Life is a Dance

You know what you want. If anything was possible, you know what you would do.

What is holding you back?

More times than not, I realize that barriers are self-imposed and that obstacles are meant to be navigated around. Then one of two things happen:

  1. I push ahead, jump over the obstacles, and do what it is that I really want to do — because the dance feels awesome; getting ever closer to the finish line feels awesome.
  2. I recognize that I don’t want to do it bad enough. Sometimes I impose barriers because I want an excuse for not doing it — because the dance to the finish line doesn’t energize or excite me.

And sometimes I start the dance feeling all happy, light-headed and giddy and then over time, I get bored with the repetitive steps and I want to quit before the song is over. Does this make me a quitter? Shouldn’t I push on through the boring, repetitive steps and see it to the end? Or is this an indication that I am ready to tackle a new dance or create a new twist to a beloved old favorite?

I’ve shared this internal dialog with me, myself and I on many occasions. It is always a process: I take a breather, write in my journal, make pro and con lists, weigh my options, ask friends and family for feedback, daydream. Some of the people in my life don’t understand my process — they say I think too much. But it works for me. Once I remain still for awhile and listen carefully, a catchy new tune floats my way. I tap my feet and sway to the beat, and I move.

I am my life’s choreographer.

What about you: What stops you from doing what you want to do? Do you feel obligated to finish what you’ve started? Are you a planner or a leaper? Do you enjoy the journey? How do you feel when you reach your finish line?

(Email subscribers, you’ll need to click on the post title to view the relevant video embedded on my blog page.)

Entrepreneur CliffsNotes from a Penny-Pinching, Pajama-Clad, Self-Made Millionaire

Aim, Ready, Fire!

Entrepreneur CliffsNotes from a Penny-Pinching, Pajama-Clad, Self-Made Millionaire

Japanese Archery(photo by Okinawa Soba)

This is a lengthy post (2500+ words) as it contains nearly everything I know about how to be your own boss, in an abbreviated 3-phase format. If you’ve ever dreamed of making money doing something you love to do, I think you’ll find it well worth your time to read. First, a little about me and my entrepreneurial background to provide context for this filled-to-the-brim resource…

I’ve bootstrapped half a dozen small businesses including a couple of dog training schools, home and pet care services, a construction company and most recently, a coaching business. I started each business with less than $1,500 in capital investment. Because I hate alarm clocks, rigid working hours and panty hose, I choose to operate businesses that honor my personal preferences. I wake when I am rested, eager to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. More often than not, I work from home in my pajamas.

My entrepreneurial success didn’t require a diploma. Impatient with seemingly pointless prerequisites and eager to start making my own money, I dropped out of college. I now consider myself a lifelong learner and return to school whenever I want to learn a specific new skill.

“Most self-made millionaires possess average intelligence. What sets them apart is their openness to new knowledge and their willingness to learn whatever it takes to succeed.” (The Seven Pitfalls of Business Failure and How to Avoid Them by Patricia Schaefer)

Unfortunately, I was a drop out with no vision for my future. I began my adult working life as a graveyard shift donut and coffee waitress. Fortunately, I realized that I was too good to settle for minimum wage. I quit pushing donuts and took a job that would allow me to explore my interests. Because I’d always loved animals, I applied for a job with a veterinary hospital and during this same time, I also negotiated an unpaid apprenticeship with a professional dog trainer to learn marketable new skills.

Don’t tell me what to do! I am the boss of me. As an employee, I resisted standard operating procedures — particularly when I could see a more effective process for said procedures. Recognizing that I found it difficult to do business someone else’s way, I took what I learned as an employee and apprentice and moonlighted with my own business. Once my own business income matched my employment income, I quit my job. I’ve been self-employed since my early twenties.

How much is enough? Unlike the typical American, I have resisted the temptation to inflate my lifestyle to match my income. Rather than make more and spend more to keep up with the Joneses, I enjoy a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. I value my time, hobbies, recreation and personal relationships more than I do money. Therefore, my moneymaking ambition has always been to make just a little more than enough. Because I pay myself first, I am 100% debt-free and have accumulated over a million dollars. I can afford the luxury of free time. Here’s a wonderful story, written by an unknown author, that aptly illustrates the concept of ‘enough’:

Story of The Mexican Fisherman

(photo by CaptPiper)

Mexican Fisherman StoryAn American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.”

