Thursday, 24 December 2015

How Flat is Your World?

Disclaimer:
Many of you know that I am a big advocate of outsourcing. Having co-founded an accounting and tax return outsourcing company, I have been known to expound on the virtues of outsourcing for small and medium sized businesses from time to time. If you are a Lou Dobb’s fan, you may want to take a sedative before you read this post.
With 2008 rapidly approaching, I think it is time for every business owner and entrepreneur to take stock of how flat their world is. By 'flat world' I am referring to the analogy of Thomas Freidman’s 2004 book,The World is Flat, where he likened the growing inertia of globalization to the world being "flattened", or shrunk to the point that country borders are less and less relevant through technology and business and commerce freely flow between businesses and individuals across the world.
If you are a business owner, taking stock of how flat your world is could involve asking yourself the following questions:
-What tasks, processes and/or systems am I currently outsourcing?
-If I am not currently, am I moving in this direction quickly?
-How am I leveraging global resources to maximize my profits and boost my productivity?
-Are my competitors beating me because they are better allocating their internal resources?
Answering these questions will help you determine if you are staying in front of the globalization curve or not. If you are behind the curve, the news is good: the time is ripe to jump in.
You might be asking: “What if I am just a single entrepreneur and I don’t have anything to outsource?” My answer to this is simple: everybody has mundane and routine tasks that add little or no value that could be outsourced to free up time and make for a clearer focused business model. Look at things like: scheduling, bill payment, book keeping, order fulfillment, website maintenance, and promotional materials and so on. Just look for a few minutes and you will find an aspect of your business that will benefit from globalization.
Does flattening your world always mean that you are going to outsource to India? In a word; no. In fact, I outsource quite a few of my business processes to freelancers here in the U.S. The flattened world also means making you closer to those across the U.S.
The flatter your world is, the more adaptable you are to change and the more scalable your business is.

Top 5 Books That Need To Be On Every Business Owners Christmas List
For this week's Top 5, I am giving a run down of books that are an absolute MUST READ for all entrepreneuers and prospective entrepreneurs.
1The 4 hour Workweek – By Tim Ferriss
This is a book that has the power to shift paradigms like no other I have read in recent year. Tim Ferriss, an Ivy League guy by pedigree, left the corporate world to start his own business. He subsequently developed systems and methodologies that enabled him to automate his business to the point of allowing him to travel the world, do more of what he wants to do and still maintain a profitable business.
Needless to say, given the title of the book, Tim Ferriss generated a lot of controversy with this work. A particular high point of controversy was a debate that he had with Donny Deutsch on the Today Show with Matt Lauer moderating.
Watch the interview here http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-us&brand=msnbc&vid=784332df-40a6-40cf-87ff-81691ca2eeaf
Read this book and have your eyes opened! Check out Tim Ferriss’ bloghttp://fourhourworkweek.com/blog/.
2. The World is Flat – By Thomas L. Friedman
The World is Flat was first published in 2004. It has been through several updates since then, and all of them add more value to this great work. Friedman gives a great account of the changes that globalization has brought forth in the last 10 years, the catalysts of those changes and how companies and individuals all over the world are benefiting from it. Friedman is also careful to talk about the human factor of globalization; the job losses, income shifts and environmental impact.
For every entrepreneur out there, this book will help you better understand the trends taking place with regard to outsourcing, in-sourcing, supply chaining and a lot of other things that may just be buzzwords to you.
Check out Thomas L Friedman’s websitehttp://www.thomaslfriedman.com/. He has written some other good books as well, such as The Lexus and the Olive Tree.
3. Made to Stick – By Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Made to stick has a lot of great case studies and research that shows what makes good ideas stick. The concepts and research from this book can be used and implemented in your business and in other aspects of your life.
Check out the made to stick blog at:http://www.madetostick.com/blog/. You will get a lot of great information here.
4. The Age of Turbulence – By Alan Greenspan
Alan Greenspan’s autobiography, The Age of Turbulence takes the reader through his illustrious career as an economist. From his early days working with the Nixon administration to becoming Federal Reserve Chairman before the 1987 stock market crash to his dealings as Fed Chairman with President George W. Bush, this book contains so much history, insight and information, that I encourage anyone to read it through a second time.
You will learn about a great deal of macroeconomic, political and financial market detail that you would never get from anywhere else, unless you personally know somebody on the inside, like a member of the Fed. The most interesting parts of the book is when Greenspan expounds on his experiences in dealing with the end of the cold war and his inner dealings with each White House administration.
I highly recommend grabbing this book and sitting down for a great look through the eyes of a brilliant economist and politician.
5. No B.S. Wealth Attraction for Entrepreneurs– By Dan Kennedy
Admittedly, Dan Kennedy is one of my favorite authors on material for the entrepreneur and small business owner. Dan Kennedy’s writing is very straight forward (hence the ‘No B.S.’ in the title) and easy to read. No B.S. Wealth Attraction will show you how many entrepreneurs limit the wealth they create for themselves by how they think about money.
No B.S. Wealth Attraction is full of practical steps and inspirational analogies and a few stories that will show you that just changing your thoughts and actions can make a huge difference in the amount of wealth you bring into your life.
I encourage everybody to check out Dan Kennedy’s blog: http://www.dankennedy.com/cblog/ and to get on his No B.S. Marketing Newsletter list. This is one newsletter you won’t regret being on!
So, there it is! Grab these books and watch your business and intellect go to the next level.

