Are You An Information Addict?

“Let’s have lunch,” DK said in his email. “There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

Two days later, we were eating chopped chicken salads at City Oyster on Atlantic Avenue. We talked a bit about family news, but it was clear that he wanted to talk about a question that was on his mind.

The question: Should he spend $100,000 on the highest level of an internet marketing program that he had been looking at?

“It looks really good,” he said. “But I’m not sure it makes sense for me to invest that kind of money.”

“A hundred grand is a lot of money,” I said.

“But you get an awful lot for it,” he explained. “They do all the technical stuff for you, which I’m not very good at. All I have to do is come up with the product idea.”

The waitress filled our drinks.

“So if you invest in this marketing program… what kind of products would you sell?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“How about this: If you had all the money you could ever need, how would you spend your time? What would you do to give your life purpose?”

“That’s a good question,” he said. “Actually, I like the idea of purposefulness. Maybe I’d do something along those lines.”

I told him that if I were he, I’d not spend a hundred grand on a program that gave me marketing and operational tools until I knew what I was going to do with them.  READ MORE

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The Challenge of Charity: My Failure to Help Marcus and Gabriela

First I felt ashamed. Then I was hopeful. Then I was disappointed. Now I’m resigned.

Marcus and Gabriela came to work for us in 1999 after we built a second home in Nicaragua.

Marcus tended the landscaping. Gabriela kept the house. Antonio, my Nicaraguan partner, had recommended them to us. Their parents and siblings had worked for him.

They were very young at the time – in their late teens or early twenties. But they were already burdened with the responsibility of being parents. Gabriela’s husband worked in construction. Marcus’s wife worked part-time cleaning at a local restaurant.

Neither spoke a word of English, so we had to communicate in the very rudimentary Spanish I had at the time. They showed up every morning at 7:30 and worked, not energetically but dutifully, until 3:30. Then they were gone. In those early days, they left without saying goodbye.

They were shy and I did my best to relax them in that American sort of egalitarian way. But Nicaragua, like all countries, lives with its history. And the vestiges of Spanish colonialism still existed. Most upscale households in Nicaragua employ domestic workers, who are, I gathered from observation over the years, treated with respectful condescension.

I asked Antonio what I should pay them. He told me $150 a month.

“A month?”

“That’s the going wage,” Antonio assured me. ”If you pay them much more, it will cause problems in the community – for them now, and for you later on.”

I knew that he was right, but I wasn’t going to accept it…

I sat down with Gabriela and Marcus and told them that if they wanted to earn more money, I could give them jobs that fell outside of their normal duties. Marcus could give a room a new coat of paint. Gabriela could plant flowers along the side of the garden. That sort of thing.

And they could do these extra chores during their regular hours, I told them. (Which would work out just fine for me, because I didn’t really have eight full hours of work a day for them.)

I thought they would be delighted with the opportunity, but they were not. Nestor, a local friend and colleague, explained their lack of enthusiasm.

“They probably think you are trying to take advantage of them by asking them to do extra work,” he explained. “Even for extra money.”

“Huh?”

It was another vestige of the country’s history – in this case, the years it had existed as a Communist state.

But although they were reluctant to do “extra” work, they were not averse to asking for financial “help” with family problems – a sick parent, a leak in the roof, etc. I was more than happy to give them what they needed, but I insisted that they work the “extra” hours for the extra money.

For a few years, it seemed to be working well. They used the extra money they earned to buy themselves bicycles, cell phones, and clothing.

But when I had the opportunity to visit their homes, it was clear that the extra money had bought them all sorts of things that put them in the upper economic ranks of Limon, the hamlet they lived in. Still, like everyone else in the area, they were living in simple mud and wood shacks.

Despite free-market views to the contrary, this huge gap between their homes and mine bothered me. I had to find a way to increase their income yet again so they could at least have proper windows, doors, and floors.

So I came up with a solution that was popular among charity advocates at the time: I’d give them micro-loans to start their own side businesses. My idea was that they would follow the strategy I’ve recommended for years to other would-be entrepreneurs: Start small. Test the product and the pricing and the pitch as quickly and efficiently as possible. And then, if the business starts to take off, expand.

Considering their earlier reluctance to do extra work for pay, they were surprisingly open to the idea of having side businesses, businesses that could be run by an unemployed sibling or relative while they were at their regular jobs.

I told them, stupidly in retrospect, to choose the businesses they wanted to have. (I thought that this would provide them with the extra motivation they might need to succeed.)

Gabriela decided on a children’s clothing store. Marcus decided to open up a pulperia, a rustic version of a mini 7-Eleven, in front of his house.

Two very bad ideas! READ MORE

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Steve Jobs on “Why Companies Fail”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sao Paulo.- I’m in Brazil, catching up on email before I get to work – and I came across a video by Steve Jobs that Sean MacIntyre sent me. (See the link to the video, below.) It’s very good. And Jobs was fundamentally right.

I’ve never thought of it in quite this way, but I’ve always had a gut feeling that product development should lead the business.

