Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My 7 Most Important Business Lessons

Millions of people start new small businesses in the United States every day. Many fail at running a small business every day. What causes one business owner to succeed where another fails? There are seven key areas to focus your efforts for a successful small business. It starts with knowing oneself and ends with not being afraid to ask for help.

1. Know Yourself

Having your own business is more than just creating a job for yourself. To be a successful small business owner, there are many personal sacrifices you will be required to make. You have to be willing to make them. By knowing yourself and what is truly important to you, you will be able to make these choices far easier than if you have never considered your priorities.

Your basic roles in a small business are in marketing, planning, finance, and administration. To get the best results, it is rare for one person to play all these roles equally well. You must know which parts you can handle yourself and which parts you're going to need help with. That's why it's so important to be objective and take a close look at your overall strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself the following questions:

- Do you plan before you take action? - Are you willing to hustle for the sale? - How financially savvy are you? - Do you have a well thought out plan? And, do you work the plan? - Do you know how to make sales happen? Can you ask for the sale?

In those areas where you assess yourself as weak, you can ask for help.

2. Ask For Help When You Need It

When youre young and unseasoned, you tend to think you can do anything. This is a recipe for disaster for the small businessperson. If you insist on doing everything yourself, you will work 16 hours a day and not do some things well.

Remember, getting results is what counts! With outside advice and assistance, your quest for a successful business can be accomplished faster and with far fewer bruises than doing it yourself. When I started my first online business, I even created by own website. In retrospect, this was a big mistake. It took me far longer to create my site than having a more experienced person do it. Start equating every second of your time with money. Your time isnt free. While you are trying to do everything, whats falling through the crack?

Don't be too proud to ask for help, we all need help sometimes. With the Internet, the small business owner has a wealth of experience available to them. Why not take advantage of the many resources, paid and otherwise, available to you? Join a small business forum, like the Small Business Forum (www.smallbusinessbrief.com/forum/) where you can exchange knowledge with other small business owners. Access the millions of online articles on every business subject you can think of at ezinearticles.com.

Qualified sources are also available from your local government offices and other professional services. It is important to recognize -- what you don't know can end up costing you money and greatly reduce the chance of achieving your business goals.

With all that knowledge, you need a plan of action.

3. Action Planning

I like to call it action planning rather than planning. Action is the only element which turns a plan into reality. Many people are great at planning but they suffer when it comes to follow-through. Successful small business owners are action oriented. But that action starts with a plan.

According to leading authorities, the main reason 80% of all new businesses fail within the first five years is not money, but the lack of planning. If you want to succeed, the trick is to know how to make right the decisions by implementing an effective business plan. Remember, if you fail to plan, you might as well plan to fail.

A business plan should include how you will finance the business, who will perform certain critical business functions, the license and permits required, accounting method, as well as what you know about your prospects and customers.

4. Mind Meld Your Customer

Just knowing your customer isnt enough for long-term success in your small business. In Star Trek, the Vulcan race had the ability to perform a mind meld. At the time of the mind meld, they could see, think, and feel everything their partner was seeing, thinking, and feeling. This is how close you must come to understanding your customer. The closer you get, the more successful you will become.

Are you listing to your customers? Make it your business to give your customers what they want and they will buy from you. They are the reason you are in business, and your future depends on them. The products and services you provide should be a direct reflection of their needs. Think in your customers' terms; buy, show, sell, and say things that interest them, not you. Don't forget, it is the customer that determines whether or not you succeed. They vote every day by where they spend their money.

Reflect on the following questions:

- Do you know the reasons why customers shop at your store? (service, convenience, price) If not, ask!

- Do you seek suggestions from your customers on ways you can boost business?

- Do you use a store or online questionnaire to aid you in determining your customers' needs?

- Do you stay in contact with customers on a regular basis?

- Do you ever try to re-establish a relationship with lost or inactive customers?

A key to success lies in knowing your customer. The other half of the equation is to know your industry.

5. Know Your Industry

You can gain the greatest competitive edge if you intimately understand your industry. You must know the ins and outs of your particular products and industry. You should know every competitor as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Its in your competitors weaknesses where you will most frequently find your own success.