Capital Constraints - Good and Bad

I was just at the REIA of Macomb last night, Michigan’s Premier Real Estate Investment Association, and heard national business credit expert, Tom Kish, speak about unsecured lines of business credit and how they can be used to fund your business.
I found Tom’s message to be compelling, and it got me thinking about the subject of financing for entrepreneurs. Money is always a big question mark for anybody that is looking at starting or expanding their business.
There are a lot of different theories on business financing out there. The fact of the matter remains that most entrepreneurs are continually operating under capital constraints; seeming to be forever in bootstrap mode. I know that for me, personally, bootstrap mode means continually evaluating the viability of projects. Questions like: “does this initiative deserve more money than another one?” are always circling around in my brain. I know the textbooks say that this is how you are supposed to operate, that you are supposed to have to make these ‘rationing’ choices all the time. This might be o.k. for large companies to swallow, but for entrepreneurs we are often talking about survival, or growth necessary to get to a more sustainable level.
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As an entrepreneur, I think one of the hardest things to reconcile my self to is the fact that I can’t implement all of my ideas. You see, I just see problems that come up in my life and in the world that I want to solve. Solving problems effectively, for large numbers of people = money made. Not being able to address these problems is hard, but if I am honest with myself I understand that I can’t always do everything.
The bottom line is that only the best ideas and initiatives will get funded. Whether you are trying to get your business off of the ground with angel funding or working with your personal savings to get started, or you are raising institutional funding, only the best ideas get the money necessary to get off the ground. The same rule applies to your own internal business funding; only the most promising marketing initiatives will get funded.
All of this might seem like a hindrance to growth, but it is a necessary aspect of business development. Our job as entrepreneurs is to make sure that we are continually coming up with new ideas for improving and starting companies and continually pushing the growth envelope. As they old saying goes: “the cream always rises to the top.”

GET RID OF THE ‘IF” FACTOR

“We will either find a way, or make one!”
-Hannibal, 218 B.C.
All too often in conversations I have with people that are either interested in starting their own business or looking to expand their existing business, what I call the “dreaded ‘if’ factor” rears its ugly head.
The ‘if factor’ usually goes something like this:
“If I get that pay raise, I’ll be able to start buying some income producing real estate.”
“If we have a big holiday season, we’ll look at putting more money into marketing.”
“I don’t know if I can take the risk of starting a business now…maybe if I was 10 years younger I would think about doing something like that.”
It is at this point during the conversation that I wish I had a time machine. Besides the fact that it would be really fun to travel through time, I would really want to see what would happen when their ‘if’ conditional is fulfilled. Would this person really go forward with buying an investment property when they got a raise? Would the holiday season really be the deciding factor in whether or not this business owner spends more to grow their company?
Many people live their lives by a conditional function: if this, then that. The problem is that life throws a lot of unexpected events at you. You put yourself into reaction mode versus proactive mode when you rest your future actions on events or situations that are often beyond your reach of control or don’t even directly tie into your goals and dreams.
The most successful people that I have encountered have a strong sense of purpose and conviction and they rarely put conditionals on their goals and dreams. I have heard successful people say things such as:
“I will buy 10 investment houses next year, no matter what.”
“We are going to plow money into marketing, based on a strong plan, so that we can double our business next year.”
“I am going to start a company now, because there is a great opportunity.”
Whatever you do, don’t put conditionals on the level of success you want to achieve. Keep moving forward and, if there isn’t a way – MAKE ONE!

