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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lessons From My Grandmother.

I had a very unusual Grandmother. I grew up in her home. I was never quite clear if my mom and dad chose to live with her to save on expenses or to care for her. But she ruled the roost, which made for interesting family dynamics. She was a little Italian woman, born in New York, growing up in the great depression. She often amazed me with her fantastic stories of dealing with dirty old men in movie theaters, taking care of her 9 siblings after her mother’s death, and, my favorite, how she made millions in real estate.

My Grandmother and me, sometime in the late 80's

My grandmother was a wealthy woman. As the story goes, she married well to a German man with money from a shipping business. As prohibition  and the great depression progressed, her husband received income from his family's shipping business. As you might guess, bringing illegal goods in during the days of prohibition could be a profitable business. So her husband had some money he wanted to invest. My grandmother became aware of all the people losing their homes through bank auctions. She had an idea; she would buy these homes with her husband’s money. She told me how resistant he was to the idea. He was a man that did not like to work. To him, a bunch of foreclosed homes meant a lot of work fixing them up and then reselling them. So my little Italian grandmother had to promise her husband that she would do all the work. She swore he would never have to lift a finger.

 Cash is king when the chips are down.

So he agreed. She went on a buying spree. She bought home after home, lock-stock-and barrel. That meant she not only got the home but the contents, the clothing, and jewelry. She was working every waking moment. She owned 20, 30, 50, then a hundred homes. She became a regular at pawn shops selling off the confiscated jewelry and furniture. She had full time construction workers. She knew it wasn’t the time to sell the homes, so she rented them out. She became a landlord. Soon she had larger apartment buildings, stores, restaurants, even a car dealership. In a period of 10 years she had built an empire. In many ways, it was her example that has driven me to my own empire building attempts.

 Buy at a discount to actual value and time will give you a payoff

True to her word, her husband never lifted a finger. His usual habit was to start drinking early in the morning, visit his favorite bar, drink some more, and then stumble home to sleep the rest of the day away. He was, according to my mom, a very bad drunk.

My grandmother took care of him despite his weakness. She not only ran her growing real estate business, but she cared for her husband. When he had a series of strokes, she provided night and day care for him at home, hiring a physician and caregivers. I was a little boy in that house. I am named after the doctor that practically lived at our home, providing care. My grandfather never spoke. He stayed in bed all day.  He would smile at me. That’s all I remember about him.  Luckily I did not see the drunken rage, the beatings, or the violence. That was all before, so I could only think of that smiling man as my grandpa.

 Once you make your money, keep it safe. Don’t gamble forever

When I was 3 he passed away. By the time I was 7, my grandmother had sold off most of her real estate holdings. She had made herself a very wealthy woman by 1976. She had moved most of her money to bank certificates of deposit and blue-chip stocks. She told me once that she still had trouble trusting the banks, but she did believe in their FDIC protection. But so often, she said, “Never put all your eggs in one basket”. She owned the mortgage notes to several buildings, her stock portfolio was significant, and she still owned some properties. “One day,” she told me, “This will be yours.” I believed her.

 Money is not a substitute for love or wisdom

It was not to be. I think you can blame this on my grandmother’s habit of trying to control her family with money. If she wanted you to do something, she would wave the money before your eyes, until you gave in. I grew up with this, so it actually seemed normal at the time. But it was sick and twisted. It just took years before I realized it. If you were dating someone she didn’t like, you could get paid for dropping her. If you decided not to go to medical school there was a  bribe to make you want to go. She waved those carrots around like there was an endless supply. And as she aged, it grew worse. She pitted her three children against each other. She paid for one child to not work for 5 years while begrudging another. It was fiendish. And it proved her undoing. 

 Never construct your life so your family will benefit more from your death than your life.

My two uncles conspired against her. They convinced her to sell the home she shared with my mother and father and move in with one of them. Then, within 2 months, they had gotten her to sign over all her assets to them. Then came the awful  phone call. At 11:00pm at night, my grandmother was left alone in a bus station in Tampa. She was wearing a housecoat and slippers. She appeared drugged. She did not have a penny on her. By the time my mom was able to sort things out, my uncles had transferred most of her wealth to their names. There was nothing to be done. It turns out, there are no laws stopping children from taking their parents money.

My grandmother passed away within a year. My mother did everything she could to provide for her mom until the moment she passed away. I even pitched in to care for her as much as I could. This involved me leaving Hawaii and moving back to Florida and leaving  a life I was truly happy with. My grandmother cried about her loss of money until the moment she died. I often think she died over that grief. For her, the money was everything. It was like her child. But because of it, she had lost her two sons and her assets. I loved my grandmother. I was with her the moment she passed away. It was one of the most painful moments in my life. I never saw a penny of an inheritance, but that was never something I expected. I loved her like a mother, and her passing left a hole in my life that has never been filled. She did many wonderful things for her family with her money. But that was tainted by all the terrible things. She created a family of dependents, people who would rather look to her for help than working things out themselves. And in the end, she created blinding greed that overtook my two uncles' better judgment.

Not my family!!

 Use your money to create independence in you family, not dependence.

If you are wealthy, consider how your money affects those around you. Giving gifts and presents may seem like a fun way to spend your time, but think about the message that sends your loved ones. I think my grandmother should have offered to loan money to her children so they could have started their own businesses. She could easily have helped them create their own real estate and small business wealth by being their banker. That would have meant real mortgages where they would have had to make payments to her. Not a handout, because I don’t think that motivates people. Instead, she gave and gave to the point where her family saw it was easier to get a hand out that actually work for the money. In the end, she made those around her dependent.  And I doubt that was her goal. She always wanted to know her family was provided for. The problem was, she provided too much.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Starting Your Dream Business - 6 ways to make it happen

One of the purposes of this blog is to help other people build their own dream business. Probably the biggest thing stopping most people from going into business themselves is fear. It's so hard to take the first step. We convince ourselves we lack the time, money, or skills to go it on our own.