The American then asked him why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish. The Mexican replied that he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich; you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what, senor?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

Author Unknown

What drives YOU to want to be your own boss?

Aim…   (Step One: Zero In On The Right Business)


(photo by AjDele Photography)

What do you love to do? Do you make money doing this? If not, why not? What are your unique talents? What are your personal priorities and values? Your quirks? Your passion will be evident to your customers and will prove value. Put aside all judgement as you brainstorm ideas. Need inspiration? Try these exercises:

Is there a need for what you offer? Next time you can’t find what you are looking for, realize you just identified a business opportunity.

What is your risk tolerance? If your tolerance for risk is low, avoid reinventing the wheel. Pick a known moneymaker.

Example: While plumbing isn’t a romantic business, it has been in steady demand for as long as humans have enjoyed running water.

Is the money worth your time? Calculate how much you anticipate making and how many hours you’ll need to work to earn the revenue. Then calculate the dollar value of your time.

Ask many questions:

  • Talk to people in your chosen niche: vendors, sales reps, technicians, consumers, your future competition.
  • Ask for feedback from those who are supportive, optimistic and successful. Avoid naysayers.
  • Interview those who have been-there-done-that.

Try it before you buy into it:

  • Find a mentor.
  • Be a shadow.
  • Volunteer.
  • Work to learn, not to earn. Negotiate an apprenticeship.
  • Work for your future competition.

Would you be better off buying an existing business or starting from scratch?

  • An existing business with a successful history is more likely to succeed.
  • A start up is attractive due to a lower beginning investment.

Ready…  (Step Two: Set Yourself Up for Success)

Missed the target(photo by andreasnilsson1976)

Do your research:

  • Be an ethical mole and work for your future competition. Learn how to navigate the maze on someone else’s dollar.
  • Analyze your competition: supply, demand, prices, strengths, weaknesses. What can YOU offer that your competition doesn’t?
  • What are the demographics of your targeted customer? How will you reach them?
  • Clarify your business identity by carefully selecting your niche and business name. Be sticky! (ex: Jen Smith versus Millionaire Mommy Next Door)

Spin your web (create a support system):

  • Don’t try to wear all the hats. Reports on business failures cite poor management as the number one reason for failure. New business owners frequently lack business and management expertise in areas such as finance, purchasing, selling, production, and hiring and managing employees. Build your team of players and seek help from a bookkeeper, CPA, attorney, manager, sales and marketing specialist, etc. Weigh the advantages of hiring subcontractors versus employees.
  • Participate in networking, professional and business support groups.
  • Limit your exposure to toxic people. Don’t allow negativity to bring you down. Surround yourself with those who are happy and successful.
  • Be mindful of your own internal dialog. Eliminate the words ‘but’, ‘try’, and ‘can’t’ from your personal vocabulary.

Get your dollars in a row:

  • Starting a business is risky. As a rule of thumb, new businesses have a 50/50 chance of surviving for five years or more (source: Small Business Association). Don’t let statistics discourage you; just be properly prepared for success.
  • Plan for the best AND have an exit plan in place.
  • Start with sufficient capital and operating expenses. Establish an emergency savings account equal to at least one year of operating and living expenses.
  • Cover your ass(ets). Obtain appropriate insurance policies to protect you from catastrophic events: medical, disability, liability.
  • If money is tight, moonlight. Keep your day job and work your business between working hours. Cut back on your employed hours incrementally. Once your part-time business is earning enough money to replace your day job, quit.

Establish yourself as an authority in your niche:

  • Volunteer
  • Blog
  • Write a book
  • Teach
  • Speak

Eliminate the need for costly advertising expenses. I’ve never spent a dime on advertising. Referrals and word of mouth come free.

  • Seek symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with existing, complementary businesses. For example, I offered on-location dog training classes for the clientele of participating veterinary hospitals.
  • Allow potential referral sources to experience the value you provide firsthand by offering them free or discounted services. Example: I offered free dog training classes to veterinarians, groomers, kennel owners and their staff.
  • Find relevant ways to help your community. Submit public service announcements to your local newspapers, radio and TV stations.

Fire!  (Step Three: Become the Boss of You)

Bullseye(photo by – POD –)

First impressions can be a matter of life and death for your new business. Now that you know what you want to do and what you need to do, it is time to launch!

