The Best Writing Tool…

Is not nearly as effective as a pencil wielded by a Rudyard Kipling or any typewriter wielded by an Agatha Christie.

We waste so much time chasing “best” that there isn’t much time left to do much with that fine new tool when we finally get our hands on it. I know this because I see it every day.

A person who can wield basic manual tools with any skill can perform wonders with almost any tools. The rest of us, well, not. I say this gently because I know a bunch of fine people who manage to mangle WordPress (one of the world’s best website infrastructures) and aspirant writers who have Scrivener (world’s best writing tool) but have yet to produce any words at all, let alone a modern version of Hamlet. (Which was written with a hollow, rigid shaft of a goose feather dipped into ink, most of which ended up on Shakespeare’s hands and shirt.)

One can understand “best” in the context of a car, for instance, where it is unlikely you will ever get it to its full speed of 400km/h. That isn’t really the point. Rather, “best” in this case is simply to inspire the envy of others.

Many years ago I inspired some interest amongst members of the other gender when I mentioned that I drove a 323, back when a BMW was still pretty special. Mazda also had a 323, which was the one I drove, and I remember a few startled faces when I arrived for that first, usually brief, date.

But when it comes to tools, we are measured by what we produce. The cost of tools does not often correlate with how well they do the work we want done. Microsoft Word, for instance, is an amazing tool, and has a price tag to match.

Yet every version of Windows has a built in wordprocessor that is plenty good enough for 99% of people needing to write or print documents. (All of which can be done without all the training needed just to find the keyhole to start MS Word up in the first place.)

My preferred route these days is to find an open source tool and take it for a test drive. Open source is usually free, which is always a nifty price. A few hours messing around with the tool will teach me more about the genre than anything else could, and will give me enough knowledge find out whether this is something worth pursuing. And if it is, I will at least understand what it is that I really do need in the tool.

In that regard open source software is like free training.

Calling Small Companies

In Knysna there is a wonderful beauty salon called Hello Gorgeous.

When you call them, they answer the phone quickly and a beautiful voice gently says, “Hello Gorgeous.” I would call them whenever I felt low.

Contrast that with the way most firms answer their phones. This came home to me earlier this week when I called the offices of ten small firms.

It isn’t just that we feel the need to go with the complete name, as in “This is Slang, Viper, Cobra, and Mamba Incorporated, how may I direct your call?” Rather it is said so fast that we have no idea who Telkom has wired us to.

That long, fast intro is usually so mumbled that we waste a moment or two thinking about what to say next, and in these three nanoseconds the obviously harried mumbler disconnects us.

Why waste money on marketing to attract prospects when the phone-answering effort undoes it all? She may well be trying to cram 60 callers into an hour, but our hero, that person with a dollop of cash to buy what we sell, well, he was going to make just this one call. Now he has to call someone else.

It’s not the person manning the phone who is at fault. Rather it is usually you and me because we forgot to explain exactly what we wanted to happen. And most folk manning switchboards are not mind-readers. A little training will usually bring a huge improvement.

Answer your phone with a smile in your voice. Maybe “Hello Gorgeous” might be a little overwhelming for your line of work, but a normally paced, well expressed, as if you are the only person in the world that matters right now: “Good afternoon, you’re talking to Dave Johnson at Mongoose Inc. How can I help you?”

Unexpected Outcomes

Here’s the thing: We often use the wrong words to talk about business.

For instance, we use the word “failure” to denote the closure of a firm. That word conjures up a huge host of emotions that get in the way of our understanding what really is happening. (To say nothing of messing with our psyches.)

A much better phrase would be “unexpected outcome”, in the sense that none of us expect it to happen.

This occurred to me as I read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Since 100% of us will die at some point, the author Sogyal Rinpoche is surprised at how few of us prepare our souls for this passage.

A penny dropped. The stats on closure confirm that about 96% of businesses will close within a decade of starting. That seems awfully close to death and taxes in my mind.

Just as death is not an unexpected outcome, nor should business closure be.

