How’s Your Day Going?

I was stuck in a traffic jam this morning and my commute took a good 30 minutes longer than it normally does. Man, was I steamed. My Friday was already off to a bad start. Why must everyone go to work at the same fricken time as me? That’s what played over and over again in my head the whole way to work. When I finally arrived, late, I was pretty ticked off. As I was getting ready to bitch to one of my coworkers about the stupid traffic jam, I learned what had happened. Evidently there had been an accident further on down the road, beyond my turn off, where a pedestrian was crossing and got hit by a car. The pedestrian was killed! My coworker actually saw the lifeless body.

At that point, I bit my tongue. I quickly realized that I had absolutely nothing to bitch about. God forbid I had to sit in traffic for 30 minutes, while someone else lost their life. That person will never again be able to enjoy everything I take for granted on a daily basis. Was my morning really that bad? I got to spend a little more time in my nice new car listening to the radio. That equates to less time at my crappy job. But is my job really all that crappy? Well…actually, yeh it is! But, my point is how pathetic am I to wine about the traffic, when at least I’m alive. Now if only I could act like it more often, instead of dragging my lifeless zombie corpse around everywhere I go.

So keep that in mind the next time you think you’re having a bad day. Perhaps instead of bitching about it, you should just be thankful you are alive in this moment in time. Don’t waste it by focusing on negative thoughts toward things in the past or that you have no control over. I do this all the time and what good does it do me? Except feed my ulcer and ensure that I’ll be dead by age 35, my life expectancy at this point. From this day forth, I am going to spend less time angry at things and appreciate life more damnit! It makes me so damn angry that I get angry about this crap. No no Zack, calm down, that’s the old you talking. Deep breaths now.

I’ll just smile and turn up the music in a traffic jam from now on. As anyone who knows me could tell you, I am the last person on earth that should be giving advice about being happy. I let everything get to me. If someone doesn’t laugh at one of my jokes, for example, I’ll spend the rest of the day plotting their death and making it look like an accident. Ah-hem, that was a joke people. Oh, that’s it, you’re dead! Anyways, I think many of us could probably spend less time being angry/depressed/zombies and more time celebrating life! This is obvious advice, but it never hurts to be reminded now and again that you are, in fact, ALIVE. So why not act like it?

Pitfalls of Business

First, let me point out that I still plan on kicking most business aspects to the curb and focusing on the geek realm for the time being, but I came across a good article recently and wanted to share some observations. Plus after a weekend of non-stop coding, business concepts are a nice refreshing breeze right now.

The article is entitled 8 Pitfalls To Avoid When Starting An Internet Business and it’s written by Yaro Starak, an entrepreneur who appears to have had quite a bit of success. His list of 8 is as follows:

  1. Don’t start a business teaching how to make money online.
  2. Choose non-Internet related niches
  3. Don’t focus on making money
  4. Don’t enter a tiny market
  5. Watch out for tiny margins
  6. Look for leverage points
  7. Avoid self-employment thinking
  8. Be aware of your own limitations

These are all good in my mind, and many of them have been ON my mind quite a bit, especially the last three. From number 8:

It’s important when deciding what business to start that you see how it is possible for you to stop doing the day-to-day business fulfillment roles (delivery of services/products, support, sales, etc) in the future. If you can’t automate, outsource, or hire people to do these roles, then you don’t have a business model, you have a job model.

This is something I took away from the Portland Business Fair as well. To be successful you have to be sure that you are working ON the business, not IN it. This may present a slight challenge for me. As will numbers 7 and 9 for that matter. I’ve always been a self reliant person so to go out seeking leverage and asking for help from someone else so that I can focus on the higher level tasks doesn’t come natural to me. Not because I need complete control or anything like that (wipe that smirk off your face Misty), but because I am used to solving my own problems. I am a “go-to guy” by nature who destroys/covers up problems for a living.

When dealing with the problem of how to build a successful business though, I need to venture out and seek help. I’m getting better about this and the more I do it, the more I find that it comes with added benefits you might not expect. When you leverage people and resources, you can often time find marketing opportunities along the way. For instance, by hiring a designer, not only do I leverage someone else’s skills (much greater than my own), but I also potentially get some good advertising out of the deal as the designer inevitably shows off their work on their portfolio and spreads the word. Heck, just putting out a help wanted ad on a couple sites got this blog quite a bit of attention. The same goes for leveraging a new product/technology. You stand a chance of getting mentioned on the products website/brochure/etc as someone who is excelling/revolutionizing with this product, if you do so of course.