Focus. Keep your commitments. Don’t branch out in too many directions.

Prevent burnout. Assuming you plan to be your own boss for the long haul, it is imperative to keep your work and personal lives balanced:

  • Take time off to play.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Hug your family.
  • Be there for your friends.
  • Eat your vegetables.
  • Express your gratitude. Psychologists say that establishing a habit of gratitude plays a significant role in a person’s sense of well-being:

“The study required several hundred people in three different groups to keep daily diaries. The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day, while the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences. The last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. McCollough and Emmons also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another.”  (source)

  • Be happy! Happy people make more money. Newsweek reports:

“although money doesn’t buy happiness, happiness can buy money. Young people who describe themselves as happy typically earn higher incomes, years later, than those who said they were unhappy. It seems that a sense of well-being can make you more productive and more likely to show initiative and other traits that lead to a higher income.”

Measure and evaluate your progress. Regular evaluations using analytical measures are important for keeping on track and staying in alignment with your vision. Identify what works, what doesn’t and what you want to accomplish next:

  • Keep a journal.
  • Maintain an accurate bookkeeping system and chart your financial progress.
  • Track the ratio of repeat customers versus new ones.
  • Ask for feedback from your customers, employees and referral sources.

Stay connected. Nurture professional relationships with people who have the potential to help you with contacts, information, referrals and advice. In turn, be authentic and mindful of how you can add value to their lives. Your professional community is a rewarding place to practice good karma.

  • Send a periodic email that reads, “I’ve been thinking about you. We haven’t talked in a while — I’d love to meet up for coffee or tea sometime next week to catch up.”
  • Build ‘virtual’ relationships via e-mail, conference calls, online courses, blogs, forums, chat rooms, and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Consider expansion carefully. Remember your priorities and do the math. For example, my husband and I considered expanding our small construction business to include a staff of workers. Here are the two options we considered:

Option A = Continue to manage a small in-home business:

1 full-time tradesman (my husband; 35 hours per week)
1 part-time apprentice (20 hours per week)
1 part-time bookkeeper (me; 15 hours per week)
Total employees = 3 (1 full-time, 2 part-time)
Total labor hours per week = 70

Gross annual revenue = $250,000

Net profit = 50%
Low overhead expenses (work from home, one truck, one set of tools) means a higher percentage of revenue remains as profit.


Option B = Expand our business to include 5 tradesmen:

5 full-time tradesmen (5 x 40 hours = 200 hours per week)
5 part-time apprentices (5 x 20 hours = 100 hours per week)
2 full-time bookkeepers (5 x 15 hours = 75 hours per week)
1 full-time manager (40 hours per week)
Total employees = 13 (8 full-time, 5 part-time)
Total labor hours per week = 415

Gross annual revenue = $1,250,000

Net profit = 10%
Higher overhead expenses (leased storefront location, five trucks, five sets of tools, increased salaries and administration costs) means a lower percentage of revenue remains as profit.

Which business would you rather operate? At first glance, many would likely say, “I’ll take Option B and make one-and-a-quarter million dollars each year!”

Whoa now, let’s slow down and finish the math:

Option A = $250,000 gross annual revenue x 50% net profit = $125,000.

Option B = $1,250,000 gross annual revenue x 10% net profit = $125,000.

That’s right — both options provide $125,000 in annual net profit. Now that we’ve completed the math, which would you choose?

Option A comes with less expenditures of time, energy and capital.
Option A reduces risk.
Option A requires very little initial capital investment.
Option A allows us to work from home.
Option A puts the same amount of dollars in our pocket as Option B.

We chose Option A. Every business is different, of course, so run your own numbers.

Pay yourself first and invest for a lifetime of freedom:

  • Be a tightwad. Thomas Stanley, coauthor of the bestseller, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, found that the prototypical millionaire told him, “I am my favorite charity.”
  • As your profits grow, be watchful of lifestyle inflation.
  • As a rule of thumb, put at least 15% of your net profits into a diversified retirement account.

Once you achieve financial independence, give back and help other get started:


Note: All told, this post took me more than 8 hours to put together (and over twenty years to learn!). If you found it useful, please share it with your friends, bookmark it, Stumble it, Tweet it, link to it from your blog, etc. For your convenience, there is a “Share This Post” link in the footer of this post. Thanks!

