Get Inspired: Business Successes

There’s no two ways about it, business can be hard work, whether you’re focusing on progressing up that proverbial career ladder or you’re looking at breaking away from the norm and starting something for yourself.

At times, it can feel like your business plan is going nowhere – but don’t despair! Instead, it’s important to get yourself re-inspired. Whether that’s by enrolling onto a course that can help train your business acumen – something that London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) can help you with – or taking a look at some of those that have already realised their business dreams, there’s no reason why you, too, can’t join the ranks of business successes.

Here, we’ve put together some short case studies on some of the business people that we’re inspired by in the hopes that they’ll inspire you, too.

Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish

Few can say that they’ve not heard of notonthehighstreet.com. The site is a digital marketplace for sellers of crafts, fashion, accessories, homewares and more – but everything is unique in that it’s been handmade or created by someone with passion. Essentially, it’s a global village fete with only the best stalls, and it was created in 2006 by Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish.

Not only has the unique site won them prestigious technology awards (the retail platform they work on simply didn’t exist before they had it built) both Tucker and Cornish scored an MBE each for their services to small businesses. 2013 saw notonthehighstreet.com turn over £83 million, but it was by no means always this way.

In fact, neither founder took a salary for the first couple of years because they were so adamant on keeping the quality of sellers on the site as high as possible – meaning that they were rejecting a huge amount of potential cash in the bank for the brand’s integrity.

Palmer Luckey

Few might have heard of Palmer Luckey, but anyone interested in the world of technology will be familiar with the invention of the Oculus Rift. Aged just 22, Luckey developed the Oculus Rift and sought funding through Kickstarter.

This publicly funded campaign brought nearly $2.5 million in pledges, and Luckey was able recreate his invention for the masses.  From this, his business Oculus VR was formed; a business which continues to grow thanks to the ever increasing interest in immersive virtual reality.

Though the technology is solely utilized by video games for now, Luckey believes that a digital world parallel to ours is the future for Oculus tech – an unsurprising view considering that Facebook recently bought Oculus Rift for a reported $2 billion.

 

Palmer Luckey

As the above stories prove, success comes from many different kinds of backgrounds – but a specialised business education will only ever be a help. From understanding basic management principles to developing a solid business plan and knowing how to put it into action, a background in business practice could be the difference between creating something amazing, or just having a good idea that nothing ever comes from.

University courses like the qualifications available at LSBF are best equipped to help you take your idea where you want it to go – who knows, you could make our inspiration list this time next year!

Photo: D Coetzee

3 Tools to Help You Make More Money and Spend Less Time Doing It

What if there were a way to put less time into your business but earn more money? Entrepreneurs tend to believe everything can be solved by spending more time and money on the job. But if simply investing more time and money would put you on the road to success, you would already be there, wouldn’t you? Entrepreneurs always have the drive. What they sometimes lack, though, is the right tools.

Efficiency experts know we often exert too much effort to accomplish a task. Organization is central to the flow of information and communications. Here are three tools to help you leverage your time and make more money:

Microsoft OneNoteweight scale

The interface is simple to grasp. OneNote enables you to collect all information in one place. No more searching through files and folders to find what you need. OneNote will hold audio, video, and graphic notes, and you can instantly clip things from websites or other documents directly to your notebooks. This is one powerful tool. A similar alternative is Evernote, but there are open source variations, as well. For the busy entrepreneur, it can be simpler and more cost effective to simply stick with the original. Check Microsoft Office online for cloud-based package to help you soar.

Now that your own desk is organized, get your team on board. Project management programs can be way too complicated. Unless you are building a space shuttle, you probably don’t need an elaborate communications system. Most of us can get by just fine with a simple board to post notes and track task status.

Trello

Life doesn’t get much simpler than this. Trello offers a straightforward interface of columns with text blocks that can be moved from one position to the next. A task may start out in the “To Do” list, move to “In Progress,” and end up “Finished.” You title the columns and decide your own system. Trello records it and allows you to share access with team members. Trello also offers a paid version with a little more flexibility. Breeze is a paid service very much like Trello, but with time tracking.

Leads are vital to any business. You can have the best sales funnel ever constructed, but if no prospects are entering, there will be no sales. Most businesses will spend lavishly on website development, SEO, and paid ads to develop leads, but balk at taking advantage of a service that provides targeted leads. The best practice is utilizing a good mix of sources.

