How To Build A Big Business In A Small Town

I moved to the Chicagoland area when I was 21 years old. It was much, much different than what I had experienced before that in my life. You see, I had grown up mostly in Oskaloosa, Iowa having moved there when I was in 6th grade. I graduated from Oskaloosa High School and went to Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa where I received my AAS degree as a Systems Analyst. Even before moving to Oskaloosa I had lived in small towns for the most part. I had lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a year and Des Moines when I was really young, but mostly small towns otherwise.

Oskaloosa was a town of about 10,000 people but our house was actually in Beacon, a town of about 50 houses. Growing up in such a small place was a little weird, as everywhere you went people would know you, your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents, your aunts and uncles, etc. Much of my family lived or had lived in the Oskaloosa area so our family was well known. Many of the people who lived in Oskaloosa were senior citizens and or people living below the poverty line, so you might guess there was little opportunity for creating larger businesses. Small, home town businesses yes, but growing up there you could not imagine how big the world really was. Leaving, especially for larger cities, was something pretty scary. The idea that over 2 million people live within the Chicago city limits is just crazy talk.

In Oskaloosa and the surrounding areas, we have a few bigger businesses such as 3M, Rollscreen (Pella Windows), Clow, and Musco Lighting. Musco was founded in Muscatine County and has done some amazing things, like put up the lights at Yankee Stadium. Their website still has their corporate headquarters as Oskaloosa. The others are located elsewhere. But Musco is a great example of building a large business in a small town.

When you grow up in a small town, you really don’t see the opportunities that are out there in the world. That is why I will suggest you travel to Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, New York City, Atlanta, or other large cities and learn about needs outside of your small town. I am not suggesting that everyone move to a bigger city, but you really should experience what things are like, what opportunities exist, what people value throughout the country in both urban and rural areas. If you can, travel internationally to learn what things are like in other countries. It really is an eye opener. If you cannot travel like this, at least research what different people are like in different parts of the country and world.

Like Musco did with lighting, create your own dream and develop a product to appeal to people of all types or businesses of all types. The great thing about living in a small town is that there are a lot of great people who will pitch in and help you build your dream into a reality. Of course there are going to be people who know you and don’t believe you can build your dream, but that’s ok, just keep your eye on the prize and keep working for it. If you break down all your barriers, you will be surprised what you can accomplish.

When I decided on my career, I thought that working with computers and creating software was my way out of the factories. What I didn’t know is that my dream was still pretty small and that I could do much greater things. Here’s a small town boy that did pretty good in the “big city”… but my kids are going to do things far greater than I ever could have imagined. Make sure not to sell yourself short.

Originally posted 7/18/2011 on businessfizz.com

Starting A Business Too Much Of A Gamble?

Grand Victoria Elgin, William Hopkins via Flickr

Grand Victoria Elgin, William Hopkins via Flickr

Many people think that investing in the stock market or starting a business is too much of a gamble.  Actually gambling is too much of a gamble, but with proper strategies, investing or starting a business doesn’t have to be a significant gamble.  Of course, most new businesses fail… So this post is going to give you some suggestions for making your new business less of a gamble.

1. Play the right game

While casino games are losing propositions for everyone in the long run, some games give you more of a fighting chance.  In the casino, the closest game to even odds is blackjack, and you can turn the odds in your favor by counting cards.  While not illegal, being a good counter will get you banned.

Most poker games pit you against other gamblers, so the smartest player, as well as the luckiest, will often walk away with extra money.  It should be noted, though, that the house takes a bit from each pot.  No matter what, in each game played, the house is the biggest winner.

