Building up

This is what I want:


And this is what I have:


And this is where I started:

Jetski 750SX

You don’t start at the top and work your way down. You don’t start with a yacht and end up with a Jestski. You start at the bottom – but the bottom for me is different than the bottom for you.

Richard Branson grew up wealthy so for him starting at the bottom was founding a magazine. John Paul DeJoria, founder of Paul Mitchell hair care and Patron tequila (love the coffee Patron), once lived in a car, bottom for him was really low.

It is incremental steps that build success and wealth, but like starting at the bottom the increments are larger or smaller depending on the person.

Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, grew that business incrementally. Begun in 1971 Schultz bought the company in 1987 and expanded outside the Seattle area for the first time that same year. The company didn’t go public until 1992 when it had just 140 locations compared to over 16,000 today. The incremental growth was slow in the beginning and picked up speed as time went on. Incremental growth speeds up with momentum. None of the successful people you know have coasted to the heights they’ve achieved. Success is an uphill climb and coasting doesn’t work up hill.

But what do the boats have to do with growing a business? Nothing really, but they are the end result of that success. I mean really, why work if it can’t buy fun? The boats represent how growing your business is tied to growing your own success. We grow our businesses, our savings, our net worth so that we can enjoy it. When I got my first job out of college I bought that Jetski and thought I had hit the big time. Over the years I upgraded and bought a boat and then another Jetski. I traded up for a bigger boat and now I’ve traded up once again for the boat you see in the middle.

I’ve taken small steps over the years which is how I’ve been able to grow in other areas such as net worth and investment portfolio. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the yacht in the first picture but I know I won’t get it by obsessing over it. I’ll get that boat by continuing to work hard, by growing my various What Next businesses, and by keeping focused on success. It’s the people who focus on the results of success rather than the work of success who end up with less than they started.

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Your Life is a Business

CEOWe are all self employed and our business is ourselves. If you run your life like a business, understanding things like cash flow and investments, you will be very successful and not worry about your future.

I watch shows like The Profit on CNBC and Restaurant Impossible on Food Network and the common thing between these shows is how most of the business owners don’t know basic information about their finances.

As a business owner I’ll admit that I may not be able to answer all their questions off the top of my head, but I have meticulous records and I could have an answer within minutes. Can you do the same for your personal finances?

Salary versus income

This is the first thing that people often get wrong. In business it’s the difference between revenue and cash flow. Say your salary is $100,000 a year, that’s $1,923 a week. But that is not what you take home. After taxes, health insurance and other deductions, like your retirement savings, you are saving for retirement right, you could easily be taking home only about $1,000 a week or less which is just $52,000 a year. Live like you have 100k and you’ll be broke all the time.

Here are my questions for you: what is your net worth? What percent of your gross income did you save in 2014? If you can’t answer them immediately can you get the answer in less than a few minutes?

Mislabeling investments

Forget the debate on whether a house is an investment or not, what some people do with their homes in the name of investment can be downright silly. For example, renovating the kitchen, bathroom, or basement might add some value to your home when it’s time to sell but it’s not an investment, it won’t appreciate beyond the value of the house as a whole. You can’t sell your kitchen renovation when you’re short on cash.

In business every investment has an ROI, return on investment, meaning that if you spend $100 on a new piece of equipment it better increase your income by $200 or more (because you don’t invest to break even). Then there are capital expenses and that’s more like the kitchen upgrade, it may not make you money but it’s necessary to function.

A hobby is not an investment even if you consider it a business. Unless there is potential for this hobby to be your sole source of income it’s just not an investment. I’m not against hobbies or even having a little side income but inflating what it is doesn’t help.

Stretching is for exercise

Too often I see people reach beyond what they can afford for what they want (even so called experts). They want a new car but the payments are too high so they lease it instead, a couple with one child in a two bedroom home say they’re outgrowing it and buy a bigger house they can’t afford, they want a vacation home and overestimate the rental income they will get.

All these examples are people who stretched to afford something but they all run the risk of pulling a muscle to keep the analogy going. Instead, buy the car one model lower, stay in the house longer, only buy the vacation home if you can afford it without renting it out, and still rent it.

Successful business people look at every expense carefully, they don’t spend unless it’s necessary or will lead to more income.

What are some things you feel people could do better if they ran their lives more like a business?


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The Reality of Entrepreneurship

Hello, my name is AJ and I’m an entrepreneur. Sounds like the beginning of a twelve step program meeting. I introduce myself this way because a lot of people make entrepreneurship sound wonderful, even magical. You can be your own boss, set your own hours, you create jobs and contribute to society. All good things for sure.

aloneBut there is a dark side. First among the dirty little secrets of entrepreneurship is that it’s hard.

More difficult than you can imagine

Starting something from nothing is hard. Even when you can get help, as so many do through franchises, it’s still hard. Even though people talk about the depressing statistics of business failure, which vary widely, the picture they paint is still rosey. Entrepreneurs are considered brave and they are revered for their actions. That’s fine but let’s not encourage people to be foolish. There’s no reason to throw caution to the wind and go for it without a plan.