What if we built our businesses from day one as if they were not immortal? What if we did not borrow against our homes, eating capital that we have been saving our entire lifetimes? What if we started as if were going to close soon, despite what the American gurus say about thinking positively?

How might we do things differently if closure were not unexpected, but the norm? (Which, in fact, it is.)

As I see it, 96% of us would be better off. That seems like a much better result than we, en masse, are currently getting.

On the face of it this sounds awfully depressing, doesn’t it?

I see it as empowering. Any single closure is one more step on the path to getting it right. And just as our school term tests prepare us for the year-end exams, maybe we should be a tad more sanguine about these intermediate results?

Small Business Minister?

The tourism industry is the quintessential small business industry.

It is a hive of small operators doing wonderful things like taking tourists to out of the way places, accommodating them in quirky places, flying balloons, chasing sharks, offering foreigners the savoury delights of this gorgeous country.

It seems to me that this would be the kind of pot that the new Department of Small Business will be stirring. (It’s not yet a department, but I believe that government feels the need to appoint a Minister to look after us.)

My friend Dave is a tour planner. He helps foreigners connect with all the superb services available in South Africa.

Last year the South African government invited more than 1000 Indian travel agents to South Africa to check out the local smorgasbord. Many of the local firms offered their services for free in the hope of garnering Indian tourists, especially for our quiet period. (Which is a lovely phrase for Winter, don’t you think?)

It worked. Almost.

Somewhere in this wonderful mix one government department did not come to the party. With more than 130,000 Indians in the queue, it seems that they employed just one official to issue the visum that each visitor needs to come to paradise.

This came to light a few weeks ago, right at the beginning of the quiet period. Which has become rather harried.

Basically, this single official must process a visum every 41.74 seconds. (I offer the two decimal points to indicate the rigour of my research, and because I’m told that it’s more authoritative).

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some experience with public servants, and this is about the time it takes to open the document, find the page, ink the stamp, and bang it down. I’m sure that there must be more to it than that, and I’m sure that it does take a lot more than 41.74 seconds.

The chaps at the top of each department have been “conducting high-level discussions”. The fellows at the bottom of the industry, including my friend Dave and many of his suppliers, have been taking action.

The high-level discussions still have not managed to get much done. Dave, on the other hand, has had to retrench staff, and is taking appropriate steps to close his business.

Last year he saw some writing on the wall, and devoted a lot of effort into the Indian market. The writing said “Go north.” The unexpected outcome of doing just that is that Dave is going a little too far south.

I found it interesting that in all the reporting of this issue no one seems to be taking the side of lone business owners. I haven’t yet seen a report on the anguish that small businesses are feeling as they refund deposits, and see their investment in reaching this market falling apart.

I’m not sure if opening a new small business ministry is a good thing or not. My experiences with Ministers is such that it would be good to have one present to say last rites to each business as it closes.

Although, maybe the existing ministries could stop their bickering and employ a few more folk to offer Indians that same welcome at the embassy that they’re going to get on landing here.

Health & Business Ownership?

I started my first business in 1984 because trying to get a real job was more challenging than I expected. 

Thirty years ago we diabetics were a blot on the company health plan. For three decades my life assurance premiums have been massively loaded because I was not expected to make 65. I am now stunned to see that, on the off chance that I do actually reach 65, my “pension” is  based on my living as long as a real person. No benefit for early departure. I am overjoyed. I get to lose both ways.

This got me to thinking about health issues in our context as business owners. Search Google for pages on sick entrepreneurs and you are not spoiled for choice. The few articles you find talk about giving staff sick days, or about how we self-employed folk have no option but to take two Disprin and get on with it. Noble indeed, but not the way one feels a few days after one of the kids has brought avian flu home from school.

Thinking that searching for entrepreneurial health might offer better results I find that those items do not focus on us as people so much as they focus on the public health of entrepreneurship. Or they focus on the risks in our businesses.

Nobody is talking about us small business owners as humans, subject to even more malaise than afflicts those fine folk who get two weeks of paid sick leave each year.

