Growing your business

I searched ‘how to grow your business’ and this came up from – entrepreneur.com.  I listed the 15 ideas to help you grow your business:

  1. Build a sales funnel
  2. Utilize a customer management system
  3. Research the competition
  4. Create a customer loyalty program
  5. Identify new opportunities
  6. Build an email list
  7. Form strategic partnerships
  8. Leverage global platforms
  9. Licensing deals
  10. Consider a franchise model
  11. Diversify your offer lineup
  12. Build passive income streams
  13. Acquire other businesses
  14. International expansion
  15. Create a webinar

Each of these will apply to most businesses except for 8 and 14, which speaks to international platforms and expansion.  As we can see, running a business can be challenging and take up a lot of your time.  Personally, when trying to run a business while working full time for my employer, I do run into challenges.  It forces me to be more effective and efficient because I do not have the time to waste.  I make sure each activity in my life has meaning and will further push my cause forward.  If there are activities that are using up my time and not returning me results, then I can quickly discard those activities.  This would fall under the category called prioritization.

I am going to take some time this week to re-read through this list of 15 and see where I am strong and where I am weak.  I know I do not have an email list readily available, which I should build.  This could help me shoot out quick notifications to customers.  I also know I am not building strategic partnerships yet.  This is another area I can drive to help my business grow.  I do find it interesting to see what others are saying about ‘how to make your business grow’.  A lot of people have different ideas and not everyone is right or wrong.  What are your thoughts?

Friends grown apart…

As I age, I become increasingly aware of old friends’ poor decisions in life leading them to a life that is poor in quality.  The good thing is most of my friends from high school or before who I still keep in touch with are doing very well.  There are a few select individuals from high school that are not doing well at all.  So, why are there differences in the friends who are doing well and not doing well?  We all hung out in high school and participated in the same activities.  There must have been decisions along the way that were detrimental to their success.  It could have also been that they did not have goals in mind or did not have a plan to reach their goals.

When I speak of activities, I am talking about going to class, hanging out after class, playing in a rock band, and so forth.  We were all equal in so many ways with a plus/minus of stupidity.  We all had different personalities, but were similar enough to be friends.  We all had different IQs, but were also similar enough to be friends.  Many of us had the same classes with the same sense of humor for the most part.  There had to be some event or experience outside of high school that did set us apart.  I guess I am questioning it because I am slightly worried that it could have been me who did not achieve my goals.

There is one friend I have in mind who did not reach his goals, yet I never did see it coming.  I guess he was a little more out there than the rest of us.  He was a little more wild and rampant in his activities.  He loved to grab people’s attentions by doing something off-the-wall.  He is someone I did care for very much, but as time went by he became a little bit more of a loose cannon than I would care for.  I was hearing he was into drugs and different activities I would not do myself.  His decision making has not been always great, but I definitely do not care for drugs.  It would be easy to blame it all on drugs, but there must have been something that led him to the drugs in the first place.

At this point, my last conversation with this individual did not go very well.  We cannot pull our own lives down trying to save someone else, even if they were a best friend of yours for a very long time.  I feel there are some times when people have truly gone over the line.  I guess you would call this the point of no return.  I have my own family to worry about and for now, I will no longer try reaching out to this individual.  Right or wrong, it is my decision and I have made it with all the information provided to me.  If there was more information leading me to change my mind, I would cross that road at that time.

Service firewalls and lack of accountability

Have you ever tried getting through to a service provider such as Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon, but did not have much success? Many of the larger businesses are going to automated customer service systems.  There are also a good amount of customer service representatives stationed overseas.  At times, I feel I am not talking to anyone real or at least someone who is capable of helping me out.  I cannot help, but to think this complicated setup is intentional to prevent customers from contacting them for any reason.

Notice, each year your service provider will increase your rates and give you some convoluted reason.  They will increase it as much as they can, but not so much that you are motivated to complain or possibly switch to another service provider.  If they increase bills $2 per month, most are not willing to spend time on the phone complaining.  This is $24 per year per person and if they service 1 million people, they just increased their sales by $24 million.  Most of the time it is not just $2 per month.  I’ve seen on average between $5 to $10 per month more.  In 5 years of increases, you are paying $25 to $50 per month more or $300 to $600 per year more.  We need to make sure we are challenging our service providers to reduce costs because these do add up.

Additionally, so many of these larger corporations, service providers, retailers do not take accountability.  Their businesses are huge with so many people in their workforce.  It is very rare to find people who care that work for them because the leadership at top are caring less and less about their customers.  It is one thing to say they care, but another thing to actually prove it.  Over the years, I’ve met some rude customer service representatives.  I have also met some nice customer service representatives too, but it is the rude ones that stick out in my mind.  Just a few thoughts for this Saturday morning.