Starting a business takes up more time than most people can physically give, it’s tiring. I’ve heard it said that the only person who cares about your business is you and it’s true. No matter how good the team you build is, the business is not their priority. They will call out when you need them most, they will say the wrong thing at the worst possible time to the most important customer, and you will have to fix it all. They will leave for a few cents or a few bucks more per hour. Owning a business can be frustrating and yet you have to be there with enough enthusiasm to spread around.

All that difficulty can lead some to become disallusioned but the successful ones will have just a bit more positive energy than negative.

More expensive than you planned

It also takes more money than most people realize. I was told once that no matter what I planned, double the amount of time and money I thought I needed, even if my estimates were high. I can tell you from experience that advice was 100% correct.

Under capitalization is the single worst mistake someone going into a business can make. We’ve all heard about the outliers who started with a hundred dollars and made millions, but if that were the norm we’d all be millionaires. You have to know that, if you need to, you could carry the business expenses for months or maybe even years.

Other people’s expectations

When you see friends or family and they ask how’s business, they don’t understand that you might have had a bad day. They don’t understand that bills are coming due and revenue might not be keeping up. If you’re honest and tell them it’s hard, they’ll usually respond with “but it’s all yours right?” as if that makes it better.

You can’t go to friends and family for solace because they don’t understand, and you don’t want to go to other business owners for fear of looking weak.

It takes longer too

I’m over a year into my business and things have stabilized. Everyone wants to make a profit right away but it takes longer than you think. What matters more is cash flow, positive cash flow. Positive cash flow and profitability are two different things. Startup costs aren’t paid for quickly, they’re large and revenue grows slowly.

I saw a friend shortly after her second child was born and asked how it was going. Her response? “Oh my God no one told me it was going to be this hard.” That’s how I feel about entrepreneurship so I’m here to tell you it’s that hard.

My advice? Think long and hard about going into business. Imagine every bad scenerio you can and then imagine what you’ll do to get out of it. Plan for the worst and work hard, harder than you ever have for the best.

Just as I was finishing this post someone on LinkedIn posted this article. It’s worth reading and backs up everything I say here – and then some.

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A Little Busy

FrontPageOk so little is an understatement. I’ve been a lot busy! I’ve neglected my blog and the friends and communities that have supported me (I still feel their support and I thank them very much).

So let this serve as an explanation of why I’ve been distracted of late (more on that in a new post coming soon).


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Everything Sucks

Sounds bad doesn’t it? Well it’s not really.

Everything sucks sometimes. I’ve always had an idealized vision of what owning a business was like but each venture has had aspects that I’d rather not deal with, difficulties that make me question whether I made a mistake. Obviously I’ve made the determination that, not only was each project worth it, but I was willing to do it again.

Starting a business is not easy and I think I’ve made it clear that nothing really is, nothing worth having, that is. I’m sure that when I complain, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and depressed, there are people who say, “I wish I had what he had.” When I hear people complain about school or work or personal problems I often think they don’t know how good they really have it.

jobcorpsI saw a bit of graffiti the other day at the train station I use to commute to work that said “Job Corps Sucks.” I wrote about Job Corps in What Next, using it as an example of how someone with few options can still make the decision to do something to improve their future. Job Corps, a vocational training program run by the department of labor, can be a step up toward success. I’m sure it’s not easy sometimes but success requires hard work.

I’ve said “this sucks” a lot recently as the pressure built the closer we got to opening our latest what next, a day spa. I’ve put aside personal time to devote to the business working a full day at my “regular” job and then staying past closing at the spa. Weekends? They’re still a break since I only have to work one job on Saturday and Sunday. Julie is doing the same.

This won’t last forever (though it feels like it will) but it is the choice I’ve made to insure success. I hope the person who wrote that graffiti stays at job corps, gets past whatever is causing trouble now, because the end result will be worth it.

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Is Your Ego Really That Big?

I saw this quote in a tweet last night: “Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to produce uncommon results. -Unknown”Teamwork quote I believe that two heads are better than one. An idea that sounds good is rarely ever thought of, fine tuned, and brought to market by only one person. Any successful person or business has been successful because of the team that has been put together.

As skillful as an entrepreneur is at coming up with new ideas, they are equally skillful at choosing the right people to execute those ideas. Richard BransonRichard Branson decided to start an airline but he isn’t the CEO and COO and advertising company and pilot and flight attendant and sales agent, and he wasn’t personally responsible for hiring each of them either. You get the idea, it takes more than one person to create success.

Mark Zuckerberg is a billionaire because of his entrepreneurial ideas and he put together quite a good team to execute those ideas. Without the internet, without someone else’s idea first, Facebook would not be successful, it wouldn’t even make sense. Imagine Facebook without the internet! Take it a step farther and without the government, specifically the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), there would be no internet.

I’m working on a business that has requirements, laws on the state level that regulate my business (more clues about my latest What Next). Those laws level the playing field and insure scrupulous behavior, insure that while I do the right thing, so do my competitors. Those regulations are important for my success even though they are also annoying and create red tape.