Quote Wizard

The best lead services don’t try to be everything to everyone. Rather, they concentrate on a specific niche. Quote Wizard, for example, focuses on insurance leads. Reduce cold-calling and praying for an appointment. With targeted leads, your presentation and close rates can jump-start success and boost enthusiasm. For other niches, search to find a similar service that fits your needs.

Organization, project management, lead development: three areas where the right tools can make all the difference. Are there other service you are using for leverage? Let us know in the comments below.

Resolutions for 2015: Take Your Inventory Live

Own a business? It’s your lucky day! Here’s a way to stretch more money out of 2015…..

What hopes do you have for your business in the New Year? Would you like to grow, or add new locations? Getting a grip on your cash flow, inventory, and day-to-day operations is the best step that you can take. By changing to a live inventory system with a POS system you can understand everything that’s happening with your business.

First StepsScreen Shot 2014-10-30 at 8.25.55 AM

New Year’s resolutions are typically easy to make but hard to follow through on, but making a resolution to implement live inventory tracking and point-of-sale system is an easier resolution to keep than you think. Point-of-sale systems are no longer a $20,000 proposition piled with a nightmare web of expensive maintenance contracts and proprietary software. In fact, it is possible to obtain a complete point-of-sale system for around $1500. With the addition of a barcode label and a barcode scanner you’ll have everything you need in order to start taking your inventory live right out of the box. You want to avoid the hazards of assembling a POS bit by bit, which Microsoft points out can cost you a great deal of extra money that you need not spend.

Whatever your reasons for implementing this new system you should know that it is one of the best things you could do for your business. Shrinkage, a perpetual problem in retail and wholesale, can be effectively addressed through inventory control information systems. The Houston Chronicle states that by tying inventory to sales, it is possible to stop or reduce shrinkage that is costing you money every single day. It is estimated that some $13 billion a year is lost to shoplifting alone, that leaves out shrinkage from internal theft, and data entry errors. Getting started is easy:

  • Make a master list of every item in your storefront, stockroom or warehouse. You might want to do these on old-fashioned index cards with information such as SKU/item number, unit of measure, purchase cost, vendor information, and a basic description.
  • Using your barcode label printer (many eCommerce vendors like Shopify offer good printers and scanners) and barcoding software to generate barcodes for any inventory that does not already have them. Typically an SKU or item number will appear along with the barcode from the OEM, you will need to make sure this matches the SKU or item number that you have previously recorded.
  • You will also want to record the location of the items. For example, you may want to denote specific locations where an item is stocked. You may wish to have one barcode for items on the shelf in your stockroom, and a different barcode for items in your storefront. In the case of having more than one storefront you can even designate which store and which stockroom where the item currently resides.
  • Now you’re ready to start the initial inventory. You may want to close down in order to complete this part. It can be very disruptive to business, which is why many stores will close down at the end of the year in order to take their inventory. If you cannot close down set aside a certain amount of goods in a separate inventory to keep the business operational.
  • Make sure you have enough staff and barcode scanners, and bring everyone together to set out the order of march. Assign your personnel to their sections and tackle the job sequentially and systematically.
  • Mark every completed location with a sticker so that it is not counted again, and you may also wish to have the staff member’s initials on each sticker so that you will know who counted each section.
  • Reconcile the inventory against your accounting balances. You may find substantial discrepancies between what you have in your actual inventory and what you have in the books. Take the time to find out what is causing the discrepancies, and then get ready to go live with your new inventory process.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

You get out what you put in. Your new inventory process is only as good as the data that you enter. Especially with an online business….you opened it up to be efficient, so keeping your data as clean as possible by instituting policies with your sales, stock, and management people will keep things moving smoothly. Getting a better grip on your inventory will allow you to streamline your ordering processes, without overextending your cash flow or choking the flow of goods from the vendor to your business to your customer. You will also eliminate what Logistics Management says is one of the key overlooked problems of excess inventory, the expense of maintaining it. Inventory requires storage, square footage, maintenance, and other staff attentions. Excess inventory costs in these areas can over time exceed the value of the actual merchandise. By streamlining your order processes you’ll be able to understand what items are moving, what items are not, and what you really need to mark down and get rid of. While you might not ever completely eliminate clunkers, at least you will know what does and does not work for you.

Online Businesses: Lots and Lots of Benefits

Today we’re pretty excited about owning online properties. I thought it’d be worthwhile to explore all of the benefits, especially for people reading this blog considering jumping into the fun!