Your competitors size, services, location, marketing approach, type of customers, suppliers, and pricing strategies should be as well known to you as your own. Your local business climate, median household income, level of education, ethnic population, and the other demographics of your potential customers should be second nature to you. To prosper, you must know the game and the playing field intimately.

Many people focus upon these areas but still fail. Why? They focus more upon the product than the finances of the business.

6. Maintain Good Financial Records

If you don't know where your money is going, it will soon be gone. The "game of business" is played with products and customers, but the score is kept in dollars and cents. Good financial records are like the instrument panel on your car, they keep you posted of your speed, fuel level and engine condition. Without them you're flying blind trying to pace the other cars. If you know how much you're spending, buying and selling, you can take control and help your business make more money.

- Do you have basic accounting knowledge? Or, do you have someone you trust to keep the books?

- Do you maintain every receipt you obtain through the running of your business?

- Have you computerized your business to streamline everyday tasks and business procedures?

- Do you use sales forecasts, expense sheets, and financial statements on regular basis to assess the progress or your business?

- Do you evaluate your operating expenses and make necessary changes on a regular basis?

Many people erroneously believe good record keeping is for the government and those financial obligations. They are wrong! Good financial record keeping can help your business succeed. Use the financial information available to make improvements to the operation of the business and improve profits. Remember through it all, the old adage cash is king is true.

7. Manage Your Cash

It doesn't matter how unique your store is, your business can't survive without good cash flow. Cash is the lifeblood of your business. The money coming into or out of your store is the vital component that keeps your business financially healthy. For profitability, more cash must come into the business every day than goes out of the business. You can have the greatest sales in the world, but if its all in receivables, how will you pay your bills?

A monthly Cash Flow Statement is a critical business tool. It shows the amount of money at the start of a period and how much cash was received during the period. It identifies the various sources of incoming cash and the reasons for outgoing cash. Budget wisely. Know the sources of your monthly income and expenses. Then, you won't have to worry about running out of money. And that is a good thing.

Like any game, the game of business has rules and tools. Those who excel at the game, play it better than their competitors. Keep focused upon these seven critical areas and you will succeed. Remember, Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Isnt it time you changed the things you are doing so you can succeed? I think the time is now!

Michele Schermerhorn calls herself a Corporate Freedom Fighter dedicated to freeing cubicle prisoners to experience their own successful online business. She has over 30 years experience in the business world and over 12 years running her own successful online businesses. She is President of Online Business Institute Inc. (http://www.obinstitute.com), authors a sassy marketing blog (http://www.imarketblog.com), and regularly conducts free online seminars. Online Business Institute Inc. exists to Create Successful Online Business Owners One Person At A Time.

Online Futures Trading - Advantages and Disadvantages

What Is Online Futures Trading?

A futures contract is an agreement to buy or sell a commodity at a date in the future. Everything about a futures contract is standardized except its price. All of the terms under which the commodity or financial instrument is to be transferred are established before active trading begins, so neither side is hampered by ambiguity. The price for a futures contract is determined in the trading pit or on the electronic trading system of a futures exchange.

The internet now allows access to those electronic trading systems from anywhere in the world. This increases liquidity in those markets and makes them even more attractive to traders.

Trading on all futures exchanges takes place against a backdrop of statutory regulation and rules as laid down by each exchange and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Regardless of whether your trading is executed within the trading pit or electronically, it is subject to the same rules, regulations and safeguards.

Advantages of online futures trading

Leverage. Futures operate on margin, meaning that to take a position only a fraction of the total value needs to be available in cash in the trading account.

Commission Costs. Electronically traded futures contracts require no human intervention to match buys and sells unlike a traditional futures pit. This means that commission costs can be cut dramatically, leading to significant savings for the frequent trader.

Liquidity. The involvement of speculators means that futures contracts are reasonably liquid. However, how liquid depends on the actual contract being traded. Electronically traded contracts, such as the e-mini's tend to be the most liquid whereas the pit traded commodities like corn, orange juice etc are not so readily available to the retail trader and are more expensive to trade in terms of commission and spread.

