My Most Useful Tool…

We take our tools for granted.

I’d like to share the most useful tool I have ever used. I still use it everyday. You can use it with any operating system: Windows, Mac, Linux, and even – and I know how outdated this is – the pencil and paper.

Tony Buzan told us 50 years ago that we think in pictures rather than in words. He developed a concept known as mind mapping. You might know it as spider mapping. I think of it as cheating. Legally, of course.

I first used it back in 1975 as I was desperately trying to complete my Matric exam with some dignity. I ended the mid-year exams with four “D”, one “E”, and one “G”, but that was for Latin, which I still don’t speak well. This was not enough to get into UCT Medical School.

I used this tool (back then the only operating system was pencil and paper) and a six months later I matriculated with five “B” results, and a “D” for Latin. That was enough to get me into first year Med School.

In the six months prior to the exams I encapsulated every textbook on a single page. This which made revising quite easy. I’m telling you this now because if you have children in school, this might be a useful tool for this year. It certainly was for my daughter back at Rhenish in standard eight when she was struggling.

I found it strange that this particular learning technique, which revolutionised my life, wasn’t being taught by the school. We were being stuffed with facts, but with no way to put them into perspective.

Imagine a textbook. It consists of chapters. Each chapter is broken up into sections. And the chapter and the sections are full of words. The textbook comprises 300 pages of words. But most of us don’t read words nearly as well as we grasp pictures. I know this because many of my Matric compatriots didn’t read any of the setwork books during their entire high school career, preferring to gather their literary education through comics, picture books of the classics.

So, how to get context from a textbook? (Bear with me, because this tool is not just for study, but I will come to that in a moment.)

You start by quickly encapsulating the name of each chapter in a one page mindmep. That takes just a few minutes. You now have a small star in the middle of the page. Then for each chapter you list the key sections. This makes that small star look like a small explosion. And then for each section you list the key issues. That’s one page covering the entire book. Only then do you start reading the book. At this point you have context.

Then, for each chapter you create its own mind map, this one more detailed than the previous one which encompassed all the chapters. This allows you to store to far more detail.

At the end of your studies you will end up with one page for the book, and one page for each chapter, each a mix of your own interpretation, your own terse notes about the content.

When you hit the exams, for each question, you simply recall the picture for that segment, and draw the map on your exam paper. In my day that map alone with the key points was worth a bunch of points. Then you write through the points and complete the essay/answer/review/analysis/comparison and impress the heck out of the examiners.

Here is a simple example: Sedona

But this tool is not just for exams. It’s also for taking notes in any situation. I use it when I’m talking to clients. Instead of writing up the words in long sentences, I use a page for each discussion, simply noting the points discussed. It’s rough, but it’s very easy to remember later. People tell me I have a great memory. I think it’s because I use a pencil every time I talk to anybody.

It’s great for analysing competitors, strengths, weaknesses, and so on. It’s great for analysing the features of a product, and then deriving the benefits that a prospect will get, as well as working out how much money that person is likely to save using your product.

It’s great for planning, so when I planned the Earnster.Ninja sysllabus I created a simple picture, one “branch” for each week, and then each branch opens into more detail.

Earnster Program Schedule 48 Weeks

You can download Freemind here for free for your own PC, or just grab the nearest pencil and get started right now.

Earn Income Anywhere - Earnster.Ninja

Sun, Smiles, Starting Up…

Whenever I step off the plane in Johannesburg I am inspired. South Africa bursts with sun and smiles. So much so that one unsmiling person seems surly.

It’s different in Britain and Norway. You will find lots of unsmiling faces. It’s not that they are unhappy. They are just not happy enough to smile.

The further north you go the more serious people are, as you might be after being cooped up in an igloo alone for seven months without sun with a partner with whom you stopped talking back in early autumn.

I feel that the effervescence here in SA is because of the sun. It’s tough to feel down when you have so much solar power lifting you up.

The only people who really see this are tourists. If you listen to them on the plane going home they talk about the sun and the people. They talk about how often you smile here.

I can’t recall ever hearing departing tourists talking about any of the fears newspapers here broadcast each day. Maybe that’s because they’re too busy having fun to read the news or watch TV.

South Africans talk about what they do not have without balancing it with what they have in abundance. Take the Internet for instance. It is slower here than in many places and it costs more. In the midst of complaining about it we do not realise that it is plenty good enough.

My business is broadcasting ideas and skills. I teach people how to open their own businesses, and how to find ways to enhance their current ventures. One of the questions I’m most often asked is whether the South African Internet is good enough to run an online venture. Yes, for almost any venture you might want to start.

On Tuesday I broadcast a one-hour webinar from my hotel bedroom for the Academy of Small Business start-up series. I used my smartphone as a wireless router. The phone had a regular 3G connection via a SIM I had bought that morning. The download speed was 5 Mb and the upload speed was 1 Mb. It was plenty good enough to broadcast with. 4G is much faster but visitors cannot easily get that.

Every book about writing will tell you that if you want to be a writer, just start writing. This is the same as wanting to start up a business. The problem is that we want to reach the prowess of Stephen King without doing the amount of practice that he has done, and still does.

If you want to start a business then just start. While you still have a day job is a fine time. Almost as good a time as not having any job. You merely have to start. There is no risk in starting as long as you do not sign anything you do not understand – and that should not be needed until you know you already have traction.

