Are You an Overnight Success Waiting to Happen? Our Cuppa Joe Discussion.

Having found out today that the Zune is probably dead, I look at Microsoft and think “this was a good idea gone wrong.” From outside appearances, Microsoft never really identified what the brand “Zune” stood for. At one point it was a music player. Then it was a music service. Now, because Microsoft couldn’t make up it’s mind, it’s soon to be nothing. It seems to be a textbook case of jumbled product design.

The iPod never had that problem.

From the beginning, there was clear differentiation between the iPod and iTunes. One was a service, the other a little sexy looking hard drive that Apple marketed as a music player.


Cool Design Alone Doesn’t Win the Day


But people forget that the first iPod wasn’t a blockbuster; quite the contrary. Initially, in 2002 iPod sales were about 40,000 units a month. That may sound like a ton, but not when compared to the 56 million iPods sold in 2008. The product took some time to catch on. It took consistent backing of the manufacturer and a laser-like focus on the end product without distractions.

In the short time I’ve been blogging, a good number of well-designed and well-written sites have disappeared. I’ve watched blogs implode under the weight of the writer’s unrealistic expectations that if they wrote something (anything) the market would come running immediately.

This “quick success” isn’t limited to blogging. Restaurants open daily without any real planning and end up highlighted on the Gordon Ramsay show Kitchen Nightmares. Viewers like me ask “what were they thinking?” as you see people ill-suited for prime-time trying to run a restaurant.

There are other industries: tech gambles, films, online stores, retail and B2B operations. In each category you’ll find businesspeople who were hoping for quick riches. Success

In forums I’d see new owners complain that people weren’t coming to their site/restaurant/store. They’d rail against the injustice of lesser companies gaining the traction that they’d wished for. I wasn’t ever surprised when these businesses were gone in a hurry. Inspiration is great, but it doesn’t create an overnight success.

I think you start to understand business when you realize: you won’t be an overnight success. At that point, you’ll go into business with a clear understanding of what it’s going to take to succeed: tireless effort and a long-standing belief in your product.

The band Silversun Pickups was nominated in the Best New Artist category at the 2009 Grammy Awards. The band had been around since 2005….four years! Lead singer Brian Aubert, when asked about the three-year-late New Artist nomination answered: “It’s not lost on us how lucky we are.”


People want instant success, but the wise entrepreneur is ready for the long haul, and feels lucky when they finally find their audience. In most businesses, you don’t have to fall into the “get rich now” trap.

Instead, you can take the longer view:

1) Revisit your product. Do you have a jumbled message or a well-designed idea?

2) Realize that you have a cool product and treat it every day as awesome.

3) Interact with your audience in a way that cool companies would interact with their fans.

4) Be patient, but continue seeking out opportunities to invest in yourself and your chance of success.

Sure, sometimes you run out of patience or money. But if you’ve gone into business with the long view, rather than the “I’m gonna get rich quick” attitude, you’re far more likely to win because you’ve set up your business plan expecting it to be a marathon, not a sprint.

Who knows, four years into your new venture, like the Silversun Pickups or the iPod, you might be the next overnight success.


How do you remain patient about your business?

5 Fees I Hate More Than The New Spirit Airlines B.S. Bag Charge: Our Cuppa Joe Discussion

It’s Thursday! That means we’re grabbin’ a cup of coffee and talking about my opinion on anything I find amusing that particular day (my favorite topic).

Spirit Airlines, who should really just change their name to “We Will Do Anything To Alienate Our Customers,” announced last week that they plan to charge $100 to give you the pleasure of placing a bag in the overhead bin.

If it’ll fit under your seat or on your body, you’re still good.

Now I’ll have to wear six layers of clothing on the plane instead of three.

Like cars, I feel an airplane ride is a way to get from point A to point B. That makes me a low-cost whore. If Spirit’s fees are still less than everyone else when you include the $100 bag fee, you’ll find me on the first flight out of Dodge. I’ll be the guy with the big, fat happy (and because of all the clothing…sweaty) grin on my face.