For those that do take the big step, many find themselves trapped in a business they do not enjoy. More often than not, people quit their business within the first year. Either they find they are miserable doing it or they just aren’t finding the money and satisfaction they thought they would. I know about all of this. I have started several businesses and I have learned many of these lessons the hard way.

In the past two months I have written a few articles I think would really help anyone considering starting their own business. I am calling these my “Finding your Aim Core Principals” because they address what I think are the key stopping points for business owners. You will see links in each of the six topics to other articles I wrote.

   Let me know if you think of anything else. I would love to publish anyone else’s experiences with starting a new business or sideline.

·      It's never too late! Think you are too old to start a business? Feel like everyone else is already ahead of you? Don’t let that stop you. So many of my clients have told me about their second careers and late starts. Lots of people begin late in life and make a huge success with their passion. You might be 34, 54, or 74; it's not too late! Countless people have started out late in life after failed attempts at other dreams. There is still time!

·      Make open spaces in your life – You may want to start a business but you feel you don’t have the room in your life. Make the room! You will never be able to turn your work into your passion unless you create the time to pursue new ideas. This means leaving time in your schedule for nothing to happen.  Sounds easy, but I know how hard this can be. It's so easy to fill every moment. Sometimes, it seems like a requirement. But your life will suffer! You won’t find happiness filling every minute. Create open spaces for new things to happen.

·      Don’t make money your goal!  You will never succeed just worrying about money. Instead, focus on your abilities and your own happiness. When you are doing what you love, it won’t seem like a job. Test every idea with the lottery test -  How do you know if what you want to do will make you happy? Ask yourself if you would still do it if you won the lottery. If the answer is still yes, then do it!

·      Allow yourself to try and try again -  You may have lots and lots of great ideas for starting a new business. That’s wonderful! But starting a business can be so time consuming! Don’t fall into this trap. Start as small as you can. Feel free to start a test business or micro business. Leave a chance for all of your ideas. The worst mistake you can make is to start too large only to find out you hate running the business you created.

·      Ignore the noise – Don’t let the newspaper or television or your friends talk you out of your idea. The worst mistake you can make with your dreams is to allow the media to talk you out of them. Remember, television is all about selling ad time to companies that make money on you being a lazy consumer of things. The media doesn’t want you shutting it off and using your resources to find your dreams. The TV wants you to feel unable to do things on your own. Sometimes even the people around you can be the same way. If you find your true purpose, what does that say about them?  Shut it all off. Ignore them. You can’t be original listening to them. Instead, listen to yourself and your heart.

·      Spend time on yourself first! Each day, spend some time pursuing your own dreams. Too many people believe they are too busy to ‘waste their time’ on dreams. Those are the same people who live with regrets when they are older. Take the first step now. Even if it's just a little baby step, do it! It’s the only way you will ever change your life. Thinking about it is not the same as doing it. You're too busy? You have more time than you think! We all do! It's all in how you use it. Turn off your TV and computer and free yourself from all the time suckers. We all have only so much time on this planet – don’t waste it! You have more than enough hours in the day to find your passions. But not if you waste it!


Big gifts don't matter

I have seen it happen many times in my own family. A divorced father buys his estranged kids an outrageous gift. A pony, sports car, or a drum set - you know the kind of gift I am talking about. I suspect they do it to make up for all the lost time with their kids. Maybe it's to punish their spouse a little. As if to say, “Look at how much your dad loves you.”  Perhaps it's worse than that. Quite possibly the parent giving the gift has no clue how to relate to the child. Giving the gift is the only way he feels he can reach them. 

You know what the most important thing is that you can give to a child? The one thing they will truly cherish when you are long gone from this planet? It's not that expensive gift. It's not their education you paid for. It's not even their braces or the time you spent working to pay for their first car. It’s also not the money you leave them in your estate. All of that is nice, but it pales in comparison to the time you actually spend with them. 

I miss my grandmother tremendously. I wish I could call her just one more time and tell her how my life is going. I didn’t realize until she was gone that I really depended on those conversations with her. I had to pay a psychologist over a hundred dollars an hour to even come close to the therapy she gave me in those phone calls. It’s not her money or gifts that I long for now, it’s her ability to listen to my problems. Nothing can replace the time she gave me. 

I beat myself up sometimes. I feel I don’t do enough for my kids. I wish I could take them on more vacations, like our friends go on. I only take them for one week a year. I also hardly ever buy them gifts. I think it's because they don’t watch much TV, but they never seem to want much. They both have computers and books. That is really all they want. Recently they told me they wanted to buy surf boards, but they already have their own money saved to buy them. It has literally been years since I really bought them any kind of surprise gift. Honestly, they never seem to want anything. 

But, I really do spend a lot of time with them. We spend hours hiking together. I work with them 2 days a week on their schoolwork. Each night, we sit down to a family dinner. We talk and talk. When we do go on vacations, it is to spend time together. When I feel down, just talking to my kids picks me up and puts things in perspective. I would guess I spend over 25 hours a week with my children. Not just watching them, but talking, listening, being active, or teaching them. That's a lot of hours!