So leveraging can help you market. I am becoming more and more aware of this as time goes on. To get out of the “go-it-alone mindset”, which is just a recipe for failure, I am consciously making an effort to involve more people in the process. I’m hiring a designer, networking more, considering partnerships, trying to use new exciting technologies, etc. These days anything that comes my way get’s processed through the “can I use this to help my marketing/leveraging strategy in any way shape or form?” machine.



Let’s just say it’s been a very stressful weekend. Programming this sucker is not going quite as smoothly as I had hoped. Right now, my computer is extremely lucky to be alive! Unfortunately, my brain isn’t so fortunate. In fact, that’s all I can muster tonight.

To be continued…

(Someone sent me the above animation. If you are/know the artist, please let me know and I will credit you/them or remove it. I also blatantly stole from the movie: “The Shining”. What can I say, I am no longer capable of original thought right now.)

Zack Overwhelmed

After researching the million different PHP frameworks that are available now, I’ve decided to use CakePHP for my app. This seems to be a relatively simple and powerful framework (similar to Ruby on Rails) that will help me write clean, manageable, and reusable code fairly quickly. I spent some time last weekend designing my database structure and the classes I think I’ll need, so it’s time to start writing some code.

This will be a bit trickier than usual because of what’s going on in my day job. I will be building a new web app at work using the Java programming language, which I haven’t used since my college days. This is my first major project at my “new” job and, hence, there is going to be a ton of learning to do in the upcoming weeks. At home, I will be using the PHP programming language (which I’m also a bit rusty in as I haven’t used it in a year or so) in a framework that is completely new to me. So I get to build two apps, side by side, in completely different environments. Hopefully I don’t start confusing the two and build mutants by mistake, which would then, naturally, destroy the earth.

My deadline for completing the rough draft of my appetizer is October 2nd. Now, assuming I am a magician on cocaine, this is certainly doable. I had planned on starting sooner but I keep getting sidetracked. There are so many business related things that are up in the air right now that it’s hard to stay focused. Attending the business fair last weekend only put more question marks in my head that won’t get the hell out. These are things I don’t need to worry about right now (office space, advertising, cash flow, etc.) because my main objective is to serve the appetizer. But the more I learn, the harder it is for me to stay focused. All this business knowledge is crowding my brain.

Needless to say I’ve been a tad overwhelmed this week. When starting a business for the first time, I think it’s tempting at the onset to think about all the things that must be done and analyze every single angle so you do everything just right…but be careful! You might just think yourself into calling it quits before you even get started. I think it’s better to try to focus on the 2 or 3 most pressing issues and forget the rest. I’m not saying develop tunnel vision completely, but it does you no good to overwhelm yourself by thinking about all 50 million things you have to get done and then losing focus and fumbling on the execution. Planning is good, obsessing is bad. I am definitely a good example of that this week.

Business Lessons of the Fair

Well, I survived the Oregon Small Business Fair and now it’s time to share what I learned with you good people. First of all, if you have one of these in your area I would highly recommend going. Surprisingly, I learned quite a bit. As I’ve mentioned, the main reason I attended was to network and promote, the learning was secondary. It turned out to be just the reverse though, as I only handed out maybe five business cards. After the first workshop, I realized that these were much more than consultants trying to get clients, they were loaded with valuable information. So I attended as many of them as humanly possible, leaving little time for networking in between. It was my intention to make up for that at the end, but unfortunately, everyone scattered after the last workshop. A mad rush to the parking garage ensued and escaping was nothing short of pure, grade-A, insanity!

It was definitely an action-packed day. I overslept so had to rush to get there and find a parking spot. Then rushed to get checked in and get to the first workshop. Then rushed around as many booths as I could in between workshops. Then rushed out to my car for a breakfast bar for lunch (which is all I had to eat for the day) and hustled back for the lunch-time workshop. There was alot of really good workshops going on at the same time, so I would sit in one long enough to get the hand out and then rush over to a different one to get their info. Then, as I mentioned, at the end of the day I saw everyone scrambling for the door so I desperately rushed to beat the herd…which did NOT happen. I almost had to throw down with an old lady, but that’s another story.

Alright, I guess that’s enough of an intro, lets dive into what I learned yesterday. I’ll talk about the most important business lessons (in my opinion) from each workshop.

Workshop 1: Home Business … Home Office … Tax Issues

She started off by recommending that you don’t have an office in your home. It can really complicate matters and it’s difficult to keep the two separate. She then proceeded with some good tips if we decide otherwise.