Ability to go short. Futures contracts can be sold as easily as they are bought enabling a trader to profit from falling markets as well as rising ones. There is no 'uptick rule' for example like there is with stocks.

No 'Time Decay'. Options suffer from time decay because the closer they come to expiry the less time there is for the option to come into the money. Futures contracts do not suffer from this as they are not anticipating a particular strike price at expiry.

Automated trading. Electronic futures brokers offer the facility to programmers to interface directly with their trading software. This means that custom written trading software can automatically trade a strategy without any human intervention at all. A system can make buy/sell signals which are automatically routed to the exchange along with any stops and targets.

Almost instant fills. With electronically traded futures there is no need to call up a broker and wait for a fill from the trading floor. Orders are instantly placed on the electronic order book and filled as soon as a match is found - for liquid contracts such as the emini S&P500 this will be within a second.

Level playing field. With traditional pit traded futures the professional in the pit has a major advantage over the retail trader in terms of speed of execution and costs. Electronic futures trading offers all participants exactly the same advantages.

Disadvantages of online futures trading

Leverage. Can be a disadvantage if it encourages trading with too high a risk for a particular strategy. A carefully devised money management plan is essential.

Overtrading. The instant nature of electronic futures trading coupled with low commission costs and tight spreads can encourage a trader to take additional trades to those determined by their trading plan.

Online futures trading offers significant benefits to the retail trader. However, a carefully developed trading plan must be formulated before attempting to enter this extremely competitive business.

Tim Wreford operates Online Futures Trading, a website that provides information and resources for traders. Tim also provides an article detailing the development of a day trading system, the results of which are updated daily on the site.

Forex Trading Tips

Forex trading has the highest volatility of any investment market in todays global marketplace. Forex has a volatility of 500. Liquid stocks volatility is from 60 to 100. Smart investors are currently jumping into the forex market at record numbers.

With access to a computer, an investor can go online anywhere in the world 24 hours a day, except for the weekends. A Forex investor is in control of his account. With the right strategy and attention to world events, a Forex investor can reap substantial profits with his investment.

Although an investor can enter the Forex market with very little capital outlay, he should keep in mind that, with the volatility of the currency market and the economic and political turmoil around the world, Forex trading is not risk free.

A Forex investor must be able to analyze the news, not just listen to it, and after analyzing the news, an investor should use proven strategies when buying or selling. An investor should never make and investment decision based on fear or greed. He should consult reputable charts and graphs and known and proven market indicators before making a decision. A Forex investor should familiarize himself with the big players and political figures that influence the market. Learn personalities and listen to fellow Forex investors. Because Forex traders all trade in currencies, there is no threat of insider trading. Every Forex investor is an insider. With the right strategy and insight into what moves the market, a Forex trader can be very successful.

Milos Pesic is an expert in the field of Forex Trading and runs a highly popular and comprehensive Forex Trading web site. For more articles and resources on Forex related topics, online forex trading, trading tips, forex software and much more visit his site at:


Put Your Money in a Foreign Bank Account at 10% Interest - No Don't

Many foreign banks have deals for those with American Dollars to put their money in accounts with a guaranteed interest of ten percent, even backed by Lloyds of London. Is this a good idea? Where else can you earn 10% on your money leaving it in a bank?

Well, it sound like a good idea at first and some banks really need US Dollars because they are a trusted currency and used to secure International Shipment Guarantees; so they are willing to give ten percent because the shippers only trust the US Dollar. Meanwhile, your money sits in the foreign bank tied to the local currency exchange.

In my personal opinion that sounds scary. If the currency is stable that is one thing, but I have watched people lose money doing that. If you make 10% great, but they could have a huge devaluation, nationalize all bank accounts, anything like that. What if you make 10% but if the devaluation is 22% less? So you have ten percent more money but that money is worth 22% less - see why it is risky?

In my personal observation; I have watched huge US or World Bank Investments in nations, running things up until all that money was siphoned out quickly, crashing the currency; temporary inflation and zapped. I have seen year over year strong growth only to watch huge market adjustments and currency swings in many of the foreign nations offering these deals.

As a small-time investor you can get hammered playing currencies or even using such a bank account scheme, although in some cases money has been made as promised and the foreign currency has even gone up during the time period, thus interest plus increased valuation.

