Category Archive 'Career'

New Business Owners—Don’t Be Charitable

Business & entrepreneurship, Career

If you’re a new business owner, then you need to avoid being charitable.   Think I’m kidding?  I’m not.  You need to tell your favorite charities to stay away for a while.  Unless required, you need to limit or stop donating your time or giving “pro bono” advice.  Why?  Because in most circumstances, getting a new business off the ground will require all the time and money you have.  Later on, when your company is on solid economic footing: that’s the time to start giving back.  Right now, you need to do everything you can to keep the lights on.

I know I must sound like the Grinchiest Scroogiest son of a you know what to ever own a business, but in most instances what I’m saying is true.

When I first started my business, I tried to keep up with my charities.  My business was in the red but I was still donating $100.00 a month to XYZ charities.

Even worse, I took on a lot of “pro bono” work.   That means I was doing work for free, when what I really needed was to be out finding paying clients.  This work ended up bogging me down and taking away from my ability to find paying customers/clients.  It almost destroyed my business.

Later On….Be Generous

In a few years when your company is hugely profitable, then give as much as you’d like.  But when you’re first starting out, you’re either using up what little money you have or you are running your business with debt.  Your creditors are not going to be as charitable if you don’t pay what’s owed each month.  As mentioned above, time drains can be an even more serious issue.

Tax Issues

Some people will recommend giving to charities (money—not time) for “the tax benefits.”  But when you’re first starting a business, you’re unlikely to be earning much money, so the tax benefits (if any) will be limited.  Even if you’re completely altruistic, you might have to face the reality that giving to others is one of the first things you’ll have to limit for a while.  If you’re about to become a charity yourself, then perhaps that charity might have to “start in the home”—or in this case, your business.

Giving to Get Business

It’s not such a large secret: not all giving is altruistic.  Besides the tax benefits, others give in hopes to “look good in the community,” “get a foot in the door with a certain company” etc.  If that’s the case then perhaps what I’m saying doesn’t apply, but again, it’s still turning charity into a business decision.


Every situation is different, but for most small business owners, it might not make sense to be overly charitable in the first fews months/years of their business.  The startup is a monster with its own needs, and it needs to constantly be fed.  In other words, if you can’t afford to pay your rent, then you might want to cut back on giving to charities.  And if you can’t find time to find paying customers, then perhaps you shouldn’t be donating much of your time either.

And if despite all that, you still decide you want to give like before, well….then you’re a nicer business owner than I.


Into the Wild: The Importance of Knowing Your Limits

Business & entrepreneurship, Career

I recently read John Krakauer’s Into the Wild.   This book details the true-life story of Chris McCandless, a twenty-four year old drifter who died in the Alaska Wilds back in 1992.  McCandless came from an upper-middle class family and graduated from Emory University with a 3.72 GPA.  He had the privileged background and intelligence to perhaps accomplish anything he desired. But he was restless, and instead fled his family for a nomadic lifestyle.

His heroes were London, Tolstoy, Thoreau.   When he entered the Alaskan “bush”, he did so with only five pounds of rice and a gun that was unlikely to kill larger game.  He ended up starving to death after just four months of solitude.   He died pursuing a dream, but there has been a lot of criticism.  Some argue he had a death wish, or that he was too “unprepared.”   That he was arrogant and lacked the survival skills to accomplish his dream, which also makes him selfish.

I don’t want to compare something as common as starting a business to going into the Alaskan wilds–but I related to this character.  There have been times where I’ve second-guessed myself and thought perhaps I should have worked for others longer, so that I would be better prepared for owning my small business.  After all,  wasn’t it somewhat arrogant and selfish of me to start a business so early?  My family depends on me and so do my clients—wouldn’t a little more seasoning have been ideal?   Despite these doubts, I know I was ready.   But perhaps you’re facing uncertainty in your own life?  Perhaps you’re worried you lack the experience, money, etc….

Then again, you never truly know what you’re capable of until you take that risk.  No business is guaranteed to succeed and you won’t know for sure until you try.  So long as you have the basic competency required, who’s to say that waiting would be better?  After all, how many people spend their whole lives talking about what they are “going” to do rather than just going ahead and doing it?

Ways to Prepare


Maybe you’re considering starting your own business.  Perhaps you’ve already started but find yourself in over your head.  Here are some ways to prepare for the daunting journey that is being self employed:


It’s almost a cliche, but nothing is more important than having a trusted mentor (or multiple mentors).  When you’re stuck, these are the people with the experience to help you resolve your issues.  Just remember that mentorship is a “two way” street.  For example, I try to remind my mentors of business opportunities, to have them speak at events I throw, etc., so that hopefully I’m giving to them as well.