Success blog stuff

I have been writing for several months on different strategies to better position yourself for future success.  The core of each strategy include knowledge, exposure, and courage.  Knowledge is crucial to making good decisions because without it, you are blind.  Exposure allows others to get to know you who may offer you opportunities.  Courage will give you the strength to say “yes” to those opportunities offered to you, even if you feel uneasy about it.

In addition to knowledge, exposure, and courage we need to keep our mind, body, and soul healthy.  For the mind and body, we need to make sure we are getting enough sleep, food (nutrition), and exercise for both our bodies and mind.  We can keep our souls healthy by making solid ethical choices that will not taint our character.

According to success magazine many of us fail due to lack of persistence, lack of conviction, rationalization, dismissal of past mistakes, lack of discipline, poor self-esteem, and/or fatalistic attitude.  I agree with each of these 100% because they all speak why an individual may fail and continue to fail.

There is no hard set of rules that dictate what exactly you need to be successful because it all depends on your goals, timeline, strengths, weaknesses, expectations, and so forth.  It is very exciting to venture out and try hitting your goals in life.  Everyone’s situation is different and most of the time our goals are also different in some shape, size, or form.

With all of this being said, I do have a story about myself and my progression.  In my younger years, I knew I wanted to reach success.  I did not yet have success defined yet for myself, but knew it was something I wanted.  Slowly I began building out some short term goals for myself such as get accepted to university and graduate.  As more time passed by, I started setting more short term goals and some long term goals.  A longer term goal was to purchase a home and a shorter term goal was to purchase a new vehicle.  As time went by, I was capturing my goals into my notebook and surprisingly did achieve some of my goals.

In under ten years, I was able to purchase a new vehicle, home, get married, have a child, get a cat, dog, and so many other amazing things.  These things may have happened without my goal setting ways, but I do believe a lot of these things happened under my control.  I was able to control when they happened and how they happened.  Similarly, I am targeting a quick payoff of my mortgage and this too is under my control.  I carefully manage all of these things and keep track because I do hold myself accountable.  If I did not meet my goal, I would not rationalize or create excuses of why it was not my fault.  I would own my errors and improve for the next time.

I take a lot of pride in my journey for success with my family.  I take ownership and want to succeed.  It keeps me busy and is something I like talking about.  By the end of this year, I do hope to reach many of my goals if not all.  I can already see I may be falling behind in a goal or two.  I will learn from my mistakes and do better next year.  We all can do better than what we are doing.  We can all do better and better!

Bad decision prone

Look around you and take notice of the people that are doing well and the people that are not doing well.  I do not believe it is an accident that certain people constantly end up in a bad situation.  I always say, as long as I make more good decisions than bad decisions then I should be good.  There is a reference in my last blog titled, Making right decisions with what you know that states on average people make 3,000 decisions each day.  If this is true, we are making over 1 million decisions per year.  This is an astounding amount of decisions we need to make.  Some decisions are going to be bigger than others and have a greater impact on our lives.  I do believe every decision does matter and we should be cognizant of that.

Think about the moment from when you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.  You are deciding what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, selecting what outfit(s) you want to wear, choosing who you want to spend your time with and what activities you will be doing, and where you want to sleep.  Some decisions come to us naturally and are more like habits.  Other decisions require more conscious thought and require us to really put effort into the decision.  Habits did not just occur overnight for us in most cases.  We have conditioned ourselves over years to fall into these habits, which is why you need to groom yourself for good habits.  For example, select the right foods that will help you grow strong and healthy.  Select the right activities such as exercising at the gym instead of taking smoke breaks.

The more difficult decisions require information.  Without information, you will not be able to make an educated decision and that can lead to a poor outcome.  For example, if you are deciding whether you want to move out of your current role into a new role, you will need to weigh the salary, benefits, location, role, and so on.  Your family should have input and some of your friends if they are knowledgeable of the topic.  The more good information you have, the better.  Bad information (if I want to call it information) would be gossip or false information.  Learn to weed this type of information out from the start because it will not help you at all.

These are my thoughts on decisions.  There are a lot of decisions we need to make daily- big and small.  We need to make sure we are taking our decision making process very serious to succeed and reach our goals.  Is the decision we are making going to help us to get to our goals?  Is the decision we are making going to set us back?  Step back and look at the bigger picture.  An immediate satisfaction from a decision does not always help us out in the long-run.  A lot of times, it actually does the opposite.  What are your thoughts?