Tuesday Top 5: Top 5 Marketing Trends More Entrepreneurs Are Taking Advantage of and Making Money With Right Now

The Tuesday Top 5 for this week highlight the Top 5 marketing trends entrepreneurs are taking advantage of to increase their brands and boost their bottom line.
Online Collaboration
Software tools like Go To Meeting, WebEx and others have been at the forefront of a revolution in how business owners are able to work with their clients. From solving problems and providing service and support to making more concentrated efforts at inside sales, collaboration software is helping small companies gain ground on their larger competitors.
Webinars
A webinar is simply a seminar or presentation held online. Entrepreneurs are using webinars for everything from training employees in different locations (helping drive costs down) to presenting products and services to clients across the globe.
Savvy entrepreneurs have been using webinars to get more productivity out of their workforce and have a bigger reach to a much wider audience than before. For example, service providers such as accounting firms are hosting short online sessions to benefit their clients. One key is that webinars can be set up ‘on demand’ – thus adding value to clients and customers while ensuring maximum convenience and superior delivery.
Media
Media content, in the form of video, audio, animation and interactive applications are revolutionizing the way companies interact with their customers.
You Tube has helped lead the explosion of online video for the masses. My Grandmother is now talking about funny clips she saw on You Tube! Smart entrepreneurs are using You Tube to highlight features of their products and services, drive traffic to their websites and put themselves and their brand in front of their customers in an engaging and inviting way.
Podcasts are already a valued part of the marketing arsenal for hungry business owners. Audio content libraries of podcasts, MP3 files and streaming audio can become valuable assets for business owners. Flash animation is a widely recognized medium for delivering content
Product Placement
Product placement has long been the realm of the biggest multi-national billion dollar companies. Companies such as Coke, BMW and IBM have long been paying to have their products featured in movies, television shows and other areas (think Vera Wang dresses on celebrities at the Academy Awards).
Now, cutting edge entrepreneurs are utilizing cost effective mediums such as: You-Tube, MySpace, Facebook and other social media sites to display their products and services in action. The internet and social networking have made the celebrity barrier easier to cross. Think of Amanda Congdon on Rocketboom (she had over 100,000 daily viewer when she was on the daily vlog), Lonely Girl 15 on You-Tube (a video series of short clips) or Tia Tequila (entertainer) on MySpace as examples of how people are able to rocket to superstar celebrity status without being in major motion pictures or television shows.
Product placement in these mediums strikes very targeted niches and loyal audiences, something that equates to bigger bottom lines for advertisers.
White Papers
White papers are simply an expose on yours or your company’s expertise on a subject matter. Like product placement, white papers have long fallen into the realm of exclusivity for larger companies. However, with an explosion of new markets and new issues and problem facing businesses, the monopoly of expertise on subject matter has been broken. Small entrepreneurs are quickly becoming known as experts in fields like internet marketing, direct marketing, information technology management and many others. Individual entrepreneurs are publishing industry studies and white papers as marketing tools to great effect.
The best thing about these trends is that they are extremely cost effective and easy to implement. Business owners can be more proactive with their marketing approaches now, getting information in front of customers in unique and creative ways. Take advantage of these trends to your benefit; ignore them to your detriment.
I love to keep re-iterating the fact that it is great to be in business today. Never before in history has their been so much money to be made and so many ways to make it!

Top 5 Reasons To Be In Business For Yourself Right Now

This week I want to cover what I think are the Top 5 reasons that anyone should be in business for themselves, in some capacity, right now.
1. Technology
10 years ago the technology wasn't there to conduct 50% of the business that we do today. Broadband internet, Google, and email on your cell phone were not around 10 years ago. Love or hate the rapid advances in technology (and the subsequent hit to your pocketbook for upgrading), we can now be more productive than any generation of business owners before.
 
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2. Shift in employee/contractor status
There is a tectonic shift taking place in the nature of the workforce. In 10-15 years, there will be a great many people, who used to be working as employees of one company, that will be forced to become independent contractors; moving around from project to project, within and between companies. Working from anywhere in the world will become the norm, as software, the web and collaboration tools become commonplace and easily integrated. Check out the August 2007 in Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/toc/07_34/B40470734futurework.htm)
article on the future of work that elaborates on this. The great benefits of this shift in the workforce, for those that will take advantage of them, are:
A. There will be a great deal of talented people available to work – as a business owner this is a GOOD thing, as you can now procure the people you need much easier than ever before
B. The cost of payroll compliance will likely decrease
 
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3. Tax advantages
It has been said many different times and many different ways by countless experts and gurus, but the tax advantages of being in business for yourself are better than those of an employee. Simply put, many of the things you pay for with after tax dollars as an employee are able to be fully or partially deducted as pre-tax business expenses. Legitimate travel for sales calls, business lunches and countless other costs (which the business owner can enjoy the benefit of) are tax deductible expenses.
 
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4. Globalization
Globalization is a big fancy word that tries to capture the economic changes that are happening as countries such as India, China and Brazil play increasingly more significant roles in the economies of their trading and non-trading partners alike across the world.
Globalization has opened up many more doors than it has closed for aspiring and existing business owners alike. For example, if you want a software program designed or a machine tool set up, the speed and cost with which you can bring them to market are faster and cheaper than ever before. You have the ability to easily serve other markets with your products and services and make more money FASTER than even 1 year ago, and it's only going to get better.
Take a glance at Thomas L. Friedman's book The World is Flat, for an in depth look at all things 21st century globalization.