Almost nothing on how long term illness might impact our businesses. I know first hand how much it affects our chances of employment, so I suspect that we are, as a group, more ill than the gainfully employed.

As a result I am happy to welcome April each year. There is not nearly as much guilt in taking time off on public holidays as there is in trying to survive pneumonia. And April sure is loaded with days off.

Maybe we should do what the Norwegians do? They all take August off. The country effectively closes down to celebrate their few weeks of summer. There is even a moratorium on monthly repayments. Lets close SA down for April. Maybe we can also have all the strikes during April as well so we can be open for the rest of the year. And if everyone could take their sick leave in April as well it would be like multi-tasking.

Have a wonderful Easter and/or Pesach.

I still have seats available for the CrashProof your Retirement Seminars in May. I am running this seminar because a survey of PetesWeekly readers a few years ago showed that more than 90% of us had almost zero funds to retire on. There are bunch of things we can still do to get round this.

Please go here to book your seat and take the $50 discount (When you check out enter the code EARLYBIRD.)
Cape Town - May 13, 6pm – Belmont Square Conference Centre, Rondebosch
Durban - May 19, 6pm – Riverside Conference Centre, Durban North
Sandton - May 21, 6pm – Balalaika Conference Centre, Sandton

Staffing Issues?

I think we can agree that most of us owners have some issues with employing staff.

On the one hand the books we read tell us how good this is for our venture. On the other hand we cannot seem to get it right enough to want to do it once, let alone repeat it enough times to scale up into the next Telkom.

Are we wrong, or is the advice wrong?


Most business advice is great for people who do not face the risks we do, like Telkom. That same advice takes no account of the risks we owners each run each day.

Yesterday I was chatting to a wonderful gent who is worth about R15 million after his thirty five years in business. His firm now employs just five people. He said the same thing I hear again and again from people who have lost it all at least once: “I know that I can lose it all tomorrow if one of these guys makes a mistake.”

That is what makes us so averse to delegating too much responsibility, I think. That fear is enough to give us long pause.

This came home in a big way when I read an Inc article about the hidden problems of a few of the darlings listed in the Inc 500 list of fastest growing businesses. Remember that these are the survivors, not the krill. Few people want to talk about the owners of these businesses in all their humanity. It is not manly.

Maybe that is why there is so little support for business owners in trouble. No lifejackets before they fall off their ship of commerce. No lifebuoys to throw at them as they flounder.

I grant that this does not happen to everyone. But it has happened to everyone I know who has been steering their own ship for more than 10 years. None of us relishes seeing our own bottoms again.

The advice we read casts the “bet the farm” decisions in such a noble light. At least for those very, very few folk for whom it has worked. No mention of the hundreds of thousands who lost everything when that bet lost the farm. These folk do not get the publicity that Richard Branson gets, they just vanish into the wake.

This fear, it seems to me, is why we tend to be so bad at employing folk, and so good at micromanaging them.

Joe Plumber, a 60 year old manager at IBM, for instance, can delegate to his minions with impunity because he carries no risk. Even if something goes wildly wrong the worst he can lose is his job. No employee mistake will cost him any money personally.

Joe the Plumber, on the other hand, is financing his business through an overdraft secured by his home. A single mistake by an employee could close him down. Not only does he lose his job, but he loses his home, his life savings, his retirement fund, and a lot more besides.

You and I work in an uncertain world where each mistake could be the last one our business makes. Most of the advice we get does not cater for that reality.

I have added another 10 Early Bird seats to the CrashProof your Retirement seminars in Cape Town, Durban, and Sandton in May. (They sold faster than I expected.) Use the word EARLYBIRD when you reach the check out page to save $50. Click here please for details and to secure your seat.


Why does FREE cost so much?

This past week, speaking to the folk coming to my May CrashProof your Retirement Seminar, a single key issue keeps being raised. Most of them have been to free seminars on the subject. Few of them walked out without buying something unexpectedly. (A good speaker and a touch of guilt, and, well, there you go.)

