Learn To Audit Yourself, Just Do You

I’ve been following @GaryVee for awhile now. Great guy. Lot of energy. A great role model in some respects and not in others. A wonderful “virtual mentor”.

I just watched a video of him talking to a group of students at a USC entrepreneur class. He started of by saying that he believes 100%, with no hedge, that you can’t teach someone to be an entrepreneur.

His best piece of advice…

Audit Who You Are

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can be something that you can’t. Be you. Just do you. Bet on your strengths. Don’t worry at all about your weaknesses.

He goes on to talk about how he had a huge advantage because he was born in Belarus and was poor growing up in the U.S. He had it rough and he honestly believes most people are just too soft to compete with him. This is an honest truth we all need to accept.

Nothing more important then starting right now. Yesterday is always the best day to start.

True entrepreneurs work 16 hour days. True entrepreneurs go and get it done. True entrepreneurs execute the idea. True entrepreneurs hire out their weaknesses.

At the end of the day you just need to do you. Know yourself. What are your strengths? Ask yourself that every day. Be brutally honest. What are your strengths? Don’t just think about what they are. Write them down. Then stare at the page and ask yourself again. Ask your friends, family, colleagues what your strengths are. Maybe you are missing some strength cause it is so easy for you to do it, but that same strength is hard and doesn’t come naturally to a lot of other people. Maybe you are blind to it. Maybe you wrote something down that you think is a strength but most people would see it as a weakness.

Keep doing that. Think, Write, Get Feedback, Meditate, Repeat.

Don’t underestimate speed. Speed is a huge competitive advantage. Speed goes along with the idea of starting yesterday. Stay ahead of the game.

All that matters is the attention graph. All platforms will be media companies. Be a thought leader. Not a thought follower. Be on top of everything. Out work everyone. Don’t call yourself an expert. Just be the expert.

Your grandmother is on facebook now. What is next. Look at what companies Facebook is buying… Instagram, Snapchat, stay ahead of the game…

Fastest growth on Instagram is 40-50 year old women taking #selfies. No joke.

Keep asking, what is next, and be there…

Posted in Business Advice, Career Advice, Entrepreneur, Marketing & Sales, Technology, Work Advice Tagged , , |

There is No Business Like Food Business

Right right I know there is no business like show business, but show business and food go hand in hand. Just look at all the reality shows based off of food and restaurants and now everyone is a celebrity chef.

It is a very interesting crossroads at my life right now. In the past month I have decided to help a friend open a restaurant and within a short time after that (in the spring when it is warm) send a food truck out into the big world. I am doing what I do best, and that is researching like crazy how to get both of them off the ground and flying efficiently as possible.

Think about all the rules and regulations you have to follow for starting a business. All the tax, banking, insurance, accounting and other business related things. Then add all the extra stuff the food industry requires such as food and drink licensing, food safety training, food storage, and other food related things. Now try to start a restaurant and a food truck almost simultaneously. Could I have picked a harder option?

It will certainly be one big learning experience no matter what happens, but with all the up front preparation and investment I think it will be hard for it to fail.

For one, vendors are very accommodating because their business is competitive too and they want your business no matter what it costs them. It is a good environment to make a win-win situation for both parties involved. Besides commercial kitchen equipment everything is readily available at a good price. You can always buy food for retail at a grocery store in a pinch. Even kitchen equipment is a one time buy in which you can spend time searching for the right piece at the right price.

The markup on food is huge and it has to be. Most of your costs revolve around employee wages and food costs. The combined total of these two things are called the Prime Cost and should not exceed 70% of total revenue. They should average between 62-68% of total revenue. Rent costs are the next biggest and should not cost more than 8% with an average of 6-7% considered normal. If you own the building then this includes the taxes, insurance, etc.

I stumbled across this article entitled 10 Restaurant Financial Red Flags that has some helpful information when it comes to analyzing a restaurant’s financials.

In spending time on research I keep coming across random but fun and interesting things about food. Here are a few…

How many times can I reuse fry oil? – I thought it had to be replaced every day, but evidently not. Lots of cool science here.

Induction Cooking: Induction Cookware – I kind of knew about this already but discovering the specifics was fun. I also learned about 18/10 stainless steel here.

Have you heard of the Quesarito??? Neither did I till I read this.