 
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5. PROFIT Opportunities Galore
Plain and simple, making money is a pretty important aspect of being in business. As the world continues to spin faster, their will be a constant stream of new problems to solve and needs to fill-which is what being in business is all about. The bigger the problem you can solve for the largest number of people will determine how much money you will make.
Think of the healthcare or education systems here in the U.S. These are HUGE problems that are just waiting for a savvy entrepreneur to step up to the plate and provide a solution that solves even 5% of it.
 
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Give this week’s Top 5 some thought over your Thanksgiving dinner. I hope that you see the same opportunities that I do and make the choice to take advantage of them.

5 Reasons to Get a Virtual Assistant

If anybody is not yet familiar with ‘virtual assistants’, I’ll brief you, but the term is pretty much self-explanatory. A virtual assistant is simply someone that does administrative (and higher level) tasks for you from a remote location. Since technology has lowered the costs of computers, broadband Internet and other communication mediums, having somebody in a remote location doing all the little stuff that you don’t want to do can be a huge relief . In his book The Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss talks about how he and other “New Rich” use virtual assistants and similar means of outsourcing mundane tasks to enable them to live the lifestyles of their choosing.
This post is specifically for those of you that are not yet utilizing virtual assistants. If you are a flying solo as an entrepreneur or service professional, you will be intrigued – I promise. Without further adieu, I am going to dig a little deeper and share with you the Top 5 Reasons You Need To Get a Virtual Assistant – and NOW.
  1. You will be forced to analyze which things you do that are really important
Getting a virtual assistant will force you to break down some of the tasks you do on a regular basis and chop them down into bite sized chunks. You see, virtual assistants are not magic assistants. Therefore, you need to pour out all of the things that are just in your head out onto paper. The process of doing this will help you learn how much time you spend on things you could be having someone else do. They key to having some sanity as a business owner is, at some point, being able to take a break and watch the fruits of your labor grow.
You may be in trouble (or paradise, depending upon which was you look at it) if you discover that you can have virtual assistants take over your entire business day. If this is the case, fear not. You just have that much more upside potential to keep adding value to your customers.
  1. You will have a fresh perspective on how you organize yourself and your workload
Once you begin working with your virtual assistant, and you realize which activities you do that are core to your business, you will be much more organized and focused. Trust me, almost every business owner feels bogged down in the minutiae at given times throughout the day. When you can clear some of the crap out of your day, your mind feels liberated and your productive juices get flowing. You will be free to concentrate your energy on the most important things
Achtung! (that means ‘Warning’ for those of you non-German speakers and non U2 fans). Don’t use a virtual assistant as a means of letting yourself wander into the entrepreneurial abyss. Make sure you get crystal clear about your goals and objectives before delegating like crazy.
  1. You can work from anywhere – and so can they
If you hire an assistant and they have to come into your office, chances are you are going to have to show up a great deal of the time to manage that person. This further chains you to your office and doesn’t allow you to spend as much discretionary time as you want (read: out getting more business or having fun – or both). When you set up for a virtual assistant, you are focused on ‘deliverables’, the end product. Does it really matter to you that the person works in their underwear with a Bloody Mary in their hand at 5:30 a.m.? Well, it might, but let’s just assume you aren’t going to know either way. You just want the work done, and done well, on time and on budget.
It helps if your virtual assistant is friendly, I’ll give you that.
To put it as simply as I can, virtual assistants give you more flexibility to get the things you want done. Flexibility is one of the most necessary attributes of being successful in business – and in life.
  1. Your communication skills will increase exponentially
Most people are bad communicators. Gasp! Yes, I said it. We all need to work on our communication skills. Most problems in the world are problems of information and communication, or some combination of the two. How many people do you know cannot put clear and concise thoughts into an email? How many people do you know that cannot leave enough of a voice mail to get what they want? (think: leaving a call back number, reason for calling, etc).
When you work with a virtual assistant, your communication skills will rocket to the next level in a heart-beat. You will be amazed at how quickly and easily you will be able to put your thoughts and words into actions that get results. Working with a virtual assistant will help you utilize email, voice mail, telephone, instant messenger and collaboration software (Go To My PC, WebEx, etc). more effectively.
  1. You will realize how fast you can leverage your virtual assistant to help you GROW YOUR BUSINESS
Surprise, surprise! Yep, growing your business is perhaps the best benefit of having a virtual assistant. You see, once you learn how to break down tasks and processes to have someone do remotely, typically for lower cost than “in-house” (think avoiding payroll taxes and extra office space and equipment versus offshore – though offshore works very well also), you will see unlimited growth opportunities for your business. You can leverage a virtual army, if you want, to vault you into the top tax bracket.
So, what are you waiting for? To get started finding a virtual assistant check out the following sites:
www.elance.com – A great site that connects you with freelance professionals and outsourcing companies globally
www.guru.com – Another great site that that connects you with freelance professionals and outsourcing companies across the world
www.craigslist.org – The biggest and most popular online classified site
I have found great virtual assistants, outsourcing service providers and free lance professionals on all of these sites. Dig in and get going.
Cheers!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Running a Space Age Business