Spirit’s goal is to keep costs low. I understand that, so I’m taking this one in stride. As the above USA Today article states, other airlines are quietly following behind the Spirit-hatred shield. Other fees fill me with rage FAR more than this particular nuisance, because they make zero sense to me, except “this is an easy way for us to piss you off while we rip money out of your pocket.”

5) Credit card application or annual fees. There may be more on the way. On a recent Consumerism Commentary podcast, Flexo and Matt Schultz interview Jay Frosting of,about some alarming news around credit card application fees. The executive summary: Watch your credit card statements carefully. Fees might be rising soon.

4) Piled on mortgage fees. Origination charges? Appraisal fee of $350? Ouch. Ask for a complete list of mortgage expenses before signing on the dotted line.

3) Ticketmaster “convenience” charges. This one is awesome in a “you must be joking but you totally aren’t” kind of way. Ticketmaster charges me a CONVENIENCE FEE for printing tickets at my house. I made it more convenient for them (they don’t have to do anything at all) and they charge me more. There’s a bean counter at headquarters giggling to himself while I’m buying tickets.

2) Bank fees. Teller fees. Statement fees. ATM charges. I know. Enough already. We all know that banks don’t get it.

I love this series of Ally Bank commercials and their discussion of fees and bad customer service. These say it all:

Just one example of Ally’s campaign railing on bad customer service, fine print and baloney fees.


1) …and my most hated fee of all….hidden financial product fees, like 12b1 fees (mutual funds), mortality and expense charges (annuities), sales loads (funds and variable insurance products).

I know, I know. Mutual fund and insurance companies have to make money somehow. Just be brave like Spirit and tell me upfront how you’re going to skewer me to make a profit.


What are your least-favorite bullshit fees?

Being Okay With “I’m Not Okay” Financially: Our Cuppa Joe Discussion

As I chronicled on Erin Shanendoah’s The Dog Ate My Wallet blog, I spent a year without much income (roughly $12,000). This lit a collection agency fire to the huge mound of debt I’d already wracked up, wrecked my credit rating and emptied my savings.

During this period I was renting a house in a nice neighborhood for far less money than I would have paid to own a home.

I hated the house.

It was a leaky, old 800 square foot bungalow and our young family of four was shoehorned in. I enjoy a small house, but this the double feature:  small and unattractive.

When my twins were in kindergarten a friend of my daughter’s came over and said, “I love your house. It reminds me of our cottage. It’s tiny!”

Kids say the cutest things. Yeah, right.

Once my income picked up, I wanted out of the house but I was trapped by those piles of debt. One day at lunch I was flipping through the newspaper and found another option: a house around the corner was up for rent at only $200 per month more than our current house! Better yet, it was 1,200 square feet and a bazillion years newer and more attractive.

I immediately imagined living there. In my mind, that felt like a palace compared to our house. I was motivated. I called the owner and talked it over. Things looked promising. Cheryl, initially worried, became excited too when we walked through the house. The kitchen was brand flippin’ new. There was a basement rec room where the kids could escape (or we could escape from them!) This was a dream come true. We could rent a nice place while we sorted out our debt troubles.

No more cottage. Hello real world.

I’ve been lucky to surround myself with people who aren’t like me. They think differently than I do. I suppose I’ve done this on purpose. I like a good discussion, and I don’t get angry when people disagree, as long as I understand the logic of the argument.

I told a close friend about this, very excitedly, and she didn’t seem as fired up. In fact, she didn’t get excited at all, even though I was flailing arms and explaining just how awesome this house was going to be for us.

I asked her what was going on in her head. Her answer changed my view then and still colors by lens when I approach financial situations today.

She said:

“Do you want to live in a nice place while you’re still buried in mountains of debt or do you want to come home to the reminder of why you need to change?”

She might have well punched me in the gut. I was desperate to change. I wanted to be free from the stomach-clenching thoughts of how long it was going to take to repay my lenders. She knew that the house would be pretend things are a-okay, and under all this enthusiasm, so did I.

Cheryl and I discussed the woman’s concerns. We decided to stay where we were.

Motivating Yourself to Change


Popular motivational speaker Anthony Robbins says that change happens because of desperation or perspiration. In most cases, people only change because they aren’t comfortable with their current reality.