I have never given a present to someone with the intention of winning them over. I know that a gift is no replacement for time for those you love.  Your presents don’t change peoples opinions of you, not the people you care for.  Gifts simply don’t achieve that. I am sure there are girls out there who will screw you blind for a piece of jewelry. But there are prostitutes who are cheaper. Anyone who feels differently about you because of a present isn’t worth the gift. The only real gift is the moments you spend talking, throwing a baseball, or hiking with them. You don’t have to be in the same room. My grandmother talked to me more over the phone than in person. It never mattered to me. I just miss her attention and presence. Too often we let miles and money separate us. We let things get in the way of sharing ourselves with others. Don’t let all that get in the way of spending time with people. In the end, things are forgotten. It's your actions that really count. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Lottery Test

Why do you work?  For the most part we all work for money. Salaries, healthcare benefits, retirements, helping the kids with college, have I left anything out? Very few of us work because we love it. I know some people who have, and I admire the heck out of them. But, most of us find things we are good at and do them for money. We are doctors, lawyers, and business executives and we all work for money. As the years go by, the question of doing what we love becomes more and more removed from the equation. It becomes doing what we can and must.

But, what if you won the Lotto? I think that poses an interesting twist to the question of doing what we love. It removes money from the equation. I know that some of you might say, “Well, that depends on how much I win!” Ok, fine. Let’s just say you won enough to free yourself from working if you want to. You won enough to quit your job and do anything you really wanted to. You won, after taxes, 12 million dollars. If that’s not enough then you are reading the wrong blog! If you are still reading, ask yourself the question, would I still do what I currently do if I won the lotto? More than your job, would you stay living in the same place? Would you do things differently for your family or relatives? What would you do with the rest of your life if you had that winning ticket?

A little disclaimer: I just bought a lotto ticket in Florida over the weekend.  Hawaii does not have a lottery, but over the weekend I was dealing with some family issues. On a whim I bought a 52 draw ticket. I know it’s a waste of money. But now, I can dream about winning a few million in the lotto. At least I can for the next 26 weeks. I think a little diversion for 26 weeks is worth $52, but that’s just me.

So how would I answer the question? Such a fun question! I wish some of you would comment on this and tell what you would do. Imagine yourself beyond the initial shock of winning. Think about the moves you would make over the next year if you won tomorrow.

This will sound absurd, but my life wouldn’t change that much. I know that sounds a bit contrived. But remember, I have already been pretty lucky. I sort of won the real estate lottery a few years back, so I made some of the changes you might be dreaming about.  I already live in the place I love most in the world. I think Kailua is one of the best places on this planet to call home. It has everything I want in a location; beautiful beaches, excellent and plentiful hiking, loads of water sports, and perfect weather.  Even if I had a billion dollars, I would want to live in Kailua.  So I wouldn’t move.

I also love my house, mainly because I did all the remodeling myself. My home is a reflection of my wife and me. We chose the colors and the design. I did ninety percent of the work myself. I have a lot of pride in the final product. Because I saved so much money on labor, we were able to splurge on cabinets and appliances. We remodeled during the 2008 recession and we found huge discounts on all the materials. So, I really wouldn’t change much about where I live. I would certainly pay my loan off. But, right now it is being covered by my tenants. Winning a lottery would allow me to have no mortgage, but I would still keep renting out the two rentals on our property, since the income is great, and it keeps the property safe. Winning the lotto wouldn’t change much as far as my home.

This is the view from the front of my house. 

What about my job? I suppose it would probably allow me to close my PT practice. But only if that meant starting some other business I would enjoy more.  I really loved buying homes and renovating them in Florida. I was truly passionate about that when I did it in Florida. What stops me from doing that in Hawaii is the cost of homes. If I won the Lotto, I could afford to buy a run down home and take the time to remodel it. I would love to be back in the house business. But would I really give up on treating clients forever? I have to say, I love helping people. It would be nice to work about 20 hours a week seeing patients. If I wasn’t burdened by saving for my retirement and keeping my business afloat, I would have time to go to more continuing education courses. Possibly, I would even do some volunteering, providing my service for free. I do that sometimes now, but it would be fun to be able to do it even more.

The thing is, I still see myself being a PT, just working a lot less hours. I also already manage real estate; my own home has 3 separate living areas, two that we rent out. Winning the lottery would allow me to balance my time between my PT job, real estate, and my family.

But I only work three days a week right now, so it's not going to change that much. I think the big thing would be knowing that I have my retirement funded. That would take a huge load off my mind. I am about 8 years away from my retirement goal right now. That doesn’t mean we are done working, just that our retirement accounts will be fully funded in about 8 years. After that point, we planned to continue working, but only at about forty percent of what we currently do. We save about sixty percent of what we earn after taxes. Once that savings goal is met, we plan to really cut back on the time we spend working.

My goal is not to be retired. Instead, I hope to slowly find myself in businesses I enjoy more and doing things that will engage me until I am too old to know my own name. I want to be a writer. I want to own rental properties. I want to be an investor in businesses and companies. I want to have the freedom to invent things and start new businesses.  I am in some ways all those things right now. I hope to be doing them more and more as time goes by. Winning 12 million would certainly accelerate those plans. But it wouldn’t change them. I was very lucky 8 years ago. Because I owned rental properties in the right place, our dream of moving  back to Hawaii was accelerated. Instead of having to work hard for 10 more years in Florida, we were able to move to Hawaii in two years. But it wasn’t the panacea I envisioned. Within another year, I was so miserable I almost killed myself.

