You Are Here


Every so often my wife sends me to the mall with a list and instructions to visit specific stores and pick up specific items.

Being a man my mission when I go to any retail establishment, especially the mall, is the get in and get out as quickly as possible.  I’m a hunter, not a nomad, I bag my prey and go home.  I don’t have the time or the patience to wander around looking for something.  If it’s not exactly where she said it would be or I can’t find it in about 30 seconds they don’t have it.

Because I am always in a hurry, the first thing I do when I go to the mall or any large unfamiliar place is look for the map or seek out an associate who can point me in the right direction.  Most people when they look at a map will spend most of their time looking at their destination.  Of course, that’s important but knowing where you are going is only half the battle.  You also need to know where you are right now so you can plan a route.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the most direct route, or the most picturesque, or the one that takes you past the Dairy Queen so you can get that banana split you’ve been craving.  It just matters that it gets you from where you are, to where you want to go.

That’s why every mall map has a bright red dot marked “You Are Here.”

Personal financial planning is kind of like a mall map.  It’s all well and good to have clearly defined goals but without a clear understanding of your current situation, and how you got there, all the planning in the world is really just staring at your destination and wandering around without any clear idea of how to get there.  You might make it you might not but more often than not you’ll end up spending your whole life in the food court eating banana splits and wondering why your dreams never seem to come true.

There are key moments that occur in every financial planning relationship.  Usually sometime after, but sometimes before we determine some goals, we need to have the “you are here” discussion.  This is where we gather the data, look at what you’ve done up to this point and map out the route from where you are to where you want to go.  It doesn’t have to be the most directly route, there may be a few detours along the way.  Just like going to the mall, family members have a way of pulling you off course.  Goals and circumstances can change and sometimes that banana split, new car or dream vacation just calls out to you.  That’s okay.  But a financial plan, just like a mall map, only works when you have a clear understanding of where you are at any given time.

Now, here’s where the analogy breaks down a bit, so stay with me.

Once the plan has been established it’s the job of the financial planner to be your constant “you are here” dot.  Continually reminding you of where you are and providing route options to get you to your destination.  If you take a detour or break for a banana split, the planner is there to help you get back on track or reassess your goals.  The last time I checked the dot on the mall map doesn’t move around with you, a good planner does.

So, how does your planner keep you on track?  Let me know in the comments.

I’m off to Dairy Queen, I suddenly have a craving for a banana split.

Three Cups of Tea


The Balti Theory of Relationships

I’m a coffee drinker.  This is a story involving tea but that shouldn’t matter.

I’m not a fan of a lot of fancy coffees.  Just straight up brewed coffee from a pot or Keurig machine is all I need.  If I am going to splurge on something exotic, I go for a strong espresso or café americano, nothing too foamy or overly sweet.  I always drink my coffee black, mostly because I am lactose intolerant but since I discovered that, I have found I prefer the fuller taste that milk or cream can tend to dull.

I used to do a lot of business networking in coffee shops.  Until recently there was no better place to have an informal, meet and greet with a new or perspective client.  Of course, COVID19 has changed all of that.  Now all my meetings, regardless of purpose have gone virtual.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it saves a lot of time, no more driving across town, paying for coffee, looking for a table etc.  Even though I do miss the atmosphere of a good coffee shop and I feel for the entrepreneurs that run them I can’t say I’ve really missed a beat by moving my meetings online.

Regardless of where our networking occurs, one thing has not changed.  It’s still all about personal relationships.

I learned what I call The Balti Three Cups of Tea Theory of Relationships from educational activist Greg Mortenson.  He learned it while building schools in the mountains of Pakistan.

Mortenson’s story was first published in the 2006 book, “Three Cups of Tea”.  In a nutshell, back in 1993, while climbing K2 he got separated from his party, ended up injured and stranded in a remote, underserved region of Pakistan.  There he discovered a Balti village tribe where the children had to walk several miles, over treacherous mountain trails to the nearest school.  In winter, the trail would be impassible, leaving the children without access to basic education for several months at a time.

After spending weeks among the Balti people, recovering from his injuries, he promised to repay their hospitality and build them a school.  Over the next decade Mortenson would return to Northern Pakistan several times and oversee the construction of over 50 schools across the region.

