You might as well read a book while you’re at home

Since many of us are ordered to remain in our homes except for essential reasons, it might be a good time to think about reading that book you’ve been putting off because you’ve been too busy. Or, if you don’t have a book you’ve been wanting to read you may be wondering what would be a good one,

This year has gotten off to a slow start for me, and my wife and I have been staying in for the past two weeks already, so I’ve read a lot more than usual this year. I’ve already read 20 books this year, about to complete a couple more and have three more on order.  Let me suggest three books for you to consider from the ones I’ve read this year. I will warn you, Amazon is focusing on shipping essential items first, and instead of getting a book you order in 2-3 days it may take 2-3 weeks. I’ve actually received used books from third party sellers quicker than I’ve got new ones from Amazon.

Those who know me won’t be surprised that John Maxwell’s latest book, The Leader’s Greatest Return: Attracting, Developing, and Multiplying Leaders is on this list. I often write and talk about the importance of developing leaders. This book provides a lot of helpful information on how to identify potential leaders and develop them. No organization can rise above its leadership so it’s important to constantly be seeking and developing leaders.

The next book I’ll recommend you consider reading is The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. He begins the book by describing finite games and infinite games, Finite games have fixed rules and an agreed-upon objective that when reached ends the game. Infinite games are played by known and unknown players, lack fixed rules and have no finish line. So often people talk about winning or beating our competition. The problem with such language is that it suggests that they are playing a finite game, and business is not that kind of game. When we are satisfied with short terms goals we will not last long. It’s when we are thinking long term that we can expect long term success. Sinek suggests there are three pillars that are essential in the Infinite Game: Advance a purpose, Protect people and Generate a profit. He addresses these, and much more, in this book.

The third book I enjoyed was The Seven Decisions: Understanding the Keys to Personal Success by Andy Andrews. In his book Andrews shares seven decisions that work in our lives, and, he insists, are working now even if we are not aware of them. As he points out, the law of gravity was working even before it was discovered, so just because you are not aware of these principles it doesn’t mean they are not working in your life right now. It might be better to know what they are so we can use them to make our lives better.

I hope you’ll find these suggestions helpful. Leaders are readers, and during this interesting time I hope you’ll take the time to read some good books.

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Personal finances during a crisis

Many people have already lost their jobs during this coronavirus crisis. Others are working reduced hours. State and local governments are trying to take steps to provide temporary jobs and/or financial assistance during this time. The Federal government is trying to put together a program that would mail checks to most Americans, but as usual they are playing politics while the nation is in a financial crisis. If there is anything we as a nation should have learned over the past few years is that many of the people we elect to national office could care less about the country and the people who put them in office. Their only concern is amassing personal wealth and taking care of their financial supporters. I would remind people that there is an election coming up, but regardless of how much we complain about the work Congress does, we continue to re-elect the same people to office. As someone once said, a people gets the government they deserve.

However, this post is not about the failure of government. It’s about personal financial management. No doubt this coronavirus caught everyone by surprise. The economy was booming. The stock market kept setting new records. Things were going really great, and then boom, the bottom fell out.

Immediately, people became concerned about paying their rent and mortgage payments, being able to make their credit card payments and auto loans. They wondered if they had enough food, and then went out and horded toilet paper. It appears many of us didn’t learn a thing from 2008.

There will always be economic downturns. Some will be unexpected like this one while others will be normal corrections, which we were probably due to experience soon before this situation hit. Anyone who studies economics knows there are ups and downs in the financial world. The key is to prepare for the downs during the ups, and you can’t do that if you are spending more than you are making each month.

For years I thought I had to buy a new car. My argument was that I am not a mechanic and didn’t want to buy someone else’s problems. I always had auto loans, often two of them. After 2008 I decided I would never have another car loan. A couple of years ago I told my wife our three vehicles had nearly 600,00 miles on them, and it was probably time to start replacing them. We had been saving our money and was able to replace the one she drove with one that was two years old that we paid for with cash. A year later I gave the car I drove to our daughter after their car was totaled and bought me a used pick-up, again with cash. Please understand, we are not wealthy. Not even close, but when you do not have credit card debt and car loans you can save money, if you will, to buy your vehicles with cash. For years I bought cars I could not afford but never again.