You know, a lot of lotto winners have the same thing happen to them. They believe the money will make them happy. They mistakenly think money will solve all their problems. I promise you, it won’t. Everything that’s wrong with your life now, will only be magnified by winning millions. My own personality flaws were super-sized by making money in real estate.  There were communication problems my wife and I had that were made worse once we had a larger bank account. Money made those problems worse. It took both of us admitting the problem and honestly working through things before it was solved. Money had nothing to do with the solution. 

There was a propensity I had for trying to make things too large that only was made worse with the extra money. It's taken me years to realize that money doesn’t really solve anything, but it does speed things up. What might take you years of saving a meager pay check, will take a lottery winner just a moment. Is that really better? Sometimes, when you are forced to work for years toiling at a goal, you appreciate and value the goal more. You also have time to really think about the mechanics of it. When you have fast and easy money, do you make the same decisions? Probably not!

I am not saying I wouldn’t love to win the lottery. I am saying my dreams and goals won’t change. Right now, I feel I am working toward the same goals and aspirations I would have if I really did win millions. I just have to work a decade or so to achieve those.

Do you know what would really change for me? I would love to travel more! We took a three day trip to Florida last week. I think we spent as much time on a plane as we did seeing everyone. It was a terrible trip filled with family issues. But we still enjoyed the time away.  Last Christmas, we went to New Zealand for a backpacking odyssey. The year before, we went spelunking in Australia. We also did the Kalalau Trail on Kauai three times in the last three years. My kids had more fun out of those trips than all the birthdays and Christmases combined. Those are by far the best times I have had in the past five years. We should have traveled more. I want my kids to see Europe and Patagonia. I want to hike the Inca trail with them.  

We don’t travel that much because of our practice. We are really afraid to close it more than a week once a year. We work so hard to market it, we feel it kills our business to be closed more than that. I went to Florida for only three days because it meant the office was only closed for two days. In the past 8 years we have only closed our office for 6 weeks. Six weeks over 8 years!

That’s crazy! I am sitting here right now thinking, “If I won the lottery, I would travel more.” How dumb is that? My wife and I are healthy right now. My kids are young right now. That combination will never occur again. I think the lottery test is telling me something. I may not be able to travel for a month right now, but it's wrong for us to only take a week of vacation a year. Why should I have to wait for retirement to enjoy that aspect of life? We don’t have to spend tons of money, nor do we need more than a week off. I have enough credit card miles to send all of us to Europe. Closing the office will cost us, but we can just work harder when we are back. If I really feel my life would be enhanced by travel, why would I need the impossibly unlikely lotto win to make that happen? What am I afraid of?

Ok, you can answer that for yourself. My point is this, you shouldn’t need millions of dollars to live the life you want. Whatever it is that you want to do, find a way to start doing it today. I am not ever going to win the lotto. Neither are you. But I can do the things I want to do now, even if that means I work a few extra years. Money is always something I can earn, time isn’t.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The best business in the world

How to start a Micro Business: I had a client that owned a hugely successful bagel shop. I visited his store; it was just a hole in the wall place. It was located in a dilapidated shopping center with a grocery store as the anchor tenant. His Bagel place was barely 500 square feet. Most of it was the kitchen. He told me he only worked there for two hours a day. Every morning, he would show up at 4:00am to make the dough. He had a secret recipe and he would not let anyone on his staff know how he made the bagels. Then, at 5:00 his two bakers would show up. They took his dough, formed the bagels, added toppings, and boiled and baked them into delicious hot bread.

Each morning at 6:00am, his store had a line out the door. Secretaries, bosses, contractors, and sales people would line up for a dozen assorted bagels and a container of whipped cream cheese. My client had invested very little in this business. He bought a second hand pizza oven and a commercial stove. His entire investment was under 25 thousand. He told me the most expensive part was that the county required a sprinkler system. He had 4 employees, 2 bakers, and 2 girls to man the register. Each morning the girls arrived at 5:30 to whip the cream cheese and put it in plastic containers. Then they opened the doors and sold bagels until 11:00am. That’s when the store closed, 5 hours later. 

It was open 7 days a week. His employees were paid very well for the short hours. He revealed to me that his store took in just over a million in revenue a year. His profit was astronomical for a restaurant. He had so little overhead. His employee costs were low. Zero advertising!  Flour, water, yeast, and small amounts of toppings were all that were needed to make the bagels. Cream cheese was purchased in large tubs from a vendor. He told me how much he earned for 2 hours of work a day. It was more than most heart surgeons make.

I want to tell you there is an amazing lesson in this. But I can’t. Do you know what made him successful? That recipe. I went and tried his bagels. They were mouth watering. So amazingly good.  He had something you could not buy anywhere else in the city. You would have had to travel to New York to find a better bagel. And he was consistent. Since he mixed them himself, he always had that same taste in every bagel. He did not need to be the one who formed them or topped them. He didn’t even need to sell them. He just had to make the perfect dough.

Plus, it was so inexpensive! You could buy a dozen with cream cheese for $10. That meant you could bring breakfast for a small office for almost nothing. If you made sales calls, you could bring a couple dozen bagels to your first client’s business and they would love you for it. I do a lot of marketing. It's nothing for me to spend $75 feeding a doctor’s office. I wish this bagel shop was where I live now. I would make just as many friends with a $10 dozen of bagels, I am sure.

I learned that he never shared his dough recipe with anyone. How could he? The only thing that made him successful was the secret to how he mixed the ingredients. With that knowledge, you could have stolen his business. Just like Coke and Pepsi, the bagel man had trade secrets.

Would I want to be the bagel man? I think so! Imagine the freedom he enjoyed every day. Only two hours of work and the rest of the day to do anything you want. Occasionally, he closed the restaurant for a week or two. The minute he was back the line would be longer than ever. It really was the perfect business.