Apparently Lodge makes the best Cast iron Skillet and All Clad makes the best overall cookware for the price. All Clad also happens to be in my backyard of Canonsburg, PA.

Finally I leave you with this inspiring video from the National Restaurant Association…

Posted in Business Advice, Entrepreneur, Food/Cooking Tagged , |

Best Back Office Software for Small Businesses (Accounting, Payroll, Benefits, Email Marketing and More)

Ever since Square came onto the playing field a few years ago everyone has been developing great apps to help small businesses get up and running. Many new business owners have no idea where to start and often feel like they need to spend money on expensive advisers such as accountants and lawyers to get anything going. As time goes on SaaS (Software as a Service) just keeps getting better and better.

Credit Card Processing

Square started in 2009 and pretty much led the pack as far as a startup company that was helping small businesses. It was an easy way for cash only businesses to be able to allow customers to use credit cards without going through the hassle and complexity of typical merchant processing solutions. I was really amazed the first time I saw a food trucker swipe my card through their phone. Pure Crazy. Pure Awesomeness. Growth Hackers has a great write up about the value proposition of the company and why Square grew so fast.

Online Accounting

The advantages to online accounting are many, but perhaps the most important reason to have online accounting is backup and disaster recovery. If all your books are on a desktop computer and you don’t back them up anywhere you could be in a world of hurt after something happens. If everything is online you just log on to a new computer and get going again.

Quickbooks is of course the golden standard for small business accounting, but many new players are coming into the field including Xero, their closest competitor as far as market share goes.

Expense Reports

I think Expensify is the best thing out there since sliced bread. It was just a matter of time before someone said, “Hey, we can take pictures of our receipts with our phones, and use technology to scan them into a database and forget about all that dumb manual entry stuff.” In my previous business I spent a lot of time sending my accountant pictures of my receipts, and I am not actually completely sure whether he used this or manually entered it. I imagine he did it manually. For $5 a month this is a complete no brainer must have.

Payroll

I am currently helping someone start up a restaurant and one of things she was most worried about was doing payroll. She found service to do it for $65/month which involved sending paperwork and other essentials to this company. I advised her by saying that payroll is fairly easy and we should do it ourselves because it is a very critical aspect of the business to keep an eye on.

Well here I go surfing the internet and find a great little company called ZenPayroll that would require about the same amount of work or less to outsource it and it only costs $25/month. Plus the cool thing is that employees can “onboard” themselves. This means instead of having them fill out paperwork and then reentering all their info they just go online in the first place to enter their information. Genius! Let’s go paperless baby!

Benefits

With the new Affordable Health Care Act everyone is scrambling to get in line with the new laws and regulations. Many companies are deciding not to hire simply to stay below the threshold that requires you to pay health insurance for your employees. Along comes a company called Zenefits that makes the whole benefits sign up pain and hassle free and does it completely free because their benefit providers pay them commissions to keep the lights on. I think it is a win, win, win situation for everyone and worth checking out.

CRM (Customer Relation Management)

If you have clients, you need a good CRM system. End of story. I used to have a manila folder system that worked well for me, but I had a limited number of potential clients (schools), and I used calendar reminders to follow up. I guarantee you my lack of a decent CRM program caused many opportunities to fall through the cracks. I read on Forbes that having a CRM increases sales by 29%. This probably is completely random statistic but I am sure the better organized you are the better.

Surprisngly there are about a billion CRM solutions out because presumbly everyone thinks they can build and awesome database. Well most people are completely wrong. I searched around and can’t really recommend any particular one, but Capterra came up with 9 cheap and easy to use CRM solutions that can work for you.

Social Media Analytics

The only reason I found out about SumAll is because they have Square integration. That is pretty important if you are running Square. If not, the service is still free to connect social media analyatics with your sales number.

Like CRM, there are a ton of options when it comes to managing your social media. Hootsuite is free and is probably the best one to use if you are just getting started. You can see all of your feeds and post to all of your social networks at once. But the real magic happens when you setup your software to automate you posts.

Email Marketing

I save this one for last because it might be the most important thing you can do for your business. If you aren’t capturing emails of customers these days then you simply aren’t doing the business the way you should. All I hear from the marketing gurus online is that email marketing is where the money is it. And you know what? It is very true.