Making right decisions with what you know

There is so much information out there readily available to us at the click of a button, yet so many of us do not take full advantage of it.  By using googleyahoo, or many other search engines, we are able to easily search the internet.  Many years ago when I was in elementary school, I was taught how to use the Dewey Decimal System to find books in the library.  By doing a quick web search on my preferred search engine google, I find discussion boards of people saying they’ve never were taught the Dewey Decimal System.  Technology is exponentially changing as time goes by, which means things like the Dewey Decimal System are quickly becoming obsoleted as the landscape of the library is changing.  Many of us are not finding books the same way.  many of us are not even reading books the same way.

So, why do I mention this on my blog titled, civil accomplishment?  It is important to gather as much information as possible to make the best decision possible.  This can be a business decision, personal decision, and/or school decision.  It is said that we make on average 3,000 decisions per day [reference quora].  This is a lot of decisions and we need to make sure we are competent and well-educated to make the right decisions.

Earlier today I boarded an airport parking lot shuttle and had a quick conversation with another passenger.  He was telling me he takes a picture of the zone number where he leaves his car, so he can refer to it when he returns from his trip.  I remember a few times when I did not take the extra couple of seconds to note which zone I parked in.  This poor decision led me to not finding my car as easily and ended up costing me an extra 25-30 minutes.  This poor decision seems harmless, but did end up costing me extra time that I did not need to lose.  If I did this 10 times, I have given up over 250-300 minutes on stupidity.  Each step of the way, I am constantly thinking about how I can make better decisions.  This is continuous improvement and it is very important.  Using the tools we are given such as web search engines, we are able to make better decisions.  Think about it!

Cost of living and educational stats

Just recently, I wrote a blog titled Level of education and salaries.  I briefly compared education to average salaries and noted the highest ranked state and lowest ranked state in terms of median household income.  I took it one step further to dive into highest ranked and lowest ranked state in terms of education to compare to the median household income I recently talked about.  You can reference this wikipedia link for the data.

The 5 highest ranked states for % bachelor degrees are Massachusetts, Colorado, Maryland, Connecticut, and New Jersey.  Each of these states are in the 10 highest ranked states in terms of median household income.  These state average salaries range from $66,596 to $76,805.

The 5 lowest ranked states for % bachelor degrees are West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana.  Each of these states are in the 10 lowest ranked states in terms of median household income.  These state average salaries range from $40,037 to $48,825.

According to cnbc these are the top 10 most expensive states to live in:

  • Hawaii
  • New York
  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • Maryland
  • Vermont
  • Rhode Island
  • New Jersey

According to cnbc these are the top 10 least expensive states to live in:

  • Indiana
  • Georgia
  • Alabama
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Tennessee
  • Michigan
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Mississippi

All of this data is readily available for anyone who can work a mouse and the internet.  Since we know on average, the more educated you are, the more money you are probably going to make, then you should be motivated to get educated.  This means at least a bachelors degree and if possible, a graduate degree.  We see the least educated states are getting paid less salary on average.  We see the most educated states are getting paid more salary on average.  We also see some of the more expensive states to live in have more educated and higher paid people.  We see some of the less expensive states to live in have less educated and lower paid people.  I am sure it goes much deeper into this, but for now we can utilize these statistics to make some life choices.

If you can land a high paying job in a state with lower cost of living, you may actually end up benefiting from that.  You will have more money to invest and save for retirement.  You may end up to live in a nicer home and pay much less tax than some of those more expensive states.  I currently live in New Jersey and do not have plans on moving out of state anytime soon.  If I did not have family close by and had an option to move somewhere else, I would most definitely look into the 10 least expensive states to live in.  Let me know your thoughts.

401(k) comparison to the average American

On occasion a student may say, “it’s acceptable for me to do poorly in my class because everyone else is doing bad too”.  I do not buy into this type of thinking because you might just be in a class filled with under-performers.  There are times you will out-perform your entire class and that is be fantastic.  There are also times when you may do poorly even if everyone else is doing great.  Just make sure you are doing your best possible by putting in the effort required to succeed and be effective in doing so.  I personally like to compete against myself in some situations such as school.  There are other times I think it is good to compare your performance against others.  Retirement funds is one example of when I like to compare myself to others because it gives me an idea of where I stand compared to everyone else.