We paid off our credit cards after 2008 as well. It’s a great feeling to walk in the credit union and have the person waiting on me ask if I want to hear how I can save money by consolidating my debt and be able to tell them that I have no debt to consolidate. When you have no debt it makes life so much easier when the economy declines. We have only a mortgage, and three years ago we redid it and knocked three years off our payments and reduced our interest rate by 2 percent.

The other thing after 2008 we did was follow Dave Ramsey’s advice and created a six-month emergency fund. This puts six months of expenses in a savings account so when things like this happens we have a buffer to fall back on. If you struggle with personal finances I highly recommend his book The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. It will give you clear steps for getting out of debt, how to make wise financial decisions and how to prepare for retirement.

I am not sharing this to brag. When the financial downturn hit in 2008 it created a lot of problems and sleepless nights for us. I was determined to not experience that again. Since what I had been doing was obviously not working I had to find something that would, and that was when I found Ramsey’s plan. No one knows how long our current situation will last so we’re being very cautious with our finances, but at least I can sleep nights.

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Building positive relationships with others

Last week in a post I mentioned a statement in Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money  The statement was “If there is one lesson to be learned in Jewish business success, it is this: Find opportunities to become friendly with many people.” He went on to talk about how Jewish business people connect to as many people as possible by building relationships with them. If people know you and like you, they are more apt to want to do business with you.

How can we build such relationships? One way that isn’t effective is attending a networking meeting and passing out as many business cards as possible. That is not networking; that is being a pest. People can tell you are not interested in them as a person but only as a potential client. There are many more effective ways of building  relationships.

One is by joining a service organization in your community. In virtually every community of any size there are organizations that do much to benefit the community. As you become a part of some of these organizations you get to meet other community minded people, and as you work with them in their various projects they get to know you and, hopefully, like you. Not only are you connecting with people, you are also giving back to your community.

Another way to build important relationships is by honoring your competitors. As an auctioneer I attend a lot of auctions, and I have worked for some of the other auctioneers in our area. A couple of them have worked for me when I’ve needed assistance. I always allow other auctioneers to leave flyers of their upcoming auctions at my auctions, and they let me leave flyers for my auctions at theirs. When other auctioneers attend my auctions I begin the auction by introducing them and asking them to share any upcoming auctions they might have scheduled. I’ve had a few auctioneers refer people to me who wanted to sell at auction if they were booked solid or if they felt I could better serve the people than they could. I have made an effort to build a relationship with them and support them, and I believe these relationships have been mutually beneficial.

If you want to make friends you have to be friendly. That can be a challenge for an introvert like me. I often tell people that when I am on a stage conducting an auction or doing a workshop or preaching in a church I am lively and outgoing. But, when I come off the stage I can easily blend into the wallpaper! I am not necessarily comfortable speaking to people I don’t know, but these are exactly the kind of people I need to meet if I want to build relationships with as many people as possible. If you’re an introvert, force yourself to speak to people you don’t know.

Finally, be more interested in others than trying to be interesting to them. The story is told of a socialite who was seated between two well-known gentlemen at a formal dinner. Afterwards, she was asked her opinion of them. She responded that one of them was perhaps the most interesting person she had ever met. The other, she said, made her feel like she was the most interesting person who ever lived. Guess which one made the most impression on her. Show genuine interest in others and you will find they will want to be your friend.

 

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The grateful factor

A few years ago I was talking with an angry young man. He was angry with his adoptive parents and with society in general. As a result of his anger he was making some very poor decisions that would not turn out well for him. I tried to explain to him that one reason he was so angry was that he was not grateful for the opportunities he had been given. He had been raised in a home with loving parents who tried to raise him with standards and morals. He had been given every opportunity to live a happy, successful life. But the fact was, he didn’t appreciate any of that, and he didn’t appreciate me telling him this either. He wanted to continue to make poor decisions, and as soon as he was legally able he left home. His life since then has not been a happy one in many ways.

