Money Talks. Are You Listening? | Your Life Is Your Business

Money is work. Given the chance, it will manipulate our decision-making. The question is: Who’s supposed to control the behavior of money? That would be us

When we have too little money to get what we want, we borrow and pay interest. When we have extra money, we invest and hope for gain. Too much borrowing and interest eats up what we earn. Poor investing means loss. There’s a lot of “woe is me” around money. 

When you control the money, it can’t control you.

 We all need money to live. That’s why we work. We need certain basics: a means of transportation, place to live, furnishings, food, and clothing. We also need to embrace life, advancing our interests and talents. There’s a cost to that. 

When it comes to spending money, the big issues are speed and magnitude. How fast must we have the things we want and need? And how grand is our thirst?

Early on, most of us don’t really know what kind of life we want to live. There’s just so much out there to figure out. We often make decisions about cars, houses, clothes, vacations, and all manner of stuff based on what others own or what people say we should have. So we just follow the pack, spending away. 

The problem: Once money is spent it’s gone. That means you need to replace it. So, you keep reporting to work each day, volunteer for some overtime, hope for a raise or promotion, or look for a new job. Maybe you even add a sideline to raise some extra cash. The cycle keeps spinning. 

We control the money by controlling our spending. Pretty complicated, eh? 

The snafu here is that spending is about behavior—ours! We spend money for lots of reasons, not all of them too admirable. Here are some typical lines: 

  • I deserve to treat myself. I work really hard.
  • My job is so boring. I’ll feel better if I go shopping.
  • Life is short. I need to enjoy these things while I’m young.
  • Everyone else has these things. I can’t look like I’m a loser.
  • If I don’t stay in style, I’ll be left out. 

Controlling spending gets easier when you know what it is that you’re working toward. 

We all make bad purchasing decisions. Each one is a lesson.

When we spend our money on dumb stuff, we need to revisit the “why” of our buying decisions.  I’ve made a few  bad purchases myself.

1. I was once obsessed with Longaberger baskets. I bought scads of them, especially the ones with the plates. I used some, decorated with others, and kept some in the boxes. I convinced myself that they were “investments” that would eventually turn a profit. Nada! (Lesson: Unless you have a market in-hand, don’t borrow to buy and resell.) 

2. I’d always wanted a baby grand piano but couldn’t afford one. I knew an antique refinisher who was restoring a baby grand that I could have for under $2,000. I was blind over it and forgot about the “if it’s too good to be true” warning. The piano became unplayable in short order. I felt like an idiot. (Lesson: Don’t let your heart rule your head and then squander your money.) 

3. As a horse breeder, I was approached about investing with a partner in a well-bred  stallion from Florida. There was a string of “experts” attesting to the quality of this horse. The price was right but not a bargain. To make a long story short, soon after we bought him, his underlying health issues surfaced and he was dead of natural causes in 6 months. (Lesson: Always do your own due diligence on any major purchase.)

 It’s your money. Treat it like it matters. 

Your life is your business. Your money makes up your budget, your investment portfolio, and your solvency. Be mindful of the life you are trying to build for yourself over the long term. Remember: business fitness is about being prepared and ready to move your life forward. You money is your wheels! 

Have you had any money “experiences” that have been eye-openers for you? What are important lessons you’ve learned?

 

Any Lines You Won’t Cross? | Integrity Matters

Business is about survival. If you don’t make a profit, it’s curtains. Every day, we make decisions that can make or break our companies, often testing our ethics and integrity. It‘s a reality I had to face.

You don’t really know how a business works until you’re in it. 

For 17 years, I was a commercial horse breeder. I knew absolutely nothing about breeding, foaling, racing, or selling when I started. I learned a little each day.  

The horse business is like no other and staying solvent is a struggle for most players, like me. 

Anyone can buy a horse to get started. That’s not the problem. It’s knowing what to do next. After all, a horse is a fabulous animal that needs a career that matches his/her abilities. (Sound familiar?) It’s our task to prepare them for a good job at a good place. That’s the challenge. 

You don’t have to be rich to be in business, but you’d better be savvy. 

I owned a well-bred yearling colt that I’d worked with for a year until he was ready to move on to his next training stage. He was a handsome, strapping chestnut horse with lots of promise. 