Since the publication of Mortenson’s story, the details and results have been called into question.  It seems when one person sets out the change the world there are no shortage of others who want to tear him down, but that’s a different post.  The point of this post is how Mortenson learned to build relationships across a religious and cultural divide, not to mention a significant language barrier.

The Balti people do business over tea.  According to one of the village elders that Mortenson worked with, the first time you share tea with a Balti you are a stranger, the second time you are an honored guest, and the third time you are family.

I’ve been in business for nearly 30 years, the last 10 of which have been in my current capacity.  Before COVID I used to joke that I’ve met with clients and prospects in every coffee shop from here to Deep River, (about 200 kms away) and I have found the Balti theory to be remarkably accurate.  It takes an average of 3 meetings before enough trust has been built to get anything done.  I have also found that each meeting must be approached in its own unique way to maximize your effectiveness and move the relationship forward.  Poor execution at one meeting can seriously damage your chances of getting the to next one and ultimately to the sale.

Here are some of the things I have learned moving relationships forward.  While we can’t meet in coffee shops right now these tips and tricks for execution are still incredibly useful and tend to work just as well in a virtual environment.

The First Cup

“The first time you take tea with the Bakti you are a stranger.”

Likewise, the first time you meet with a prospective client.  It has been my experience that no real business ever gets done in the first meeting.  People don’t do business with strangers.  The purpose of the first meeting is for the prospective client to get to know you.  Start by asking a lot of open-ended questions about their business, their personal life, how they got started, and what their hopes and dreams and plans are.

By asking those questions and letting the prospect talk as much as they want you will gain a ton of information without being aggressive or sounding like a salesperson.  When they start to run out of steam ask a few follow up questions about what they have done to achieve their goals, who they have worked with in the past and most importantly, what their experience has been with individuals similar to you.

That last one is too often overlooked, and it is key in moving out of the stranger pool.  Everyone has a bias or preconceived notion about you and what you offer, even if they won’t admit it.  By asking point blank what their experience and impression has been with people like you, you immediately uncover what that bias is.  Once you know that you can tailor your offering to address their specific needs and concerns.

Now it’s your turn to talk.  Don’t forget, at this point you are still a stranger so don’t be aggressive or say anything that could make the prospect feel uncomfortable.  Repeat back some of the things they have said, affirm their goals and dreams, congratulate them for their accomplishments and acknowledge their concerns.  Then make it clear that you do business differently and that you have a unique approach that can make a significant impact on their goals.

After I have determined the prospect’s main goals and biases, I finish off with one last question that sets the stage for the next meeting.  “If I could show you a way to achieve x without y, would that be a conversation worth having?”  That answer is almost always yes, at that point it’s time to wrap it up and book the next meeting.

It’s important at this point not to pitch a product.  You are still a stranger, by piquing their interest you are on the verge of becoming a welcome guest the next time but you haven’t gained enough trust to ask for a sale.  That comes later.  Go away leaving them wanting more and looking forward to your next meeting.

The Second Cup

“The second time you share tea with a Balti you are an esteemed guest.”

If you did your job in the first meeting, the prospect will want to hear from you again.  When I arrive at the appointed time and place of this second meeting, I sometimes visualize a grand welcome like how you would expect a visiting dignitary or celebrity to be greeted.  I rarely get the literal red-carpet-treatment but it helps to build up my confidence and put me in the right frame of mind, remember, the prospect wants you here, you are an esteemed guest.

In the previous meeting you not only listened to their goals and dreams, you affirmed them.  And then you heard their concerns and gave them hope.  You’ve gone from stranger to welcome guest.  You aren’t yet family, but you potentially hold the keys to a better tomorrow and for that you will be honored.  The stakes are exponentially higher in the second meeting, now you must deliver value.

At the end of the last meeting we left the prospect wanting more by leaving the open question; “If I could show you a way to x without y, would that be a conversation worth having?”   But you haven’t gathered enough details about their unique situation yet so this time I like to bring a full proposal that answers a similar question but is based on a completely different client’s set of details.  I use this as an example to show the kind of work I do for people with similar concerns as the prospect.

By using a different set of details, I accomplish three things in a non-threatening manner:

  1. I show the prospect that they are not alone in their concerns, alleviating any doubts they may have that their issue is, or isn’t a big deal.
  2. I show deep expertise in the subject matter at hand.
  3. I show them that there is a solution.