Instead of hoping for a dream job and a big salary, owning your own online business can open many doors for you and buy you more benefits. On top of the perks many people talk about, like working from home and flexible hours, it also can keep costs down, helping you financially. Internet businesses normally operate at a fraction of the cost of brick and mortar stores. While with traditional businesses you would need to rent or purchase a building, Internet businesses are all online. Many programs such as Shopify simplify the process of starting up your business. It’s a smoother, easier glide path to profits. Compared to the thousands of dollars you’d spend in renting out space, you’d only have to dish out a couple hundred a month at most. Home Office Free Financial Advisor

General Benefits in Doing Business Online

  1. As popular website InternetBusinessJunkie mentions, you have the ability to reach more people if you do business online. Traditional businesses that have a set location don’t reach nearly as many countries as an online business does. Most online businesses have the ability to do national as well as international sales. This blog alone is read in over 35 different countries on a consistent basis!
  2. You can leverage the usage and growth of the internet. The best way to market your business is by networking and there are many free and low cost ways to market online.  Social media is a great free resource to do most of your networking.
  3. You are able to work wherever it’s convenient. As long as you have a laptop or tablet, you can work virtually anywhere with just a WiFi connection. This allows you to keep a more flexible schedule so you can work whenever you need to.
  4. No more commuting. This saves a ton of time and money, especially with gas prices these days. I wake up every day and walk over to my home office and begin working.
  5. Though you are responsible for your own taxes, as Smallbusiness mentions, this could work to your advantage. As long as you remember to, you are able to take out as much or as little as you please. By the end of the year, by paying in taxes as you go, you’re in control of how much you will receive back or if you’ll owe more all at the due date.
  6. It has been said that the Internet has created an economy all of its own. Since millions of people are doing business online, it is only a matter of time before many traditional businesses become a thing of the past. Dbwebdoctor states that in years to come, eCommerce will obtain its main growth from small and mid-sized businesses.

Be Set For Life Financially

Unlike traditional businesses, online businesses operate 24/7. This means that while you sleep, you’re still receiving orders from customers worldwide. This could take the guesswork out of figuring out the right hours to be open. Being the sole owner of your business also means that you set your own wages. You can determine what your products should be priced at instead of listening to the head of a corporate business telling you what to do.

Once you learn the ins and outs of selling online, you have what we refer to as “blue sky” potential. Sure, there are going to be some trial and error runs regarding what products you should sell, but once you know how to sell online, making money will follow. Building a business online also gives you the ability to work for something that you love to do, according to Lifehack. How many people out there can honestly say that they are working towards what they are passionate about and they love what they do?

Resources to help are also plentiful. There are pools of designers and programmers available to hire at places like eLance or Odesk, among others, if you need help building any aspect of your website. There are freelance writers who will write articles for your website and virtual assistants who can take care of tedious details concerning your business. This could take a lot of pressure off of your shoulders while you deal with your product line and customers. The Free Financial Advisor works with a programmer in Minnesota, a virtual assistant in Michigan and another in the Philippines, as an example.

If you have children and are currently paying for child care, this is another expense you can think about canceling. Since you have the ability to work from home, you won’t have the need to spend hundreds of dollars a week for a babysitter. Though you may want to hire a babysitter once or twice a week if it becomes too much of a distraction juggling all of your responsibilities, you won’t pay nearly as much as if you went back to a full time daycare.

Between saving money on everyday expenses and making money at your own leisure, if you are dedicated to your business, you will be able to make it work. There are many resources online that can help you through your journey to owning your own business.

Photo: Lisa Risager

Why People Brag About Being Busy Even Though It’s Making Them Miserable

Most people equate being busy with Woman at desk at Free Financial Advisorbeing industrious. “If you have something that needs to get done,” the old axiom goes, “assign it to someone who’s busy.” People love to boast about how busy they are, but busy-ness and productivity don’t always go together.

Psychologists also say that idleness is one of the main reasons people are unhappy. However, even though Americans are busier than ever before, only only one in three describes him or herself as “very happy.” Many factors including technology, social networks and consumerism drive people to become busier. Even though “busy” is a symbol of social status, in reality, it’s making people miserable.

Why Our Culture Praises Busy-Ness

Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” suggests that America’s Protestant work ethic has gone into overdrive. She points out that during the Catholic-dominated Middle Ages, one of the church’s seven deadly sins was “acedia,” or frenzied busy-ness.