I took him to a swanky thoroughbred race horse auction where there were lots of quality buyers who could help him develop his potential. 

My crew and I were eager to show him to prospective buyers who would come by for a preview. We’d take him out of the stall, walk and jog him back and forth, showcasing his beautiful movement and conformation. We did this repeatedly until it was his time in the auction ring. 

I was so confident walking him in the prep ring. Here I was with a great looking colt showing tons of pedigree. This was going to be our moment.

The valet takes my horse onto the auction floor. The bidding starts. I know it’s someone from my crew. It goes in fits and starts. My heart is pounding. In less than five minutes, the hammer comes down. The final bid was less than what I’d paid for him over a year ago and I know that my crew, by instruction, had bought him back.

 I was dumbfounded. It was a long and quiet ride home. 

If you want to know the hard realities of a business, talk to the insiders. But you may choose not to listen. 

My phone rang the next day. The caller had advice to share.

 He told me that I hadn’t handled things right when I was showing my colt to prospects. This is what he explained: 

“When a buyer’s agent comes by and asks how much you expect to get for your horse, give him/her a price. Explain that you are prepared to split the difference between your price and final bid price if s/he is the successful bidder.” 

See how this works? The person with the money to buy has engaged his trainer or agent to pick the right horse for him. Since each horse there has high potential to be successful, it’s in the agent’s best interest to buy the one that is the best “deal” for himself. Of course, the buyer doesn’t know this. (I still don’t believe this is a widespread practice, but who really knows.) 

I thanked the caller for the information and announced to my crew that I would not play that game. End of story. 

Integrity is the underpinning of your brand. Once you compromise it, it’ll haunt you forever. 

The life blood of every business is its relationships and reputation. So here’s what we all need to do:

  • Build and sustain a brand based on integrity
  • Deepen our relationships with customers, suppliers, employees, and community
  • Always deliver on our word
  • Surround ourselves with quality people who endorse us
  • Make sure all our dealings are fair

 That horse sale taught me a priceless lesson: To continue doing what I loved meant finding and building relationships with quality horse people who shared my values, and there were many. If anything helped me get business fit, the horses did.

Have you every had your integrity tested? Ever watched someone compromise theirs? What stuck with you?

Are You Worth the Risk? | Your Life Is Your Business

Any idea about who has a stake in you? I mean a real money stake based on your risk-reward value. Seem like a weird question? 

When you’re the investment, you’re expected to deliver a return. 

That’s right. Every time we borrow or accept money from an outside source, we are their investment. So we have an obligation to reward the investor. 

Here’s how this works. Let’s say, you’re a college student. Your parents pay part of your tuition and a lending institution pays the rest. Both are investors. You work to satisfy the terms of their investment. 

Parent-investors expect you to: 

  • Select a course of study that leads to a career that will support you
  • Complete all courses with passing or better grades
  • Meet all graduation requirements
  • Adhere to the rules and standards of the institution
  • Take advantage of placement opportunities
  • Successfully complete relevant internships
  • Graduate with an employment offer 

The return on investment for your parents is the knowledge that they have positioned you to be a productive, self-reliant citizen. It also brings to closure their expenses for your schooling. 

Lending institutions expect you to: 

  • Pay back their loan with interest according to the payment schedule

That’s all they care about. It doesn’t matter to them if you went to class, took courses that added up to anything, or got a job. They simply want their investment back with interest. How you do that is your business. Institutional investor’s aren’t fussy. They just want their return. 

Investing is about growth. Growth is about your future. 

Most of us have investors throughout our lives. The bank gives us a mortgage, a credit card, a car or home equity loan. They have a stake in us, want their money back with interest, and aren’t concerned if what we borrowed their money for is a good idea or not. 

We are the most important investors in ourselves because we have the biggest stake. 

I mean that. We’ve got to be smart with the money that we make or take. We need to use it in ways that position us for growth, increase our options, and provide us with the quality of life that makes sense for us. 

If we aren’t smart about the way we use the money others invest in us, then we are missing the boat. Each time we want to cry about our financial woes, we need to take a hard look at how we’ve used the money we’ve earned and the money we’ve borrowed. Our life is our business, right? 

