Apr 162014
 

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

 Posted by at 6:51 am
Apr 032014
 

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?

Neither.

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.

 

 Posted by at 5:29 am
Mar 192014
 

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.

 Posted by at 5:40 am
Mar 132014
 

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.)

 Posted by at 5:25 am
Feb 182014
 

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.

 Posted by at 10:15 pm
Feb 122014
 

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.


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

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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.

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Jan 162014
 

When I was 16 years old I worked on the Cape Town docks for a summer. I counted the stuff that the labourers took off ships and packed into railway trucks. I was not the best tallier on the docks, but it was not the kind of job that demanded much skill. And aiming to be better would show up the others and then they would not offer me any cheese whenever a box broke while being loaded from a Dutch ship onto the Orange Express. Surprisingly flimsy, that pre-Internet packaging.

There were a lot of people working on the docks back then. Along with a few lovely ladies. There were awfully friendly until I mentioned my job at which point they would reject my offers of coffee. Snobbish, I thought.

I was reminiscing about this a few days ago as I thought about a question Doc Frank had asked me. The Doc is a friend of mine. We were talking about medical diagnostic tests. You know, like that thingie you buy at the chemist so that your 16 year old girlfriend can wee on it and a big happy face shows with a plus sign? That usually means that somebody is going to get into trouble real soon.

The Doc wondered if such a test might exist for a small business. Maybe something online, he thought, where you plug in four numbers and the site tells you what you need to do to stave off disaster or, less probably, how to rein in the juggernaut that is pouring too much money into your account.

Well, it is one thing to weewee on a strip, I thought, but most of us would not know our ROI from a marmite Salticrax. If you want to take the baby test just drink a glass of water and let physics do its thing.

But trying to get hard numbers from a small business owner is, well, impossible. I have been trying to extract hard numbers from my clients for a while. Tough questions like “what is your bank balance today” or “what are your sales figures for last week” or “how long, on average, does it take for your invoices to be paid”. These are usually met by an embarrassed grin before my hero tells me that he doesn’t rightly know for sure.

If Telkom ran their business like this, we would not have telephones. They might profess excellence, and they might never actually deliver what you want, but they make a whole pile more money than you and I. Combined.

Lets talk about why Telkom makes money offering shyte service and you and I struggle, despite being excellent at what we do. They simple answer is that Telkom has a boss.

A boss is the kind of person we ran away from when we decided to go out on our own. But, and this is the key, the boss steers the ship while you and I dilly dally counting the boxes of cheese. Or scrivening PHP. Or whatever.

The work we do can almost always be done by someone else. I think we can both agree that nobody will do it with quite the style and panache that we achieve, but who cares. Heck, I suspect the boss could even do our jobs if nudge came to wink and we took another Friday off sick.

I think we should get paid differently for each of the two roles we newbie captains of small commerce fulfil. On the one hand, we should be paid a salary for the work we do. A market related wage, I am thinking. If this business we have started cannot achieve that, then we should re-apply at Telkom.

On the other hand, we should be rewarded for our success at running the firm that employs us to do the work we do. Even if that is our own firm. The roles are completely different, as are the risks.

Bill Gates, for instance, does not get paid for his programming prowess even though I am sure he is excellent at it. Anyone using Windows can immediately see that :-)

No, Mr Gates made his money by steering the Microsoft ship. Rather than try and do everything, he hired people that could each do some of it. Not as well as he could, of course, but well enough to keep his clients happy. His excellence came from his in depth knowledge of his genre, and his guidance of lesser mortals (and who is not lesser than Mr G) towards the excellence he too aspired towards. His prosperity came from his captainship, not from his technical prowess.

You and I, my friend, have been trying the hard way. And as long as we follow that route, we trudge a road paved with good intentions. But not lined with gold.