George Jetson I am not…at least not yet.  Although having the life of a space-age family has kind of been a vision of mine since I was a kid.  Speaking of that, aren’t we supposed to be going to and fro in flying cars by now?  Anyway, the reason I am bringing this up is that I was just recently struck with the thought of how running a business today would indeed seem ’spage-age’ to someone transported to 2007 from, say 1957.
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A prime example of what I am talking about was when, a few months back, I was able to run my business completely from by Blackberry for over a week, with no hiccups.  The week of August 27, 2008, I was at the MAGIC Marketplace in Las Vegas.  MAGIC s not a David Copperfield show; it is the biggest apparel industry trade show in the U.S.  I was there with my friend, Chris Reynolds, helping him with his revolutionary sportswear company Flip Your Lid Wear (BTW, if you have not yet seen Flip Your Lid Wear, check out www.FlipYourLidWear.com).
At the show in Las Vegas, I had everything I needed in the palm of my hand.  I was able to talk to my team in India in real time, via instant messenger.  I was able to get all of the pertinent email informaiton I needed in real time and I was able to field all neccessay phone calls.  The darndest thing happend during this time, though.  Even though I had the ability to do real time business at my fingertips, I hardly had to answer an email, had about 5 calls all week (that I had to answer, at least) and just had brief chats with my team in India for about 25 mintues total throughout the day.
Now, this didn’t quite hit me until I was getting ready to go home and I was giving my wife an update on my ETA.  As I looked at my phone’s call log to pull up her number, I noticed that I had not even filled the que with recent phone calls.
I am going to drop the other shoe on you now.  I want to tell you what made this ‘miracle’ of my trip possible.  One word: outsourcing.  Let me tell you how amazing it is to know that your business can function without your own personal daily micromanaging and input.  All of the problems that I thought could occur simply did not.  Sure, there were a few minor corrections that needed my attention when I got back home, but nothing that stopped or even slowed the business down.
Here is a summary of what happened when I was gone:
  • Marketing (lead generation, direct mail, e-marketing, etc) initiatives were all being administered with care
  • Sales (closing prospects, working existing accounts) did just fine - we even picked up some new business
  • Operations (processing, administration, payroll) didn’t miss a beat
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Sure, George Jetson might have had a talking robot (and a talking dog), but he still had to go to Spacely Sprockets and push that button all day long.  For those of you leery about delegating any of your business functions to anyone outside, I encourage you to give just one small sliver of some of your mundane business tasks over to outsourcing.  I promise you’ll get to enjoy the Las Vegas sunshine a little bit more!

China - The Dragon is Fully Awake (and breathing fire on your business)

For those of you out there that are doing business with or in China in some capacity,  this post might seem old hat to you.  For those of you that have heard and read about the growing Chinese economic juggernaut, I hope I can open your eyes and make you believe in the African proverb about the lion and the gazelle:
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle awakens.  He has only one thought on his mind: To be faster than the slowest lion.  If he cannot, he will be eaten.

Every morning in Africa, a lion awakens.  He has only one thought on his mind: To be faster than the slowest gazelle.  If he cannot, he will starve.

Whether you choose to be a gazelle or a lion is of no consequence.  The only thing that matters is that, when the sun comes up, you better start running.
I am not trying to instill fear, anxiety or trepidation into anyone.  My hope to simply to show you what is happening so that you can take advantage of it in your business and professional life.
I read a story in this months issue of Inc magazine about the Chinese entrepreneur behind the websites Alibaba and Taobao (Chinese E-bay like site).  His name is Jack Ma.
A particularly interesting piece of the article read as follows:
When I was 12 years old, I got interested in learning English.  I rode my bike for 40 minutes every morning, rain or snow, for eight years to a hotel near the city of Hangzhou’s West Lake district, about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai.  China was opening up, and a lot of foreign tourists were there.  I showed them around as a free guide and practiced my English.  Those eight years deeply changed me.  I started to become more globalized than most Chinese.  What I learned from my teachers and books was different from what the foreign visitor told us.”
What I find amazing about this story is the outright hunger and quest for knowledge and personal improvement that Jack Ma exhibited at such a young age.   Can anybody out there think of any American kids they know, at 12 years old, with the same hunger and drive?  Think about the millions of Jack Ma’s in China right now, hungry to learn, grow and improve.  Jack Ma is now one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in China.  Many are joining his rank every day.
Does this put us, as enterprising Americans at a competitive disadvantage? Maybe.  Should we run in fear of China?  No.
American business owners should take any feelings of fear, anxiety and uncertainty and turn them into a fire to push themselves to the next level.  We should be increasingly motivated by the fact that there are other horses in the race toward higher standards of living.  It is only when we are truly pushed to our limits that we can be our very best.  Would Magic Johnson and Larry Bird have been as great if they weren’t competing against each other?  I would hazard to guess that they would not have been.
I see too many American business owners playing possum, hoping the Chinese economic dragon does not burn or step on them.   Deep down these business owners know that it is no way to build a real business, but they are stuck in limbo, paralyzed by indecision and fear.
The way to cure fear is ACTION.  The way to cure inaction is ACTION.
Remember:  when the sun comes up, you better start running!

