense of purpose, a feeling that they can provide for their loved ones, and a little self-esteem.  The terrorists feel that they have something of value for which they are fighting.  What are we fighting for?  Another big screen TV, DVD recorder, jet-ski, ATV, or vacation home?  Do those in poverty have the wherewithal and resources to fight the terrorists, or are they too distracted fighting for their mere survival?  Jobs, also by the way, contribute to tax revenue which helps us all.

We need to come up with some new solutions for some historic human problems if we intend to continue as a legitimate world power.

Our inability to get anything done anymore is reflected in the way we wage battles against most everything these days – like a corporation making a cost-benefit, risk analysis, and only doing what it can on the cheap with the hope that it will accomplish its public relations goals in the short term, and that the guys at the helm will be gone when the long term negative consequences come back to haunt us.  While I'm a technocrat at heart, and that might be just fine for corporate governance, in theory. However, it’s a bunch of crap when it comes to taking care of a nation of real, live people as opposed to financial investors.

Unfortunately, we are relegated to management by committee under our current governance model, and lack the ability to think about, and plan for, the long-term. Perhaps somewhat related, I recently heard someone on C-Span talk about Eisenhower’s concern regarding the threat posed by the Military – Industrial Complex.  Apparently when the speech was first drafted, it read “Military – Industrial – Political Complex.”

A good buddy of mine has a quote attributed to Albert Einstein in his signature on all e-mails he sends out:  "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."   Although I generally disagree with him about 98% of the poop he puts out there, he is spot on about this one.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Post No. 4: Why We Need to Start More Small Businesses in America

© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

There are two things we do religiously, neither of which has anything to do with religion. 

First, we watch Turner Classic Movies daily.  By doing so, particularly those out of the 1920s through the 1950s, we re-visit many societal issues. (And you thought we were simply entertaining ourselves.)

Second, we read two books simultaneously.  One is invariably a school textbook, circa 1960s or 1970s, and the other is a book which students were forced to read, and which might be termed classics from other eras, such as Don Quixote, Death of a Salesman, Wuthering Heights, Bulfinch’s Mythology, etc. 

By engaging in these exercises, we’ve come to appreciate the meaning of the phrase, “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”

The textbook we've been reading here recently is Technology in Western Civilization.  What we’ve taken away from our re-reading of this book is that the most powerful forces in society affecting individuals are forces over which individual citizens have the least control.  Individuals respond to movements and do the best they can to survive.

The movie which caught our attention featured Barbara Stanwyck as a mail order bride. (Imagine that!) In The Purchase Price (1932), Stanwyck is on the run from her mobster boyfriend. She heads to North Dakota during the Depression to marry a struggling farmer.  Months later, she visits a neighbor’s home to lend a helping hand, only to find the woman on the floor with a new born baby.  Stanwyck takes charge of the situation.

The next couple of minutes dazzled us.  Our former big city girl unleashes an arsenal of survival skills, and sets about wrapping up the delivery, cooking, sewing, milking, repairing, hammering, and doing anything necessary, followed by trekking home in a blinding snowstorm.

And then it hit us - why we’re so anxious, debate the role of government, and ministers daily suggest that we’ve pissed God off. 

Except for our families, and perhaps fellow parishioners, we’re pretty much out here all alone.  We don’t mean to suggest that government should do anything for its citizens other than defend our borders, and provide police, and maybe fire services.  However, after reading Technology, we have a better appreciation of how government stepped in to assist people, long before the New Deal, after throngs left (by choice?), their rural, agrarian roots for major industrial cities during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Few of us can do the things that Barbara did.  Instead, we “want to be like Mike.”  We’ve reached a point where most of us are totally dependent on cash revenue from some source to pay others to do things for us.  Also, we’re generally not that talented in basic survival skills (like sucking rattlesnake venom out of a wound), although we might be great computer people, electricians, ad execs, doctors, or truck drivers. 

We all get compensated with cash for our services.  According to Technology, currency was one of the great inventions of humankind.  But it came with a price.

What we came to realize by the end of the movie is that we are far less capable, at least as individuals, of helping one another because we are not sure whether we can help ourselves.  We’ve become dependent on employers, customers, clients, or worse yet, the government.  Very few voluntarily chose the route of the 47%.