  1. If you want to claim an in home deduction on your taxes, make sure that your home office is used exclusively for business purposes. So, for example, if you have a closet full of clothes and you have to step through your office to get to them (i.e. no other way), then you’ve broken the exclusive rule and you can’t legally claim. You don’t necessarily need walls to determine your office boundaries. There are other barriers you can try (e.g. shelfing, book cases, etc.).
  2. Measure your entire house and then measure your office and determine what percentage of your house your office represents. You then use that percentage for all indirect expenses (utility/garbage bills, general repair/maintenance, etc.). Anything you do directly to your office, however, represents a direct 100 percent expense.
  3. A nice benefit to a home office is claiming mileage on your car. If you don’t work out of the home, you can only claim 35 business trips/year if leaving directly from home. If you do work at home, it’s unlimited. Here’s the kicker: you just have to make sure that you step into your home office before heading out to your car. So don’t go directly from kitchen to car, step into office first (class giggles). You also have to be sure that the first place you stop is a business related stop. From there on out you can claim every other stop on your route, business or not. She pointed out that she has a friend that always make it a point to have a business purpose before leaving her house (class giggles again).

Workshop 2: Be Found – Getting Your Web Site To Your Customers

Most of this I was already aware of because I’ve studied search engine optimization tactics, but maybe you haven’t, so here goes. These are techniques to help your site receive visits from people that are visititing indirectly (i.e. you didn’t send them there, they searched on Google).

  1. Figure out what you want your keyword combinations to be. What words will your potential customers search with to find you? You can find out how popular a keyword combination is by using this tool.
  2. Next you need to make sure that these keyword combinations appear at least twice in the readable text on your page. Be sure you don’t use more than four combinations per page. You also want your keywords to show up in the page title and in your meta tags.
  3. You can build pages aimed exclusively at the search engine robots (i.e. not made for human consumption). This is useful if you have a ton of keyword combinations and, for obvious reasons, don’t want them all appearing in your main content. Once you build these pages, link to them with a sitemap, and link to that from your homepage (in small text at bottom somewhere).
  4. Get people to link to you! This increases your ranking on Google, especially if the other sites are relevant to yours in some way. So it would be effective for me to get other “Portland” or “Entrepreneur” or “Web App” sites to link to me rather than irrelevant sites. There are also tons of free directories out there, so Google “Free Directories” and start getting yourself linked up.
  5. Zack side note: Remember though, quality is more important than quantity. One link from a popular site is worth much more than many links from random, non-popular sites. So you should focus your efforts on obtaining quality links to your site.

Workshop 3: Marketing Your Small Business

This guy was pretty funny. In fact when he got up to the podium, the microphone fell over and made a loud thud. He reacted with a “JESUS!”, then realized he said it right into the microphone and responded with a “how’s that for an intro”. His material was a bit scattered though, so it was hard to take notes, but here’s some key points:

  1. It’s not about what you sell. It’s about the experience!
  2. There are too many products and not enough customers. Therefore, you really have to work hard these days to obtain them. Mass marketing is out; consumers want their buying experience to be personalized and they want to feel important. They are more demanding, better informed, and much more value conscious.
  3. Marketing is the art and science of finding customers, then satisfying them, then growing them, then keeping them. And all at a profit.
  4. Give it to them right, fast, easy, cheap, and personalized! Satisfied customers are vulnerable, you have to consistently exceed expectations.

Workshop 4: How To Advertise Your Business

This guy was hilarious as well. He was super old school and you could tell he’s been in the ad business for a long time. He kept going off on tangents about what’s wrong with the world today and how we are entirely too brand conscious. Probably the funniest moment was when he was handing out examples of good advertising from magazines and he came to one that displayed a woman’s torso and legs. At which point he commented “look at this, this is a great ad … I mean graphically IT’S TERRIFIC”. Then he said “well, that’s it, they’re never going to ask me back again”. Good stuff!

Other than that, I didn’t get much out of this one because he passed around these ad-boards, and people kept getting confused as to which direction to pass. Simply put, it was complete chaos! Here’s an excerpt: “did you already see this one guys…how about his one…which direction is this one going…here you take this and I’ll…no wait…I don’t think I’ve seen that one yet…here, maybe if we keep passing them in front of Zack his head will explode.” Here are a couple things I took away from it however…

  1. It’s much harder these days to get a consumers attention. It used to be a one-to-many platform (i.e. television commercial) and now it’s a many-to-one platform. And in this “MTV world” (this guy was great) people want it extremely fast. Take a look at the difference in movies nowadays, each scene is three seconds. Old movies had much longer scenes and consumers had longer attention spans.
  2. All goods and services in a given industry are parity items (pretty much the same), the difference is how they are perceived. That’s where good marketing comes in.

He closed with a quote by Leo Burnett: “The secret of all effective originality in advertising is not the creation of tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships”.