I’ve always learned best from reading.  Perhaps I’m a visual learner.  Reading relevant books and/or magazine/newspaper articles in your industry is one of the best things you can do to learn and stay ahead of newer developments.  In many fields, this isn’t just recommended: it’s a requirement.


This is another way to prepare and in many instances is a bare minimum of what is required.

Start/Join a Group

Perhaps you can start or join a group to learn more about your field.


Teaching is one of the best ways to learn.

Bring in Another Expert

Ask for a second opinion, bring in another expert (if so permitted in your field).


In this modern age, the answer is likely out there somewhere.  There’s probably not any issue you can face that someone hasn’t already dealt with.


There’s no worse feeling in the world than being in over your head.  When you’re starting a business, however, there are going to be times when you feel stressed out and unable to deal with certain problems or issues.  When that occurs, I hope the above list helps you out.  And if you feel you lack the requisite skills, then perhaps the above can help give you the confidence to finally break away and start your own business.



But I’m a Man—I Should be the Breadwinner!

Business & entrepreneurship, Career, Personal finance

I’m not trying to be controversial with this post.  I’m just trying to describe my own feelings.  These are my feelings and not those of the owner of this site or anyone else, for that matter.  With that disclaimer in mind, here goes:

As I’ve written about many times on this site, I recently started my own business.  In many ways, it has been rewarding.  In other ways it’s been difficult.  One of the toughest things for me to deal with is not being able to contribute to the financial resources of my family like I used to.  Before I started my own business, I was an equal partner (financially) in the marriage.  I may have even been (by a slight margin) the breadwinner.  I know it sounds old fashioned, but I’ve always wanted to be the breadwinner.  Now don’t get me wrong, I want my Wife to earn a ton of money.  But I want to feel that I’m playing my part too.  It’s disheartening to me that my Wife is under so much financial pressure because I started my own business.  It doesn’t help that I’m always working on my business, so I’m not around a lot either.

My Wife has never made me feel bad about not being able to contribute to the family’s finances much (and in the beginning of my business, not at all).  She has been more supportive than I have any right to deserve.  But again, there is this (perhaps) old fashioned feeling inside me that says things like: “you’re not a man, you’re a freeloader living off the hard work and health insurance of your Wife.”

I know we’re in the twenty-first century, but it still pains me to not be able to be an equal partner in terms of paying our mortgage, student loans, etc.  I hope that doesn’t make me sexist in any way, but it is how I feel.  I know if things were reversed she’d feel a similar pressure,  as our house requires two salaries to run.  We have six figure student loan debt.  We pay $2,500 each month for our mortgage.  We are struggling.

Sometimes that pressure is compounded by the uncertainty of operating a new business.  You never know if the business is ultimately going to succeed.  You like to think, “well I can put up with some lean times because it’s going to all pay off in the end.” But there is no guarantee that it will.  None at all.  The business might never generate a decent living.  I might have to give it up and go back to working for someone else, having only wasted my time and lost out on months (or even years) of a steady salary and benefits package.

Those inner fears sometimes make me take on clients that I shouldn’t.  They sometimes make me take on difficult clients or clients who can only pay (1/2) up front.  (And I know I’ll never see the second half).

I’ve tried to pick up more freelance writing income to supplement my income and help pay some bills.  That’s been a big help. Before, my freelance writing income would pay for a fancy vacation each year.  Now it pays for groceries.  I’m grateful for it.

But I can’t help but feel bad for my Wife.  I want her to have everything she deserves, and right now I can barely provide her with anything.  Just my big old stupid self.

Have you ever experienced such a situation?  Am I a total sexist jerk?  Please tell me I’m not, because I swear it’s all well-intentioned.

I look forward as always to reading your responses.



Steve Jobs on the Nature of “Jobs”


Steve Jobs once famously said during a Stanford Graduation Speech that:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?'”

“And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

These quotes always stick with me.  They did before Steve Jobs recently passed away, and they do now following his untimely death.  I think they struck such a chord with me, because I read them during a period in my life where I hated my job.  And were I to look in the mirror, I could not honestly saying I was doing something I loved, spending time with people who cared about me or vice versa, or that I was even making a positive difference in people’s lives.

But that advice is also a lot easier to say when you’re a millionaire, like Steve Jobs.  They are a lot easier to say when you have already made it.  We all know that making a life change is difficult.  It’s not easy to quit the dead-end job, or end that negative relationship.  It’s not easy to go out on a limb and make a big change in your life.  Because what if you do, and you realize that all along the problem isn’t that job–or that significant other—but rather yourself?

I know someone who insists they would be 100% happy, if only they lived on the west coast.  I’ve often thought the same thing about myself, and Paris.  But when I was traveling recently in Europe, I met an expatriot–a professor from the United States who now lived in Germany.  Here’s what he said:

“For a while, everything was different.  I was never happier, and I felt like a knew man.  But over time, those same old problems, worries, and personal neurosis started seeping back into me.  So now I’m just the same man, and no more happy than before—I’m just the same man, only 3,000 miles away on a different continent.”