At the end of the day a customer might need contacted or touched in some way a total of 7 times on average before they buy from you. This is new customer acquisition but the same goes for encouraging repeat sales. Good copy makes people buy, and you can never get that copy in front of people without an email list. Speaking of copywriting, if you have no clue what it is, then stop everything you are doing right now and google it! It is that important!

Again, there are many programs out there to setup email campaigns but Aweber seems to be the best overall pick of the bunch. It helps that they are one of the oldest of the bunch as well.

Posted in Business Advice, Entrepreneur, Marketing & Sales Tagged , , , |

Marcus Lemonis Speech at Inc 5000

I have spent a lot of time trying to find out more about Marcus Lemonis’ personal story. Finally I found a speech he gave to an Inc 5000 conference. They titled it…

Meet the Business Turnaround King Marcus Lemonis

The key question I wanted answered was how did he even start Camping World. The usual snippet story is that he was an orphan from Lebanon who became the son of someone who was in the car business. His extended family owned a rather big car business, and that Lee Iaccoca was a family friend. Presumably this story makes it sound like his family helped him out a ton.

Listening to him tell his story you quickly realize that his family only indirectly was responsible for his success. The real story is that he ran for a Democratic office when he came back from college and his grandfather was a Republican so for embarrassing the family he fired him and wished him luck.

He eventually did lose the election but someone told him that if he ever wanted a job he should give him a call. That person I believe was Wayne Huizenga, owner of AutoNation. If it wasn’t Wayne himself, he eventually connected with Wayne.

They eventually asked him if he wanted a promotion and he said yes, of course. They requested that he help them buy his grandfather’s car business. He eventually pulled it off, and was additionally told to fire all the slackers. He pulled that off too and eventually let slip in his story that he made it to a point where he was pulling in $900k a year in the car business!

Wikipedia puts it this way…

“Starting in 1997, Lemonis held several sales and managerial roles for AutoNation.[1] From June 2001 to February 2003 he served as CEO of Holiday RV Superstores Inc. Following that, he co-founded a company called FreedomRoads and began acquiring RV dealerships.[2] In 2006, the company merged with Camping World with Lemonis as CEO, then in 2011, merged with Good Sam Enterprises, Lemonis again at the helm.[3] Lemonis attributes Camping World and Good Sam’s success to the three P’s: people, process and product.[4]” Source: Wikipedia)

2003 to 2005 was a very intense period for Marcus. He pooled his own money with some other investors to start the company Freedom Roads, Inc., then used $400 million in bank loans to speed up acquisition and consolidation…

“So, in 2003, Mr. Lemonis pooled his money with funds from several investors and started buying up dealerships, consolidating them under one banner — a practice he says helped “legitimize” the industry.

The idea was to make RV lots look more like car dealerships, such as Florida-based AutoNation, where he worked from 1997 to 2001, rising to regional manager in charge of 65 stores in 11 states by age 27.

Using multiple bank loans, Freedom Roads spent $400 million in June to expand inventory at all its dealerships and push the company to the $2-billion mark in annual sales. It’s now at $1.4 billion.” (Source)

Pretty much the main conclusion I can come to is that the old sayings go with business. “It’s not what you know, its who you know.” “It takes money to make money”. My own saying is,… “If you wanna play with the big boys, you gotta join the big boys club.”

Marcus certainly learned many lessons on the road to success. His success at AutoNation bred more success and each experience helped feed the next. The key in his life was getting noticed by the right people. Some would call him lucky, but he himself says that he is simply blessed.

Posted in Business Advice, Entrepreneur, Investing, Marketing & Sales Tagged , |

Marcus Lemonis The Profit and My Desire to be an Entrepreneur

If you haven’t seen the CNBC show “The Profit” then you absolutely must. Marcus Lemonis is a business genius and he is learning and becoming smarter every single day with every single new deal he makes. The show’s basic premise is that Marcus comes and visits a potential business and determines if he can make a deal with the owners to become and active investor in the company and teach them how to become very profitable.

Since discovering this show I have absolutely fallen in love with it. This guy actually has my dream job. Part of the reason I chose the jobs that I did over the years was to expose myself to multiple different industries. To learn how they work, and to satisfy my deep curiosity for how a variety of businesses operate and become successful.

My dad is a sales guy through and through. He left the coal mines to strike out on his own because he just couldn’t take being in the mines anymore. He wanted to determine his destiny and knew the sales path was it. As long as he believed in the product he knew he could sale it. Recently one of my dad’s friends mentioned that my dad could sell ice to an eskimo. It is kind of a compliment to someone’s sales ability to say that, but I know my dad could never really sell anything he didn’t believe in and people respect him for it and trust him deeply.