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Why We Need To Exercise Both Sides of Our Brain for Optimal Success

There is a common misconception that most people are either right-brained (creative, intuitive) OR left-brained (logical, analytical). But this isn’t true. We are born with two brain hemispheres. It’s just that our society tends to place a higher value on left-brain skills such as language, logic and math. Unfortunately, this left-brained focus can squash our creative, right-brained attributes and limit our success in life.

Experiments show that most children are highly creative (a right brain function) before entering school. But only ten percent of these same children rank highly creative by age seven. By the time we are adults, high creativity remains in only two percent of the population.

What a shame.

We require BOTH brain functions to optimally succeed. It’s not an either/or thing. Take Albert Einstein for example: most would assume that Einstein was genius because of his left-brained reasoning. However, an examination of his notebooks finds that he credited his greatest scientific insights not to left-brained logic, but to his right-brained creative daydreaming instead.

How can we innovate enough new products or services and create enough new startups to achieve economic expansion if our society, our schools, continue to curb our imagination and punish our daydreaming? Creativity is the fuel that the left-brain needs to power the necessary actions. The right brain gives us the “why” and the left brain gives us the “how.”

Those who cease to daydream can’t see opportunities even when they’re right in front of their nose. You’ve heard me say this before and I’ll repeat it again: Big changes start with a thought, not an action.

Take a look at the following list of brain functions. Can you see how success is limited when only 50% of our brain gets regular exercise?

Left brain functions: Right brain functions:
Logic Emotions, intuition
Forms strategies Presents possibilities
Sees the parts, specifics, details Sees the big picture – relationships among the parts
Breaking apart Putting together
Present and Past Present and Future
Time-bound Time-free
Safety Takes risks
Analytical Creative, Holistic
Numbers, Written language Pictures, Insight
Reasoning Imagination
Scientific skills Awareness
Sequential Simultaneous
Literal Contextual, Pragmatic

Do you dislike your job? Are you feeling stuck in a rut and powerless to do anything about it? Perhaps you know what you want to do but your big but problem gets in your way. Is your logical left side telling you “this will never work”? If so, remember that analysis and judgment (left brain functions) can get in the way of creativity, insight and imagination. That’s why when you brainstorm, it’s crucial that you suspend judgment while generating ideas.

I urge you to join me and re-ignite your imagination. Here are a few ways to give your oft-neglected right hemisphere a little love:

A toast! To our right brains!


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Learn From Successful Entrepreneurs Who Have BTDT (been there, done that)

Brian was tired of making other people wealthy. He no longer felt in control of his earnings as an employee. One day not too long ago, Brian Schwartz told his wife that he wanted to quit his 9 to 5 job and become his own boss.

Brian, the primary bread winner for his family, had never been an entrepreneur before. His astute wife put him to a test — she told him he could quit his job, after he interviewed 50 entrepreneurs.

The vast majority of small businesses fail. Why? And what does it take for an entrepreneur to succeed? Brian discovered the answers to these questions and more by asking those who have BTDT (been there, done that). Armed with a list of 13 pertinent questions, Brian met with over 50 entrepreneurs. I was one of them. Brian’s end result? An army of role models and mentors, a 245 page biographical encyclopedia, his wife’s blessings, and a new business that he is already turning into a franchise.

Recently, I turned the tables and interviewed Brian. Our ten minute discussion comes in two video parts:

In Part One, I ask Brian:

  • What was your motivation behind launching 50 Interviews?
  • Did you quit your job after publishing the book?
  • From everything you learned through your interview process, what was your most surprising finding?
  • Do you think successful entrepreneurs are born or made?

(Email subscribers, you’ll need to click here to view the video on my blog page.)

In Part Two, Brian responds to these questions:

  • Among the 50+ entrepreneurs you interviewed, what characteristics do they share in common?
  • What do you see as the biggest barriers confronting a wanna-be entrepreneur?
  • Upon publishing 50 Interviews, you quit your own job to become an entrepreneur yourself. Have you encountered challenges that you didn’t expect?

(Email subscribers, you’ll need to click here to view the video on my blog page.)