It’s like those free trips to some fine retreat in the boondocks. But we come back the proud owner of a week in Port Moegoe for the rest of our lives. And bereft of our savings.

Or like those US speakers who gather 200 people in a 5-star venue and charge us nothing. Their money comes from the 57 of us who leave locked into R80K mentorship contracts, or some such.

Or like those startups where a best friend sets us up in front of the best speakers in the world for a free intro, selling us the one thing we want more than anything else. (Passive income rather than world peace.) That mate (and the speakers) know how strong the chances are of us signing up. Even though most of us have no clue how the payment structure works, but it sure looks good.

As a speaker who has hosted hundreds of my own events since 1995 I can tell you that “free” events at real venues only work if you absolutely, positively know a bunch of the delegates will buy something.

And these presenters know that more than enough people will buy. The cost of flying a contingent of big hitters out from the USA, the venue itself, the cookies and coffee, the breakaway rooms, and the time… Nobody in his right mind invests that kind of risk for no return. Especially not for the edification and delight of a bunch of foreign strangers.

This came ramping home this past week as I was asked to join yet another scheme. So, a simple idea to help stay out of trouble.

If you get a request to go to a freebie event, or to retire to Big Bay next year without having to invest anything other than a little time, please invest at least ten minutes in research before you commit. Search Google for scams, complaints, or judgments. Check out the Wikipedia page and follow the links at the bottom of the article.

Bottom line, if you are not paying for it then expect to be strongly sold.

Finally, do not ever think you are too slow to understand the complexity on offer. You are not. I go with Warren Buffett on this when he says that he will not invest in anything he does not understand. The more experienced I get the more I realise I do not understand. I am happy with that.

There are two Early Bird seats left at my CrashProof your Retirement seminar in May. Use the word EARLYBIRD when you reach the check out page to deduct $50. Full details, pricing and dates are here. You will leave with a strategy and tactics that will make the next few years fun and fulfilling as you regain the traction you lost to business setbacks, inflation, and inertia. I am not selling anything other than the ideas.

South African English…

English, as practised in South Africa, is different than the language spoken elsewhere. I think it’s what makes us so much fun.

This was brought home to me as I was talking to a group of people who speak English as a second tongue. Norwegians, for instance, speak wonderful English, usually grammatically correct, and awfully precise.

Those of us who use it every day develop shortcuts. In South Africa, for instance, we have also learned to read minds, as long as they are speaking English.

I don’t know when last you had the experience of sharing a problem with a friend? You might say something like “I am having a problem with my girlfriend…”. The stranger that you are talking to goes into South African mind reading mode, and immediately says “You must…”.

That “You must…” is followed by some heartfelt advice like “find another one”, or “grab your cricket bat”. If that stranger is herself a woman, the advice might follow the lines of “buy her flowers” or “babysit her kids tonight so that she can go out by herself”.

If you remain silent at this point, the advice will flow until it is time to take another sip of coffee, or at least until it is time to draw breath.

At which point you can complete your sentence along the lines of “because I cannot stop thinking about her glorious legs.”

Anyway, back to the foreigners. Each of them felt that we South Africans are awfully pushy. We offer advice before advice is wanted or warranted.

I got to thinking about it. And I think that, in our context, “You must…” is code for “You might possibly consider…”.

Of course, either of those has much more impact when delivered after a whole lot of listening. And that’s something we South Africans tend not to be very good at.

Norwegians, on the other hand, are great at listening. Or so it seems until you notice that they’ve been sleeping for the past five minutes. It’s not that they wake up with a snork. It’s that they suddenly say “I must ski home now to make stew for the family.” Which is code for “I must ski home now to make stew for the family.” As I said, awfully precise.

It seems to me that many of our selling problems would be solved if we stopped offering advice until we clearly understand the real problems of the person we are speaking with. Once we understand their problem, and how they feel about it, any solution we offer will be welcomed. Until we understand the problem, any solution we offer is misguided.

Selling is all about listening.