In business, you play the right game by finding growing, profitable markets with customers willing to spend money.  From there, you study your customer and learn what makes them tick.  Rather than trying to fool them into parting with their money, we find out what they truly need and provide it for them.  Without good up-front marketing, you are really taking your chances.  However, you can opt for the following strategy instead:

2. Know how much you can lose and walk away after it is gone

When I go to the casino, which is almost never as they mainly take my money, I have a stop loss of about $100.  So nine times out of ten, I will walk away $100 poorer.  The one time out of ten I might walk away with a $500 win.  I figure the casino is entertainment, so winning is a very good night.  Note that a $100 loss is not that big of a deal when I might go to the casino twice per year.

In business, we might do the same thing.  We take $5000 and sink it into a new business and once it’s gone, we move on to the next business.  It is possible to see some promise along the way and choose to invest more, or find others to invest in your idea; but you must really see an opportunity before you do that.  Consider the investment an education in what not to do.

3. Use a methodology

When I play blackjack, I play the same way given the same circumstances.  I might increase or decrease my bet, but my plays are always the same.  I might win a hand, might lose a hand, but I always play the same way.

In business or investing, you create a methodology based on many factors.  A methodology in business might be to create business processes that do the same thing in the same circumstances for all customers.  For instance, you might create an unconditional money-back guarantee and provide exceptional customer service hoping to get word-of-mouth advertising from your customer base.  Maybe each customer will not spread the word, but some will.

When selecting a product or a stock to invest in, you might use methodologies that give you a “yes” or “no” about whether or not to go a certain direction.  Your formulas would be based on sound judgement, but you might not always pick the right product or investment.

4. You will eventually win

When I play blackjack, I might not win tonight.  However, if I play often enough, I will eventually have a winning night.  Even though this is true, my overall net will be a loss.  This applies to all kinds of gambling including the lottery, blackjack, slots, roulette, etc.  Overall, you always lose.  You could have a positive net with poker if you are good enough… and perhaps that is what we should consider a business win… when you are good enough to mostly win.

In business, one win is typically all you really need.  You can have 2000 failed business, yes, but if you keep trying and keep learning, you will eventually have a success.  Again, one is all you really need.

It is tough to try and fail over and over, but in order to succeed we must also fail.  Not trying to be in business because you could fail is a horrible reason not to try, because one success is all you typically need.

So what do you think, is it worth the gamble?

Originally published 6/13/2011 on businessfizz.com

Do You Want To See The Stars?

800px-Elgin_Observatory-300x225The picture to the left is the Elgin National Watch Factory Observatory, a picture from 1994.  I remember going to the observatory while my kids were still small and seeing the stars from inside the building, projected on the ceiling.  It was like being in a cloudless, lightless evening staring at the sky.  It was a cool experience I wish I could share with you, although I believe you can visit the observatory yourself today.  It is at 312 Watch Street in Elgin, Illinois.

Now if seeing the stars within the Elgin Observatory is not good enough for you, there are many places throughout the country where you can look at the stars without having city lights dim them.  Or maybe your goal is to see the stars from outer space.  That dream is possible through much training and sacrifice, but is a much bigger dream.

I say all of this because I really want you to seriously consider going for your big dream.  Especially if you are in high school and dream of a college degree.  You can accomplish this goal, and you can accomplish this at the college of your choice.  Probably the bigger question is what do you want to do with your life?  I am sure that the college education is not your ultimate goal, but a stepping stone along the way.  Would you like to be a policeman or fireman?  Would you like to be an actor or musician?  Would you like to be a talk show host, news anchor, or sports announcer?  All of these dreams are very possible, you just have to pursue excellence in your chosen profession; you have to be the best at what you do.  And you can be… if you really want your dream to become reality, you will try your best to be the best.

Parents, please support your young dreamers with their dreams of choice.  The scary thing is that they just might make it.  They just might be excellent at what they do and raise the next generation to new heights.  It is worth the risk you have to take to get them there.