That was the case for me. In other areas of my life, such as this blog, it’s still the case today. I’m not happy with where I am now. I need to motivate myself to continually improve and respond.

It may be the case for you now.

Are you living in reality or pretending things are okay?

Are you okay with “everything’s not okay?”


Case Studies: Confronting Change


When I was a financial advisor, if someone was single, they were coming to see me because they felt something wasn’t working correctly. Unfortunately, with many married couples, they would come in only because one of them wanted to change.

In essence, one saw the true picture and the other was in fantasyland.

You could tell when people didn’t want to change. They’d talk about “baby steps” and “getting comfortable” with one tiny recommendation I’d made before implementing the next one. When you dig to the root of this thinking, it’s easy to see what’s going on in their head:

Change is more scary and difficult than staying the way I am.

To bust through this wall of inactivity, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions. Here are the ones I’d use with myself and with clients:

1) If I stay where I am financially, where will I end up? What will the world look like down the road?

2) If I change, how will my world look down the road?

Often, when people actually analyzed their situation, change was less painful than staying the same. The future looked far, far brighter.

3) What systems can I put in place to automate the change and decrease the pain?

4) How long will the pain of change really last? Will it be hurtful for a long time?

5) If it does end up being more uncomfortable then I wish, can I come back to “the way I’m doing it now”?

Once people realized that they’re better off with the new strategy than the old, they became open to change. They still were understandably worried about the pain of change.

We’d discuss the actual immediate pain. There was never a time that change didn’t come with some pain. It was like ripping off the band-aid. Some hairs under that thing were going to die. We all feel better when we can identify exactly how it will hurt and for how long.

I still believe that if I’d actually moved into that house to dress up the present and pretend things were wonderful, my future wouldn’t have been as bright as it has been since.

I can’t say things aren’t perfect, but I’m glad I became okay with “things aren’t okay“ and faced the short term pain of achieving the freedom I was after.


Okay, that’s my story. Do you have a story about people who aren’t okay with “things aren’t okay?” Are you okay with “things aren’t okay?” or do you have some good coping mechanisms?

Getting Things Done (GTD) or Creativity: Which Is More Important? Our Thursday Cuppa Joe Discussion

On Thursdays we grab a cup of coffee and talk about issues and opinions. Join the fun in our comments!


The Other Guy (OG) and I run a quirky house here.

We try to balance straightforward financial advice with fun topics. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, as I’m sure you can see, we’re having a blast and bringing you along for the ride.

Wouldn’t it be better if we did one or the other? Wouldn’t a site work better if it were just humorous all the time or only provided financial advice? Maybe, but OG and I don’t think so.

I’ve always been obsessed with human motivation and process management. For people to learn, remember, and replicate a concept, I think the teacher needs to set a strong anchor. Maybe our anchor isn’t strong, but the anchor I always seem to remember is humor. So, we’ve decided that they go together.


This creates a problem.


In a recent Harvard Business Review Ideacast (podcast), Portland State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Charlotte Fritz discusses the concept of microbreaks.   Here’s how they work:  if you want to get things done (GTD), it’s better to engage intensely during the day and then drop everything when you head home. Working all night on the blackberry or computer doesn’t increase productivity. Taking microbreaks each day or mini vacations every several weeks instead of coffee breaks and a long vacation can pay dividends when trying to accomplish more tasks.


What’s wrong with this finding?


Is “getting more done” better or would you be wiser to get less done and produce brilliant, creative results?

Who better to argue against conventional definitions of productivity than a Disney alum. According to Don Hahn, author of Brain Storm, Unleashing Your Creative Self, (and the producer of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast), the goal of GTD productivity stifles creativity. While a numbered checklist and intense focus on the bottom line increases productivity, it doesn’t make you more creative. You just turn into a machine.

If we’re trying to manage a site that balances something as serious a financial security and something as playful as humor, it’s a juggling act. I often feel the pull between the need to be creative with “funny” pieces and the desire to write something meaningful and direct.

But I don’t think the problem is only felt by OG and I here at the Free Financial Advisor.