I’m not talking about a time when the employment rug got pulled out from under you, although it is a reminder about having enough money saved to pay the bills for six months. I’m talking about the failure to have a real budget and financial strategy for your life. 

Robert T. Kiyosaki’s book, Rich Dad Poor Dad, is a must-read for everyone, no matter where you are in life. It’s a readable, straight-forward, and practical explanation of the right way to look at and handle your money. 

When I was eight, my parents bought me five shares of Sperry Rand Corporation. They thought I should understand about investing in the stock market. 

My dad told me that Sperry had invented a computer (Univac) that could do mathematical calculations faster than any human being. I had no idea why that mattered. 

“That machine is going to have a big impact on the future,” he predicted. 

“You betcha, Pop!” Thanks for showing me what it felt like to be an investor with just a small stake in what may lie ahead.

Like it or not, we are all the chief financial officers of our own lives.  

No business thrives if it isn’t fiscally sound. That includes the business of our own lives. Stay focused on the expectations of your investors, engage them strategically, meet your obligations to them, and enjoy being business fit as you move your life forward. 

What has been your experience dealing with those invested in you? Any advice to share?

Customer Service as Horror Story | Give It the Boot

Ever wonder if really bad customer service is a conspiracy? Or is bad service just about poor leadership? I had to break my foot to find out.

On a very hot summer morning, I was trying to teach a strong-willed colt of mine to walk nicely when being led. Instead he’d take two steps and rear. I would dodge his feet and try again. 

Well, my luck ran out. Up he went and down he came, digging his hoof into the outside of my left foot. It really hurt. I was sure it was broken. Lesson over. I’ve got a new problem to deal with now. 

I am now in hopping mode. I hop to the house and call the doctor’s office to let them know I’m on my way with a probable broken bone. I hop to my car and drive, happy my accelerator foot was spared.

I get to the doctor’s office and can’t park near the building. No problem. I hop to the door, hop up the steps, and hop to the reception desk. The young lady there greets me, finds out who I am and says: 

“You’ll have to go to x-ray in the back of the building.” 

I say, “I’m not an Olympic hopper.” 

She ignores me and says, “Just drive around back.” 

So I hop back to my car, drive around back, and can’t park close to the building because that’s where the staff has parked. I hop up a slope to x-ray. 

The technician is fabulous—efficient, caring, and professional. The x-ray shows a break. She arranges for a wheel chair (finally) to get me back to the front of the building where I’ll be seen by the doctor. 

The technician stays with me. The doctor checks the x-ray and confirms the break. 

He says, “Do you want me to put it in a cast or would you prefer a boot?” 

Hey, he’s the doctor, right? The fact that he’s asking me what I want v. what is medically better was a serious sign. So I opt for the boot. 

The technician presents the boot to the doctor who says, “Do you know how to fit these things?” (It’s getting surreal now!) 

She’s says, “No, but John does.” 

I ask, “Who’s John?” 

She answers, “The maintenance man. His daughter is a nurse.” (You can’t make this stuff up!)

John does a fine job. I wear the boot for 8 weeks and I’m whole again. 

Would it surprise you to know I was furious about this escapade. Or maybe even incredulous?

The owner of the practice was not there that day. When I was on the mend, I made an appointment to talk with him. I recounted this story to his horror. 

He thanked me profusely, saying, “If I never get told about these situations, I’m never in a position to address them.” 

The quality of your service is a reflection of your leadership.

Poor service will ultimately erode the ability of any business to grow. Here are some points to keep front and center:

  1. Small business owners and solo practitioners must ask their customers, clients, and patients how well they are being served. 
  2. If your employees think you’re oblivious or don’t care about quality service, they won’t deliver it consistently or perhaps at all.  
  3. Every person who has a horror story is telling it, eroding your brand. 
  4. Social media can spread a bad service experience probably faster than you can fix it.
  5. Quality service needs to be the expressed passion of every business owner. 

Attracting a following is essential to becoming business fit. Poor customer service will unravel a following and set your business on its ear. So please make a point to gather satisfaction feedback and act on it. You’ll never regret it. 

Got a customer service “horror story” to share. What could have avoided it? Your insights might save the day for someone else.