And deep down, we know on some gut level that this has to be so.  That the old study about lottery winners not finding happiness is true.  That we are who we are, and there’s not a hell of a lot we can do with it.  And if that is so–if we are all, by birth or nature happy or just miserable bastards, then what is the point in striving?  In short, if, regardless of our accomplishments, we’re going to wind up with the same issues/fears/ and, yes, Neuroses, then what is the point in changing jobs, or leaving negative relationships?

And yet, from my perspective I feel that this cannot be so.  Because I have never felt happier since leaving the job I didn’t like and starting my own business.   Sure, I’m not a totally different person, and there are moments where the old tendencies come back or, in some circumstances, never even left, but at the same time I am thus far a happier person because of my happier surroundings.

So how does this fit all together?

How can we think that striving will help, if we are ultimately cursed to never really change?


The First Month of a New Business

Business & entrepreneurship, Career

I can now officially say I have been in business for myself, one month.  Although that’s such a small period of time for any business, I thought I would review some of the things I’ve learned thus far.

As you know, just over a month ago I “quit the rat race” to start my own business.  I took $5,000 of my savings (it eventually turned into more than $7,000) as start-up costs.  Then I just went after it, and worked towards building my business 100% of my waking hours.  I’m both exhausted and exhilarated–as they say, it doesn’t feel like work when you’re building something all your own.

My first few days as a “business owner” were spent as a furniture builder, a marketing student, and a telephone harasser of various venders.  I was lucky to procure great office space from a friend, which enabled me to transition faster than expected.

Get Over Your Issues With Money

The toughest part of being the owner of a business offering professional services, is that you have to believe in what you’re offering. Early on, there have been many instances where clients have tried to haggle me on prices.  I sometimes have a self-defeating tendency towards money, but I have to date fought it off.

I believe that I get to pick my own charities.  I also believe that if I do not hold firm, I will myself become a charity.  This is sometimes easier said than done, particularly because so many people are hurting right now financially.  As the saying goes, however: “It’s better to not work, and not get paid.  Than to work, and to not get paid.”

My firm pricing is a great way to separate true prospective clients from pretenders.  That said, I’ve also done some free or charitable work.

Maybe You Should Charge More 

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes charging more can help attract clients.  In the first few days of my business, I was offering just about the lowest price in town.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t helping me close deals with prospective clients.  The only clients it was helping me with were the clients I least wanted to work with–those who only cared about price.  (and thus, those most likely to stiff me later on).

A mentor-type figure suggested that my price was too low.  He said that people might be suspicious by how low my price was. Again, this was likely just me having my own issues with money.

I raised the price so that it was more in line with market expectations.  Thereafter, I have been signing up a much higher percentage of prospective clients.  Although this advice may not work with every industry, in mine it appears there is a feeling amongst clients that you only get what you pay for.

Don’t Panic 

This is easier said than done.  It’s something I have to tell myself every day hour.  When you first start a business, the telephone won’t be ringing off the hook.  There will be days where you don’t make any money.  There will be weeks, months, and maybe even a year or two where you simply break even or even lose money.  If you’re like me, you’ll already know this in your heart.  And yet, if you’re like me, you’ll still feel waves of self-pity and self-doubt.  Leaving behind a comfortable and steady paycheck for an uncertain future is not easy to do.  Even the most successful of businesses have lulls or quiet spells.  Learning to “maintain,” mentally, can be the difference between success and failure in a new business.

But Be ProActive 

There’s a difference between maintaining a cool confidence and simply not pushing hard enough.  If you don’t have any clients, then your time should be spent finding clients.  You may have to spend some money, and make advertising, direct mailing, and other marketing attempts.  A press release and/or a “grand opening” celebration may help get the word out.  And don’t forget to rely upon your natural network of friends, former colleagues, and family members.

Common Sense

There are certain things we’ve all heard so many times that they are cliched.  These old standards have been overplayed more than Jay-Z’s “New York,” and yet should be obeyed.  I recently learned firsthand that the reward for “not burning bridges,” with your former employer really can be referrals.  Having a “solid business plan” and adequate startup capital are necessary to success.  Don’t forget the basics, even as you push towards new and creative solutions.  And don’t forget to call on friends or mentors when you’re feeling down or need advice.


The revenue for my first month was much higher than I ever expected.  It didn’t match the $7,000.00 I spent in startup costs, but most of those costs are one-time or once a year expenses.  If my revenue stays the same moving forward, I should be well on my way to a successful business.  So far, I’m loving every second that I’m out of “the Rat Race.”