The books that have added the most value to my life.

100,000 half-book giveaway…

10 years ago I wrote the first edition of Crashproof your Business. I’m giving half of it away to 100,000 people gratis. This is the first 70 pages that describe the problems we small business owners face, the ownership stuff that nobody tells you about until it is too late.

Our businesses efforts all have three components:

  • what it is that we sell to earn an income, which most of us do pretty well;
  • the management of the business, which many of us struggle with;
  • the ownership stuff where you stand surety for everything, which is what this book looks at, and which almost nobody knows about until it is too late.

It’s all about how tiny mistakes cause many small businesses to close, and what happens to the owners when that firm closes. What happens to their families, their homes, and even the family pets. It’s about the things that we sign when we are in business for ourselves, often with little understanding. It’s about the way we trust banks, and how that trust is broken. It’s also the bestselling book on the subject in South Africa.

The problem is that I don’t know 100,000 small-business owners or people who want to go into business for themselves. I’m hoping that you know a few.

My publisher won’t allow me to give away the entire book, so I’m giving half of it away. That half contains everything you need to know to understand the ownership risks and problems. If I’d known that stuff just six months before my business closed, I wouldn’t have lost my home, car, bike, and all the furniture. I wouldn’t have taken judgements way over R2million  (for rented premises that were soon filled with other tenants).

Why am I giving it away? Well, 20 years after my business closed in 1992, there are 25,000 small-business owners who have used the ideas in the book (and the seminar that preceded the book).

Every week I get an e-mail from one of them telling me how happy he was to give the Sheriff the finger when he (the Sheriff) visited to collect the furniture after his (the seminar attendee) business closed recently. But that leaves about 200,000 small-business owners in South Africa who have no idea what’s really going on behind-the-scenes. 180,000 of those are not going to survive 10 years. Which means it’s just a matter of time before they too transfer all of their personal assets to their business creditors.

This means that these ideas work, and work very well. But I am the only person talking about them. (That is because I think they are so crucial.)

So, if you are planning to go into business, or you know anybody who runs their own business, especially newbies, could you please point them at this book giveaway? The book is practical and written in easy-to-read English.

I used to charge more than R1500 per seminar seat, and the book costs about R160. (Which means that this free giveaway is worth somewhere between R80 and R750 per book.) But, when it saves your house, and your marriage, the knowledge is worth much, much more.

I would deeply appreciate you forwarding this to anybody you know that might be interested. (Although I cannot imagine a business owner that would not be.) They can get their copy here.

Assessing 2012…

The end of each year is a fine time to look back and assess whether one is on the right track. Or, in my case, not. Lest I sound like a self-focused ego maniac, let me explain why this might be relevant to you as a reader of this twelve year old weekly.

Twenty years ago I saw my gat, as Afrikaners say when they do not want to beat about the bush. There was no help in sight for a person closing a business, or fighting with the questions that lead to closure.

Twenty years is a lifetime ago. Since then the Internet has appeared. Steve Jobs has made Apple cool again. Mobile phones are no longer large, large bricks that only do expensive calls. A library was still filled with paper, unlike a Kindle. And Windows was still only 3.

But, two decades hence, you will still struggle to find a specialist therapist to help you through the worst experience of your life. You will struggle to avoid signing a personal surety. And you will still struggle to find any business advisor that thinks about you and your family BEFORE thinking about your business.

We (I)  have dropped the ball in looking after the interests of the millions of self employed folk around the globe. Officialdom is only interested in how many employees we will enrol, and how much tax we can pay. Nary an accolade for those fine people that have paid their own bills since leaving school, even if they have not employed anyone, or made enough profit to warrant a personal tax specialist.

And, no matter how pristine your record, it does not seem fair that a single mistake (like selling anything to any govt dept) can wipe out all that you own three years before retirement, as well as wiping out every penny of of the superlative financial credibility you once held.

I recently read Richard Branson’s unofficial biography a few weeks ago. Mr Branson really does not like the author who has looked past the superb Branson PR to reveal what has really/maybe happened behind the scenes. It is not as pretty as Mr Branson would like.

But I am heartened. Mr Branson has had so many near misses that he makes slaloming the Alps blind look easy by comparison. Much like the mistakes the rest of us try to hide, I think.