Workshop 5: Controlling Your Advisers

This guy used to be an accountant and is now a lawyer, so he had lots of good information. He mentioned that advisers grade their clients from A to C. You want to be an A client, so don’t be too difficult by yelling, asking for things to be free, etc.

  1. The primary differences between other advisors and Lawyers: Lawyers are the only people that are authorized to draft up legal business documents and they have access to the legal system. Sure you can have others draft up business documents, but they aren’t supposed to.
  2. The first thing you should do is find a good accountant! You will need them throughout your daily business activities. Then go find a good lawyer. You will need them when your are forming your business and when you are in trouble.
  3. Know what you will need from your advisor before you see them (lawyers charge around $275/hour) and make sure you get a written engagement letter spelling out the exact agreement. Don’t just waltz in and say “I’m buying a business” and expect the lawyer to know what to do at that point, because there are several things they could do. So have a plan of action.

Workshop 6: Cash Flow or No?

This was another great workshop and I actually got a cramp in my hand from writing so fast. It was a nice refresher course from my accounting courses in college. She started out very simply with two statements: “Stuff Has Value” and “I made more than I spent”. These statements represent your balance sheet and income statement respectively. So now I’m thinking, ah this is a refreshing change of pace. Before I even finished that thought, she dived in and started talking extremely fast. I think I actually heard my hand start to cry. Let me try to pull out the key points for you.

  1. The balance sheet shows where you are in terms of worth, the income statement shows where you are in terms of profitability, and the cash flow shows where you are in terms of usability.
  2. There are many very talented people that have no business being in business. Before you start a business you should find out if you have deep enough pockets. Ask yourself: If I don’t make money for one year, what will I live on? If you can’t figure that out, don’t start a business! Because you shouldn’t live off the business you are trying to build.
  3. If you plan to hire an employee and you can’t afford 1.5 times the rate you’ll be paying them, then you can’t afford them. This is her rough estimate that she uses to account for taxes, social security, etc.
  4. You should hire a professional accountant when you first setup the books, a few months after to make adjustments, and before you show your financial statements for the first time.
  5. Do not use Quicken for your business. This is a good program for personal checks and income statement type transactions, but is useless for the balance sheet. She recommends QuickBooks.
  6. You’ll probably have a loss the first year, and this shouldn’t be because of cash flow but because of non-depreciation. The IRS wants you to have a profit within the first 5 years though. They won’t punish you for not having one, but the point is why are you in business if you are still losing money?
  7. A cash flow analysis will help you figure out what you’ll need to charge for your goods/services. You should do this before you go into business to ensure you can afford it. Hint: Double your rates! “You’ll lose clients, you’ll sleep more, and you’ll make just as much”.

I’ll close the same way she did: If you analyze your progress, find problems, and don’t make modifications to fix them, you are insane! “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting the same result”.

“Imaginary Business” Cards

business cards
a fresh batch of cards

Well, tomorrow is the big day (small biz fair) and I’ve been spending some quality time tonight prepping. I’ve thought a little about questions I’d like answered and how I will go about discussing my future business and promoting this blog, but today has be a very brain-dead day so I mostly just staired at a blank sheet of paper and drooled.

As you can see, though, I did summon enough brain cells to make some snazzy business cards for the occassion. Now all I need is a business to go along with them. Someday maybe I’ll hop off Mr. Rogers trolly and actually have a real business up and running. But for now, I just have to pretend. Hopefully, I’ll get in some good networking tomorrow and this event will learn me a thing or two. Wow, I better hurry up and finish this memo, I’m getting dumber by the second (brane is done overworked).

Anyways, being that time is such a valuable commodity to me right now (even moreso than usual), and this is an all day event, I sure hope it pays off. I’ll be sure to report back here on Sunday and let you know how it went and what I learned from it all. And that’s all i have to say about that.

Night Walks in Autumn

At last, Autumn is upon us! The air is crisp and refreshing, the temperature is perfect, colors are changing, all that crap. Maybe I’ll actually be able to get some work done without sweating to death. There’s no air conditioning in the den in my apartment and, with all the machines in there, it gets insanely hot.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about this time of year is night walks. During the summer it’s way too hot and basically daytime out for good night walking, but now I can head out and the moon is up, temperature is nice and cool, and I can strut on down the road and clear my head. And when I’m not being honked at, barked at, or screamed at, it’s quite peaceful. Not only is it good exercise, it’s a nice escape from all the insanity and it helps me stay balanced. Basically, it’s a nice mini-vacation from work, technology, distractions, life, etc.