Using smart asset, I am able to see where others are in terms of their 401(k) accounts.  Here is America’s average 401(k) balances by age:

  • Ages 20 to 29 – $9,900
  • Ages 30 to 39 – $38,400
  • Ages 40 to 49 – $91,000
  • Ages 50 to 59 – $152,700
  • Ages 60 to 69 – $167,700
  • Ages 70 to 79 $160,200

In my opinion, these numbers seem extremely low and I do think these averages need to come up.  According to smart asset, ages 20 to 39 are averaging a 7% contribution per year to 401(k).  Since I first started at my first employer who offered a 401(k) with 4% match, I’ve contributed 10% of my salary per year.  I did this for a few years and then bumped up my contribution to 15%.  The reason I contributed at least 10% to my 401(k) was because I knew I needed to save at least 10% of my money.  By putting away 10% of my pay immediately before it went into my bank, I knew I would just get used to living without it.  There is such a thing as living above your means and many Americans do this frequently.  Living within your means basically means, spending less money than you earn monthly.

Since I’ve had some experience with 401(k) contributions and had a positive result, I would like to give some advice.  Make sure you are contributing as much as you can and continue contributing this throughout your entire career.  I have seen 5 to 11% returns depending on the year.  Your 401(k) quickly increases as you build it up through time.  Initially, you may not see a huge jump, but in time you will.  I check mine as often as I can (at least once per day) as further motivation to work hard.  It gives me purpose and satisfaction to know that I am working towards something.  As mentioned in my blog titled, Key Performance Indicators… in finance we need to have key performance indicators to help us more easily track our finances.  For example, I track 401(k) and mortgage to understand my trends.  These things are exciting to me and help me keep going.

Level of education and salaries

Maryland is the highest ranked state in terms of median household income with $76,805 in 2015.  Mississippi is the lowest ranked state in terms of median household income with $40,037 in 2015.  In 2015, the median household income for the United States as a whole was $61,372.  If we compare a higher ranked state similar to Maryland, we would expect there to be more middle to upper middle class residents.  If we compare a lower ranked state similar to Mississippi, we would expect there to be more working to lower middle class residents.  A significant factor in determining someone’s salary is education.  This can be clearly seen if you look at statistics.  Please reference salary numbers.  

Here are a few interesting numbers averaged between the years of 1991 and 2003.

  • less than 9th grade – $18,183
  • some high school – $23,013
  • high school graduate – $37,620
  • some college – $46,109
  • associate degree – $51,934
  • bachelor degree – $66,997
  • masters degree – $78,094
  • profesional degree – $104,368
  • doctoral degree – $94,487

There is a clear trend, which shows the more educated you are, the more money you are likely to make.  These numbers are going to change with time, but the trend should remain the same.  When you are goal setting, you should keep this in mind. Not everyone loves school, but it really is only a few years of investment that can provide you with a lifetime of opportunity.  If you are older and have been working in your career for many years, it is never too late to go back to school.  I had my bachelors degree and went back for my masters degree, which was paid 100% by my employer.  After completing my masters degree, I did not immediately receive an increase in salary in my current position.  What it did allow was the opportunity to move into another role that did pay more money.

In selecting the level of education you are targeting, keep in mind cost associated with school, books, and possible time off from work.  For example, is another $10K to $15K worth the additional 2 years of schooling to earn your bachelors degree versus associates degree?  A year in college can cost you roughly $15K to $30K, plus books and living expenses.  Although the difference is relatively small between the associates degree and bachelor degree, we must realize the opportunities that are available for a bachelor degree are much greater than someone with an associates degree.  To help reduce education costs, pursue an employer who helps pay for your education.

The other benefit most are not talking about is that education helps you grow your mind.  Similar to muscles, your brain needs to be exercised and conditioned to perform well.  If you do not challenge your mind, it may lose agility and its ability to think as clearly.  School can be challenging and push you to think about things in different ways.  School requires you to read, study, and complete assignments.  If you are thinking about school, stop thinking, and do it!  Apply, register, and start taking your courses with a goal in mind.  Make sure you have your objectives clearly laid out.  Make sure you have an end point in mind.  Make sure you are pushing hard for what you want because nobody else is going to give it to you.

Pay off your mortgage first

Many financial advisers feel strongly about investing more heavily than paying off your mortgage faster, especially if your APR is low (<5.0%).  Fortunately, I have a super low interest mortgage at 2.99%, but I still feel strongly about paying off my mortgage as quickly as I can before investing the bulk of my money into other areas.  As of right now, I am getting a 5.5% return on my 401K investments.  This is a 2.51% difference between my mortgage APR and return on my 401K.  For each $100K dumped into my mortgage, I am losing an additional $2,510 gain per year if I would have invested it.  In my opinion, the $2,510 loss per year is worth the peace of mind of paying.