Am I Un-American? - You Decide 2008

Is outsourcing un-American?
I can’t tell you how often I have been told that I am being “un-American” for advocating outsourcing as a means of dramatically increasing productivity and profitability.  I advocate this, in particular, for American entrepreneurs and small business owners.  So, going into 2008, I would like to set the record straight (look for my rap album to hit stores near you soon).
I have been charged with several counts of being “un-American”:
Count 1: Helping American business owners become more competitive on a national and global scale
Count 2: Bridging the information and cultural gap between the U.S. and rising global economic powers
Count 3: Encouraging American small businesses to outsource to American freelance service providers as well as to foreign companies
Count 4: Showing Amercian small businesses how to hire moreAmerican workers by utilizing outsourcing
Count 5: Helping American small business owners and entrepreneurs to spend more time with their families and enjoy life more
To all of the above counts on the charge of being “Un-American” - I plead GUILTY AS CHARGED.
There it is.  I had admitted my guilt in helping American businesses and doing my part to ensure that America continues to be a global economic power to that future generations of Americans can live progressively higher standards of living (I do want my kids to be better off than me - guilty again).
Now, let’s start 2008 off on the right foot…by being thankful that America is one of the best places to do business and, that 2008 is the best year in the history of mankind to be in business.
To all of my readers: I pledge to bring you more thought provoking and hard-hitting information than ever before in 2008.  So, strap yourselves in…it’s going to be a wild ride!

TUESDAY TOP 5: 5 COUNTRIES THAT NEED TO BE ON YOUR BUSINESS MAP

There has been and continues to be a lot of press about the large and well known countries that are international powerhouses for outsourcing and offshoring.
Here is a brief overview of a few of the well known current outsourcing giants:
India - well known for IT service outsourcing and business process outsourcing
China - well known for manufacturing outsourcing and textile manufacturing
Taiwan - well known for contract electronics manufacturing outsourcing
What you need to know, as a business owner or professional operating today, is that there are some up and coming emerging market countries that are making waves on the global business scene and will likely become household names and represent great opportunities to do business with and to do business in, in the near future.
According to a 2006 report by Frost and Sullivan, the global market for shared services and outsourcing is expected to grow to $1.43 trillion by the end of 2009, from $930 billion in 2006.
For this week’s “Top 5″, I am going to cover the top 5 countries that need to be on your business map for 2008 and beyond.
1. Vietnam- We were once fighting in their jungles, now we are doing increasing business with this southeast Asian country.  Currently undergoing economic reforms, 60% of the workforce in Vietnam is under 30 years old.  They are slowly throwing away the shackles of communism and moving toward capitalist markets.  Opportunities are ripe here.

2. Estonia- Estonia is the home Skype, and other web 2.0 companies that are impacting the world.  With a highly touted modernized infrastructure, Estonia is quickly moving up the international economic food chain.

3. Pakistan- Pakistan has a 90,000 + IT workforce and recent ISO certification.  Opportunity is high in this nation, for IT and manufacturing.  Security risks are high as well, as recent events demonstrate.

4. Uruguay - This small South American country has burgeoning free trade zone and strong education system.  Watch for more things to come here.

5. Latvia - Right next to Estonia, Latvia is fast becoming an IT bastion for Sweden, Finland and Norway, among other countries.

Very soon, you might find yourself doing business with companies in these countries, either providing services to businesses there or partnering with them for services provided to you business.
In a world of constant change, keep abreast of what is going on globally.  Be careful not to catch Boiling Frog Syndrome, defined as follows:
“If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out.  But, if you place a frog into a pot of lukewarm water a slowly turn up the heat, it will boil to death.”
I fully expect to get some angry comments from PETA members.  However, the ‘boiling frog’ illustrates that we must make ourselves constantly aware of gradual changes.  You can take that to the bank!