Man running at The Free Financial AdvisorBy the mid-20th century, post-war America envisioned itself growing more leisurely. Economists predicted that by the 1990s, Americans would work just 22 hours per week. John Maynard Keynes went even further; he predicted a 15-hour workweek. Even Dwight D. Eisenhower, accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1956, predicted an America in which people enriched their intellects, completing goals like obtaining advanced degrees. “Leisure … will be abundant,” Eisenhower said, “so that all can develop the life of the spirit, of reflection, of religion, of the arts.”

Leisure has never arrived, however, because wage stagnation forces Americans to work to pay for basic needs. The bitter irony is that even as Americans scramble to earn more, they’re spending more on frivolous items. According to the Commerce Department, Americans spend 11.2 percent of their incomes on unnecessary items, compared to just 4 percent in 1959. It’s the “acedia” of the Middle Ages, alive and well today.

For us, technology has been a mixed blessing. Prestigious universities have embraced online graduate education, allowing people access to intellectual opportunities and empowering them to earn more. American.edu Online, headquartered at American University, is an example of one of these programs. However, despite the advantages and flexibility provided by technology, many people aren’t taking advantage of resources that could make us happier and more fulfilled. Thanks to mobile devices and social networks, we live lives of constant interruption and distraction.

papers falling at The Free Financial AdvisorBusy People Aren’t Necessarily Productive

People assume that having idle time equates with laziness, which means that they also assume that busy people are getting things done. Productivity and busy-ness, however, are often mutually exclusive. People who value being busy all of the time often fail to set priorities. They constantly juggle activities, but they don’t do a good job at executing any of them.

Psychologist Anders Ericsson traveled to Berlin to study top-performing musicians. He quickly noticed that the best musicians practiced about 90 minutes per day and took a lot of breaks and naps. Many creative people deliberately cultivate leisure time to keep their minds free for insights. “I distrust the perpetually busy, always have,” author Mark Slouka wrote in “Essays From the Nick of Time.” “The frenetic ones spinning in tight little circles like poisoned rats. The slower ones, grinding away their fourscore and 10 in righteousness and pain.”

Finding Relief

To become less busy, more productive and happier, people should try becoming what author Greg McKeown calls an “essentialist.” In his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” McKeown offers some tips for defeating busy-ness:

  • Say “no” without guilt. Being invited to do something affirms us, but that doesn’t mean we have to do it.
  • Rest. People who are well-rested, like Ericsson’s musicians, perform better with less effort.
  • Retreat. McKeown recommends taking a three-hour retreat every three months to think about and adjust priorities.
  • Re-examine traditions. Just because something was fun once doesn’t mean that it has to be repeated weekly, monthly or annually.

Finally, McKeown suggests reducing busy-ness aggravators, like smartphone use, social media and consumerism. If we don’t, says McKeown, “we will be left feeling that our precious time on earth has been wasted doing things that had no value at all. We will wake up to having given up those few things that really matter for the sake of the many trivial things that don’t.”

6 Ways Your Small Business Can Attract Better Employees

6 Ways to Attract Better EmployeesWhen it comes to hiring new employees, it can be easy to assume that either they just don’t make them like they used to or all the bigger companies are snatching away the most promising talent. While each new generation is different than the one that preceded it and larger companies may seem like they have more to offer than a smaller mom and pop outfit, the truth is that any business of any size can attract hard-working, affable and honest people who will not only improve the bottom line, but also make work environments more pleasant and productive. If you’re looking for a new batch of workers, and you want to make sure you get the cream of the crop, here are six tips that will help you attract the best employees to your small business.

Emphasize the Non-Corporate Nature of the Work Environment

Not everyone wants to work for a large corporation, regardless of the reliability and perks that seem to accompany doing so. There are plenty of hard-working, well-equipped people who would just rather work for a smaller company with less bureaucracy. Since you aren’t one of the big fish, why not consider highlighting that fact instead of apologizing for it? In your job postings and hiring processes, emphasize the non-corporate nature of the job. Some people would rather have a casual dress code and a boss they see on a regular basis than $5,000 more a year. Really.