 

Like Trump: We All Get To Hire and Fire | Your Life Is Your Business

(If you’d like a chance to win a copy of my book, Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way, here’s how: 1.)  comment on this post and 2.) suggest a topic for a future post. Decision time: Feb. 5, 2010. The best submission gets a copy of the book. I’ll also do this with 4 future blogs to increase your odds! Good luck.) 

There’s a lot of grousing out there about hiring. So when it’s our turn to hire, you’d think we’d be really good at it. 

After all, we’re hiring people all the time. Yes, hiring people to work for us. Our life is our business, remember? 

From the time we start living on our own, we’re hiring. Mostly, we hire temps or independent contractors. 

So, who are we hiring?  

  • Personal service providers—hair stylists, manicurists, fitness trainers
  • Home maintenance folks—grass mowers, plumbers, electricians,
  • Finance and legal eagles—CPAs, insurance agents, attorneys
  • Health and wellness pros—physicians, dentists, message therapists

When it’s your time to hire, what’s your process?  

If you’re like most people, you don’t have much process at all. Your steps probably include: 

  • Asking a friend or family member for a referral
  • Going on line or looking in the yellow pages
  • Posting what you need to your social network  

Usually, we end up with the names of one or two people. We contact them and the first available person gets our business. 

When we hire services for ourselves, we generally don’t use a systematic process like businesses do. That can be a problem. 

When we’re clear about what we want, we’ll make a good hire. 

I once hired a man to save my old barn from falling off its foundation. He was referred to me by my friends at the feed mill who had used him often.

My hiring process for this construction work was very clear. I asked him about: 

  • his prior experience and his plan for this job
  • the size and skills of his crew
  • the estimated time-to-complete and cost   

The result was a work-for-hire that met everyone’s expectations. 

When that job was done, I asked if he would take down a couple old pine trees. He said, “Sure,” and I left it at that. 

I came home from work one afternoon to find him trying to cut those trees down by hand. Why? Because his chainsaw broke. The job had taken him all day. His bill was an outrageous surprise! I never used him again. So, he was fired! 

Lesson learned: I hired smartly the first time and like a dope the second. 

Too often, we don’t take our personal hires very seriously. 

Why? Because we think we’ll just get someone else if they don’t work out. The reality is that we tend not to “fire” them. 

I once had an ophthalmologist who was extremely well-trained and competent but dismissive when I asked questions. I stayed with her for 8 years because it was too much trouble to switch. 

Then her staff made two disturbing gaffs that she “blew off” when I questioned them. It was time: “Fired.”. 

When we live with our bad hires, it costs us frustration, stress, and money. Since our life is our business, we need to avoid those costs to be successful. 

Here are some tried-and-true steps for your personal hiring process:

  • Prepare a list of skills and traits, like trustworthiness, quality, reliability, and availability, that are your “must-haves”
  • Ask for and check references from people who had a job done like yours
  • Have a direct conversation beforehand about how the work, billing, and communication will be done  
  • If you have any reservations, walk away—and find someone else    

The hiring you do in your personal life is not easy. But when you do it right, your business fitness quotient goes way up. Good luck! 

By now you’ve figured out that “Your Life Is Your Business” is a series of posts  to help you manage your own life successfully. Do you have a topic to suggest for a future post? Also add a comment to win a copy of my book.

Personal Customers As Good As Gold | Your Life Is Your Business

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver is as much about personal customers as it is about competing out in the cold. Just look “outside the ropes” at each venue.                                      

In February we’ll get a chance to watch Lindsey Vonn, USA alpine skier, the oldest of five who started skiing at 2. As a youngster, she already had a coach and by the time she was 10, her talent was so obvious that her father laid out a skiing future for her. 

He ultimately moved Lindsey and the rest of the family from St. Paul to Vail—the land of world-class slopes. The move paid off, launching Lindsey’s winning skiing career. 

Lindsey’s story isn’t unique. Nearly every Olympic athlete reaches this pinnacle of competition because of the selfless, unflappable support of family members, friends, sponsors, and even whole communities—their personal customers. Whether there’s a medal or not, these customers share a moment that’s as good as gold. 

The people who are invested in us become our personal customers. Why? Because we have an impact on their lives. 