One of the things that marks today’s society is that many of us are not grateful for the things we have. We are prone to compare what we have or what we do with others who may have more than us or have greater opportunities to succeed than we imagine we have. We become envious, jealous, and we forget to be thankful for what we do have. That lack of gratefulness leads us to be unhappy and sometimes to make poor decisions as we pursue those things we think will make us happy again.

This week Tennessee, especially the Nashville area, was hard hit with tornadoes. Many people lost their homes, and several lost their lives. While those who lost homes and businesses were understandably upset, every one of them interviewed by the media spoke of how thankful they were that they and their families had survived. As several remarked, houses and businesses can be rebuilt.

How many times have you known a cancer survivor speak of how grateful they were to be alive? Serious diseases have a tendency to put things into perspective. The pursuit of things becomes less important. We become grateful for family and friends who love us, the ones who treated our illnesses, and the fact that we can continue to share our lives with loved ones.

The next time you struggle with being grateful I invite you to spend time in a children’s hospital and see if your perspective doesn’t change. Visit a nursing home and spend time with someone who hasn’t seen a family member in months. Talk with someone who recently lost a spouse or a veteran who saw combat.

In a recent article I wrote how being successful is a good and honorable thing. Being grateful for what we have is even better and more honorable. It leads to greater happiness in life, a more generous spirit and a deeper appreciate for the things that matter most in life.

 

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Success in business is honorable

In this election cycle there has been much talk about socialism. Several of the candidates in one party seem to promote socialism as being preferred over capitalism. One candidate calls himself a Democratic Socialist. In recent years there has been a lot of negativity directed towards capitalism and business in general. People who have built great businesses, and become wealthy in the process, have especially been attacked as greedy, crooked, immoral and dishonest. The fact is…that is true for some, but for the vast majority it is not. The vast majority of people who have succeeded in building great businesses did so through hard work, years of sacrifice and honest dealings with their customers and suppliers. To own your own business has been part of the American dream for many years for a large number of people, and it is a worthy dream to pursue.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin wrote a wonderful book a few years ago that addresses this, and many more insights on how to succeed in business. The book is Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money  In it he writes, “To really succeed in whatever is the business of your choice, you have to come to understand and utterly absorb into your being the fundamentally true idea that your activities in your business are virtuous and moral, providing of course that you conduct your business affairs honestly and honorably.” To succeed in anything we do it is necessary that we have respect for what we do. If that effort results in a person becoming wealthy that is a good thing.

I often tell people that I never had a poor person give me a job. The people for whom I worked always had the means to pay me. That is a good thing because it allowed me to provide for my family. They provided for me and my family, and in return, I made them more money through my labors. We mutually benefited from our relationship.

Wealthy people are often quite generous donors. They contribute large sums of money to universities, hospitals, religious organizations, disaster relief groups as well as to their local communities. Many have created foundations which provide resources to organizations that rely on such donations. Rather than sitting back waiting on the government to give them free health care, free college, free food and free child care, they are working hard to earn the money to assist others who are doing honorable work.

After Rabbi Lapin addresses the misconceptions about the dignity of business he shares what he calls 10 commandments for making money. He explores some of the principles the Jewish people have followed for generations to build wealth. One of my favorites is “If there is one lesson to be learned in Jewish business success, it is this: Find opportunities to become friendly with many people.” In a recent post I mentioned a business owner who told an employee to remember that people like to do business with people they like. I thought of that comment when I read Rabbi Lapin’s comment about becoming friendly with many people. The neat thing about this concept is how easy it is to do.

When we know people and serve them well they will want to continue to do business with us. They will tell their friends about how we operate our business, and some of them will want to do business with us as well. As that circle of relationships continues to grow, so does our business.

This book is filled with practical advice such as this. The concepts are valid regardless of your faith or even if you are a person who doesn’t ascribe to any faith. I’ve read the book twice and will probably read it again this year due to how content-rich it is. It’s a good reminder that we should not believe everything we hear in the media about the evils of capitalism. Our work has dignity and is honorable, and we never have to apologize to anyone for doing our work well.