Video of Zack on Night Walk

Sometimes it’s hard for me to drop everything and go out for a walk, but it’s always well worth it. I come back with a refreshed outlook on things and ready to get back in the game. Most of my best idea’s were actually thought up on night walks (the other hot spots being in the shower, on my mountain bike, and lying in bed at night, but almost never in front of a computer). Getting away from all distractions and pressures of work, my brain just relaxes and lets down its guard a little, inviting some great ideas through the door.

How about you? How do you remove distractions and reboot your mind? Other than sleeping of course, which hopefully you do once in awhile.

Lesson of the Week

I have decided to start posting the single most important lesson I learn each week to this blog every Sunday. I will continue to post throughout the week on where I’m at, tips/tricks I pick up, and so forth, but these posts will be focused exclusively on lessons learned. I’m hoping they will prove useful to you in your endevors and keep you from making the same mistakes I do or help you to share in my successes as the case may be.

As I’ve mentioned in my business plan post, I’ll be attending the Oregon Small Business Fair this Saturday and am looking forward to the many workshops they’ll be offering. These ones, especially, caught my eye:

  • Home business … home office … tax issues
  • Web site magic
  • Marketing your small business
  • How to advertise your business
  • Controlling your advisers
  • E-commerce
  • How do I turn my dream into reality?

Now, these are only 1 hour workshops mind you, so I’m certainly not expecting to walk away an expert, but just to pick up a few useful tidbits. Most of this I can learn online, so really the primary reason I’m going is to network and promote. It’s time to get out of the cube for a while and interact with the human race a little.

Be sure to check back on Sunday (and everyday in between of course) because the most important thing I learn at the fair (provided I learn anything), I’ll be sure to share with you.

Balancing Act

The following is a recent email conversation I had with someone regarding the difficulty of balancing a full-time job and an on-the-side start-up.

Someone: Just curious: how are you keeping the momentum while keeping a day job? I find that it takes me almost the whole evening to get out of my day job mode, so weekdays are out. As for weekends, that’s mostly family time. So I find vacation time is best to really focus. Of course, that’s limited. How do you find the time to focus?

Me: Well it’s definately not easy, I hear you there! Of course if it were, everyone would do it, am I right? Basically it just came down to making a commitment and not leaving a choice to do anything else. It’s tough not being able to spend as much time with the fam, but I keep telling myself that it will all pay off in the end and this is just a means to get there. I set up a schedule with milestones and todos and I stick to it, it’s that simple…and yet extremely difficult. I constantly have to discipline myself. I have my work hours posted on my wall at home to keep me in line. I don’t always stick to them as there are days when I am way too stressed and just need to relax, but for the most part I follow it. I’ll probably take some vacation time here in the next month or so and really goto work on things, but for now I have a limited amount of time and lots to do…so there’s no choice.

Someone: I like your idea of shame the best. That is, since you’ve told everyone what you’re doing (in public on the blog), you’ll be shamed if you fail to give your best attempt.

Me: I agree, shame is definately a good tactic. If I fail I will have no choice but to samuraii myself at once. That is part of the reason I started the blog though, was to motivate me to follow through for a change. Still, I think once I eliminated choice and made this a priority, it has helped me stay the course. It’s basically like a long finals week at school. And during finals week, you generally stay pretty focused on school and know that you can’t do anything but.

So basically my trick is to brainwash myself. How about you? What tactics do you use to stay focused during times when it is incredibly easy and tempting not to?

Welcome Second Lifers

Second Life Screenshot
Second Life Screenshot

My girlfriend Misty is pretty hooked on the computer game Second Life and was kind enough to advertise my blog on there :). If you don’t know, Second Life is an extremely popular game/virtual world right now. I’ve never played it myself (no time) but like MySpace, I’m convinced they put crack in their code. I need to find out where I can get my hands on some of this virtual crack so I can sprinkle some on my appetizer. Anyways, in this game you can design characters, houses, clothes, storefronts, etc. and actually make real money in the process. From what I understand, people are making some damn good money selling Real Estate, if you can believe that. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! There are tons of business transactions going on everyday on that game, if you can even call it a game. The line between game and reality is getting way too thin these days.

Perhaps I should say to hell with my first life and consider starting a virtual business inside Second Life instead. Somehow though, I’m pretty sure I would wind up in a virtual cube and my character would have to commute through virtual traffic every morning. Then I’d make my character program on his little computer all day. Course then when I wasn’t looking he’d probably download Second Life and start playing and put his character to work in a cube and, of course, my brain wouldn’t be able to process that so it would go ahead and explode.

Hmmm…on second thought, maybe I better stick to my first life.

Update: Second Life was recently hacked! The line between game and reality just got thinner yet ;).