Archive for March, 2011

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Date Night With Your Finances

March 30, 2011

Financial Art 2010Date night with your finances? What’s that supposed to mean?

Just what it says. The phrase “Date Night” evokes thoughts of fun, special, coveted. For many, the phrase “Bill Paying” conjures ugh, drudgery, lack. What would it look like if we felt differently about our finances?

Most of us have it backwards. Its no wonder we think of our finances as drudgery. This is how the majority of us “do our money.”

  • We squeeze the chore between the laundry and washing the dog.
  • We collect our bills; we log in to get our bank balance (and hope that everything has cleared the bank); we pay our bills.
  • We look to see how much is left, and hope there is some.
  • Then, when we’re tired, over it, a little grumpy, and the dog still smells, we make the important decisions. This goes to savings, that goes to debt, and this gets set aside for car repairs.
  • But the dog smells, and company is coming for dinner, so I’ll make those decisions next month.

Would you like to do it differently? Would it be all right if life got easier?

That’s a phrase I learned from Maria Nemeth, a pioneer and visionary in the field of our psychological and emotional attitudes about money. She published “The Energy of Money” in 1997, when few were addressing the important issue of how financial decisions are made.

When it came time for “Telling the Truth” and dealing with my own financial problems, one action I took was Date Night with my finances at my favorite café. Me, my portable financial binder, and my dreams. I coveted those luxurious Saturday nights, not squeezed between laundry and dog-washing (okay, I don’t really have a dog.) I used the time to dream, to look at the truth and to plan. Bill paying happened elsewhere. Each consecutive month, I got a little more clarity, planning became a little easier, and my dreams felt more attainable.

Our money and our financial decisions should not be a chore. Bill paying is a chore. Financial decisions impact our future, our dreams, our peace of mind. They intertwine with who we want to be and who we are. We should have a little fun. We should make it a date night!

Last summer I hosted my first Financial Art ~ An Interactive Art Experience. Hundreds walked through our office courtyard, and a couple hundred picked up crayons, a piece of paper, and an egg timer. In three minutes they drew their financial lives or their financial futures. Then they hoisted their drawings, as Tibetan Prayer Flags are hoisted, as a wish to their future. The cool thing about it was there were couples out on a date talking about their money. Happy, excited, hopeful; the antithesis of drudgery. It was a simple bit of collective fun. Interactive community art. A way to do it a little differently. And a great launch to Date Night with Your Finances.

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Entrepreneurial Passion vs. Sales

March 23, 2011

To succeed in business you must sell yourself!I was listening to a new client tell a story that I’ve heard many times.  She is in a creative field and passionate about her work. She really wants to work, but contracts aren’t coming and she is struggling financially. I asked the obvious question: “How are you marketing and selling yourself?” She looked a little blank; and then she scrunched her face; and then she launched into an explanation of the ways in which she was kind-of sort-of maybe marketing herself. Which really was to say: she wasn’t.

Through years of working with small business owners, many have come seeking answers to their financial issues. As an accountant, I would like to think that good accounting would provide the answers. But the truth is that it’s usually not about the numbers. The truth is that the most important component of impacting one’s financial issues is sales and marketing.

If you’re tempted to stop reading because you don’t own a business, please keep reading. I also work with people around their personal finances, and one client comes to mind. She’s a baby boomer with no retirement and no assets. She’s preparing to leap from a $90,000 job to a $115,000 job. How is she going to do that? Selling and marketing herself. I could work with her for the next five years on reducing her spending and building an investment portfolio and blah, blah, blah. Or….I could lovingly push her out of her comfort zone, make her pick up the phone, and start selling herself to headhunters and leaders in her industry.

Fortune 500 companies spend upwards of 10 to 20% of their budgets on sales and marketing. As small business owners, we often spend time, rather than dollars, on those areas of our businesses. What I like to ask every new client is: “How much time are you spending selling and marketing your business?” If the answer is significantly below 20%, they are usually having financial issues, and I have an answer for them. But it’s usually not the answer they wanted to hear. They usually scrunch their face at me. In the case of my new creative client, she quoted an expert in her field who advised that about 75% of a newcomer’s time should be spent on selling, networking and marketing activities. 75%! This expert had built a very successful business, but my client was hoping I’d have a better answer for her. We often know what we need to do; we just don’t want to do it. After all, we opened these businesses of ours to do the work we were passionate about, not so that we could spend 30 hours a week selling!

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My Dad: Lessons In How NOT to Own A Small Business

March 3, 2011

My Dad: Small Business Owner Mickey PowellToday is the anniversary of my dad’s passing. I learned a lot from him, many lessons to share with all of you about small business ownership. In summary: do not do it the way my Dad did!

First, to alleviate any perception that I am speaking ill of him, I want to share what a fine man he was. My love of community service comes from him. His dedication to making this world a better place is clear in this tribute:

http://www.fedflyfishers.org/Default.aspx?tabid=4520

Even his business ownership was, in a way, community service. He was ‘saving the family business.’ http://www.davidlnelson.md/FFF_FlyTyingGroup/Buszeks/BuszekHistory.htm

Now, on to telling the truth. As a child I watched my father work, work, work, and then work some more. He came home late for dinner, went back to work at night, and worked most weekends. Even our few vacations were often spent at work-related fly fishing conclaves or networking conferences. Both of my parents worked, hard, yet we never seemed to have any money. We weren’t destitute; dinner was always on the table. But money was always an uncomfortable issue. Always having a keen sense of numbers and business, even at a young age it was apparent to me that something wasn’t right. I often wondered, weren’t business owners supposed to be rich?

As a teenager, I became the bookkeeper for my dad’s business, and my childhood observations were clarified. The business was barely profitable. My dad either trusted me enough to let me see his truth, or he thought I was so inexperienced I wouldn’t get it. It wasn’t my place to ask.

But the questions I kept to myself then are the exact kinds of questions I ask clients now. And they are questions I want you to ask yourself if you own a business, no matter how large or small. Yes, even a side Tupperware business, or a little consulting gig, or do a bit of wedding photography. These are all businesses, and they do impact your family!

Here are 12 questions to ask yourself.

  • Do you spend less time with your children, spouse, or friends as a result of your business?
  • Have you ever paid an employee late?
  • Are there months that your business doesn’t pay you?
  • Do you ever put off buying basic things your family needs because your business needs the money more?
  • Have you ever lied (or avoided the truth) about your business’ finances to your spouse?
  • When was the last time you took a real vacation?
  • Do you avoid asking for professional advice about your business’ health?
  • Do you truly know how profitable your business is?
  • Is your business contributing to a retirement fund?
  • Do you have partnership agreements that aren’t in writing?
  • How much have you borrowed against your family’s home, retirement, savings, children’s college fund or inheritance?
  • Does your spouse’s income support your business?

If you don’t like your answer to more than a couple of these questions, it’s time to find a trusted advisor, a business coach, an external CFO, or a mastermind group and tell the truth. Print this blog out and put it in the front of a binder titled “Making My Business Better.” Make an action plan. Make it better. In six months, ask yourself the questions again. Then repeat.

What would my dad’s answers to these questions have been? 100% not good. In the 32 years I watched him run his business, I only saw his business run him. I’ve taken these lessons and have been committed to reverse engineer his mistakes into a balanced plan for running my business. I haven’t always been successful, but one of my life’s quests is to be just like my dad when it comes to community service, and exactly opposite my dad when it comes to small business ownership.