King Kong ain’t got nothin' on insecurity.

A half-way decent job in a manufacturing plant, enabling one to take care of one’s self and one’s family (and develop a little self-esteem along the way), was a big deal at one time.  And then they shipped trinket making to cheaper real estate, and warned us [via Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), and The Third Wave (1980)] that we were transitioning to a service economy.  But the provision of services and the assembly of information don’t amount to much if no one is willing to pay for those services.

As a wise man once said, “Something only has as much value as someone is willing to pay.”  And connecting what one has to offer with someone willing to pay became far more difficult in the global economic expansion.

There’s little question that we are anxious, and even some are angry. And that debate about the extent government should be involved in our lives is a legitimate one, because there aren’t any other obvious options.  And while it is true that families aren’t as large, connected, and based in the same field as they used to be, it’s not God doing it to us because he’s pissed off.

We’re doing it to ourselves.  And only we individual citizens have the solutions.

And that’s only common sense.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Post No. 3: Check Out the New, E-Book Version of My Guide on Amazon.com

I am pleased to announce that an electronic / digital version (e-book) of my Starting Your Business - The Fundamentals Guide is now available in digital format on Amazon.com . To make it available for virtually anyone to purchase, I decided to keep the price relatively low - $7.77.

Of course, e-books sold on Amazon.com can be read using their proprietary Kindle device.  However, e-books can also be read on regular PCs, smart phones, and tablets. Amazon even has an application to assist you in that regard - for FREE!  Simply click here, and you will find it.

Not thinking about starting your own business at this point in time?  You can still give the e-book to someone as a gift.

We ordinary citizens, who are not elected officials, have been asked to believe by powerful corporate interests and their colleagues to whom they contribute huge sums in the way of political contributions, that we should leave it up to them to create jobs.  In fact, we citizens have more power than we might appreciate to invent and innovate, develop new technologies, and transform those new ideas and technologies into businesses, which create jobs.  Here is your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the resurgence of American business.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Post No. 2: Start Your Green Business in Alternative Energy Areas

A friend of mine works for Recurrent Energy based in San Francisco.  Her CEO recently generated an article in Fortune suggesting that President Obama might consider creating jobs in the solar energy area. Click here to read the article.

Someone interested in starting a business in the alternative energy area would benefit from using Starting Your Business – The Fundamentals: A Comprehensive, Thinking Business Owners Guide

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Post No. 1: A Sample of My Guide - Chapter One

          Attitude, attitude, attitude is so important when you’re out there all alone.  It’s not like being an employee.  There’s something different about a business owner.  Long before Andrew Carnegie became one of the greatest industrialists of the 20th Century and a multimillionaire, there were indicators that he was no “ordinary Joe.”

         Carnegie was born in Scotland.  His Father was a hand loom weaver.  The Industrial Revolution in Great Britain put many weavers out of work, and the Carnegie family was on the brink of starvation.  To make matters worse, his Father began to drink heavily.  The family moved to Pennsylvania, and had to borrow the money to do so.  At the time, Alleghany, Pennsylvania was a very poor town.  As the family’s fortunes further deteriorated, Carnegie took it upon himself to assist the family.

         At the age of 13, he took a job as a bobbin boy, changing the thread spools 12 hours per day, 6 days a week, in a cotton mill.  Yes, that’s 72 hours per week!  Most kids that age today are probably outside playing with their friends, and not thinking of building an empire.  His next job was that of a telegraph messenger boy in Pittsburgh.  He memorized all of the locations of businesses in Pittsburgh, and the faces of the city’s most prominent men.

         Simply put, although running your own business does not require the dedication of an Andrew Carnegie, you must have something more than the typical employee.