Brian’s book, 50 Interviews: Entrepreneurs, provides a short background about each business owner, then provides each entrepreneur’s answers — in their own words — to the following questions:

1. What was your initial start-up cost and source?
2. How long was it until you reached a positive cash flow?
3. Did you use a business plan?
4. What was the genesis of your business idea?
5. What is the vision of your company & the community you serve?
6. What is the passion that it fills for you personally?
7. Where do you see yourself and your company in ten years?
8. What were your biggest challenges? Looking back now, is there anything you wish you had done differently? What do you know now that you wish you’d known sooner?
9. What aspects of ownership are the most rewarding? Any unexpected rewards?
10. What do you attribute your success to? Luck, timing, someone who helped you?
11. How do you attract and retain the best employees? What is the most important attribute you look for?
12. Can you recommended any training or resources such as books, classes or websites? Do you recommend an MBA?
13. What slogan do you live by? What might your tombstone say?

The collective — yet very diverse — wisdom contained between the covers of the book 50 Interviews: Entrepreneurs is a godsend for any aspiring new business owner. If you are thinking about ditching the 9-5 grind for a business to call your own, spare yourself a few time-consuming and expensive hard knocks.

Mailbox: Outsourcing Edition

“When the economy tanked, I was forced to come out of retirement and work as a taxi driver.”

Photo: Visit Puppies Are Prozac for a dose of adorable, funny animal photos to chase the grumpies away.

Readers’ Questions Answered:

“You mentioned being better at the business side of things, but what did you do to help your husband make more money in the same, or less, time? ~Gregg

My husband is a third-generation construction tradesman. During his twenties, my husband worked as an employee for hourly wages, earning $20,000 to $35,000 annually. Meanwhile, his boss made several times as much revenue off of my husband’s efforts.

At age 30, my husband quit his job, affixed a rooftop rack onto an old Econoline van and became his own boss. After a year or two, his annual net income climbed to $60,000 before leveling off. He was on the right track, but for the hours he worked, he wasn’t earning what he could.

I had spent my twenties bootstrapping a couple of small businesses. I loved the creative process, the networking, the number crunching. After selling my businesses, I reviewed his business operations and found inefficiencies. My husband is an excellent tradesman with fantastic people skills; however, the math and minutiae of business management wasn’t his strong suit. Thankfully that’s where I shine so we joined forces and doubled the plumbing business’ annual net income to $120,000 the following year.

My husband is awesome with mechanical problem-solving and people; I have a talent for brainstorming ideas, analytical problem-solving, and implementing a sound plan. My husband and I both have different strengths that we bring to the table and together, we make a great team.

Statistically, the majority of millionaires are self-employed business owners. But it’s difficult for one entrepreneur to wear all the hats. Stick to what you’re best at doing and get help with the rest.

I’ve been outsourcing various tasks since I was 14 years old. My two siblings and I hated spending our weekends off from school cleaning the house, so the three of us pitched in equal shares from the money we earned from babysitting / paper-routes / dog-walking to hire a weekly housecleaner. Since we were better at our after-school jobs than we were at cleaning house, it made sense for us to do so.

I still use a housecleaner; I have a bookkeeper who comes to our home weekly to pay our bills, balance our checking accounts, file papers and send correspondence; and I just hired a personal assistant to help me tackle other tasks I’m not good at or don’t enjoy doing myself. When we’re really pressed for time (like after we returned home from China with our new daughter), we hire someone to stock our freezer with ready-to-cook meals. We hire subcontractors to do the work we aren’t good at — or don’t want to do — for our various businesses, too.

Outsourcing allows my husband and I to wear the hat that fits us best. As a result, we make more money AND have more free time to enjoy it!

You can read more of my tips (and others’) on outsourcing in a recent interview by US News and World Report.

“What are your favorite personal finance books?” ~Kelly

Here are my top 3 all-time favorite books:

  1. Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century
  2. Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want
  3. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets Of Americas Wealthy

Click on the following categorized lists to view more books I like:

Books That Changed My Life (Highly Recommended)
Building Wealth
Millionaire Mindset
Personal Finance Software
Raising Money-Savvy Kids
Self-Employment, Small Business
Simple Living, Saving Money, Frugality

These titles are offered at Amazon but many of the titles can be found at your local library, too. Shop at from my store link and I’ll use my referral fees to help small businesses operated by working, impoverished women through

Online articles that captured my attention this week:

What If You Don’t Plan to Retire? Save Anyhow! @ Get Rich Slowly

Why It Could Take Years to Recover @ The Motley Fool

New HGTV show gives homeowners the cold truth @SFGate

(photo by ff137)