My dream is not nearly as glamorous as my childrens’ dreams.  I have three children and one is an excellent salesman, one is a promising actor, and one is a promising musician.  My son Jeffery graduates from AMDA in Hollywood next month and has already been an extra for Glee and CSI.  My daughter Chelsey heads to Belmont University this fall and is hoping to be a songwriter and musician.  Big tough dreams.  But I have to tell you that falling short of a big dream is much better than falling short of a small one.  Maybe they will or maybe they will not get their ultimate dream, or maybe it will be even better than they hoped.

I have always felt that I have exceeded my expectations for myself.  But what if I had gone for a larger dream?  Where would I be today?  I am not saying that I regret the path my life has taken, I do not.  But it is always curious to think about what might have been.

Originally posted 6/23/2011 on businessfizz.com

10 Reasons I Did Not Create A Video In The Past Week

I am not sure if this is a compelling headline but here goes…  The top 10 reasons I did not create a YouTube (or any other) video this week:

#1. 350 unique visitors per day on splashplan.com

We continue to have a large number of unique visitors as well as 15 – 20 new member profiles created per day.  I am still grappling with what that means as far as security, bad data, and possible software bugs.

#2. Still working on the new blog at splashplan.net

I edited about three months worth of posts this weekend, and have many more months to go.  I am concerned about content that is not mine… although so far it has been cited correctly when I use a guest blog post.

I have a lot of garbage to delete or edit so it has proven to be productive.

#3. Fixed the member’s area downline list so it no longer breaks its frame.  It was only an issue for my id but still needed it corrected.

#4. As part of correcting the downline list page, I created approvals screens so we can review changed member profiles.

We just wanted to make sure member profiles had good links mainly.

#5. Taxes taxes taxes

It is that time of the year so I have been working on my personal taxes, the business ST-1 (sales tax), the yearly corporate report, California taxes (still owe them one year), and the corporate 1120s.  I figure if I complete one task per weekend for taxes I am doing good.

#6. 40 hours per week for a client

I am still working for a client at 40 hours per week and they need things from me… mostly technology related.  I love the client so its just about getting things done.

#7. I am still married

Paying attention to my wife is a good idea every tonow and then.

#8. I have parents

My mom is concerned because I jump on a jet weekly.  I need to let her know when I am leaving and getting there at minimum.

#9. I have great children

My children are doing great things and like to talk with me every now and then.  I’ve been subbing the wife temporarily but eventually I need to keep up with them.

#10. I have a grandchild

Owen is wrestling tomorrow so I will probably be at wrestling tomorrow.

Is no time to make a video a good enough excuse?  I seem to have time to write…

Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes In Business

10899233_488467124626488_1514679904_n-300x300Mistakes can be expensive.  Mistakes can also be foolish.  Mistakes can create friction with customers, suppliers, employees, yes.  But the thing is, as perfect as you are, you will make mistakes.

If you are so petrified that you will make a mistake, you will do nothing, which is the most expensive choice of all.  A thoughtful choice made that turns out to be a mistake is better than a choice not made.

It is very important that you make ethical and legal choices, but if you make an honest mistake, you can expect to be able to work your way through any problems created.  However, if you make a bad choice knowing it is a bad choice, you can expect consequences.

The body of knowledge needed for business is so vast, not everybody can know everything.  Ultimately that is why you work with teams as your business grows so that your accountant, attorney, technical specialists, and analysts can help you with advice to avoid as many mistakes as possible.  But still, mistakes will happen.

Don’t be afraid.  Go forth and make good choices and you will be okay.

Have A Cookie

1538382_1555501981350264_1128781899_n-300x300Opportunities abound. I mean, they pass you by every day. Really. Once you tune into them, your problem will be which one to choose… and I am going to give you some help there.

To reach the most people, you need a unique solution to a problem. There are so many problems to solve too. For instance, how do I get from point A to point B at 800 miles per hour without leaving the ground? How do I get into space with much less waste? How can we use much less oil-based energy?

Problems like these are gifts. Like a cookie. If you can create a practical solution, you can become wealthy beyond belief.