Since I was a teenager I have been influenced by my dad immensely and have sought out other experienced business men and women that I could learn from. If I wasn’t making connections with business owners I was reading about them. I’ve read business classics such as Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Richest Man in Babylon by George Clason to more modern books such as The Millionaire Next Door, and hundreds if not thousands of others. For all intensive purposes I am one of the world’s experts on business without having ever actually started my own business. I say that not to puff myself up with pride, but to actually berate myself for waiting forever to start my own business to put all I know to the test.

The truth of the matter is that some people are just born to lead. They have to do their own thing. They must be in charge and they must determine their destiny. And most importantly, they must be in control.

That is one of the constant themes in the show. These business owners are full of pride, both to their benefit and to their detriment, the classic double edged sword. Marcus himself is a so called “Type A” personality. Someone who needs to be in charge, and wants it done his way. As I watch the show I see it over and over again. Will the prideful business owner let their pride fall down and allow Marcus to call the shots, or will they let their pride keep them from turning their business into something really great?

Which brings up one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned in the business world. It is repeated in all the business literature over and over and yet I really don’t believe people really get it. The ability to lead is also the ability to follow. To learn to lead one must first learn how to follow. Over and over again it is repeated and falls on mostly deaf ears.

Marcus focuses on three things: people, process, and product. Out of the three, people is far and above the most important thing. Yet you can have great people and still get the product and process wrong. That is the opportunity Marcus looks for. The chance to work with great people and improve their product and process by investing his money into the business to change it for the better.

I think we can all recognize that people is the most important thing. Think about your years as an employee or even a business owner. Some of us have left great jobs that had horrible bosses. And some of us have stayed in horrible jobs because we worked for great people. Business owners number one complaint is that they can never find good people to work for them. And as my dad always said, “All business is people business”.

So where do we go from here? I am still thinking about why I haven’t started my own business. My excuse is that I haven’t found a good idea, but I have tons of ideas. Perhaps my excuse is that no idea is good enough. Or that I might be happier just being an employee. It has worked this long. Why not just keep progressing in my career, and keep jumping to different industries when I get bored?

Maybe my biggest fear is that I would get stuck in something I would come to hate. However, I do think that is just another excuse. I am trying to cross a bridge I haven’t even come to yet.

At the end of the day, I pretty much have no choice but to do it. I have spent the better part of my life, starting as a teenager, studying what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. I am more prepared than practically any other business owner that starts a business. Another lesson is that a leader has a strong proclivity for action even without a lot of information to go on. I suffer from the classic “analysis paralysis” disease.

The time has never been more ripe then now. I just need to take the leap. Starting a business will certainly be the biggest personal development course I could ever take in my life. It will certainly be eye opening and help show me what I am really made of. It is my greatest challenge yet, and there really is nothing to it but to do it.

Posted in Business Advice, Economics, Entrepreneur, Investing, Marketing & Sales, Work Advice Tagged , , |

Latest Finds for Programming

This is probably going to happen a lot. I have these tabs that I am keeping open so I can eventually start hitting these resources for programming. The easiest thing for me to do is bookmark them, but then I would probably forget about them. To keep a record of my progression I think it might be helpful to keep track of the links I am following here, and look back one day to see what I used, what I didn’t, what was useful, and what wasn’t.

Structure and Interpretation of Programs

This one was recommended on a forum as a great book to read to learn things that help give you the big picture of what computers are used for and what they are capable of. In other words, a book for computer scientists that “programmers” ignore.

That is one interesting thing I have seen on the forums. People argue that there is a difference between a programmer, a software developer, and a software architect. The other argument is that everyone programs, but not everyone can really think strategically about how to program something from the very base of things. In other words, understand machine language, compilers, and object oriented programming. Compilers take the high-level programming language code and translates it into machine code or an assembly language. Depending on the environment you are working it, it could be absolutely imperative to know exactly how that works and how it will affect your outcomes.