At Least Match Whatever the Going Rate Is for the Position

While it may threaten to break the bank, attracting better employees will require you to be able to at least match the going, local rate for the position you need to fill. Good employees know what they’re worth, and while they may be willing to work for less than they have to if the work is meaningful enough or there are other benefits that make up for the lower pay, they will very rarely work for less than the standard going rate for a job. If you need a great new receptionist and your local competitors pay at least $13 an hour, then you need to offer that, too.

Offer Benefits

When it comes to employment, compensation comes in all shapes and sizes, and one of the most attractive of those is a good benefits package. While the Affordable Care Act has forced many small businesses into the position of choosing between offering employees health care or paying a fine, the reality is that it’s still cheaper at this point to pay the fine. However, not offering health care, paid maternity and paternity leave, flex time, paid sick days and the like will keep you from attracting the kinds of people who will help you make more money and provide you with a more productive work environment. If you want better workers, offer better benefits.

Provide a Positive Work Culture

A positive work culture will attract positive, hard-working people. When a potential employee sets foot on your worksite, she will intuitively know whether or not your employees enjoy their jobs, and whether or not the environment is a good one. If your work culture suffers from negativity, laziness, complaining, gossip or other ruinous practices and attitudes, get to work on changing it. Good people won’t work for you until you do.

Treat Every Employee and Potential Hire Like They Matter

People need to feel valued, especially at work. Whether you do it with affirming and encouraging words or through grateful email communication, make sure your employees and potential hires know that you value them, the skills they possess and the work they do.While this practice will certainly create a more positive work environment and make for happier employees, studies also show that employees who feel valued work harder.

Be Passionate 

In order to attract better employees you need to become more effective at communicating your vision with passion. Happy employees make better employeesEveryone wants to work at a job that has meaning and makes a positive difference in the world. Find the story in your own work that shows potential employees the ways in which your business is making a difference. If you’re able to find your passion about your small business and communicate it effectively to potential hires, you stand a much better chance of landing the ones who are also passionate.

 

Your small business doesn’t have to settle for second-best when it comes to finding and hiring good employees. From offering better benefits to providing a positive and non-corporate work culture, you already have the tools at your disposal to make working for you an irresistible choice.

The 5 Dumbest New Year’s Resolutions of All Time

New Years.

A time of overeating, watching football or old movies, and resolving to do better, maybe a week or two in the future…..

Are we at that point yet? Is anyone “doing better” yet?

Resolving and actually “doing” better are two totally different things, aren’t they? New Year’s resolutions are usually bound to fail….especially if you try any of these silly tactics:

5 Dumbest New Year’s Resolutions Phrases

1)   Losing weight “on your own”: Yeah, I know. You’re going to lose weight or build savings without any help from your friends. This resolution is like putting a bunch of French fries in front of you and saying you won’t eat them. Of course you’ll eat them….willpower is baloney. Don’t count on any goal that you’ll do “without help.”

Who needs to reinvent the wheel?

 

Better solution: find someone who’s done it before and ask them for help.

 

2)   Joining a gym so you’ll work out. Back when I belonged to a gym (before I began working out with friends), my least favorite time of year was the first two weeks of January. The gym was packed with people I’d never seen before….and wouldn’t see again the rest of the year.

Don’t convince yourself that by joining ANYTHING you’ll actually make the commitment to change. Instead, build systems to change. For workouts, force yourself out of bed at a certain time. Join chat groups on working out.  Read magazines. Track your progress.

Create goals that begin with “How can I learn about this now and then spend money when I prove I’ll stick with it?…..”

 

Better solution: create surround sound environment so you succeed in your goals….and spend money later, once you know you’re serious.

 

5 dumbest resolutions ever_FFA

3)   Deciding to save more every month by “writing a check.” Nobody….and I mean nobody…..writes a check toward their goals. If we want to get all 2010 about it, nobody even presses buttons to transfer money from one account to another. Do you know how the ballers do it? They save automatically. If you have to think for only a minute about your goals, you’re toast.

 

Better solution: Set up a system of saving that doesn’t require you to think.

 

4)   “I’ll try and…..” 

Best. Solution. Ever.: Repeat after Yoda. There is no try. Only do.

5)   I’ll cut back on smoking. Making a change halfway is a sign that you really aren’t commited to the goal. Want to achieve something? You can’t be half pregnant. Go for it. Don’t cut back on smoking: stop completely. Don’t save “a little more” toward your goals: find out what they cost and create a plan. Don’t try and budget this year: set up an account at Mint or Yodlee and track every penny automatically.