So what can we learn form this?

First of all, have a truly spectacular product that you can’t get from anyone else. There were lots and lots of bagel places competing with him. But none of them had his delicious bagels.

Second, keep your overhead, start up, and employee costs as low as possible. His initial investment was a tenth of what most restaurants pay to open the doors. His payroll was under 75K per year. Supplies including all that flour cost less than the employees. The rest was in his bank account.

Third, reduce your role to only the things you do the best. He was really good at making the dough. So that’s all he did. The other jobs were done by competent people who felt they were well paid for their time. Anyone can make the dough into bagels and add the topping. Selling them and mixing the cream cheese was also a fairly easy job. It all came down to the recipe for the bagels. Do the thing you do the best and then hire people to do the rest. That’s the prime directive for all successful small businesses.

Fourth, the best adverting is word of mouth. He never had sales. Not once did he have a newspaper or radio ad. It was all based on people talking and trying his bagels. I learned about him first when a fellow therapist brought a dozen to work for breakfast. I was hooked!

I think there are applications of what he accomplished in lots of businesses. The key thing is creating something your customers can’t get from anyone else. That is the path to success.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Live and let die

My father-in-law is dying. He had a stroke last Christmas that left him unable to walk or even dress himself. For the last 4 months, he has spent his time in the hospital and rehab.  My wife has gone back to see him a few times, in hopes of helping him get better care. It's been pretty much an act of futility. We have both come to realize he really doesn’t want help. We worked hard to find him a nice facility to transfer to. It's an extended care assisted living facility that would care for him in style for the rest of his life. It took us months of hard work to get him accepted there. He told us last week he was moving in with his girlfriend instead. It's an option that horrifies my wife. 

His plan is to drink himself out of his situation.  Yes, you read that right. He most likely will not survive.  Believe it or not, it’s worked for him in the past. Two other times, in the past ten years, he lay close to death. Once from prostate cancer and the second time from liver failure. Each time, he stubbornly resisted all practical medical advice and returned home to his own devices. It's not that we haven’t tried to help him. My wife and I hired lawyers, talked to social security and Medicare, and even hired professional case managers to try and find him the best of care. Yet each time, it ends the same. He somehow survives and returns back to his life of haunting local bars and slowly consuming lethal levels of alcohol. It is, quite clearly, what he wants.

My wife, of course, wants something completely different for her father. She wants him well cared for, fed, and happy. When she has to see him smoking and drinking, it kills her. The man she hoped for as a father is not there. Instead, the dad she is stuck with is a constant reminder of the weakness and frailty of humans. Sometimes, my only role in this mess is to ask her what she thinks her Dad really wants. It’s so easy to project your own concepts of success on other people!

My wife wants the best for her dad.

When you’re a parent, the easiest mistake you can make is to project your ideas of life onto your kids. It’s hard to help!  You want your children to turn out perfectly. As an experienced and older adult, it is not hard to see the paths to greatness. It's easy to know which friends are going to help your kid succeed and which ones are going to hand them their first joint. It’s black and white!

Or is it? Taking care of your children and aging parents is all the same thing. You are dealing with people who depend on you, who look to you for assistance and guidance. My father-in-law makes a lot of horrible decisions. At times, it's hard not to say, “ Hey asshole! The things you are doing right now are going to make it harder for me to care for you later!” I am sure many parents feel the same thing about their kids. But how successful can you be at making others bend to your will? If I take the alcohol and girlfriend out of his life, will he continue to have the quality of life he wants? Nope! He will have the kind of life I would want. Of course, those are not the same thing.

I had to fire a therapist once that worked for me for two weeks. She had an amazing background. She received a doctorate and had all sorts of advanced degrees and certificates. She really knew her stuff. She would passionately work with her clients, showing them not only what to do to get better, but also where they went wrong. She was really good. The only problem was this: when her clients would return and tell her they forgot to do her exercises she would yell at them. Really yell! When they seemed to not follow her prevention tips, she became hostile. I thought she had anger issues. I watched her unleash her fury on three clients before I realized I could not have her working for me. You know what was wrong with her? She focused on the wrong thing. She was more worried about whether her clients followed her advice than how she related to them. She basically had a one-way relationship with them. She spoke and they had to not only listen, but follow her advice to the letter. That never works anywhere in life.

You know what the correct role is for me as an adult child and as a parent? It’s the same as my role as a therapist. I am here not to make anyone’s decision. Instead, I am only here to explain the correct course. When you come to me with back pain, I can show you exactly what you did to cause your pain. I’ll give you exercises and techniques to avoid that pain in the future. It’s up to you to listen. I know I have done my job if I provide the ideal course for you to follow.

If you don’t follow my advice, I don’t get angry. I am not hurt. I have come to realize that most people will do what they want, no matter how hard I try. Instead, I have learned to be sympathetic. I let them tell me about their failures. I don’t judge them or admonish them. Instead, I just ask them, “How do you think you could have corrected that?” It's kind of an evil trick. I already told them precisely how to avoid the problem and they ignored me. They know that. By pointing it out, I end my role in our relationship as a healer. Now I become an authority figure. If I keep that up I can guarantee the clients will lie to me when I ask how they are.  That’s what you do to authority, you evade it. This is really something you never want with a client, or elderly parent, or a child.