After walking the prospect through the solution that I used with another client I can then ask for the exact details of their situation.  If I’ve done my job to this point, the prospect will almost always give me everything I need to build a proposal for them.

Once I’ve gathered all the personal details I need, I set a time to come back a third time with their unique proposal.

The Third Cup

“The third time you share tea with a Balti, you are family.”

If you’ve made it this far in the relationship you know a lot of personal details about the prospect, you’ve been invited in and are now family.  In fact, you probably have a more intimate knowledge of certain aspects of their life than some actual family members do.  The trust you have been given is sacred and the care with which you present your solutions must rival that of a doctor laying out a treatment plan or a priest counselling them through a major life event.

Forget about the red-carpet this time.  When I arrive at this meeting I like to visualize standing on holy ground and presenting the prospect with the tools to embark on a sacred journey.  Again, I am rarely treated like Gandalf or some other mystical guru, but the mental exercise helps set my mind on the monumental importance of what I am about to share.   I present the solution with a level of reverence and respect that shines through to the prospect and helps cement my position as the one who holds the key to unlocking their goals and dreams.

It might take a fourth meeting to fill out an application and collect a cheque but if I’ve done my job to this point, validated their goals and dreams, affirmed their concerns and presented appropriate solutions, the sale is all but assured.

 

I’ve presented this process as three neatly planned meetings.  The reality is that it there can often be several months of telephone, email, and other discussions between each of these meetings.  It takes time to build relationships but given enough time, Gandalf always wins.

 

Go Slow to Go Fast


The Enduring Value of a JAM Session

A lot of endurance athletes train slow in order to race fast.  I believe the concept works just as well in business and life as it does on the Iron Man or marathon course.

Here’s the 1000 foot view of the theory –

Training slow builds your endurance capacity, when you intersperse your training with hard but short speed sessions, you tax your muscles and encourage growth.  It’s essentially the same concept that weightlifters use when they push heavy weight and then back off for a few sessions.  As a result, over time your slow sessions get faster and on race day, when the adrenaline kicks in you can hold a slightly faster pace through the entire length of the race.

By contrast, people who have not prepared themselves for the faster, adrenaline induced race pace tend to fade at the end.  The goal on race day is to have enough left in the tank to run the last mile as confidently as you ran the first.

We can transfer this concept to business by incorporating what I call a JAM session into our routine.  A JAM session is a short burst of intense work where all distractions are blocked out and we focus on one thing for as long as it takes.  Turn off the phone, close the email and social media feeds, shut to door and go to work.

By doing these JAM sessions on a regular basis and when the situation warrants, we can increase our productivity and crank out some real quality work in intense bursts.  Like anything else, the more we do it, the better we get at it.  And it trains our brains to focus better when we aren’t jamming.  The end result is greater productivity overall.

Try it and let me know how it feels.

Here’s a video I produced on the same subject just the other day.

Goals and Resolutions – 2018 Version


Every year around this time I sit down and work on my goals for the coming year.  Not New Year’s Resolutions per say but a handful of things that I plan to do on a regular basis over the course of the year to reach my major goals.

It’s a two-step process.

In accordance with the second of Steven Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I begin with the end in mind.   What are my major goals for 2018?

1 – Complete an Olympic Distance Triathlon

The Olympic Triathlon is the official distance run at the Olympic games and is approximately one quarter of an Iron Man.  It consists of a 1500 m swim, 40 km bike and 10 km run.  World class athletes can generally complete an Olympic Tri in about 2 hours.  The world record is 1:39:50, set at the World Championships in Cleveland Ohio in 1996.  That record has stood for over 20 years and is the stuff of legend in the Triathlon community.  I’ll be happy if I complete my Olympic Tri in under 4 hours.

2 – Finish my Third Book

My first two books came relatively easily to me.  I poured a lot of pent up energy into those books.  My third effort has been quite a bit harder.  I’ve been writing a book on Leadership for about 3 years now and it’s just not working.  Probably because I don’t really have a lot of experience in leadership.  I’m more the solopreneur type so writing about leadership seems a bit disingenuous.  I have several other books sketched out so I’m going to return to my favourite topic – behavioural economics, and work on something along those lines.  I’ve also started writing a memoir of sorts, maybe that could be something, we’ll see, keep an eye out here for more information as these projects grow.