Many of you have smaller dreams… like to own a service station on the interstate, or become a distributor for a product line. Regardless of what you do, you can create a unique product and a unique brand that will do better than a “me too” business. Study what’s out there… many people get it and you will see them with their unique takes on given businesses.

Have The Courage To Try The Impossible

Have you ever thought “This is too big for me, it is just impossible…”  Well it’s not.  The bigger your thinking, the greater the outcomes.  Even if you don’t achieve your goal, you will achieve greater things than you ever thought possible.

To my kids I put it like this: Make big goals so that when you fall short, you will still have achieved a lot!  The bigger the better.  Believe there is nothing you cannot do, because generally there isn’t.

Now I may have a tinge of negativity in my sayings.  Like falling short.  Here is what I will say about that… Often you set off in a direction with a destination in mind, and somewhere along the way you learn about a great destination within a day’s drive.  Your original destination may be miles and days, and you’re not quite sure if it’s even there.  But this other destination is closer, you know it’s there, and you can return to your path once you’ve visited.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities even as you pursue your goal.  You never know, you may find something even greater… but if you hadn’t started in the direction of your big goal, you would have never found this other opportunity.  So keep your eyes open!

Opportunities pass us by every day.  Most of the time we don’t recognize them, but if you tune yourself to them, you’ll see them.

Is It All About Stamina?

You are a long-distance runner. How do you win the race? Mainly by not dying before you cross the finish line. In business, you are also a long-distance runner. The difference is that you don’t know how long the race is and if there even is a finish line, but if you get there you will be one of the few to make it. Many rewarding past times are similar, such as Texas Hold-em or even the lottery. For the lottery, you just have to buy a ticket a week for 170 million weeks. That’s all. In Texas Hold-em, which is poker, you can generally play forever if you are conservative. You do have to be bold every once in a while to win a pot, and you could go out at that moment, but otherwise you just play and play. Eventually you will be at the last table. Then you might be one of five. If you can keep from passing out in your chair you might just win.

With all of this I just want you to know that if you have a good vision and plan but you give up too early, you still fail. But how long should you hang in there? Often you have to hang in until there is no hope. If you give up when you hit the first negative person, you might as well not go into business. Because people will think you are crazy, nuts, when you first start out. Get beyond this you might just get established. But every rung you climb up the ladder makes you wonder how long the ladder is. Is there an end? Will success ever come? Can I keep climbing? You will keep being tested and tested again, and when you think you can’t go on you’ll be tested some more. You have to believe in yourself and your vision, and keep moving.

I urge you to keep up the good fight as long as you can, until you believe your vision is no longer sensible. Ask yourself: Does my vision make sense? Has anything changed? If nothing has changed, what makes you think your vision doesn’t make sense? You may just need more time to make your dream a reality. You may need more money than you originally thought to get it going. Recalculate your return on investment based on your new reality. Is the return still worth it?

Please let me know how things worked out for you. Was it easy to get started? Was it hard? What made it so hard and how did you persevere?

What Are Your Barriers To Success?

I can guarantee you that having no opportunities is not your barrier to success.  Opportunities are plenty.  Often you just need to choose one and focus your energy on making that opportunity successful.  Sounds easy doesn’t it?  It’s not!  It’s hard friggin work!  But being successful is possible for each and every single one of us.  Perhaps in different ways, but definitely possible.  So let’s take a look at what is holding you back.  Or in my case, what is holding me back.  I’ll take about my past and present psychological barriers and perhaps you’ll see yourself in what I’m saying.

When I was in my first business, my barriers to bigger success were as follows:

1. Fear of sticking my neck out

I was often afraid to invest more or do more for fear of losing everything.  I was afraid to quit my job until everything was secure.  I was afraid to leverage the talents of other people.

2. Not being ready for financial success

I had some personal issues with money that were amplified with more money.  Money doesn’t cure your problems, it usually makes the problems you have more pronounced.