Here’s how I plan to serve three of mine this week. I’ll: 

  • comment on an article for a retired colleague living in Seattle
  • call my best friend to arrange a fun day in Philly   
  • send my neighbor a birthday card 

Every business needs customers or it won’t survive. So, in the business of our own lives, we need to understand what our personal customers need and want from us. 

Who are our customers? And what do they want?  

We each need to get a handle on these questions for ourselves, but here are some answers: 

  • Immediate family members want support, caring, love, loyalty 
  • Our friends want a confidant, an empathetic ear, laughter 
  • Our neighbors want courtesy, respect for property, a helping hand 

For most of us, our crowd of customers may not be as large or as glamorous as an Olympic athlete’s, but each of us has something unique and valuable that we contribute to them. It may be the: 

  • Ability to keep a confidence
  • Advice on how to make a perfect layer cake
  • Availability to baby sit on short notice  

We need personal customers to become business fit because they become our following. To serve them well is to meet or exceed their expectations. We do that by letting them know that what they need matters…that they matter. 

Because our life is our business, we interact with our customers far more intimately that any other business would. Our ability to engage our customers in our own lives is one way to celebrate and honor their support. 

Do you have any personal customers whose lives you have impacted? What was the impact of that experience on you?

Are You a Grape Nut or a Cheerio? | Your Life Is Your Business

When I was in the 6th grade my nickname was Big Otis. (So embarrassing, still!) That was because I was the tallest girl in the class and a bit “chunky.” 

Then, in junior high, my moniker became Nona Butterworth after a pancake syrup icon. I guess they thought I was now tall and sweet, hold the chunky. My brother still calls me Nona. (Ah, the immutable power of branding!) 

As a result, I learned early on that it’s better if I decide how I want to be branded and not leave it up to the masses. 

Although our personal brands can spring out of any fertile ground, here are some features that we pretty much control: 

  • Our look—the way we package ourselves: clothes, hair, and bling
  • Our expertise—our degrees, certificates, and know-how
  • Our conduct—our manners, speech, and behavior
  • Our relationships—how we treat people and work with others
  • Our career—the line of work we’re in, job title, and employer

Everyone who knows us or something about us has an opinion that becomes our brand from their point of view. Sometimes their label is positive and sometimes it’s negative or neutral. The better they know us or the more they have heard about us the more solid their opinion. 

Are you seen as a little nutty or really cheery?

Kinda grapey or more oaty?

Brand identity, pure and simple, is labeling. Instead of getting a paper wrapper pasted across our face, we get someone’s personal narrative. Based on their perceptions, people decide whether or not they want to affiliate with us. If we were a product, that’s how they would decide whether or not to buy. 

Curious about who your branding audience is? Here are the usual suspects: 

  • Immediate and extended family members, even your own kids if you have them
  • Teachers, classmates, and neighbors
  • Your boss and coworkers
  • Business people (even the clerk at Starbucks!)
  • Your significant other or others, depending on your social habits
  • Your friends, in the flesh and on line

Unsure about your brand? Ask a friend, “What’s the first word you think of when you hear my name?”

The way people brand us in our personal lives doesn’t have to be correct or fair. What people think is what they think. We can either conduct ourselves to attract the labels we prefer or not. 

Remember: Your life is your business. So if you want to optimize opportunity, then you want to do an effective job of personal brand marketing. 

“Why bother?” you ask. “What’s in it for me?” 

“A positive brand identity positions you to achieve the success you want and also serves as a safety net when the going gets dicey,” is the answer. 

Here are the kinds of things a good personal brand identity can get you: 

  • The chance that someone will recommend or hire you for a job
  • The benefit of the doubt when you need it
  • Credibility when you want to borrow money
  • Cooperation and help from neighbors when you’re in a pinch
  • A promotion, a raise, or a special assignment
  • Support from people who know you well and others who may not 

A positive brand attracts people who will speak well of you, raise your value in the eyes of a broader audience, and provide a platform from which you can continue to grow. 

Business fitness is about attracting a following. Your brand is that magnet. When you build a personal brand that supports the kind of success you want, the sky’s the limit. As the manager of brand marketing in your own life, you truly drive the possibilities ahead. 

Got a brand label to share…funny, serious, or scary? All are welcomed.