3 – Develop the Financial Coaching Aspect of my Practice

The Meekonomics Project, (financial coaching) has been near and dear to my heart and my plans since the very beginning.  For the past six years I’ve focussed on building my financial practice along traditional lines, Life Insurance and Investments for the family market, Disability Insurance and Group Health Plans for businesses and business owners.  But that’s not where my heart is.  I have a passion for the poor, disadvantaged and victims of predatory lenders.  The Meekonomics Project is my assault on the PayDay Lending industry and stewardship planning for the working poor.

4 – Grow my practice to $85,000 in gross income

Two years ago, I made $74,000, and I thought I was on my way.  The next year I struggled to make $60,000 and this year I will make about $66,000.  These past two years have been hard.  I made a few mistakes, missed a few opportunities and got drawn off on some tangents.  To hit these goals, I need to remain focused and learn to filter out the noise that could pull me off track.

So those are the major goals.  But how are we going to get there?

Covey’s third habit is to put first things first.  In other words, work backwards from the end goal and figure out what to do next.  As a result, I have figured out five daily goals that are going to move me closer to the four major goals every single day.

1 – Go to the Gym for an hour at least 3 days a week  

There are several different triathlon training programs on line.  Most of them say that you can train for an Olympic Tri in about 10 weeks.  They all require at least six days a week in the gym, but I don’t have that kind of time.  I’m pretty sure I can modify a program to work over a 3 day cycle and be ready to complete the distance in about 20 weeks.  In fact, I’ve been working on this for a few months already and should be ready to complete the distance by April.  If I do, great, if not I will save eight months to work on it and hit the goal by the end of the year.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

2 – Spend 30 minutes in prayer and meditation every day

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Why isn’t this the number one priority?  If I was a good Christian boy nothing should take precedence over spending time in prayer, but hear me out.

This list is semi-chronological, and I have learned from experience that if I get up early and do anything other than get out he door and go the gym, it’s not going to happen.  Therefore, for the three days that I plan to go and train for the triathlon, nothing else happens until I can check that off the list.  That being said; my 30 minutes of prayer is the only thing that I am committing to doing every single day.  It keeps me grounded and on point for the rest of the day.

There is a lot more I could say about the importance of connecting with a higher power, however you define it, but I think maybe I’ll save that for another post.  For now, I’ll just say this, releasing my stresses and worries to the God of the universe while at the same time expressing my hopes and dreams and confessing my short comings is incredibly relaxing.   Starting my day in a state of peace and relaxation is the best way I’ve yet found to remain centered, balanced and calm.

3 – Reach out to 40 Individual Clients and Prospects each work day

Working backwards from my goal of making $85,000 this year I need to make approximately 2 new sales per week.  Decades of statistical research in the insurance and investment industry has proven that it takes 5 face-to-face appointments for every sale.  Many of those appointments are simple policy reviews and service calls that don’t necessarily lead to anything new and of those that do require additional services it usually takes 3 or 4 meetings to move someone from prospect to client.  That means I need at least 10 appointments a week.

The same research has show that it takes approximately 20 client “touches” to book an appointment.  Again, many of those touches are simple check in calls or emails that don’t necessarily lead to a meeting right away.  All of this to say that I need to reach out to 200 clients and prospects a week to book 10 appointments.  Broken down over the course of a 5-day workweek that amounts to 40 unique “touches” per day.

4 – Initiate 5 Cold Introductions to new Prospects each work day

This is the law of attrition.  If I’m reaching out to 40 individual clients and prospects each work day it stands to reason that a percentage of those prospects are going to be non-responsive or say they aren’t interested.  All that research about the number of sales and the number of meetings also says that a little better than 10% of your prospects will die on the vine.   So, to keep the numbers consistent I need to be reaching out to 5 new prospects every day.

5 – Write 500 words or film 2 minutes of video each work day

I’m a writer and writers write, ‘nuff said.

Not everything I write will be worth publishing and not every piece of video I record will make it out of my phone but like training for a triathlon the daily discipline will help to improve the final results and hopefully lead to a lot more content on my blog and another book.

500 words is approximately one typewritten page and takes less than 2 minutes to read, the perfect length for a blog post.  2 minute videos get more views than 20 minute videos.  It’s about accessibility, short sweet and too the point, that’s what a blog or vlog should be.  Save the longer thoughts and more detailed analysis for the books.