We All Need Creativity


Every day in your job, wouldn’t you preform better if you could come up with creative solutions? You may think that you don’t need creativity, but if you’ve ever had a difficult boss or a particularly intense client, you know that a creative solution is sometimes the only way to win the day.

For creativity to blossom, we need down time, according to Hahn. We need time to let our mind wander. Not surprisingly, he advocates napping in the afternoon. His concept of GTD flips our predefined goals of greater productivity on their head. For creativity to blossom, do something that at first seems irrelevant. Listen to music and sit by the stream. Wander.

In short, I haven’t asked it, but it seems that he agrees with Fritz on the value of breaks, but isn’t onboard with why we want them in the first place.


The Financial Tie-In


I’ve often felt many workplaces are run too stringently. The boss doesn’t really get how her employees operate more effectively. A shop that provides more services for employees and that is able to create raving fans by first empowering workers to think and build creative solutions will win the day.

Even if they don’t win, it’s more interesting to invest money and follow companies that are fighting to win rather than finish every day with a .03 percent productivity improvement. Yawn.

I seek out and invest in companies that have a progressive view of workplace motivation….not because I’m a liberal thinker, but because I’m a greedy capitalist. Firms such as GE, Disney, Whole Foods and Google, at different times during their development have been able to attack more quickly because of their attention to process that creates innovative solutions.


The Good News


Both Assistant Professor Fritz and Mr. Hahn agree on one aspect: whether you’re looking for innovation or GTD, how you detach from the assembly line of productive work is intensely important to the outcome.

(photo credit: origami coffee cup: scarygami, Flickr; Dicky juggles: Mike Burns, Flickr)


Okay, that’s my story, minions! Now it’s your turn: how do you value creativity? Are you more interested in GTD solutions or finding a novel approach? Do you think you should work on being more creative?


Goal Setting and Pretty Retirement Charts – Our Cuppa Joe Discussion

Every Thursday we grab a cup o’ Joe and talk opinions on financial matters… we’ll chat about goal setting and workplace retirement plans.

My opinion: Do you know those 401k asset allocation charts in the front/back/middle of your workplace retirement plan booklet? They’re color coded circles of slick graphics, and are often found at the conclusion of a survey about the amount of risk you should take in your investments.

Those pie charts are nearly irrelevant when it comes to financial success.

Each day in a workplace somewhere in America you’ll find a fast-talking 401k-hocking yahoo teaching a group of people how to use these silly charts to determine how much risk they “want” to take.

How much risk you “want” to take?

“Want” and “financial success” rarely coexist when talking about money management. Most people want zero risk and huge returns. They also want Santa Claus to be a little more kind next year than last.

Is “how much risk do you want” really the question you should be asking with your 401k plan?


I have a better question.


Try this one on: How much risk do you need to take to reach your goal?

Isn’t that the question these surveys should be asking?

I know this doesn’t sound like rocket science, yet you’d think so if you’ve ever read workplace retirement plan guides. In many cases, risk tolerance charts and savings guidelines are presented as two entirely different discussions.


Let’s be clear about what I’m discussing here. If you’re going to achieve financial success:

Find out how much you need to save.

Then learn what return you need on that savings.


If I had control of these workplace pie charts, here’s what I’d do


I’d gather everyone in the conference room and show the group how to determine the amount they need to save to reach financial success. I know that’ll differ for everyone, so it’ll be important to focus on goal calculators. With the boss’s permission, we’d follow this up with generous portions of alcohol. We’ll call it “Some of You Will Be Happy” Hour.

Second, I’d help everyone determine what return they need on that savings to achieve the retirement goal.

Sounds like I’m repeating myself, doesn’t it? I’m not.


Here’s where we finally insert the silly quiz


Third, the employees would be presented with the risk tolerance quiz. Everyone could see if the asset mix they (historically) would have needed to reach financial success matches their risk tolerance.

If so, more Happy Hour.

If it doesn’t: Houston, we have a problem.


The real problem


If you aren’t going to reach your goal, you have a choice to make: either save more money or raise your risk tolerance. One requires sweat, the other education.

Which path would you follow?