Let me share how I see it from my side. If ever there was a personal business it is mine. My clients have been with me since, well, before the Internet, and some go back to the Great Trek. You would not imagine that someone else could replace me in these relationships. It would be like waking up tomorrow morning with your mother in law in the bed next to you, beard and all.

But, there is a way to solve this issue. First, stay focused on each relationship and find a few other folk to do bits of the work. Even though they cannot do it as well as we can, of course. Each new relationships starts from scratch, and we forget that. The strangers we have yet to meet do not know us from a box of muesli, and as they arrive they could be welcomed by a younger version of us, someone trained to do what we now do. Their expectations would be different, and so would their experience, but it would be just as good for them.

It does not matter what it is that we each do. The real money, the future, lies in captaining the ship. It might still be a dinghy, but we are the captains. Employ a few people to paddle and soon we will be steering our own Viking longboats to Scotland. Otherwise we have achieved nothing other than replacing an awful boss with a no-boss.

Good luck, fellow voyager.

 Posted by at 6:25 am
Jan 082014
 

We’ve just passed the time of resolutions, all of the wonderful things that we going to do this coming year so that we can end 2014 looking like George Clooney and richer than Warren Buffett. Hint: If you are a member of the fairer gender wanting to look like George Clooney is probably going to be a significant step backwards.

It is tempting to dream of huge changes. A year seems like such a long time. But here’s the thing: Nothing is going to change unless we change tactics real soon. What we have been doing so far, the way that we have set our sails, is the reason that we are in the space we are in. And if that’s a wonderful space, well done. If, like many of us, you look in the mirror and three strangers look back, then dreaming of being a lean, mean machine 12 months hence is going to remain just that, a dream.

Much the same concept applies to your income, your future bank balance, and so on.

May I suggest an objective, simple, and impartial approach that you are going to hate? I can confidently say that because there is something so “accountable” about it. I have been following this approach for the past couple of years and it works. Most of the time.

Measure your progress each day. That’s it! For instance, if you plan to renovate your appearance from Jabba the Hut to Clooney the Lean, start by getting on the scale tomorrow morning.

Two things are going to happen. Either the scale is going to yell at you, saying words like “Get off me because I’m getting squashed.” But that’s quite unlikely. It’s more likely that it will be you screaming as you see the number it reveals. It’s cold. Ice cold. It may reflect many wonderful Decembers, or many wonderful evenings this past December.

But here is the thing: No matter what that number is, it inspires action. If it is higher than you expect, you will probably be a little more careful today about what you eat. That’s because you are unhappy. If it’s lower than you expect, you will probably be a little more careful today about what you eat. That’s because you are happy, and inspired.

Much the same applies to your bank balance. Rory Sutherland, I think it was, says that the worst thing about every bank website is that as you logi n, the first thing that you see is your bank balance. It’s stark and it often reflects your apparent lack of success in the wealth department.

Log into your bank account each morning, just after you get off the scale. It’s like a cold shower, only worse. But, if it’s lower than you expect, you will probably be a little more careful today about what you spend. That’s because you are unhappy. If it is higher than you expect, you will probably be a little more careful today about what you spend. That’s because you are happy, and inspired.

And at the end of the year it will be my privilege to call you Warren Clooney, especially because you will have given up buffets on your 2014 odyssey.

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Nov 172013
 

Mrs Carruthers has a cousin who lives in Fredrikstad, not quite the hub of Norway, but close enough to Sweden to make life bearable.

Every evening, which starts at 3:30pm, I take her dog for a walk. He is old, about 73 tears in canine terms, and his name is Vysbroek. In English this might translate as Fist in Trousers, which sounds suspiciously oriental, and I understand that he was an ardent pursuer of the opposite gender when he was younger. And, on occasion, the same gender. He is originally from Cape Town. Or his first owner was. I forget.

Anyway, Vysbroek has acquired some Norwegian habits. Frankly, he is  three tots short of sociable. If you have ever seen a Norwegian after three tots you will understand the Jekyll/Hyde transformation that a smidgeon of fermented barley can bring forth.