This combination of major goals and daily goals aren’t exactly New Years Resolutions.  They are more like an execution plan.  I do have a few resolutions tough.  These are simple tweaks to my personality designed to boost my productivity, social capital and emotional connections.

1 – Just Do It

Procrastination is the enemy of productivity.  If a job takes less than 5 minutes to complete it should be completed immediately.  If it takes less than 15 minutes to complete it should be completed by the end of the day.  If it takes more than 15 minutes to complete make an appointment to work on it before the end of the week.

2 – Smile   

Happy people are proven to be more successful people, especially in sales and customer centric industries like financial services.  Even if you don’t feel happy, smiling has been proven to trick your brain into thinking you are happier and so becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Smiling puts people at ease and increases your credibility so that they like you more.

3 – Say Yes as much as possible

Defaulting to yes, even when it’s a yes, but or a yes, and is far better than saying no.  In difficult situations, starting with yes makes you appear as though you are a problem solver even when the eventual outcome is not what was originally desired.  Saying yes is collaborative, while no is confrontational.

So, there you have it.  My goals and resolutions for 2018.  What do you think? Do you have goals or resolutions?  I’d love to hear them, please comment back.

The Day I Realize, I’m Dumb!


We left off last time talking about the 5 Whys process for turning failure into success.  As we get close to the end of the year I’ve started using the 5 Whys to analyze my past successes and failures and make plans for 2018.

I’ve come to an uncomfortable conclusion.

When I look at some of my biggest failures from this past year.  The lost deals, the solid prospects that the just didn’t convert, the opportunities that withered on the vine and the clients that just outright left, the answer to the 5th why is a variation of the same thing.

“I was dumb!”

That sounds trite, but it’s accurate.

More to the point, I was Emotionally Unintelligent.

In every instance of failure that I analyzed I came to the same conclusion.  I one way or another I was out of sync with my client or prospect and failed to recognize what truly mattered to them.  I made the sales process all about product and forgot about the client’s underlying emotional needs.  And what’s worse, as the prospect pulled away I made their failure to move forward all about me and my failure to communicate the benefits of the product.  As deals started to spin away from me I doubled down on a strategy that wasn’t working and further alienated the prospect.

Emotional Intelligence has been defined by Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of the best selling “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” as,

your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

The chart to the right is a typical four quadrant diagram that is popular with psychologists in analyzing behavior.  In this diagram we see the four core skills of Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management aligned with perception; what I see and reaction; what I do.  These skills are further aligned with personal and social competency.

In my failures I tend to be severely lacking in the perception side of the diagram, I don’t see how people are reacting to what I am doing and therefore am unable to adjust my behavior in a way that makes people comfortable moving forward in relationship with me.  If I were to place myself as a dot on the diagram I would be in the top right corner, very strong in Self-Management, I work hard and am disciplined.  I’m very task oriented, my mantra could be that the best kind of To-Do List is a Done List.  But I am extremely lacking in Social Awareness.   In my desire to get things done I tend to push people aside.

My greatest failure of 2017 was with a fast-growing company that I had the opportunity to work with on setting up a Group Benefits program.  I am met with the prospect and immediately hit it off with one of the co-owners.  We were having a great time, talking about business, telling jokes and swapping stories about our past business successes and failures.

Everything was going great.

Then my prospect took me into his partner’s office to say hello.  His partner was in another meeting, but we interrupted because we thought what we had was more important.  To be fair – I didn’t interrupt the meeting, my prospect did and that’s not what I believe caused the problem.

I was introduced around the room as “The Group Benefits Guy”, and while there were other people in the room I immediately forgot their names and laser focused my attention on the business partner.  Looking back at it now I realize that in that moment I went from the fun-loving Group Benefits Guy who was going to help this company move it’s HR process to the next level to that jerky salesman who only cares about people who are in a position of power.  It took a few more weeks but I truly believe that the opportunity was lost in that moment.

A few weeks later the prospect told me that they were pretty much ready to go with the Group Benefits plan, all we had to do was confirm with the partner.  I never heard from the company again.  My follow up messages went unanswered and within a few more months I found out that they had signed up with a competitor.

In doing my 5 Why’s analysis of that failure I concluded that at the critical moment, when I needed to show that I was in tune with the culture of the organization and took their people’s best interests seriously, I failed.  I was emotionally dumb.  To this day I still don’t remember the names of the other people in the room.  For a time, I even forgot the partner’s name and just referred to him in an email as “your partner”.