When you are just starting out, you have to focus on sales and marketing. That’s because until you’ve been in business for years, you don’t actually know enough about the kind of products your market really wants.

Jobs understood this. In launching his business, he was all about discovering what the market really wanted in terms of customer experience. He said so on many occasions. But as the business grows beyond the point where it is selling hundreds of millions of dollars of product each year, there is a natural tendency for the marketers to take over.

And that can be dangerous – even destructive.

Everything ultimately depends on customer experience. And customer experience is 50% the experience of buying the product and 50% the experience of using it.

The way I have dealt with this has been to preach what I call “incremental augmentation.” It is essentially a refutation of the old adage: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

For me, a healthy business is one whose products are forever improving. And a smart founder/CEO is one that is never satisfied with yesterday’s product.

Jobs’ video provides a deeper insight into why that is smart.

One of the reasons I decided to rewrite Ready, Fire, Aim– my most popular business book – is because, since it was published,  I’ve had many new ideas about why some entrepreneurial businesses are incredibly successful, and some fail miserably.

I’ve posted the introduction and part of the first chapter of my rewrite here on this blog, and I’ll be posting the rest as I get each section finished. One subject that I’m quite sure I will include is the challenge of reining in a big and fast-growing company when its leaders are all very adept at creating profitable growth.

Take a look at what Jobs has to say about this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuZ6ypueK8M

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Today’s Word: epigram (noun): An epigram (EP-ih-gram) is a very brief statement that expresses an idea in a clever or amusing way. As used by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “Audiences are always better pleased with a smart retort, some joke or epigram, than with any amount of reasoning.”

 

Did You Know?: According to a recent announcement by SpaceX, a Japanese businessman will be the first private person to journey to the moon.

 

Worth Quoting: “Life is such a joke.  We take these things so seriously and yet we are only here for a nano-second.” — Alec Singer

 

Read This

Long before Ferdinand Porsche lent his assistance to Hitler’s Volkswagen project, a Jewish engineer named Josef Ganz created the first prototype. Check out this article about it:

https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2018/09/14/josef-ganz-built-beetle-predecessor-makes-post-restoration-debut/

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Breaking Big: The “Ready-Fire-Aim” Strategy That Took One Company From $8 Million to More Than $1 Billion 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Delray Beach, FL

Introduction

In 2010, John Wiley published a book I had written several years earlier called Ready, Fire, Aim. Of the 20+ books I’ve written on business and wealth building, Ready, Fire, Aim has had the longest tail. Although it barely made it to the bestseller lists that year, it has sold conti nuously since then.

The tail was also wide. It’s been republished in more than a dozen countries, recommended by dozens of digital newsletters and magazines, and has been used in business schools, book clubs, and even churches!

My goal with Ready, Fire, Aim was to explain my theory about starting and growing entrepreneurial businesses.

My thesis was that all entrepreneurial businesses have some commonalities in terms of the challenges they face at various stages. And I argued that if you, as an entrepreneur, recognize those commonalities,  you would have a significant advantage over your competitors and a favorable chance of success.

In looking at the way businesses develop over time, I identified four levels of business growth, based on revenue:

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The Virtue of Laziness

Speed Up Your Career by Indulging Your Lazy Gene

The unpaid bills are stacked next to the unwashed dishes. You’ve been short about $1,200 per month since the divorce.

You need something to fill that now-a-memory, two-income cash flow gap. Something that’s not a pipedream. Something that’s feasible, flexible, and powerful. Something capable of producing more dollars per hour than you’ve ever made in your life.

It can’t be a financial investment, because you’ve don’t have enough in the market to make a big difference. So what can you do?

Before shutting down your computer for the night, you check your email. You see an advertisement. But before you delete it, you notice something in the message about extra income. “What the hell,” you think.

You click on the link and it takes you to a landing page titled “The Extra Income Project.” It’s a promotion for a collection of two dozen lessons, each one a different way to make extra money by working part-time from home. The author is someone named Mark Ford, said to be a best-selling author and a self-made multimillionaire. You’ve never heard of him. Still…

You order the EIP program. It arrives immediately, and you spend the rest of the evening looking through the lessons. One of them – “Service Businesses” – is particularly interesting. “Compared to other side businesses, a service business has the lowest barrier of entry,” this Mark Ford character writes. “It can be started with the simplest marketing methods, requires little to no start-up capital, and is likely to put you into business faster than any other sort of enterprise. The one requirement: You must be capable of doing high quality work.”

“I can do that,” you think.

Ford then lists several dozen service businesses, each with a short but helpful description of its benefits and drawbacks and income potential. Under “Landscaping Business,” you read: “This is a great business for people that don’t mind waking up early, enjoy working outdoors, and don’t mind getting their hands dirty… at least for a while. The income potential begins at about $25 an hour and can increase to $100 or more once you have a customer list of a few dozen people. If you are good at managing schedules and workers and do great work, this can easily become a business that makes you six figures.”

“I can definitely do that!” you think.