If you want to know how to build an online business to reach the world, while still enjoying the sun, please check out Earnster.Ninja here.

A New Government Scam?

Government letterheads are not designed to be pretty. They do not have to be. When we get a letter from our Govt we are tempted to intense anxiety before retiring to change our briefs. Government is not known for frivolous missives.

This means that when you receive one from the Dept of Justice telling you boldly about the imminent "Removal of your company details" you take instant action.

That logo looks the same as the last Govt letter you received, and that was not good news either. The style is best described as unjovial.

The Letterhead looks awfully official

You also know that no South African in his right mind will try to forge a Govt letterhead. The thought of a few years in Pollsmoor tends to put one off.

This does not stop a German company from sending out letters that look just like Dept of Justice communiques. Thousands of them. The threat of a few years in the hotels that pass for German prisons must sound like a holiday to hard-working German scamps.

Bottom line: do not respond to a letter from anyone, even the Department of Justice, about the "Removal of your company details". It is a scam, but not by the SA Government.

Actually, the only crowd in SA that can remove your details from anything is the team at CIPC. They do not want you get into a flap while they deregister your firm so they do not warn you. I am sure that their intentions are sincere.

What thousands of South Africans are facing is a German scam which looks very much like a government directive. It has been going on since 2009 in about 20 countries. (I list below the ones I have found.) Yet there seems to have been almost no action taken against the firm.

Each person who is burned by the people hiding behind TVV Tele Verzeichnis Verlag GmbH assumes that they alone are stupid to have been had. Not so. These guys write letters that look just like the real thing you might get from the UK Department of Trade, or the Norwegian Government or the SA Department of Justice. The letters are marketing genius, albeit on the wrong side of what the rest of us call ethical. But maybe not.

You might think that each target country might instruct their local German consulates to make known to their hosts their slight concern. It seems not.

It turns out that this letter is viewd as a normal request to do business even if it is slightly racy, what with a SA govt logo and all.

This Tvv Tele Verzeichnis Verlag GmbH scam.

The letter you receive actually refers to their private website, not any official SA govt register. This site is hosted by Hetzner in Germany and has as much to do with South Africa as the Platypus.

You receive a letter where the second paragraph clearly states that any changes are free. That's what You will not be charged for this! often means. That exclamation point makes the point even more emphatic.

The TVV Tele Verzeichnis Verlag GmbH scam letter misleading paragraph

(Read that again very, very carefully and you will notice that they refer to you logging into their site to do this yourself. Anything else costs a little more.)

The second page offers you a simpler way to make any changes. Of course you do so and then fax the document. You could also post it using the "prepaid" envelope. Since the SA post office is as concerned about delivering mail as the SA government is about protecting you from fraudsters using their logo, faxing seems more prudent.

The TVV Tele Verzeichnis Verlag GmbH misleading page

(As I researched the layout of that page I could not help but admire how it has been tweaked over the years to be almost irresistible.)

About two weeks later you will get an invoice from TVV Tele Verzeichnis Verlag GmbH for R9372 along with a sheet asking for your credit card details.

So you read the original letter again to try and understand what has happened. (If you have not yet filed the original in your bin.)

It turns out, as you dig deeper, that you have signed a contract with TVV Tele Verzeichnis Verlag GmbH to advertise your business on their German website for R9372/year for three years. It renews yearly after that until you cancel by registered letter.

You can also cancel by registered letter to Germany within the first two weeks. That could be why the invoice takes a few days more than that to arrive.

As these began to cross my desk last week I spoke to two lawyers about how legal such a contract might be. Both agreed that this was a valid contract. You might have some defence based on the government logo, and the misleading wording, but their opinion was that you should have read it carefully first. Of course they are right.

But that letter is pure marketing genius. If trademarks inspire trust (and a govt logo is just such a thing) then you cannot do much better than a government logo when selling something. Especially when that letter offers it offers you a free DIY fix. Irresistible.

1300 South Africans have already thought so. And 3400 Brits, and 897 Canadians, and …

Add all of these up and you see a whole lot of money being syphoned. 10,000 signers at R9372 each is almost R100 million, and that is just for the first year. And this is legal?

Oh yes. Because they do exactly what the document says they will. They do change your details. And they do give you a featured page. But on a German site that no possible prospect will ever look at with a search process that harkens back to the Middle Ages.

I am tempted to suggest this as a superb business opportunity but I fear I might wipe out whatever karmic balance I have accrued.

What I find most curious is how subtly this is done. I phoned a few of the firms that I could see had involuntarily "contracted" this German firm. Each person I spoke to was waging battle against this firm alone, as if they were the only person who might have done this.

Once you have signed the enthusiasm with which the German firm pursues your payment is matched only by SARS. and siblings…

We like to think that we Saffers are special, but the team at TVV Tele Verzeichnis Verlag GmbH has been crafting this for a long time in lots of countries. Here are the ones I dug out as I researched this article:

So, what to do?

It turns out that a few folk do actually pay, and this might make it profitable enough for the German firm to desist from chasing. As far as I can see they do not seem to have taken true legal action against anyone who has ignored them. Of course, maybe our very own CIPC team will deregister your firm before it gets to court.

File the paperwork, just in case.

And then sit it out. If you're lucky the Post Office will revert to form and stop delivering the letters. Otherwise, email me here and tell me your story.

Somebody told me the other day, "If you want to mess with South Africans you need to be wearing your big boy pants."