Why am telling you all this?

Studies have shown that people of average intelligence out-perform those with higher intelligence nearly 70% of the time.  The difference isn’t in classic measures of intelligence.  It’s in how we interact with each other.  Top performers have a higher emotional intelligence and can align their Personal Competencies with their Social Competencies and their perception with their actions.  The closer to the center of that four quadrant diagram you can hang out, the more successful you will be.

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions.  I prefer to make course corrections as I become aware of a need and this one is huge.  If I were to make a New Year’s Resolution for 2018 it would be this – To become more Emotionally Intelligent, get better at truly seeing people and working to aligning my actions with their needs.

VLOG: Episode 6, The Heart of An Entrepreneur


Driving in to the office the other day I started thinking about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and how much mad respect I have for entrepreneurs and what they do.  Here’s the video I recorded about it.

Once again sorry about the audio, I need to both speak up and get a better microphone  I think.  And for some reason I thought sitting in front of a window on a sunny day would be a good idea, won’t make that mistake again, I promise.

I’ll get these technical issues figured about eventually, bear with me okay…  For now enjoy the video.

It’s Not About You


The following is an excerpt from my newest book length project.  The working title of this new book is “LeaderSheep; Leading from a posture of submission in Business, Ministry and the Kingdom of Heaven” and is tentatively scheduled for release in early 2018.

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Few books of the last quarter century have been more influential in Christian circles than Pastor Rick Warren’s,  “The Purpose Driven Life”.  In 2007 Publisher’s Weekly declared Warren’s magnum opus of Christian living the “best selling non-fiction hardcover book of all time.”  In just 5 years it had sold over 30 million copies and become the second most translated book in history behind The Bible itself.  In recognition of the influence he had had on a generation of Christ-followers  Warren was asked to pray for the nation at the inauguration of President Barak Obama in 2008.

The Purpose Driven Life was originally published at a time when America, and indeed the entire world, was reeling from the first act of war committed on her soil since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  The terrorist attacks on The World Trade Center and The Pentagon on September 11, 2001 shook America’s confidence to its core and sent people searching for answers to life’s biggest questions.  The sub-title of the book “What on Earth am I here for?” spoke to those people in a deeply profound way and helped to drive sales of The Purpose Driven Life to stratospheric heights.

But if anyone thought that The Purpose Driven Life was going to give them a feel good, step by step motivational message about how to get back on track through some inward journey of meditation and search for meaning they wouldn’t have gotten off the first page.  For those looking for that type of self-centered motivation the book opens with a punch to the gut that Warren delivers in a signature style reminiscent of an iron fist in a velvet glove.

The first four words of The Purpose Drive Life are “It’s not about you!”   

I can’t think of a better way to start talking about LeaderSheep than by setting the expectation, direction and tone of this work with a reminder that the purpose of leadership is not self-promotion.  It’s quite simply not about you!

In order to be LeaderSheep we must first recognize that we are not leading for personal gain or personal reasons.  Sheepish leaders have a clear sense of purpose, that much is true, but first and foremost they know that their purpose has actually nothing to do with them and everything to do with the flock.  If you are going to be a sheepish leader the first thing you need to do is find the purpose of the thing you are leading, be it an organization, a division or a product launch.

For more on finding purpose or to follow my progress I write this new book contact me at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.  As always I crave your feedback, questions and comments are always welcome…

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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You’re doing it wrong!


Living Life and Growing Your Business on Your Terms

Have you ever received unsolicited advice?

You know the kind I’m talking about. One of your “friends” takes it upon themselves to tell you how you’re screwing up your life. And if you would just make one or two “minor” changes you would be so much better off.

This advice is usually sincere. Your friends are probably genuinely worried about you. When they look at your life they likely see the struggles you go through, how hard you work for seemingly little return, the heartache, the sleepless nights, you name it. Your friends see all the stress and they are genuinely worried about you.

If you’d just give up on your dream and take a job with a steady paycheque. Or maybe just slow it down a bit and relegate your business aspirations to weekends and evenings, maybe you’d be better off. You’d have more money, less stress and live longer.

Or so they think.

But make no mistake it’s never really about you.