Now then, let's say you are going to put US Dollars into an El Salvador Bank at guaranteed interest of 10%, but during the time period the currency devaluates? Well, you have 10% more money minus the devaluation, and you still took a huge risk outside the safer US Banks paying a lower interest rate.

On the other hand investing in El Salvador Bank shares might be different as stock, but I have no clue, what they are loaning on or how they operate. If you have first hand knowledge then that makes sense or if you are traveling and wish to have some money already there as you travel it also makes sense. Indeed, one has to consider what the money is being used for while the bank has it. Such as Guerrilla War financing, drugs or some thing sinister?

In my personal opinion - Investing in Emerging Market Debt can be a good play from all I read. Even larger multi-national banks are invested in these places; I like some of the "micro-loan" programs that are going on out in the world. There is a lot of risk investing in one particular bank stock or play of course.

My thoughts and in my personal opinion; would be I guess to find a Mutual Fund that specialized in emerging debt markets, that was diversified with some top managers and decent track records.

San Salvador has Earthquakes, weather issues, all sorts of things, guerillas, drugs, it is a third world country. In my personal opinion - I worry about Central Banks really. I like the Central Banks in Chile, Malaysia, South Africa, but of course the interest they are paying is not close to what you have quoted. Well I guess those are my personal opinions on the Bank Account Scheme.

L. Winslow is an Economic Advisor to the Online Think Tank, a Futurist and retired entrepreneur http://www.worldthinktank.net . Currently he is planning a bicycle ride across the US to raise money for charity and is sponsored by http://www.Calling-Plans.com and all the proceeds will go to various charities who sign up.

Stock Picks 101- How to Maintain a Trading Diary

Those that dont know history are destined to repeat it. Edmund Burke

Trading is a business. Like any business, it has items of value. In your trading business, your inventory of cash is the most important asset. You must preserve it and increase it at all costs.

You also have financial tools. One of your business more subtle items of value is your decision making process. You must constantly be striving to improve it.

This is where a trading diary comes in. A diary lets you log and then analyze your decision making process. Such an at-a-glance is invaluable for doing the kind of self analysis you need to make sure your decision process continuously improves.

Every trade you make should be entered in your trade diary. Enter the date, time of entry, symbol, company name, number of shares, price per share, setup, trigger, expected trade duration and your subjective state. These entries should be made at the time of the trade. They decrease in value in proportion to how delayed you are in making the entry. In other words, make them right away!

Trade exits should be noted with similar items to the entry including the profit or loss. Of course, youll find that youll develop your own list of items to include. Whatever you do, be consistent.

Heres a neat tip: also log trades you did NOT take but you seriously considered taking. Make a note of why you decided against the trade. Then you can go back later and see what might have happened if you had taken the trade. This will give you additional insights into your decision making process.

In addition to keeping a trade diary, you should also maintain a spreadsheet that shows you all your positions at a glance and how theyre doing. To get you started, here are some ideas for columns you can include in this spread sheet:

Purchase Price
Purchase Date& Time
Latest Price
Market Value
Percentage of Assets
Gain or (Loss)
Percent Gain or (Loss)
YTD Return
Dividend Yield
P/E Ratio
Projected Growth Rate
Average Daily Volume
PEG Ratio
Market Cap

Depending on your trading style, you can add or remove columns. For example if you primarily day trade, you probably arent interested in dividends or PEG ratio. But these and other fundamental attributes are quite useful if you have a long term trading style.

The big difference between the list above and that which is maintained by your brokerage is that you continue to maintain the entries after the position is closed. Brokerages usually remove closed items from your list.

Youll be surprised at all the things you discover once you start to develop a trade diary with a significant history. How often you review your trade diary will depend on the frequency of your trading. A day trader will want to do a review once a week. A long term trader can review his stocks picks quarterly.

Live long, document well and prosper.

With customers in more than 70 countries Doug Newberry enjoys his position as host of the "Market Toolbox On Demand" online radio show. He is also the editor of the "Market Toolbox Newsletter." His company, Investing Systems Network specializes in providing financial tools and portfolio management software for its customers.