On occasion financial advisers will say at your young age, you should be in a riskier portfolio that can yield higher returns.  If you lose your money today, you still have plenty of time to recoup because you are young.  Yes, at 32 years old I do feel young.  No, I do not want to take risk in losing my hard earned money.  The plan is to get my mortgage paid off by 37 years old, which is statistically early in comparison to the rest of America.  Today, we have individuals in their 50s and 60s still with mortgages.  I do not want to follow the majority and want to be an outlier when it comes to paying off my mortgage.  I do think others should also focus on paying off their debts as quickly as they can.

If more Americans paid off their debts instead of putting themselves further into debt, we would have a much better economy.  I do think everyone would be in a much better position financially because there would be less financial liability in this country.  I understand financial advisers feel strongly about investing more and think about paying your debts after, but I do not agree.  I also do not gain commission from others financial moves.  I also am not an expert on this topic, but I do think logically.  No debt = good.  Debt = bad.  It doesn’t get much simpler than this.

Other forms of debts include credit card debt, student loans, auto loans, and so on.  There are more ways to end up in debt than get out of debt.  There are so many things to spend your money on and less ways to earn money.  We constantly flow money out into different buckets and typically only have one path of money coming in, which is from your employer.  Think about cutting your costs, buying only what you need, and remain satisfied without the meaningless frills of life.  Just a few more thoughts on financial stability.

Don’t be afraid to compete

As a child, I was pretty shy when it came to competition even though I played on sports teams my entire life.  My parents have always taught me to be polite and not be competitive.  It was almost as if they viewed competition as something bad.  After college, I finally realized competition is not bad and is actually healthy.  I realized I was letting others take what I wanted and this was not getting me anywhere.  One day I decided it was time for me to start taking what I wanted.  This realization came to me later in life while I was in my first real job.  I was getting paid significantly less than what I should have been getting paid for the job I was doing.  I quickly realized nobody was just going to give me my dream job with a matching salary.

I knew I needed to change my passive style to active and assertive to achieve my goals.  If you watch Shark Tank, you will know the names Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John, Lori Greiner, and Barbara Corcoran.  These sharks did not end up getting to where they are by sitting back and letting people step on them.  It was obvious that I needed to become more assertive.

First, I started playing hockey again to truly get into the spirit of competition.  This time around I was more vocal and competitive on and off the ice.  I know health is important and will bring me more confidence in other parts of my life.

Second, I started educating myself further in areas I lacked expertise in.  Again, this helps me build confidence, so I can speak more intelligibly to others on certain topics.  Being a competitor in business, sports, school, or whatever requires you to be smart enough in that area.

Third, I started practicing being competitive in my career.  If there was an opportunity I wanted, I did not wait for anyone else to take it first.  I immediately started discussions with the right people to make sure I had a chance to obtain the opportunity.

I started this competitive journey over 8 years ago and continually pushed to improve myself since in the world of competition.  Nobody is just going to give you something for the sake of giving.  It is up to each one of us to get out there and get what we want.  It requires time, work, effort, and so on.  It won’t be easy, but if you want to achieve your goals you need to do it.

Getting it done without excuses

Are you the type to dig deep and get it done, without excuses?  Or are you the type to not finish the job and fill the air with endless excuses of why you were not able to succeed?  There is no question in my mind that I am looking to partner with the first kind where excuses are rare and effort is great.  I cannot emphasize enough the worthlessness of a person who provides lame excuses over and over again.  I understand there are times when challenges are too great and failures do happen.  This is acceptable from time to time, but when it happens more frequently than not, I really have a problem with that.

Getting it done without excuses…

Now that I have vented, I can talk a little bit about the main point.  When you are taking on a new project, realize you need to complete the project.  This means you need to focus on the steps it will take to complete 100% of the project.  The project is not complete if you finish 50%, 75%, or even 99%.  100% of the project must be completed to be considered complete.  Your plan should be logical and make sense to your peers and leaders.  It should not be reckless or be too risky without an equally viable reward.

In most companies, teams are important or at least they say they are.  When you are on a team, look around and understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.  Are there people on your team that are hiding and trying to get by without putting effort in.  Immediately make it known that this is not acceptable.  Put these people into the spot light and make sure they are doing their part.  On the flip side, make sure there is not one person trying to steal the show.  These people too can be very bad for the team as a whole.  Everyone should work hard and as a team!

Excuses can be detrimental to the team.  Excuses are just so awful in my mind.  It makes me think you are just excusing your lack of performance.  If you cannot get the job done, then you should move on.  I want winners on my team and not losers.  There is no better way to put it in my mind.  Today, society has really softened and excused people with no talent.  How does this make them better?  How does this make them want to try harder?  It gives them further reason not to try and accept their talentless characteristics.  We need more competition and constructive feedback.  These are just a few thoughts or rants I had this afternoon.