Norway has wonderful Internet, and this afternoon, before his daily ritual, I was in my Bermuda shorts surfing a 25mb fiberoptic wave yelling “cool dude” at passersby. I would have been smoking some of Howick’s finest lawn but Norwegian kids now have a law protecting them from second hand smoke and my cousin insists that this applies to the dog as well.

The neighbours know I am from South Africa and they have hidden the kids away lest they get contaminated. A few still ask to see the Albino African, looking at me with wide eyes in the way Chinese kids must have looked at the first European, fresh off the boat after an 18 month trip without a bath. (Norwegian TV offers a fairly single-sided view of the dark continent.)

Vysbroek bolts out in a frenzy when we leave, trying to read every post as fast as he can. Every now and then he passes a comment of his own. The big posts, usually telephone poles, he treats with a lot more respect, checking for every nuance before making his contribution.

When he finds a particularly interesting post he might make a more solid contribution, but not with much complaint. He seems to have what Afrikaners delightfully call aambeie, which is so close to strawberries as to beggar belief. The word does not come close to doing justice to a malady worse than the Spanish Inquisition. And when he makes a big post he sure makes a melody out of it, baying at the moon in such a way that I barely have time to erase his post with the tiny plastic sack I carry for just such an event before the neighbours call the vigilantes.

Tonight we walked past the huge open air skating rink that doubles as a fjord in mid summer. Paul Simon has a delightful melody called Slip Sliding Away, or some such, and I know exactly where he found the inspiration to write it. It is where Vysbroek, desperate to read just one more post, pulled so hard that the ice beneath my feet lost traction and I did just that, all the way down the hill. Fortunately I had a warm plastic bag in my pocket to be break the fall. Unfortunately the bag did not retain its integrity and I now find myself in the bath solving the consequent problem.

Vysbroek is in the bath with me, and now that I think about it, his name seems ominously close to the bone.

 Posted by at 1:00 pm
Nov 122013
 

A farmer starts with a dream, much as we entrepreneurs do. He invests an awful lot of time and money in planting carefully chosen vines, after clearing some carefully chosen land. He waits for the seeds to sprout and lovingly nurtures each sapling. He knows that each will produce a long lifetime of harvests if treated right.

At the end of each winter a farmer knows to start plowing his field. Then he plants some seed. These two sentences take a little longer to do in real life, and are much more work than twenty words suggest might be the case.

But, and this is the key difference with marketing, the farmer does not give up hope when the seeds do not become a complete harvest by evening.

He knows that there is many a slip twixt seed and harvest. Unlike us entrepreneurs.

We dream of instant riches after our first email effort, and give up when we get nary a response. We then proclaim loudly and often about how email marketing does not work. And when our first Google PPC effort does not sell out the warehouse on the first day, we know that it too sucks. In fact, after a few such once-off efforts we give up on marketing.

Maybe it is because there is so much choice that we do not persevere with any one approach?

Marketing is everything you do to build relationships with strangers and prospects so that they know who to call when they need what you sell. And relationships take time.

No farmer expects a harvest (what we call a sale) without putting in some serious time debugging the crop with pesticides and weeding out alien invaders. It is these cumulative daily actions done en route to the end of summer that end in that harvest.

Just as it is our actions, done routinely, habitually, that foster a much greater harvest than the farmer will ever see.

Unlike us the farmer does not expect to get it right first time. But he practises hard. He mends fences and tractors, he does not replace them. No shortcuts for him! And the harder the practises, the luckier he gets. (Not my line, but an august golfer’s.)

I now think of everything I do as just more practice. It takes the pressure off, and it no longer matters whether a “sales call” ends in a sale or a chat in which I learn something. Both are great outcomes. And either is worth another practice.

Warm regards.

Peter Carruthers
Non-Executive Marketing Director to 421 Fine Businesses
editor@petesweekly.com


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 Posted by at 12:17 am