5 Ways to Boost Your Problem Solving Abilities

In the game of business and in the game of life, you are going to encounter problems - all the time.  The degree of success you have in either game is largely dependent upon your ability to solve problems effectively and efficiently.
Today, I want to share the Top 5 ways that I have found work best to continue solving problems at high levels and to keep sailing in smooth waters:
 1.  Get a fresh perspective
All to often, when you are wrapped up in trying to solve a problem you become too attached to the issue at hand and you cannot objectively look at what you need to do. In this case, give yourself a fresh perspective. This can mean something as simple as taking a break for a few minutes to soliciting outside help to look at the issue (either paid or unpaid).
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You might be calling me “Captain Obvious” right about now, but hear me out. What I am advocating is for developing the discipline to recognize when the situations are arising and frustration is creeping up that will keep you from accomplishing your goals. It is one thing to know that you should get a fresh perspective - putting this into action is quite another.
2. Start at the end and work backward
I find that when I am spinning my wheels on a project, that I have lost focus on the end result. As one of my favorite expressions goes, I: “cannot see the forest through the trees.”
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To get back to where you need to be, stop everything you are doing (turn away from the computer, step away from the phone) and speak, out loud, what your desired end result of what you are doing is. Saying something out loud carries A LOT more power than simply having a thought or jotting the thought down on paper. Trust me on this one. .
3. Practice thinking
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I know that I have you really confused now. But, ask yourself this: why do people practice everything from sports to speaking in public but do not practice thinking?”This might seem like a crazy question, but if you really think about it (full pun intended) you might realize that your cerebrum could use some exercise just like the rest of your body. This begs the question: “what are some brain exercises?” You only need to work on a few things for a few minutes a day and you will be amazed at the improvement in your critical thinking and analytic skills.
Some examples:
  • Sodoku
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Cryptograms
  • Lateral thinking games
  • Word/vocabulary games
  • Trivia games
  • Matching/pattern games
  • Riddles
  • …there are many more
You will note that most of these things are a hobby or fun for somebody out there. Super nerdy, no doubt and some of them were the probably highlight of people’s Saturday nights before there were nightclubs. I think a few of them are fun, others I prefer not to do.
However, I find that if I spend a few minutes each morning on a lateral thinking game or sudoku puzzle, that I just feel a little better equipped to handle some of the things thrown my way during the day. Stimulate your brain cells and they might just stimulate you right back!
4. Ask better questions
A great college professor once told a class: “if you want to be brilliant, focus on asking better and better questions…solutions will then reveal themselves.” I can tell you that this has rung true in my personal and business life. All to often, we get caught up on “fixing what is wrong” that we lose sight of what is wrong in the first place. Asking better questions will keep you true to the old KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid).
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Just think of the 5 W’s you learned when you were in grade school:
  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • *How* (this was always thrown in)
This also reminds me of the expert technicians obsessing over what is wrong with a highly complex computer that appears broken when the janitor walks by, finds the machine unplugged, plugs it in and the machine works to the amazement of the ‘experts.’
5. Laugh
Yes, indeed. Laughter is the best medicine for solving problems. Aside from all of the research that has been done showing that laughter can lengthen your life, cure illnesses and increase productivity, it is just common sense that to laugh is to relieve stress and to If you are ever perplexed, take a cruise over to Youtube and watch a stand-up comic, go to comics.com and have a laugh or just take a look at your favorite Dilbert tear-away poster to boost your mood and your output. relieve stress benefits you in myriad ways.
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Obstacles: Over, Under, Around, Through

Often, in business and life, it’s easy to get caught up in one obstacle while trying to overcome another.  Being an entrepreneur is never a cake-walk and is not for the faint of heart. Moving past obstacles has been at the forefront of my businesses this past week.
Give this week’s podcast a listen and explore some of the tools I use to move forward and cast off the evil twins of fear and doubt.
You can listen to the podcast live on the internet by clicking here or download the mp3 file and listen to it in your car or on your favorite mp3 player.
Your feedback and comments are encouraged.