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Know your competition

Can you imagine a college basketball game that is played without the teams viewing films of their competitor? Coaches and players spend hours viewing film of their next opponent to become familiar with their plays, the different defenses the team uses, which way certain players prefer to move with the basketball and other details to give them an edge when they play against the team.

Professional baseball teams do the same. They have scouting reports that detail the types of pitches that opposing batters prefer to hit, the direction in which batters are most apt to hit the ball, how quick runners are on the base paths and many more details. In addition, they have detailed reports on each pitcher, which pitch they prefer when they want to get a strike out, their speed to home plate, their move on pick-off attempts, and their fielding abilities. Some complain that the scouting reports and analytics have nearly replaced the sense of the game that managers used to have.

In business, as in sports, it’s important to know as much about your competition as possible. While it’s important to know why your customers do business with you, it’s also important to know why people do business with your competitors. What do they do to encourage people to do business with them rather than with you? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What do they offer that you do not? What do you know about the products or services they offer? Are these better or worse than what you offer? What market segment do they target, and why? Are they missing an important market segment that you can approach? What special feature or benefit does your competitor offer that you do not? What would you have to change in order to draw some of your competitor’s customers to your business?

Some people try to take business away from their competitors by talking bad about them to potential clients. That is a mistake. Most people don’t like to hear one business speak badly about their competition. Respect your competitors. Even if a potential client begins to speak bad about your competitor, don’t agree with them. Just show them how your company does things differently, and better, without saying anything negative about your competitor.

The way to draw business away from your competitor to your company is to understand your competitor’s business as well as you do your own and identify ways you can do things better than he does. Every competitor has weaknesses that you can exploit to expand your business, but you’ll only know what they are if you study your competition.

There is another good reason to study your competition. Your competitors are studying you to identify your vulnerabilities to exploit them to their advantage. If you, in turn, are not studying them you will find yourself losing business to them.

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Building relationships with your vendors

Much has been written about a business and its relationship with customers. Less has been written about a business’ relationship with its vendors. Every business has suppliers. Some may have a multitude of vendors with whom they do business. Others may have virtually none. However many vendors you have, it’s important to build a good relationship with them.

A new supply house moved into our community several years ago when I owned our small business. One day one of my suppliers called asking if we were buying most of our supplies from this new company. Evidently, our purchases had been less than usual which prompted the call. There were several reasons why I chose not to do business with this new company and assured my caller that we had not shifted our purchases to the new company. I reminded him that we had done business with his company for many years, and I was not going to move to a new supplier to save nickels and dimes. We maintained a good relationship through all the years I owned the business.

This was a local company owned by local people. I believe in doing business locally as much as possible. However, there were many things we used in our business that had to be purchased from regional suppliers. These were larger ticket items, and it was important to keep a check on the prices they charged. Sometimes, there could be a significant difference in the same product among different vendors. It is important for a small business like ours to comparison shop the more expensive items you need.

It’s also important to check on what your vendors are doing. One day I had a call from a very unhappy commercial customer we had served for a number of years. He had purchased an item their company normally bought from us directly from our supplier. The supplier had charged him considerably less than they charged us, and we were supposed to be getting their best wholesale price.  I didn’t believe the caller until I went and saw his invoice myself. I immediately called our supplier and asked why they would charge a person off the street less than they charged us. At first the supplier denied doing this until I gave the information from the invoice. Then the supplier mumbled that someone made a mistake. Needless to say I wasn’t very happy when I told him that we had probably lost all opportunity to get any more business from our client because “someone made a mistake.” And, I was right, we lost that customer. He thought we were ripping him off.

Most vendors treat their clients well, but it’s important to always remember that they are in business to make money, not to make friends. Their ultimate goal is not to ensure your happiness but to ensure they can achieve maximum profit. It’s always good to build a relationship with your vendors that will be mutually beneficial to both parties, but you cannot forget that if your business gets into trouble they will not be interested in providing much assistance.

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