I believe that once we begin presenting 401k plans this way, instead of with some inane chart about your “risk tolerance” (lots of people very comfortably missing their goals out there), we’ll finally begin to realize that every goal can be met through a simple equation:


Savings x Return = Goal


How you approach one side will affect the other.


Okay, discussers, let’s go:  Do you have a workplace retirement plan? Did it come with a silly risk tolerance chart…or did they present retirement in the brilliant manner I have above?

Enhanced by Zemanta(photo credits: Nutty pie chart: Sebastien Paquet, Flickr;                 Teeter-totter: Rambergmedialigmages, Flickr

The Passive Income Lie: Our Cuppa Joe Discussion

The concept of “work hard now so I can play later” bothers me. I like to play, and I don’t want to wait until later.

Luckily, my work = my play.

This is the way life is for me. Hard work is the journey and the destination.

That’s why I get so frustrated when I hear people say “I’m going to work really hard now so that I can sit back and relax later.”

They’re going to build up a truly passive income stream.

In this statement, it would seem that completely passive = perfect purpose.

What? Does that ever happen? And if it does happen, how often do you hear “This is exactly what I wanted! To sit here with nothing to do….”


My Story


Early in my career as a financial advisor, I was told the business was all about building a base of assets. This is a financial advisor’s version of passive income. Management would tell me, “bring on a ton of new clients now and roll over their money. Later on, that pile of cash will be making so much money for you that you won’t have to work hard.” It made sense. If could build my assets under management to $100M dollars and earn half a percent personally, I’d bring home $500k per year.



The Truth


I grew my practice to about $40M under management before I realized that this idea of working hard now so I could have fun later was a lie. ….at least for me.

First, as my practice grew, I attracted more demanding clients. It’s the same if you own rental houses or dividend stocks, isn’t it? As you grow the portfolio, you are pulled in more directions with your time managing assets. Decisions get more difficult. Strategies become more complex.

Every once in awhile, I’d try to take time off. The longest I could get away was two weeks, and by the end of the trip I usually was working about an hour and a half a day. My business demanded my time. How was I going to sit back and do nothing?

Second, I liked what I was doing. It was fun talking to my clients about their dreams. If I owned rental properties, I’d like to fix them up and receive rents. I own dividend stocks and like following the companies and diversifying the portfolio. When I step away, it demands that I continue to work, but it’s also fun.

In short, I’m starting to believe that the whole idea of work hard now/play later is a lie. Sure, I might work less hard. I also might delegate more of the tasks which aren’t my core activities, but I will never, ever stop working.

In fact, I’ve found proof that I probably don’t want to stop.


State of Flow


I first heard of the book Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (easy for you to say) during a USA Today interview with Jimmy Johnson, Super Bowl and NCAA National Championship winning coach. He was hot on this philosophy and had a history of professional success, so I went out and bought the book immediately.

It confirmed my suspicions about the meaning of life.

In the book, Csikszentmihalyi seeks to define what “optimal experience” is for a person. When are we in that state where we’re at one with the universe?

He asks–have you ever set out to accomplish a task and then lost track of time because you were so absorbed in it? He describes that perfect union of task and complete concentration as flow. This complete focus, to Csikszentmihalyi, is the optimal experience for a human.

He backs it up by studying people who play classical instruments. Their chances of becoming wealthy or famous are nearly zero, but they’ll practice for hours on end. Why? They crave the state of flow, where everything is working perfectly in harmony together.

There’s no promise that they’ll be rewarded down the line with riches. But they’re attracted to the work anyway. They’ll practice until their fingers bleed.

Do these people just not get it? Shouldn’t they be working hard at things that will make them money today so they can throw out that stupid instrument? I don’t think so.

I think the idea of sitting around is overrated.

Life is about chasing flow. Working so perfectly that you’re completely absorbed, using all of your energy to be the best you can.


Maybe you agree and maybe you don’t.


That’s what the cuppa Joe discussion are all about….grabbing some coffee and arguing a point.

Maybe the concept of passive income is cool if you hate your job. You want to grow your income in a way that you can work at those things you enjoy rather than those you’re forced to do to bring home the bacon.