I also liked this Chart for Learning a Programming Language. The one section that is for kids includes a link to using Python to program a video game. If you saw my last post I mentioned I decided to focus on Python as my first language. Ruby is probably going to be my second language. I’m trying to focus on the fun languages that other programmers mention. I just recently saw a forum post that said a programmer was super happy to get away from .Net applications and start programming in Ruby. I think Paul Graham was the one who mentioned that the programming languages of the future will be the ones the best programmers choose to use today. I think part of that equation is how much an individual program enjoys a certain language.

Udacity was also a recommeded place to learn computer science, specifically this Intro to Computer Science course. The course materials are technically free, but you need to pay $199/month to get an instructing coach. This also gets you a certificate at the end. It says it is a 3 month course if you put 6 hours a week into it. I can see myself putting 12 hours a week into and it still takes me 3 months, but in either case it would cost me $600 to get this intro to computer science class in that may be equivalent to college credit. I have to research it more though.

I just keep thinking what the future me will think of all this planning I am doing. I know one thing is for sure. Nothing to it, but to do it.

Posted in Career Advice, Programming Tagged , |

Beginning Programming, The Mountain is Massive

Literally where in the world do you begin? So much out there and if you are trying to teach yourself vs. go to a school… well, it’s just downright scary.

I landed on this page where the guy pretty much lays out what each of the more popular programming languages does and the kind of language you use depends on your job function…

Which Language Should I Learn First?

I also found Lifehacker’s Learn to Code: The Full Beginner’s Guide and the great thing is that it comes in PDF format.

Stanford has a highly recommended course you can take for free online simply called Introduction to Computer Science. Its a basic methodology class that will hopefully teach me more about algorithms and the real basics of programming in general.

And when it comes time to really dig down deep I found this free resource of over 500 books on GitHub. Free Programming Books Seems like they aren’t really in PDF format for the most part but I can always just send them to my kindle because they are one big page of text.

And so I had to pick one language to start with. The best recommendation I got was to start with the easiest language possible because the first language will most certainly be the hardest. While Ruby on Rails has always grabbed my attention the real winner is…

Python!!!

Its what appears to be a simple 13 hour beginner course offered at Codecademy so that’s where I am going to start. Like all things it will take time but I will try to give an update once I am in the middle or at the end of the course.

Posted in Programming

The Rule of Opposites

I am currently reading The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham and I thought this concept deserved some attention.

The rule of opposites is basically this…

“The more enthusiastic investors become about the stock market in the long run, the more certain they are to be proved wrong in the short run”

Buy low, sell high is the best strategy for any type of arbitrage, but our emotions end up making us do the exact opposite of that strategy. We get excited when we see stocks going up so we buy them on the way up. Then we let fear rule when we see stocks going down so we start selling.

The smart investor will actually do the opposite. Start selling stocks as their prices rise, and buy stocks that have fallen in price. Simple theory, hard to practice.

The flip side is the same. When everyone is predicting an awful bear market you have to think twice. Bear markets simply mean stocks go on sale.

As Jason Zweig would put it, “Considering how calamitously wrong the “experts” were the last time they agreed on something, why on earth should the intelligent investor believe them now?” Being a contrarian is one of the best ways, if not the only way, to profit in the stock market.

Posted in Business Advice, Investing Tagged |

How To Tell When Stocks Go On Sale

Been going through the old articles for Mr. Money Mustache, and found this little gem I wanted to post as a reminder.

How to tell when the stock market is on sale.

The whole premise is that the average weighted P/E ratio of ALL S&P 500 companies has been 16.4. You use this number as a buy signal for when an S&P 500 index or even individual stocks fall below this price. You can possibly use it as a sale signal when stocks go above this ratio.

Granted this is one single number to use in a much more thorough stock analysis, but its certainly one of the better ones to use.

As a side note, I started following Mr. Money Mustache after he was mentioned on ERE (Early Retirement Extreme). I would suggest following both of their blogs and forums if you are interested in being your own best financial adviser.

Posted in Business Advice, Investing

Learning to Program: Getting Started

This has been a big goal of mine for a long time. I have put it off and put it off. I even tried to go back to college to get an IT degree and got talked into pursuing an MBA instead. As of right now, I still don’t know if that was the right choice or not.

In any case, I found three very good resources to get started in my self-taught course in programming…

1. Learn to Program by Chris Pine
2. Codecademy
3. W3Schools

I am sure more will pop up along the way. As usual, with other projects going on I am sure I will make slow progress here, but it is still one of the higher priorities for learning new things in my life.

Posted in Programming, Technology