The next day, you spend $23 to print 500 colorful flyers advertising your new business. You use a variation of one of the pitches suggested by Ford:

Landscaping With Love

I’ll Make Your Lawn the Best

In Your Neighborhood, Guaranteed

First Service Only $10!

The $10 offer is an advertising trick – a “loss leader,” to prove what you can do.

It works. You get six responses in week one and land two Saturday gigs. By week four, you have $380 worth of weekly contracts. Your Saturday is now a workday, but you’re making an extra $1,520 per month.

You do good work, so you start getting referrals. You can, if you want, make even more money by working Sundays. That’s money you could use to lease a new car and maybe buy some new clothes. You’d have some left over for saving.

But do you want to work seven days per week? Hell no. You’re 52, not 22. You want the money but not the work.

There is a “Recommended Reading” section of the EIP program that lists several books that promise to “take you to the next level.” One is called Ready, Fire, Aim. It’s by the same author. Mark Ford. You order the book.

 To Hire or Not to Hire, That Is the Question

After reading the book, you think about your situation. You’re making an extra $1,520 per month by running your own part-time landscaping business on Saturdays. You’re tempted to expand it, but you aren’t willing to work seven days per week. The book has given you the obvious solution: Hire help.

But is it worth the cost and hassle?

Following the book’s guidelines on “analyzing growth opportunities,” you sit down with a pen and a sheet of paper and make two lists, one marked “plus” and one marked “minus.”

On the minus side, you include things like “the trouble of finding someone” and “managing people” and “figuring out the right compensation,” and so on.

The more you think about it, the longer the “minus” list grows. And yet you can’t think of anything to add to the “plus” list aside from “do less work” and “maybe make more money.”

You think, “This is exactly why I never wanted to have my own business. It’s just one long list of worries and concerns. Maybe this Ford guy is more smoke than fire.”

So you decide against hiring help. Instead, you accept a few jobs to do on Sunday mornings. You’ll make another couple hundred per week, and still have Sunday afternoon to relax.

A month later, you realize that you didn’t take into account rainy days and the occasional “Can you come back tomorrow?” You are making more money but working every sunlit hour of every weekend. It is wearing you down. It’s even affecting your performance at your weekday job.

You do the math. Doing everything yourself, you’re making about $50 per hour. You can hire someone to do the grunt work and pay him/her maybe $15 per hour. The difference, $35, would be your gross profit.

There would be some additional costs involved in growing your business, too. Taxes, for example. And you’d probably have to hire an accountant. But on an hourly basis, that couldn’t be more than, say, $5. That leaves you with a gross profit of $30 for each hour’s work.

That’s $20 less than you are making now. But overall, you’d be making about $1,800 per month instead of $1,500 while personally working the same number of hours.

It makes sense. But how do you make it happen? Where can you find a good worker?

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10 Dumb Ways to Start a Business (and Waste a Ton of Money at the Same Time)

Entrepreneurship is based on selling. You test the market with a product you think will sell well. If it does, you keep selling. If it doesn’t, you try something else.

This approach lent its name to my best-seller: Ready, Fire, Aim. The main idea is that to start and grow a small business you must develop a pragmatic, action-oriented mentality. Rather than spend too much time and money refining theoretical ideas, you develop a prototype quickly and then see if the market will buy it.

As I said in the book, for every business that fails because of poor planning there are a dozen that never get off the ground because of too much planning.

The Ready, Fire, Aim approach obviously doesn’t apply to surgical procedures and rocket science. But it will be very useful for 90 percent of the new-business ideas you are likely to come up with.

Want to start a business selling diamond-studded collars for kitty cats? Fine. There are two ways to go about that:

• You can spend most of your time and money manufacturing a line of such collars – and only after that is done, start to think about how you can sell it.

• You can make a single collar and go down to the local flea market or your neighborhood pet shop and see if you can find a customer for it.

Most people start businesses the first way. That’s why most businesses fail.

But with the Ready, Fire, Aim approach, you devote 80 percent of your initial resources to discovering an efficient way to sell the product. Once you have done that, you have found the key to successfully market it. With that key in your pocket, you don’t have to worry about all the other problems that will arise in the natural course of business. You won’t have to worry, because you will be able to create the one thing that can solve almost every business problem: cash flow.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I mean by Ready, Fire, Aim:

Ready: Get your product idea ready. Make it good enough to sell. Don’t worry about making it perfect. There will be time enough for that later.

Fire: Start selling it. Sell it every way you can. Test different offers. Test different ad copy. Test different media. Keep testing until you discover something that works. This is your Optimum Selling Strategy (OSS).

Aim: Expand your customer base by focusing on your OSS. As your customer base grows, develop business procedures to accommodate that growth. Hire the best people you can to manage your business. Discover, through “back-end” marketing tests, other products and services that your customers will buy. Use those discoveries to refine and perfect a fast-selling line. As this back-end business flushes cash into your company, invest a good deal of that cash into front-end marketing.

That is the cycle of a successful start-up venture.

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