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

My Most Useful Tool…

We take our tools for granted. A mind map, for instance, is the best way I know of to capture a load of information in a single page, and remember it.

Mind mapping is 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: Mind Map encapsulating entire book in one page

But this mind map 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 out the words in long sentences, I use a page for the entire 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.

Mind Map of Earnster Program Schedule

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

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.