 

Better solution: Create automatic systems that will change your behavior completely.

Photo: Jeff_Golden

Trying to Save Money? Concentrate on Time

Editor’s note: Hey, kids! We’re handing the spotlight to my good friend Miranda for today’s post. Check out her site for more about people struggling with the broken concept of work-life balance. – Joe

The best money savings tips are the ones that save you money. Clearly.

But since time is money, a tip that saves you both, is like a double expresso. Sort of like an “uber savings” tip.

How did I discover “uber savings”?  I write a blog called beyondworklifebalance.com

As a full time working professional, a mom to one, stepmother to three, framing my life in terms of achieving balance is absolutely NOT useful. I’m not a trapeze artist balancing work and life, on a wire, ready to be free falling, with a mere puff of wind.

I started to think about work and life in a more integrated way, and finding the complementarity in the things I do.

Here’s how this works:

Suppose I want to spend an hour exercising, and an hour catching up with a friend, and I have a toddler to take care of.  Instead of scheduling an hour at the gym, and then another hour at Starbucks with said friend, and then having to find a sitter to take care of the toddler, while at the gym and maybe at Starbucks too, I find another solution.

I take the jogging stroller, put my son in it, and meet my friend for a jog around the block. I save time driving to and from the gym. I save money by not having a gym membership. I save money by not hiring a sitter.  And as much as I like those double lattes at Starbucks, I save money there too. And since we’re running, theoretically, I don’t need the caffeine jolt to get going.

Here are a few others:
1. Walk two miles to work. Save money and time by not having to go to the gym.  Save money on gas and on parking. Oh, and lower the carbon footprint, too.
2. Double up dinner recipes and freeze. Save time since I don’t have to do get all the ingredients out and cook again. Pack my lunch for the next day and save money by not hitting the cafeteria. And maybe get a second dinner from the freezer on a night when the Little League baseball game goes into extra innings after a rain delay.
3. When I buy groceries, I use my debit card to get weekly cash and buy a book of stamps at the same time,  I save money on those naughty little ATM fees, and save time by not having to go to the post office.You get the idea.Some people will say, “isn’t this just multitasking?” I say no. I say it is finding out how these small, and sometimes, not so small, ways of saving money and time and can be complements of each other. It opens up a new dimension beyond just saving and beyond just work life balance.

4. Fill prescriptions online. Those who have monthly or weekly prescriptions to fill know how expensive and time consuming it can be. What I have found is that ordering these prescriptions online through a Canadian internet pharmacy saves me time and money. For starters, I never have to wait for my prescription to be filled. Secondly, ordering this medication online is much less expensive, as the Canadian government has put a cap on what pharmaceutical companies are allowed to charge. If you’re like me and need prescriptions regularly, this option is definitely worth considering.

 

What techniques do you use to save time? Let’s share some more money-saving ideas in the comments.

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4.14.12Miranda1143x4WEBMiranda Daniloff is a wife, mother to one and stepmother to three, university senior manager, a daughter, sister and sister-in law, friend, creative writer, former radio and television producer, who loves to read, run and cook. She started beyondworklifebalance.com to find a better way to integrate work and life. The idea of balance just stressed her out.
Photos: Strollers, Sergie Melki; Miranda, Martha Stewart
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Saving Money on Athletic Equipment: How Do You Lower The Cost?

Todd is the co-founder and content manager at Fearless Men, a blog on Manliness that inspires men to grow strong, get fit, be wise, kick fear in the face and become a better man.

There’s no way to count how many pieces of athletic equipment are out there. They claim to burn fat, build muscle, and to make Chuck Norris appear in your bedroom. Or Sofia Vergara. Whoever you prefer.

Working out can be expensive. Whether you’re going to an expensive gym or buying paint buckets of protein powder, it’s a realm that you can easily blow cash on. Not that your health, wellness and nutrition don’t deserve the absolute best—that doesn’t mean that the best equals the most expensive.

For the anti-gym rat, the person who wants to build body strength and burn fat at home, here’s a comprehensive list on saving money on athletic equipment.

 

1. Free Weights, Bar Bells and Benches

 

If you’re allergic to the gym but want to gain muscle in a traditional manner (weightlifting) it’s hard not to lower the cost. Generally free weights equate to a cost of one dollar per pound. So if you want a pair of 25 pound dumbbells, you’ll need to spend $50. Two 50 pound dumbbells? Another $100. If you want to buy all the increments in between, you’re talking about spending mad cash.