After we closed our first business, my barriers to success were as follows:

1. Afraid of the outcome of working my guts out

We worked hard during our first business and it’s end was a sign to me that I could go through this kind of failure again.  If I invest myself totally in a business again, I might just fail again.  Although this could be true, not doing it again delayed my next success.

2. Afraid of financial failure

I was also afraid of financial failure, though I have taken steps now to prevent complete personal financial failure with my current business.  We incorporated this time and have insurances that will help.

3. Afraid of losing my life

I might be somewhat afraid of dying, but my bigger fear is missing out on life.  Now I realize that I lose more by not going for success.

My current barriers to success, and perhaps barriers all along, look something like this:

1. Fear of money

I am sometimes afraid of being wealthy and losing touch with what’s really important.  Money is a nice tool, but my family is more important.  However, being too afraid of wealth is problematic also.  It can lead to unconscious sabotage.

2. Fear of unemployment

I am a little afraid of being between consulting assignments now and sometimes wish I had a regular paycheck.  Being an employee of someone else does make it difficult to be successful, but certainly not impossible.  Still, I am better off by far being on my own and the risk of unemployment is no more than it would be as an employee.

3. Fear of making the wrong choice

Sometimes I am concerned about heading off in a direction that is not as profitable as a different direction could be.  Inaction is a far worse killer of success than the wrong choice… so I keep making decisions.  I just try to keep my decisions thoughtful.

4. Fear of indebtedness

I am definitely afraid of having too much debt.  I would like to say it’s a healthy fear, but debt can be good in some situations.  It can help you buy a house for instance.  In my opinion, debt for education is also a good debt.  In business, you can finance your business through loans or equity, and I am a little petrified by both.  Currently I am building with cash only which can be foolish.  But I am still in the learning stage of the business and don’t want to stick my neck out too far right now.

Yes I still have some fears that may be a barrier to my future success.  But I also challenge my fears at times and do things in spite of my fear.  I also do things that scare me to death that I probably shouldn’t do… sometimes I am a little impulsive… but it all seems to work out in the end.  So really there is nothing to be scared of at all.  You do something and make a mistake, it’s a learning experience.  It rarely means crashing into a brick wall at 80, it usually means some sort of setback.  So all we really have to fear is fear itself. (FDR)

It Is Darkest Just Before The Dawn

I believe the phrase is “It’s always darkest before the dawn”.  I think the person who wrote this phrase must have been in business or must have been going for some other big dream, because you can’t be successful without a trial by fire.  You must go through the bad times, the dark days, and be tested.  You have to pay your dues like everyone else.  People will be negative.  Your best customer will move away or decide to buy from someone else.  You will find out that you forgot to pay a big important bill.  All kinds of things happen.  If you are going through your dark days, find comfort in knowing that you are probably on the verge of a huge success.  You just have to keep a positive attitude and treat everyone like they are about to give you a million dollars.

In our first business, you might think that we had instant success because our activity level just shot through the roof.  The truth is that you have to spend money ahead of making money, and we spent much more than we made to support the activity level we had.  It was pretty scary.  We had faith that the sales would come around and they did, but there was the ever-present risk that it wouldn’t.

Sometimes you do get to that place in your business where you have to put it all on the line to get the next round of growth.  Bob Parsons decided to put it all on the line for GoDaddy by buying expensive advertising during the Superbowl.  DesignAShirt.com founder John Anton (I attended high school with John) got a $300,000 home equity loan to buy t-shirts for his business because he was concerned about rising cotton prices.  Several times Howard Hughes borrowed money against all of his assets to do something for his business he knew was the right thing to do.  You might imagine that each of these gentleman have balls of steel, but I am sure they were afraid out of their minds when they did these things.

When things are bad, you may need to spend a little time deciding if you need to change your approach.  If not, just keep doing what you are doing and be confident in your ability to rise above the problems.  You can do it!

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