Here is the thing, you cannot exert your will on everyone around you. No matter how smart, right, or genius you are, it won’t work! You can not run everyone’s life. If you try, you will ultimately find yourself completely alone - unless you are uber-rich; then you will find yourself surrounded by leeches. But for the rest of us, the greatest mistake is to try and control everyone’s decisions. I know! I was guilty of this too. My family made a profession of controlling others. My grandmother went to the grave believing her money could allow her the right to control everyone. I think her kids grew to hate her for that, so much so that two of them conspired to take all her assets. It never ends well.

So, on the road to finding your aim in life, leave this one stop off the map. You don’t need to waste a moment trying to get those around you to do what you want. It’s a huge waste of effort and energy. Instead, point everyone in the right direction. Use all that energy to learn to accept people. Your job in life is not to make everyone follow your advice. When people go the wrong way, be the sympathetic ear that listens to all the reasons why they went the wrong direction. Get them to tell you what’s right for them. That’s the only way for you to end up surrounded by family and friends at the end of the game. Otherwise, you will ultimately be the only one in the room.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Allow yourself to Try and Try again.

I admit it, most of my ideas stink.  I am sorry for more than one of them. At the top of the heap was the home care business I started last year. It seemed like such a great idea at the time, but it resulted in nothing but a huge gaping loss of a year.

It seemed like we were filling a void. We would provide caregivers to elderly clients. Our girls would cook, clean, drive, and provide companionship. I knew so many people who wanted the service. I made lists of all our old clients we should notify of our new business. By the end of the fist month, we had 12 clients and 20 employees. It felt like we were strapped to a rocket.

I paid a lot for this Logo.

But I was so short sighted. I hadn’t realized the stiff competition we would receive, not just from other agencies, but also from the staff we would hire. Yes, our employees would sell us out. They often solicited out clients and undercut our prices, going directly to work for the clients. We were just the middle men. The girls who worked for us were a commodity. As is often the case, our customers went directly to the source. As many clients as we gained, we seemed to lose the same number.

I was spending so much time! It was hurting my other business, my physical therapy clinic. I was torn between the two businesses. I spent all my time trying to make the home care business work. I advertised. I met with clients. I had staff meetings and endless phone conversations. I did everything I could to make this business work. And it did work! I found more new clients than we lost. I was able to get rid of the employees who were attempting to steal our clients. I spent more time talking to our customers and their families to remind them what our service was worth.

What a huge commitment of my time and energy! And in the end, one thing became apparent. This business would always require a huge time investment of the owner. There is no way to avoid this in a service business. The owner has to both provide value to the customer, and constantly remind the employees why it’s in their best interest to stay employees. That is all quite achievable but only with a huge effort. And the bigger you get, the larger the commitment of the owner. That’s why so many service businesses choose to stay small. Usually, the ones that succeed have huge margins. We were barely seeing a 10% profit over our employees' pay. That will never work.

So what one lesson can I pass on to you? When you have an idea, start small. When you first conceive something, it's natural to imagine as a full blown business. I can always picture the way things will ultimately be. I pictured my home care agency with 300 employees and three offices. I saw the television ads and the management staff. The problem was, I tried to make that all happen in one year.

It kills me to think of what I missed in the process.  More than just the loss of all my free time and the hours I could have spent with my wife and kids. I was so busy building and then dismantling that business that I had to pass on several good business opportunities that came my way. I had been offered a very good opportunity to expand my PT practice. I also had a very interesting internet business idea come my way. Someone else is doing that idea right now. I was just too busy! I had committed every hour of my day, even the hours I did not have. I couldn’t even think about these other ideas. I was not using my creativity or breaking any new ground. I was mired in other people’s problems and hours and hours of meetings and phone time.

It's one thing to commit yourself to something you love and you feel fulfilled by. It's another to be trapped by something you feel like you are wasting your time with. It did not have to be that way. I knew by July that the home care business was not for me. But it took me until November to rid myself of it. I really should have started much smaller and limited my growth at first. Quite possibly, I would have seen the flaws in the business early on and either corrected them or bailed when it was easier to leave. Once you have 37 full time clients and over 50 employees, you can’t just close shop. You have to give everyone notice and you risk having customers not pay you. It can be very difficult to end a business without losing a lot of money.

Here is what I have learned to do: Start small. Any idea I have, I try and think of the smallest possible test business I can create. Then I test it. I see if I like the idea and the commitment it will take.

Right now, I have a new idea to make an exercise video. I have a friend who happens to be a fitness model. She is beautiful and in incredible shape. I think she would be perfect to be the star of my exercise video. I can easily picture the video being a success. We would have an infomercial, print and TV ads, and celebrity endorsement. Soon Costco would be selling our video collection and our invented equipment.  But that does not mean the first step is to spend tens of thousands on a professional video company. If I did that I would be committed to tons of money. The pressure would be on from day one. I would have to succeed or drown! 

 Instead, I am going to find someone to make a lower budget copy of my idea.  My friend has agreed to do the video for free for a large cut of the profits. So she has something at stake along with me. That’s very important! I know her pretty well; she is a master at marketing herself. The one factor that will make this idea a success is how well we promote it. I am sure with her fully on board, we can find lots of innovative and even free ways of advertising this idea. At first, we will sell the inexpensive video. If there is a demand, we will certainly re-shoot it. I could easily see us making a whole set of complimentary videos. But for now, we will make one and see how it goes.

These days, there are lots of ways to outsource your work. There are companies that will make any product for you. I know people who have their own vitamin mixes that don’t know a thing about manufacturing drugs. I have a client who sells his own brand of watches, and he has no idea how a watch is made. He went to a Swiss watch maker and contracted them to build his design.  I once tried to manufacture my own line of coffee. But I wasn’t going to invest millions in grinding and roasting equipment; I was planning to pay a coffee company to create my own blend with my own label.