Search the web and the only references you will easily find to the concept of business owner risk refer to the the risk inside the business – adequate capital, marketing, staffing, and so on. There is no shortage of advice on the subject. But look for help on closing down without parting with your home, or building a business without your wife and kids needing to lose everything when things go wrong, and there are lean pickings.

When we first start a firm we think that this first effort will be our only one: Our road to glory and fame. (This is that first effort in which we know nothing about running a business.) We do not see this first “project” for what it is: Our first and biggest learning curve.

And when that venture fails to turn into next weeks huge win, we deem ourselves failures. And we crawl back into a safe job because it is what our family wants. We hide our dreams. Well, stuff that.

I want to help folk rise above the challenges of this first learning curve so that they look forward to the second. And the third. Until they get usto where we want to be. (Or an acceptable facsimile.) The joy is not in the destination. It is in the pathways that take us there. It is in following those dreams as best we can. We work to become, not to acquire. (I wish those last words were mine, but they belong to Elbert Hubbard..)

I have about 15 years of useful working life ahead, and I want to devote that time to help at least one million people like you and me build robust entrepreneurial castles from which we can sally forth without fear that our families are ever on the line. My vehicle will be Business Warriors. See you there next year.

In the meantime, no matter how the year turned out, 2013 will still be there after Christmas, so don’t waste the break worrying about it. Enjoy! And do not underestimate your awesomeness., even if you have 10kg more of it than you really want.

Sales Funnel Spiders

I spent three years selling life insurance in the 90s. It was the toughest time of my life. But as a learning experience it remains unbeaten.

About 100 years ago Frank Bettger started selling life insurance in the United States. Some time later he wrote about his experiences in a book that was translated into more than one dozen languages. It’s called How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling, and you can download it right now for your Kindle or iPad. I read it for the first time in 1992, and I think it is one of the best sales books ever written.

In short, Frank started selling life insurance at a low ebb in his life. I seem to recall that he started without socks, although that might have been my brother. In my case, I had socks but no car.

After 10 months of pain Frank realised something very simple: no matter how good or bad he was at selling, as long as he was able to tell his story to enough people, someone would buy.

Think about that. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you are at selling, if enough people hear what you have to say, someone will buy. And that’s the secret to selling. (I have been selling since 1984 so I have a touch of history in this field.)

Insurance salespeople are amongst the best sellers in the world. And they get taught well. They know that selling is a numbers game. Allow me to explain.

They know, for instance, that for every 20 cold calls they make, they will get 10 appointments. For every 10 meetings they arrange, they will actually meet eight people. (Two people will cancel or just not arrive or set the dogs on them.) They know that for every eight people they meet, they will get four requests for a complete financial report. For each of those four reports they will present three (another no-show). And for each of those three final meetings they will sell one policy.

Let’s work that backwards in terms of money.

The commission on the policy is, shall we say, $10,000. That income is the result of making 20 phone calls, making each of those calls worth $500. That income is also the result of meeting eight people, making each of those meetings worth $1250. And, they had to put in three final meetings to arrive at their income, making each of those worth $3333. (Your own numbers will depend on your process, what you sell, how good you are, the season, and a few other factors.)

Sales is a numbers game. This is easy to measure. And once you are measuring it, it’s easy to improve each facet because you can see where the problem is.

Effort Activity Effect Value
20 Prospects Phoned 100% 500
8 Generates 8 Meetings 40% 1250
3 Which Generate 3 Presentations 37.5% 3333
1 Which Generates 1 Sale 33% 10000

It’s easy to motivate yourself to make each phone call, because each very short phone call is worth a lot of money because 20 of them are going to result in a sale.

And it’s easy to notice when things change, or to focus on improving each facet of your process.

But here’s the thing. In speaking to a whole bunch of business owners this past week, many of whom were their own salespeople, very few had any real idea about just one number: how much their average sale was worth.

And if you don’t know what the average sale is worth, it means you don’t know any of the numbers that are important to your business. You cannot work out the value of a lead, which means you cannot work out how much you can spend on marketing. (Marketing is the process of finding enough leads to get to that one sale).

It means that you don’t have a sales funnel. Your process is more like a funnel spider, and they are fugly boisonous pastards. Maybe that’s why about 96% of small firms fail in the first ten years.