A.      Making a Personal Attitude Adjustment

         1.      Need for Self-Evaluation of Attitude, Aptitude, Willingness to Accept Responsibility, Decision Making Skills, and Risk Tolerance Even before Conducting Your Research

         2.      Differences between Employee Mindset and Employer / Entrepreneur Mindset

         3.      Differences between Impact that Employee Can Have on Enterprise versus that of Owner

         4.      Why Most People Resist Becoming their Own Boss

                  a.      Not Enough Time

                  b.      Not Enough Money

                  c.      Not Enough Experience

         5.      The Nature of Risk / Nature of Adventure

         6.      Potential Impact on Economy and Society through Entrepreneurial Activity while May Be No “Perceived” Impact as Employee

         7.      Realizing We All Sell Something

                  a.      Compare What Employee Sells versus What Small Business / Its Owner Sells

                  b.      Compare Personality versus Product versus Skills and Expertise versus Knowledge

         8.      There will be No Emergency Parachute – Your Survival Depends on It

         9.      Instead of Being Fed and Lead by Others, You Initiate, Seek Information, and Get Knowledge on Your Own

         10.    Increasing Probability of Success and Minimizing Probability of Failure – It’s All about Probabilities

         11.    Business Decisions not Based on What You Like to Do, and Often Involves Careful Balancing of Numerous Competing (at minimum) and (at worst) Complicated Factors

         12.    Objectivity, not Emotion, Dominates Business Person’s Thought Process

         13.    Decisions You Make Affect Quality of Lives of Others – Not Only Your Family, but Employees and Their Families

         14.    What Makes an Entrepreneur Different?
                  a.      Thinks Bigger Than Others

                  b.      Works Harder

                  c.      Generally Likes to Make Money

                  d.      Likes Success

                  e.      Usually Has Some Special Talent(s)

                  f.       Has a Different View of the World in Terms of Risk

                  g.      May Have Been in Business at Early Age

                  h.      Personable and Charismatic

                  i.       Highly Competitive – Driven
         15.    Seeing Opportunities Where Others See Problems

                  a.      Rebuilding Chicago after Great Fire

                  b.      Responding to Natural Disasters like Katrina

                  c.      Learning to “Hear Bell Ringing” and “Seeing Light Bulb Illuminating”

         16.    Pros and Cons of Entrepreneurial Activity

                  a.      Pros

                           (1)     Satisfaction

                           (2)     Independence

                           (3)     Monetary Satisfaction

                  b.      Cons

                           (1)     Failure
                           (2)     Loneliness

                           (3)     Financial Insecurity

                           (4)     Problem, after Problem, after Problem

                           (5)     Long Hours and Hard Work

                           (6)     Less Time with Family

B.      Hallmarks of Committed Entrepreneur, which also
Translates into Successful Entrepreneur

         1.      “Five D’s” according to American Institute
of Small Business

                  a.      Desire – You’ve Got to Want to Have It

                           (1)     It Keeps You Going

                           (2)     It Attracts and Motivates Those around You – Partners, Investors, and Potential Clients and Customers

                  b.      Discipline – Doing Things that Others Don’t Want to  / Choose Not to Do

                           (1)     Difficult

                           (2)     Unpleasant

                           (3)     Tedious

                           (4)     Sacrifice

                           (5)     Family

                  c.      Details – Typically Very Good Organizers

                  d.      Diligence – Figuring Out Way to Survive and Making Most of What You Have
                  e.      Determination

                           (1)     Keeps You Going When Going Gets Rough

                           (2)     Measure of Character

                           (3)     Consider Marathon Runners – Blisters, Muscle Pulls, and Light-Headedness

         2.      Committed Entrepreneur Knows Why Went into Business

                  a.      Tangible / Concrete Reasons

                           (1)     Make a Living
                           (2)     Prepare for Retirement
                           (3)     Generate Extra Income
                           (4)     Get Rich
                           (5)     Create Business Write-Offs
                           (6)     Occupy One’s Time, Particularly during Retirement
                  b.      Subjective / Philosophical Reasons
                           (1)     Do Something for the Community, Whether Business / Professional, Family, Non – Profit, Civic

                           (2)     Stop Working for Morons

                           (3)     Acquire More Flexibility in One’s Life

                           (4)     Develop More Self – Esteem

© 2011, Visions Unlimited Management Consultants

Starting Your Business - The Fundamentals

I have generated a guide for those individuals interested in starting their own business, and for those managers of existing businesses, who now realize that they should have employed more structure and planning at the start.

You will receive the benefit of years of my experience.

Come join me on the journey to financial and vocational independence.

You Need This Guide to Assist You. It Contains All of the Issues of Which You Should Be Aware.