Have you ever heard the story of Richard Branson?  He founded Virgin Air without ever buying a plane. He convinced Boeing to allow him to lease jets. Buying planes costs hundreds of millions of dollars. He leased them for thousands. Then he tested several routes he thought were needed. His low budget approach allowed him to test his idea without betting his fortune. He was correct. The London to New York route was a huge hit and Virgin Atlantic was born. There is a lesson there.

I think it makes a lot of sense these days to start micro-businesses. These are small versions of larger business ideas. It allows you to test your idea on the public. More importantly, it permits you a way to test drive your concept when it's still an easy thing to leave. You will never know the problems of a business until you are actually running it. If you make a micro-version of the company you want, just multiply all the problems you encounter by 10. That’s will give you an estimate of what it will be like when you run the full version.

There is another benefit to this concept. It allows you to try a lot more ideas in a lot less time. I was able to try only one idea last year. It filled my entire year. I want to try 10 things this year. I am hopeful that one or two of them will succeed. If not, I plan to try 20 things next year. At some point something will stick! I have no choice but to make every idea a small attempt. Otherwise I will never find success. Finding your thing takes a fair bit of luck along with all the hard work. Starting 10 businesses will increase my chances.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's NOT too late!!

Do you ever feel it’s too late for you? I know I do! I look at the success of people I know and think, “Will I ever find that?” I am 44. I work with clients in their 60’s and 70’s that are too disabled to enjoy life any more. Some of them barely have 20 years on me. It is too easy to feel like it's too late.  Luckily I know lots of people who got started late in life. Many of my clients have had second acts, late life changes in career. Some of them met huge success with their late life change. I think the older you get the greater your chances of making it. Must be all that experience. 

I look at people like Casey Neistat, who seemed to hit the ground running in his 20’s. Look at this young guy’s success. That’s never going to be me! But, maybe that’s ok. Maybe, for me, starting later is what will work.  When I was in high school I hated sports. I used to get notes from my parents excusing me from PE. Now, I get up at 5:00am just to lift weights every morning. I run 35 miles a week. I have backpacked some of the most arduous trails in the world. I am training to swim in an open ocean race. I am a late bloomer when it comes to sports.

I loved watching the TV cook, Julia Child. Julia did not know how to cook until she was in her mid thirties. Really! She had just moved to France with her husband. She didn’t speak French and was at a loss over what to do with herself. She had tried writing but realized it wasn’t for her. It wasn’t until she enrolled in the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school that she discovered her passion in cooking. She was 36. But even then it took hard work. After 10 years, she published her now famous cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”  She was 51 when she started filming her PBS show, “The French Chef.” I learned to love cooking from watching her show.  Her books sit on my cooking bookshelf.

Ray Kroc spent 17 long years as a paper cup salesman.  Then he spent another 17 years selling a machine that could make 5 milkshakes at once. This machine, called The Multimixer, was meant to service large drug store soda fountains. But Ray realized that small hamburger restaurants might also be interested in the invention. The idea appealed to Maurice and Richard McDonald, who owned a few hamburger joints in California and Arizona. They bought 10 machines from Kroc, who went to visit the restaurants himself. Ray was impressed by their low priced and simple menu. He suggested the brothers could make more money franchising their business. They were interested but lacked the know-how. Ray Kroc volunteered himself for the job. He was 52 and had diabetes and arthritis. Within a few years, he bought out the brothers' share in the business. By 1963, the company sold its one billionth burger. Ray ran the conglomerate until his death at 82.

Charles Bukowski was 49 years old before he decided to finally make a career of writing. Before that he had worked at the post office, served a short prison sentence for draft evasion, married, divorced, and fathered a child. He was not in good health and his chronic bleeding ulcers were made worse by his alcoholism. He published his first successful novel, Post Office, in 1971 and went on to write 5 more novels and many poetry collections before his death at the age of 74. He became one of the great American writers.

There are lots of folks that became writers and painters in their waning years. Grandma Moses and Laura Ingles Wilder got very late starts. Frank McCourt is the author of the book Angela’s Ashes. He worked for over 30 years teaching English and writing in the New York university system. He finally got around to telling about his own life in his 60s and published his Pulitzer Prize winning novel at 66. 

I had a patient that lost everything, and I mean everything. He told me how he and his wife survived Auschwitz. It was the most awful thing I have ever heard.  It took him two hours to tell me the whole story. His tale was the kind of thing that movies are made from.  He had gone into the camp with a wife and three young children. He emerged a broken 27 year old man. He was sent to a re-integration camp in the US. He was taught a trade, tailoring. He borrowed money from a Jewish organization and founded a tailor shop in Philly. He married another survivor and together they had 2 children. His business was successful and his boys both became brain surgeons. He had started completely from scratch at 30. If he can do that, so can I and so can you.

We never give ourselves enough credit. We all have so much potential. True, many of us waste our abilities on jobs we hate, television, and alcohol. I feel I have wasted years toiling away at things that did not bring me any satisfaction. But it's really not too late! A writer can work until the day he or she dies. So can a painter or artist. I have known people that ran their own businesses until they were 90. I had one patient that owned a car dealership and successfully managed it until he was 100.