I can see tha desire to have multiple income streams. What I can’t imagine is any discussion where I’m working hard now so I don’t work later. I don’t crave completely passive income because I’m pretty sure it’s unattainable.

The idea of my money working for me as I’m also working fires me up. The phrase “don’t work” literally doesn’t work for me.

How about for you? Let’s wrestle this out in the comment section.

(photos: Coffee Shop by dailylifeofmojo, Flickr; Immaculata Symphony by Jim Capaldi, Flickr)

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A Cuppa Joe: What Are Your Buying Triggers?


Happy Monday! It’s time to gather over a cup o’ Joe and discuss the question of the week.

This week: They gave you glamour and movie stars. Let’s counter it Monday morning with our own glitz: hypnosis, fast food and cheesy commercials! Dream!


We all have triggers that influence our buying decisions. Many of these are unconscious, according to a recent Psychology Today article. We buy more when we’re hungry or tired because we’re especially susceptible to specific triggers during these times.


Fast Food Love


A few years ago, a friend gave me the opportunity to undergo hypnosis. I thought, “Cool! I’ll finally get to walk like a chicken in front of a crowded theater of people.” Instead, she and I were in a comfortable office alone, and I was handed a list of topics. I chose weight loss, because my waistline was starting to balloon and I wanted to keep this sexy figure.

What I discovered during these sessions was beyond interesting.

The first two times I went under, we discovered that I most enjoyed the communal properties of eating. I like good discussions, and those often happen over lunch or dinner. Plus, in my financial planning job, going out to eat was a great way to network, which led to bigger paychecks.

Eating out equaled career success.

Those were neat, but the third session was the breakthrough.

I had a strong image during the third session of riding in the back seat of our Buick next to my brother. My mom drove us to pick up my dad on his break at the local GM plant. He’d work long hours, but would be able to escape with us for a few minutes to hit the close-by McDonalds, pizza place or Dog ‘N Suds drive thru.

I remember these times and immediately get a warm, comfortable feeling. We were all together, happy and eating hamburgers.

In short, we found out that I equate fast food with home, happy times and family.

To my subconscious mind, Big Mac = Huge Love.

Ever since this revelation, my eating habits have morphed. Sure, I still like fast food, but when I pull in, I now know that those family feelings are a lie. It’s just a hamburger and fries. The old days won’t reappear, but my waistline will disappear.


Unlimited Laughs


Humor is another big seller for me. I don’t usually like dumb humor, like the Three Stooges. I know people who love that type of thing, but it doesn’t do anything for me. I’m into more subtle humor, (like lyrics found in songs by The Beautiful South). If somebody worked on making it clever, I think it’s funny.

We were up early at 4 a.m. getting ready to make the long drive to the state swim championships. I was both tired and hungry, so it doesn’t suprise me that I sat and watched all of this commercial:


It’s the first time in forever that I’ve watched an entire two minute commercial. Funnier? Cheryl watched it all with me. What do I like about it?

– First, the product appears to work and solve a need. If it doesn’t work, the humor doesn’t matter.

It laughs at itself. I have this tendency, too. Witness this, this and this. I have an appreciation for those who can

It emulates the absolute worst in infomercials and makes fun of it. Watch the commercial a second time and notice how hard the actors appear to be trying to cheese it up.

There are slimy but clever jokes about cat hair and playing with your Schticky. Some of this stuff I can’t believe they say in a commercial. Then again, it make me listen to the whole thing, so apparently it worked.

The pitchman even makes fun of this run-in with the law.

– They double down by making the biggest part of the product free. Of course it is! Why would the smallest portion of the product be free when you can give away the store? Brilliant.

…all while reminding you over and over again how well the product works.

I don’t know if I’ll ever buy this, but I’m captivated by the marketing strategy. In an age when everyone seems to be working hard to be taken more seriously than the next guy, I like that they’re redefining the rules of informercial television.


Now the Cuppa Joe Monday Question


What are your triggers? When and why do you impulse buy? Have any commercials keep your attention…or better yet, made you buy?


((Photo credit: Flickr user puuikibeach))

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