TUESDAY TOP 5: 5 SURE-FIRE WEAPONS YOU MUST HAVE IN YOUR ARSENAL

While on my recent trip to Miami, I had the opportunity to hear an outstanding street performer.  He was rapping with just a microphone and a small stereo box with a faint beat, but he was awesome.  You name it and he had it down: humor, strong messages, rhymes…everything.
After listening to him for a few minutes, I began to notice a pattern to his awesome act.  Every so often, when it appeared that he was about to run out of something to rap about,  he would ask a passerby what their name was.  He would persist until he got it out of them and then launch off onto a new lyrical path based on rhyming with the persons name.  This performer was simply using a sure-fire technique he had established to keep his momentum going and the crowd involved. Mastering this sure-fire weapon, no doubt, is what consistently draws crowds to him.
I was reflecting on this when it hit me how important having a proverbial “ace up your sleeve” is.  Having a surefire technique that works for a given situation, closing a sale perhaps or a negotiating a deal, is a an absolute must to increase your level of success.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had the ’sky hook’, the Packers of the Vince Lombardi era had the ‘power sweep’, the Mighty Ducks (yes, those Mighty Ducks of Disney fame!) had the ‘flying V’.
Any way you slice it,  you have to develop sure-fire techniques in at least 5 areas of your business or professional life:
1. A sure-fire technique for closing sales 9 times out of 10
In business, and in life, sales is everything.  You are selling yourself to your boss, your idea to a colleague or your product to a customer.  As Blake (Alec Baldwin)  famously says in a memorable scene in the movieGlengarry Glen Ross: (paraphrasing) “either you sell the customer or he sells you on why he can’t buy - either way, a sale is made!”
There is a certain method that you can internally develop, unique to you, that you can use to make a sale when you need to. Even though each customer is different, and you must cater your message accordingly, you can still pull out a killer close to seal the deal.
Here is one I always like to use:
Me: “Ok, Jim.  From what you’re saying this seems like a good fit, doesn’t it?
Jim: “Sure”
Me: “Great, Jim.  Then I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t move ahead, do you?”
Jim: “Well…no.”
I have used this technique in many instances to great success and I still rely on it - like having an ace up my sleeve.
2. A sure-fire technique for quickly evaluating the financial numbers of a project or deal
Many times you will be faced with a situation, whether it be investing in a real estate project or evaluating a new marketing expenditure, where you will need to make an analysis and move ahead with decisiveness.  Developing a simple internal method for evaluating these situations will make you tons of money - because you will consistently scrutinize and evaluate what makes sense and be able to do it quickly.
Here are a few methods that successful people I know like to use:
  • Payback method- evaluating a project by examining the time it will take to receive your investment dollars back.  The premise of this technique is that the faster the investment pays your money back, the faster your money can be used for another investment while still maintaining your stake in the first one.
  • ROI (Return on Investment) - evaluating a project by looking at the dollars the investment yields versus the dollars invested.  For example, if you invest $100 and receive $110 back in one year, you received $10 for your $100 investment.  $10/$100 = 10% so your ROI is 10%.
  • Cost/Benefit- evaluating a project or investment by weighing the benefits received against the costs outlaid to receive the benefit.  This technique is common when it it hard to put number or dollar terms on a decision.  For example, when deciding to have your business put on a fundraiser for a political candidate.  In this case, you might weigh the costs (cash outlays, time investment) against the benefits (recognition for yourself and your business, etc.)
I strongly urge you to find a method that works for you and that you can use on a consistent basis.
3. A sure-fire negotiating tactic to help you win in any situation
Negotiating is another facet of our professional and business lives that we must become good at in order to succeed at high levels.  Developing a technique that you can use to win in key situations will come in handy.
Here is a personal favorite of mine:
Me: “Jim, if I like the __, but I don’t like it at $X, should we just forget about the whole thing?”
Jim: “Ah…no, no, no….”
Once you find something that works, practice it as often as  you can and hone it to perfection
4. A sure-fire marketing method that will bring customers in
All business begins and ends with marketing.  It doesn’t matter what business you are in, where you are located or how long you have been doing what your are doing.  Make no mistake, in any business, times will get tough and customers will seem scarce. If you don’t have a sure-fire way to jump-start your sales, you will be dead in the water.
A few ‘aces up your sleeve’ here might be:
  • a huge online promotion or contest
  • unique e-marketing campaign
  • a dynamic direct mail campaign (with a great list)
  • a super-sale/promotional event - properly publicized
  • a strong newspaper advertisementAny of these (and countless other methods) can be the surefire technique you need to stoke the fire when you have to.
Check out 151 Quick Ideas to Increase Sales by Linda Sparks for more brain food on this area.
5.  A sure-fire way of handling critical employee issues
Inevitably, in most businesses, employee issues creep up.  It could be from myriad reasons, such as: personal problems with the employee, theft, tardiness and poor performance.  If you have, or wish to have, a business that employs people, you must develop you own unique way of internally handling and being proactive with these types of problems.
You may have to put your thinking cap on for this one, as personalities and work environments will dictate this to a large degree.  Whenever I have an employee problem, whether the issue is brought to me by the employee or someone else, I always tell myself three things: 1. you hired this person for a reason, 2. people aren’t perfect and 3. listen to the story and get all the facts.In most circumstances, the ‘boss’ has a tendency to overreact and make the problem worse by talking more than listening.
So, there you have this week’s Top 5 and a lot of food for thought.  I  hope these things will help prosper you as they have me.