Deals on this front can be found, but trust me, they will be quick and competitive.

Where you can save is the previously aspiring weekend warrior that bought a nice bench press set and weights to slap on it. Once they’ve used it three times it often then slowly gains a collection of dust for months or even years. That’s when you can find a good garage sale or Craigslist list deal if you can haul it away with a truck.

 

2. Treadmills, Ellipticals and Stationary Bikes

 

These megaton beasts will break a man or woman’s back, and their wallet.

If you prefer hitting the revolving pavement rather than braving the outdoor elements, purchasing a treadmill or elliptical machine may be ideal. And you don’t have to blow up Fort Knox to afford it either.

First you need to decide upon what piece of cardiovascular equipment you want. If you want something easier on the joints, go with an elliptical machine. If you want to practice your running skills, go with the treadmill.

There are other options as well, stationary bikes of course. If you don’t know what you enjoy and feel comfortable with, the best option for you is to get a free week-long membership at your local gym and try out the equipment several times. That’s a free way to self-review the product!

Next, look on eBay and Craigslist for what’s cooking locally and up for auction. Beware on eBay of shipping costs! It’s possible this could exceed what you’d actually pay for your exercise equipment.

Finally, look online and in the paper for deals at stores like Sears. They frequently want to get something off their floor. You can even give the store a call and see if a less-than-current display model is ready to be carted off. You could possibly enjoy a 30%-70% discount on a big ticket item.

 

3. Cable and Pulley Based Systems

 

Now this is a pretty broad category. Whether it’s Bow Flex, Total Gym, or some other pulley based system a washed up celebrity is selling, you can find a big win or a big loss when dealing for these.

It’s easy to look up the going rate for pulley based athletic equipment and compare that to deals on Amazon, eBay, and what people are listing in online classifieds.

Where you can go wrong is not knowing if the elaborate pulley system is fully functional. If one cord or pulley is misaligned, and you don’t know how to fix it, then you’ve bought a worthless piece.

These at home gyms can be dynamic and provide a lot of different toning exercises. Do understand that you run a higher risk if you buy it aftermarket of losing out because there is no valid warranty for you to call upon if it breaks.

 

4. P90X, RushFit, Insanity, and other video based exercise programs

 

Many of these programs require minimal or no actual athletic equipment. You may need to buy some resistance bands or a pull-up bar, but investment aside from the DVDs is commonly minimal.

Expect to spend $80-$150 for a DVD series like P90X or RushFit. This can save you a large amount of money on athletic equipment compared to a treadmill, tons of free weights, or a cable-based system.

Many of these videos will challenge your cardio, and help you tone your muscles. They can build overall athleticism. But don’t be fooled in their ad pitch that you’ll gain enormous muscle if that is what you are aiming for. The guys on the box art or the infomercial most certainly hit the weights aside from doing pushups in the videos.

 

Saving Money On Athletic Equipment

 

If your goal is to grow healthier and more active within the comfort and safety of your home, I salute you. I’ve done P90X before at home and it did help me on my journey back to fitness. If I lived in a cold state I have no doubt I’d be on the market for a treadmill. Whatever you do, invest your money into something you know is in good condition. And ensure you invest in something you are committed to using!

[Image credit Luc Latulippe / http://dribbble.com/luc]

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5 Ideas That Shaped My Career

Reading can be the difference between a good career and a great one. How are you taking control?

Last week I went all “Joe Negative” with my 5 pieces of bad advice from investment gurus. The goal with that piece wasn’t to be argumentative…it was to help people realize that no advisor is infallible, and although starting with the guru is good, finishing with your own plan is better.

This week, to prove just how optimistically positive I can be, I thought it’d be great to review the top 5 pieces of career advice I’ve ever read from the popular press. Sure, some of these are from pop self help books, but these lessons have proven their weight during my career:

 

5) The concept of “Move and Fire” – Marine Corps Book of Strategy

 

While I’ll agree that the concept of business as battle is often overplayed, the idea of “move and fire” is a valuable weapon for a businessperson. Often, I’d want to either respond to a client request or work on improving relationships. By quickening the tempo of my communications with clients, surprising them with data when they didn’t expect it, and advising them on areas where they didn’t realize I was an expert, I was actually able to decrease my overall workload because I wasn’t getting silly requests on client terms. The “battlefield” of my career began to be dictated on my terms.