CrashProof your Retirement

If you are not completely confident about how you will survive after passing 65, please join me for the evening in Cape Town (13th May), Durban (19th May) or Sandton (21st May)  to look at turbocharging your retirement. (For most of us it’s also CrashProofing Your Retirement.) No matter what your situation, the material I share, based on the issues facing hundreds of Business Warriors, will make a massive difference. There are nine early bird seats left here. (Use the code EARLYBIRD as you check out to save $50.)

Entrepreneurial Life

On Friday, 17th February, 47 years ago, my Mom sent me to my Uncle Lionel’s house for the weekend. I was nine years old. My brother Michael was eight, and my sister Joanne was just six years old. It was February 17, 1967. We went happily because he had a swimming pool and it was the end of a long, hot summer. 

On Sunday, February 19, 1967, five days before my tenth birthday, my  Dad passed away just as he reached 50. My next few years were defined in some way by that weekend. All 47 of them.

On the one hand a tragedy, a thirty two year old mother left with three young children; On the other hand, for each of the four of us, life nudging us to pick up the loose ball and run with it. We each did.

Only now as I am about to turn 56 can I begin to understand the impact of those earlier threads on this tapestry that you and I are weaving. Why I made the choices I made, and why so many have been uncomfortable practice towards making better choices later.

Every couple of days I sit down at the local version of Starbucks. I pull out my black notepad and fountain pen and try to interpret this small-business world you and I inhabit. I am struck, as I always am, by the infinitely rich range of stories behind each of the men and women like you who invest their lives forging their own way through the world. Each of us appears, from the outside, just like any other person, facing the same challenges with weight and health and parenthood. Each of us is so much more; An effervescence of insatiable dreams and pent-up fears that relentlessly drive our hours.

Not one of us is simple. Most of us are trying to make sense of a world that has defined us in one way but yet seems constantly changing, just beyond our reach.

Every night we go to bed and those fears loom large until morning when the sun seems to melt them away. And each morning we chase those dreams until evening, mostly without despair.

If we are lucky we catch glimpses of success, cresting a wave before being dumped, but we hop right back on the board and we start paddling out again, hoping for another sighting, knowing that maybe, just maybe, today is that day.

Every one of us is so much deeper, so much more complex than the seemingly calm person we are talking to right now. That’s not a prospect sitting there. That is a miracle sitting there.

Treat her with the respect she deserves for making it this far, and then – only if you can add value to her life – show her how to make that next step easier. Otherwise enjoy the coffee and the time together. Life is too short to do otherwise.


Who needs them, right? But maybe we are missing something crucial…

Each time we talk to a prospect we are going head to head with at least three other options our prospect can choose.

The most obvious of these are the firms we see as our competitors. While we might lose a few sales to each of them they are the least of our challenges most of the time.

Our biggest competitor by far is Status Quo. That is the easiest option for our prospect. Just doing nothing for now, leaving it be, does not cost our prospect much effort and involves no immediate cost. This often happens where we do not show our prospect a compelling reason to make the change we are suggesting.

Our next biggest competitor is DIY. This is the urge our prospect has to save a little cash and do it himself. This is almost the same as Status Quo because, after that initial rush of enthusiasm our prospect will find more urgent things to do. Almost like Status Quo, but spiced with some guilt later.

Click for your free one hour How to Sell seminar.

Click for your free one hour How to Sell seminar.

Click here to view our latest free one-hour session for small businesses on How to Sell.

This free video is the first of three looking at the way we small businesses sell: What do we do wrong, and how do we fix it.?

We answer the question: Why do people by from my business?

99% of the small businesses owners at the recording session got that question awfully wrong. This will be only free session in this three month series.

Each of these choices means a little less food on the dinner table, at least right now. But each new client has a massive lifetime value, and losing a sale now stops that lifetime value dead in its tracks. In other words, each lost sale today is one less chance of any future growth and prosperity.

We build a business one relationship at a time. It is always hard work. The earlier a relationship starts the more value it adds to both parties. A sale in hand is worth two prospects in the bush. Inward cash flow now has a much bigger impact on our future than that same cash flow next year.