There are some among us who believe they got where they are all on their own. My question for them is, is your ego really that big? Didn’t you have an education, teachers from kindergarten through college who helped shape who you are today? If you went to public schools then it was government money that made that possible. Didn’t you have a mentor or someone you look up to whose ideas and thoughts inspired you? Maybe you knew them personally or just read about them but someone influenced you. Have you ever sought out anyone’s advice or used ideas and concepts that came before?

There are a lot of people saying President Obama hates entrepreneurs, and business in general, because he acknowledged that other people contribute to our success. I say don’t be so arrogant. Yes you Mr. or Ms. Businessperson are smart and creative and daring but there are a lot of people and things behind you putting wind in your sails. Got Wind?Who is doing that? America, that’s who. America, a land of laws that protect you while also hindering you (there are always trade-offs) and America, the men and women who make up your workforce, who build the roads your products travel on. Once in a while you might want to look back and not only acknowledge that support but thank the people who help you to be successful.

I Googled the quote that began this post and found it attributed to Andrew Carnegie, an immigrant to the United States who built an empire from nothing (yes there was good and bad aspects to him) and if you think he didn’t have help you’re mistaken.

Listen to the entire context – we’re all in this together.

PS: I usually avoid politics but none of us exist in a vacuum. We depend on each other and I think far too many people are forgetting that.

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That Risk Ain’t So Risky

What is considered risky by one person may be conservative for another. Whether personal, financial, or business each person has a point they will not pass, a chance they will not take.

What I don’t like is when other people project their fear, their cautiousness onto me. The hard part is when your spouse is the one you can’t seem to agree with. In my case that’s a good thing. Julie keeps me in check, tamps my enthusiasm and brings a dose of reality to an otherwise overly optimistic me.

It turns out, however, that common risks like starting a business aren’t nearly as risky as people may think.

In a blog post on the Harvard Business Review website Bruce Gibney and Ken Howery state, “Entrepreneurship is a deviation, an occupation for heroes, heroic for the reasons it can’t be recommended: it’s just too unsafe. But the conventional position is nonsense; building new companies is far more sensible than the practical will admit.”

Imagine this conversation. “What’s your major?”


“You mean business, right? Entrepreneurship isn’t a job, where do you plan on working?”

“Wherever I want, doing whatever I want.”

The idea of working wherever you want without being limited by a career path may look to others like a lack of focus but it is a life many people aspire to and have had great success with. As I point out in my book, What Next A Proactive Approach to Success, Scott Loughmiller, an entrepreneur, saw two paths out of college, work for someone else or be the boss and start his own company. Scott chose the latter and it worked out very well.

How many people with “safe” jobs lost them in the most recent economic volatility? In contrast, Gibney and Howery point out that “of 5,000 businesses started in 2004, almost 56% were still in business in 2010, despite suffering through a brutal economic downturn.” Of the 44% that aren’t still in business, how many have moved on to another business that is still active?

Entrepreneurship should be encouraged. Starting a business is not risky. Pouring all your savings, even going deep into debt, for an idea that hasn’t been researched, hasn’t been tested, is not risky, it’s foolish. I’m sure it was a risk for Richard Branson to start Virgin Airways but I’m sure he didn’t throw caution to the wind and make hasty decisions without research. If Virgin Airways was not profitable, if it were starting to drag the rest of his businesses down, I’m sure he would eliminate it before any real damage could be done.

I spent money to publish my book and I’m spending money to publicize it. I don’t know if any good will come from it but I’m not going broke in the process. There is a point beyond which I will not proceed but until then I keep moving forward with one goal in mind.  My book was a risk but it was not risky.

What is a risk you’ve wanted to take but didn’t out of fear or pressure from others? Share your answers below in the comments area.

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We’re All Alone – Together

I don’t think this post is as depressing as it sounds. I’ve been swinging like a pendulum between positive and negative feelings, but I have options and can choose to go in any direction I want. The key to What Next is that all those options that were discarded or could wait to another day, are resources you can tap right now. In spite of feeling like nothing is working you must push on or you’ll be right. takes the concept of the motivational poster and turns it on its head calling their posters “demotivators.” This one is how I often feel when trying to promote my book. The caption says “If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, you’re not alone. And yet you are alone. So very alone.” (Click on the picture to see it bigger).

Loneliness demotivator

Asking What Next is a very personal thing but eventually you’ll have to let others in on the secret. There’s no guarantee that those people you include in your plans will be as enthusiastic about it as you are, or that they will even like the plan. Who you include in your plans is crucially important but so is who you don’t. This is true in life as well. I do my best to avoid the petty drama that too many people are caught up in (and that has a cost as well). The bottom line is that you can only rely on yourself. Any help you get along the way is a bonus. The truly successful create evangelists, true believers who will spread the word for them. But don’t expect everyone be an evangelist or to even care.

You’ll also find that the people you meet, the people you look to enlist as support, as you try to sell your book, your business, your idea, are also trying to sell you their idea, their business, their book.

You are alone as you try to make something from nothing but don’t worry you’re in good company. We’re all in this separately. 

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