I also realized that to grow the business I couldn’t be one-faceted. I had to attack from all angles. That’s when my media blitz began and I gathered as many television, radio and print opportunities as possible. By moving and firing, instead of going slowly, I pushed past many people who waited for someone else to throw them a chance.

 

4) “The past doesn’t equal the future” – Tony Robbins (Awaken the Giant Within)

 

In business, you need to have a short memory or you’re dead. I saw many workers in all of my jobs (from high school through financial planning) who couldn’t get over the time they’d been passed over for a raise, the undeserved reprimand from a boss, or the tongue lashing from a client. Get over it.

I also experienced a phenomenon with young workers who couldn’t grasp concepts and refused to learn about them. I’d recommend listening to podcasts, reading work related blogs and books, or watching videos. Often, I was surprised to hear, “Yeah, I don’t really do that stuff.” Instead, they seemed to think that it was management’s job to teach everything you need to know to have a successful career.

Don’t wait on your manager to make you great. Just because you weren’t a reader yesterday doesn’t mean you aren’t today. Just because you were loud and brash at work doesn’t mean you have to be tomorrow. Just because you don’t dress appropriately for work doesn’t mean you’ll forget the tie tomorrow. The past doesn’t equal the future indeed.

Another related concept that nearly made this list was Tony Robbin’s assertion that success increases as you make decisions faster. While people often avoid decisions for fear of “being wrong,” Robbins pushes readers to click at a faster rate. Your brain will find ways to make your decisions better.

“I’ve failed more often than the average person has tried.” Donald Trump

 

3) Beware “The Monkey” – Ken Blanchard (One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey

 

While the whole One Minute Manager series was a little short on great ideas, the concept of “the monkey” helps great people accomplish more without becoming bogged down in irrelevant tasks.

Here’s the monkey: a co-worker walks into your office with a problem….we’ll call the problem “the monkey.” Instead of saying, “I’ve got a problem I need you to help me with,” co-worker says:

“We have a problem.”

The second that you agree that “we” have a problem, one of the monkey’s arms is around your shoulder. When you say, “I’ll take care of it,” the friend leaves your office and you now own a monkey while the friend is free of the problem.

Once I began to recognize “the monkey” and learned to say, “Let me help YOU with YOUR problem,” my life became much simpler because I never took “the monkey” on my shoulders. I could work on my own monkeys without inadvertently taking on everyone elses’…a common problem for achievers.

 

2) Remember “the Goal” (The Goal)

 

While the One Minute Manager didn’t wow me, The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt completely bowled me over. I can explain the concept here in a couple of sentences, but I won’t be able to convey the magnitude of how much this change in perspective increased my ability to achieve.  In essence: many people measure results in areas other than the one that matters: throughput. If I can increase the speed of something that doesn’t reach the customer, why do I care? The only job that matters: finding the bottleneck and working on increasing the output through that area of the process.

I often worked with managers and clients who’d complain about a certain department or facet of their plan that wasn’t performing well or workers who didn’t seem to be working as hard as they could. When processes are measured, though, many times these weren’t the areas the manager should be worried about. A manager should worry first about the area which is the bottleneck decreasing throughput. It seems obvious and not really a big deal, doesn’t it? This is #2 on my list because once I read the book (and the follow up, “It’s Not Luck”) my business changed dramatically.

 

1)   The best battle is the one that’s never fought – Sun Tzu (The Art of War)

 

Sorry about two “war” books in the same piece, but this one was easily my favorite piece of advice. When I’m at odds with someone I’ve learned that instead of bringing on the fight, are there ways that I can still “win” without fighting at all.

With Sun Tzu’s help I became more proactive. If I could answer potential questions or concerns my clients had BEFORE they occurred, I’d avoid a problem later. I’d also think of any way that my competitors might try to steal my business and make sure that my clients were iron-clad mine. In setting up financial plans I’d imagine all the ways the plan would be tested and raise defenses against them.

Sun Tzu can be found all over my financial planning tips. It’s:

–       the reason I’m a stickler on the emergency fund, regardless of the interest rate.

–       the single biggest reason my budget for married people focuses on communication, not spreadsheets.

–       The reason I start with problems that might occur rather than insurance when dealing with “what if” scenarios.

 

There they are…my top 5. I’m excited to read your best career advice in the comments below. What should have made my list?

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