We all have to go under the assumption that we have a few years left. To think anything different will only result in us giving up. Time is the one thing we should never waste. There is time! It's not too late.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Make open space in your life

In 2006 I came close to suicide. I was under incredible stress at the time. I was trying to run a  medical practice. I had just bought a physical therapy business from two guys who had no business being entrepreneurs, and I made the foolish mistake of keeping them on as employees. I was constantly stressed out and miserable. I blamed myself for everything. My wife and I were fighting. I felt like a huge failure. I found myself sitting at the edge of a cliff contemplating a 300’ jump. Luckily, I did not do it.  It was hard to return to my life after that. I needed help, and I knew it. I ended up in the office of a psychologist.  He said something in the first session that stuck in my mind as excellent advice. “Make space in your life.”

 The counselor  felt the mistake I had made was using up every hour of my day. I admit it, I worked too hard. I was working 16 hour days 7 days a week. I had the idea that I was failing in business because I wasn't trying hard enough. So I spent my hours meeting with my staff, seeing my own clients, doing paperwork, bookkeeping, and trying to spend time with my kids. Every minute of my day was accounted for. I simply had not left any moments open.  So there I was, complaining to this psychologist about why my wife was ignoring me. He smiled and said, “Doesn’t sound like you had any moments for her to see you.”

He wasn't listening! Surely my wife  was ignoring me. I wasn’t getting any help from her with my business. The bookkeeping, staffing, and billing were all my problem. I felt alone in this business. We weren’t talking. We weren’t having sex. I was going on and on. Again, he smiled at me. “Where in that schedule did you expect her to have time for fun with you? When was the free time for a conversation with her? Where are the unaccounted moments?” He had me. He was absolutely correct. I had left no free moments. There was no open space in my life.

Kailua Beach - The best beach to walk.

There is a lesson here to always remember. If you are so busy that you don’t have any time for occasionally enjoying a walk on the beach, you are too busy. You must have down time. There has to be a day to rest, a moment in your schedule that is not full of other things. Otherwise, you will not be happy. Your spouse won’t be happy. Think of all the sex, and love, and romantic walks you are missing out on because you are so busy. I know I was missing out on all of that and more. There I was thinking my wife had lost interest in me, in us. Really I had just scheduled her out of my life. Our only interaction had become our fighting about the business. Why weren’t my wife and I  having fun together? Because there was no time for fun! There were other problems too that go beyond the open spaces thing. I was making the huge mistake of thinking of my wife as my employee. That is a terrible mistake and will usually lead to divorce if not corrected! But it's not part of today's topic. I just thought I would mention it in all fairness. 

It gets worse! By not allowing myself time to rest, time to be free, I was losing my ability to think clearly. My mind was wearing down. I was short tempered with everyone. I wasn’t sleeping well. I found myself getting only four or five hours a night. I had committed myself to so many things that I could not be effective at anything.  I had no recuperation time. I stopped thinking clearly! I multi-tasked so much that I was multi-failing. And soon, I found myself on a cliff! No wonder! You need mental breaks. I have this unearthly ability to push myself. I can go hard without food, rest, or a break. I realize now, that I am one of those people that can easily work himself to death. Whatever little alarm that goes off in most people when they push too hard is missing from the brain I have. But it's not healthy! You need open spaces for perspective and clear thought. You can not go and go and go. 

So I listened to the psychologist. I made free times. I stopped scheduling things on the weekend. I slowly un-entwined myself  from all the commitments. Things improved. I began to make more free time for my wife and kids. We began a tradition of going hiking as a family every Saturday. It forced us to talk and enjoy the day. Sounds weird when I say forced, but it’s the truth. I needed to have a portion of the day that was just devoted to being outside with nothing to do. It made a huge improvement. Then I took it a step further. I left spaces for my wife and my kids. This did not mean planning to do things with them. This meant planning to do nothing with them, planning free time. Sounds silly, but it’s the only way. Don’t think it went perfectly well. Things come up. Life happens. But to this day, I still leave the weekends open. No seeing patients ever, no matter how much they beg. And we go hiking as a family almost every weekend. We have even taken a few backpacking trips to New Zealand and the mainland US. I think when you are tied to a phone, computer, and clients all day the only real way to focus on your family is to go someplace with no internet or cell service. No, you don’t have to hike to accomplish this, but you do have to remove yourself from your work and other commitments. Otherwise, you will never see how free time can help.

So what are the benefits of these open spaces? I already mentioned that you will have time for seeing your wife and kids. Believe me, nothing kills your life more than not having peace at home. But there is more. Having open space allows you to find your own creativity. You might try painting or starting a hobby. You might find that you like to write. If you wonder why you aren’t expressing yourself creatively, it may be that you haven’t been giving yourself free time to try it.

 I wrote the other day about all the time people waste watching TVImagine if you painted instead of watching American Idol. Or possibly you started writing a novel instead of watching the Late Show. No, you might not ever make it big as an artist or a writer, but you sure as heck will grow more as a person by being creative. Maybe while you're painting you will figure out what you really want to do with your time. I know that has happened to me.  It's often when you are doing what you want that you get an even better idea. There is a funny thing about having open spaces: you will only understand how important they are once you are in them. The best ideas I have come up with occurred to me when I was hiking with my kids, laughing at their jokes, or when I walk with my wife on the beach. When you are free of your usual requirements, that’s when your mind can really become creative.

Now I realize that free space is for more than just my wife and kids. I also need free space for me.  This year, I planned free time to write this blog. Two days a week, I arranged my schedule so I could be home with nothing to do. Before this, I spent two days a week learning to program a stock trading robot. It was fun and it worked, but it turned out to not be my thing. But after years of dreaming about it, I finally tried it. Maybe this blog leads to something bigger. Possibly it finally gives me the confidence to write. All I know is, if I don’t allow myself this time, it will never happen. I will waste my entire life dreaming of more, but never actually find it.