It’s about how they feel when they are around you. Maybe they feel sorry for you – but that’s not about you, it’s about them. Maybe they feel guilty for their own success in the face of your seeming failure – but that’s not about you either, it’s still all about them. And maybe they feel envy and jealousy because they see the huge potential for your success and wish they had what it takes to be an entrepreneur. But you guessed it, that’s not about you either.

The fact is, no one can give you advice on what you need to do to be successful. Sure there are some general principles but they are ultimately the same whether you work for a boss or not. At the end of the day nobody knows better than you what it will take for you to be successful. Nobody knows your business better than you. Nobody works harder than you. Nobody cares more than you.

So stop listening to everyone else. That’s what you’re doing wrong.

Entrepreneurship is lonely. And for the most part the pay sucks. Work your ass off for 5, maybe 10 years or even more and maybe, just maybe you’ll become so successful you’ll forget about the years of struggle that led up it.

Maybe not.

You have to be prepared to live like no one else, so that later you can live like no one else.

That’s my best unsolicited advice.  Take it or leave it.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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Decision-Making


How to focus on the choices that matter the most…

Each and every one of us makes countless decisions every day. Some don’t matter much, like what to wear or what to eat for lunch. Others carry a little more weight. Last week I talked about the general weight of decisions in our lives, go back an re-read it here [Cast Your Burdens].  This week I want to focus a bit more on the specific and unique decision making needs of business owners. Business owners make decisions about how to manage cash flow, how to protect the company (with insurance mostly), and which benefits plan to choose so that they can attract and retain the best employees.

Have you ever found it difficult making important decisions? You’re not alone.

As I talked about last week, researchers have found that we only have limited decision-making power. So called, “decision fatigue” effects us all as the day progresses. Check out this article from the New York Times to back me up. As the day rolls along and the number of decisions we need to make pile up, our brains get tired and start to look for an easier way out. That can mean delaying decisions, paralysis by analysis or it could lead to reckless decisions made primarily just to get it over with so that we can move on.

One option some entrepreneurs have found to help manage decision fatigue is to eliminate, or create a habit around certain choices. I’m currently reading Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book “The Power of Habit”. At one point in the book he talks about what he calls the Keystone Habits that can shape entire organizations and remove a cumbersome layer of decision making, streamlining processes and leading to increased efficiencies and ultimately higher profits. Case in point, two of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs simplified some of their decisions by wearing the same clothing every day: Steve Jobs was famous for his black turtlenecks, and Mark Zuckerberg favours grey T-shirts. I have even taken on a modification of this habit myself, I line up my pants and shirts in my closet on laundry day and simply put on whatever is at the front of the line every morning. Granted, not quite a streamlined as wearing the same thing every day but it is one less decision I need to make in the morning, freeing my mind up for more important things later.

Another idea is to devote more time to important decisions earlier in the day, that way you are fresh and can devote better energy to things before the relentless piling on of minor choices makes it harder to concentrate and make the best decisions. Consider scheduling an hour or so every morning to contemplate some of the bigger choices you need to make that day.

It’s important to start by identifying which of your regular decisions are most important. Most business owners agree that decisions related to cash flow management are the highest on their list of priorities. A recent survey showed that over half (59 per cent) of small business owners were concerned about cash flow with 20 per cent saying they are seriously concerned. This would seem to point to the fact that they are likely to get the most outside advice in this area but over a third of them (38 per cent) said they were dealing with their cash flow issues alone, without any help from an external advisor.  Know to be clear, I am not an accountant but one of the biggest advantages that I can bring to the table for my clients is help with decision-making around cash flow management. For example, I can help put together an optimal mix of bank accounts, lines of credit and investments to maximize returns mitigate risks and cushion your business from cash flow crunches.

And speaking of risk, another important area is risk management. Having a clear risk management goal like, building a diversified customer base or multiple revenue streams helps you make better business planning decisions and move the business forward. But keep in mind that when it comes to insurance, any delays in decision-making actually increase your exposure. Business owners must make it a top priority to finalize insurance policies as soon as they are financially able. This includes all forms of general liability and business interruption insurance to critical illness, disability and key person insurance for the owners and employees.

Lastly, there’s another area of risk management decision-making that most business owners forget about until it’s too late. If you have employees, you know how much your business relies on the productivity and loyalty of all of your people. And you’re probably also aware of how much turnover can cost. That’s why it’s so surprising to me that according to the research cited above just 17 per cent of business owners consider group benefits including health and retirement savings plans when building a risk management strategy. Even a simple, entry-level benefits plan for as few as 2 or 3 people can do wonders for moral and help to retain and attract better employees.

Postponing important financial decisions may mean missing out on opportunities to grow, develop and protect your business. So if you’ve been mulling without deciding, consider what you need to move forward. Are you considering all of the options? Do you have enough information to make an informed choice? Can a financial advisor offer any input? What other barriers are standing in the way?

Small business owners are busy people, I get that. Anything that can help streamline your decision-making process and make it more efficient is of great value. I am here to help. I can provide clarity and give you a big-picture perspective on decisions that benefit you, your company and your employees in both the short and long term. Contact me any time.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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Cast Your Burdens


Life is heavier than the weight of all things – Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve recently become aware of the sheer weight of life.

I’m not just talking about the mental “weightiness” of our lives or the existential weight of the decisions we make on a daily basis. I’m talking also about the basic physical weights and measures of the things we possess and the life that we carry with us wherever we go.

Some statistics:

  • The average North American home has tripled in size in the last 50 years while the number of people living in those homes, the average family size, has gotten smaller.

  • 1 in 4 of those homes doesn’t have enough room in their garage to park a car while 1 in 10 rents extra off-site storage.

  • Over the course of our lifetime we will spend a total of 153 days (or 3,672 hours) looking for misplaced items.

All of this “stuff” is quite literally weighing us down but that’s not all – Psychologists have identified a relatively new pathology known as decision fatigue.

Decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of the decisions we make the more we make them. It is now understood to be one of the main causes of irrational decision making. Judges and other professional decision makers have been shown to make less favorable decisions later in the day than they do early in the day. If you want to win in court, try to make sure your case is on the docket in the morning.

Decision fatigue also leads to poor choices in our personal lives, such as how we spend our money and our time. There is also a paradox inherent in decision fatigue in that people who lack choice seem to want it more while at the same time find that making too many choices can be psychologically draining.

Lastly, research is beginning to show that the single biggest factor causing decision fatigue is not the importance or consequences of the decisions being made but their sheer volume. Deciding what to wear in the morning or what to eat for breakfast contributes just as much to our daily decision fatigue as determining the case of a plaintiff in a multimillion dollar civil complaint. A decision is a decision and fatigue is fatigue.

Ask anyone what they truly want out of life and the answer will more often than not boil down to some form of peace and happiness. Still more research is beginning to show that people who report being the most peaceful and happy with their lives also seem to be the ones who are forced to make the fewest decisions throughout the day. And the decisions they do make whether in their personal or professional lives tend to be of higher quality.

I was recently challenged by a friend and spiritual mentor to embrace some of the tenants of minimalism. At the same time I’ve been reading David Allen’s definitive work on time management and productivity “Getting Things Done”. Both seek to reduce stress and increase enjoyment and productivity by reducing the weight of things in our lives and streamlining decision making.

It seems counter intuitive but by reducing the number of choices we are faced with we actually open up our minds to new possibilities and new ideas and lighten the burden of some of the bigger and more consequential decisions we are faced with. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest thinkers of modern history was known to have 7 copies of the exact same set of clothing, one for each day of the week, and ate the exact same meal for breakfast and lunch every single day. That’s three fewer decisions he had to make than most other people which helped to open his mind for weightier things.

In my work as a financial advisor I see the other side of the coin every day. Lives built on a house of cards of debt, and stress. People are running faster and faster just to remain in one place. We have been sold a lie that the key to happiness is the acquisition of more. And that the truly happy and “together” people are also able to do more with their time. Carrying last year’s model smart-phone is considered a sign of poverty in some circles and simply stopping to relax with your family, without a program or agenda to follow, is somehow seen as sloth or a waste of precious time.

The truth is we need down time in order to maintain our sanity.  There is nothing wrong with staying in and doing nothing, just like there is nothing wrong with carrying and using a still functional smart-phone.

Minimalism and the type of streamlining decision making advocated by authors and consultants like Allen, are not a panacea for all that ails us. But they can be a first step in determining what truly matters, making better decisions and living a more peaceful and fulfilling life.

It’s time to lighten our lives, worry less and live more.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated a small farm, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, and has written 3 books on Economics, Ethics and Spirituality.  He has presented his ideas to business owners and leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He brings to his work a passion for people and a desire to teach everyone to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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