Young Entrepreneurs – Protect Yourself and Your Future

A few very important and unknown or overlooked aspects of business…

This post comes about as I was having dinner last evening with a distributor, partner and occasionally a competitor – all one in the same. It was so interesting and even amusing to exchange stories of similar experiences as we are in the same industry with a close business model, of roughly the same age and size. Some of these topics should serve as warnings and things to prepare for if you plan on starting a business, particularly an online business catering to more than just a local customer base.

Checking account fraud prevention. I can’t imagine it will be too long (certainly shouldn’t be) before actual printed checks become a thing of the past. In the meantime, you need to be prepared and protect yourself from fraud. While this may not pertain to all businesses, the crack in the armor stems from extending wire transfer as a means of payment for customers though that isn’t an exclusive source for this fraud tactic. Maybe they prepare customers now, but when I got started, no one at the bank every had this conversation with me until it was too late and the police, FBI and Secret Service had to get involved.

  • The tip: Setup an account at your bank that is Deposit Only and use that account if you are going to accept a wire transfer.  Have a separate operating account to write your checks from.
  • The other tip: Use a service called Positive Pay which requires you to be more proactive in working with your bank, but prevents any check from clearing your account if you have not previously informed the bank of the payee, the check number and the amount.
  • The reason: Once someone has your company name, address, checking account and bank routing number, they have enough information to print or order blank checks that draw from your checking account. This happened to me as well as my friend that I was dining with last evening. Prior to us using the above two tips, we had a couple of sprees where hundreds, perhaps thousands of checks were written using our account number and distributed all over the place. We had people calling daily who had sold their Harley, their car, their guitar and even their time and expertise in exchange for a fraudulent check written and drawn on our account. Unfortunately for the victims, the sellers of goods and services, these bad checks were rejected at the bank but usually not before they had been scammed out of their goods.

Credit card fraud control and prevention. I certainly don’t need to explain what this is or even the multitude of angles people choose to execute their fraudulent activities, but there are a couple of definitive ways to protect yourself and they work regardless of tactic chosen by the thief. It would have been nice to have been warned about this back in 2004, before it cost me more than $100k.

  1. If you are shipping physical goods, make sure you are shipping to the billing address or have your customer call and list an alternate shipping address on their card with the card issuing bank.
  2. Make sure that you get the phone number off of the back of the credit card and the name of the bank that issued the credit card. It is your responsibility to call that bank and make sure the card is valid as is the shipping address. Using credit card processing address verification is a good start, but it is not good enough to protect yourself.
  3. Look out for telltale signs of fraud. One we see often is customers calling late on a Friday that need the product delivered the next morning. Price is no object to them, nor the expense of Saturday delivery. Most people can wait until Monday, you’d be wise (usually) to drag your feet and process the order the following week or insist on a wire transfer vs. a credit card.

Asset and operations surveillance and monitoring. This one is pretty simple and straightforward. You’ve built your business and despite the perceived big brother effect that comes along with cameras in the work place, if you have expensive goods that someone might want to steal, put them under surveillance or you may as well leave your door unlocked. It’s also a good idea to monitor the outside of your business and not just the inside as a ski mask might hide the face, but it doesn’t hide a license plate.

Planning near and long term. So you built your business and things are booming right along. You have a business plan but are bogged down with day to day activities and just keeping things afloat. Planning your current activities and projects is critical to getting things done and working efficiently, but don’t put your head in the sand for too long. You need to make sure that you take some time to get away and revisit or revise your long term goals. It is easy to ignore when scrambling to make ends meet, grow the business, keep customers happy and try to have some sort of life on top of it. Plan for the long term as if all of your customers are going away and your marketplace is drying up. What would you do if what you did or sold suddenly became obsolete? Find some other baskets and plan to move your eggs around from time to time. I’m not suggesting you stop what you are doing now, just that your eyes need to be open and you shouldn’t assume anything.

Focus and Effectiveness in difficult times

Times are tough (getting better though), there is no question about that… Remaining focused requires self-discipline and organization.

Being an entrepreneur often comes with the curse of too much idea flow and not enough time to execute on all (or even some) of them.  I wrote a bit about that in a previous post Young Entrepreneurs – Great new ideas and this problem spills over into just about every facet of daily operations and effectiveness. Tough times in business and particularly when coupled with tough times economically compound this as a problem unless addressed and overcome (if even just temporarily).

As I mentioned to the staff the other day, despite the inconvenience and and struggles that have accompanied the current state of the economy and business in general, I am grateful in a way and proud of how the company (VoIP Supply) has reacted and how my employees have adjusted both professionally and personally. Why?

Internally, the past six months has redefined the day and how it needs to be approached in order to be an effective and productive day, as focused and efficient as possible so as to squeak out every last ounce of forward progress. Considering our reduced headcount, for the most part and on most days, my team and I have managed to adjust and prioritize in order to consistently accomplish this. How?

Limited distractions. We have contracted into our core and in such we require a lot less manpower to complete the same volume of transactions while continuing to refine and improve our content, competitive positioning, marketing initiatives, internal automation and efficiency improvements. It is remarkable how much more time in the day there is when you don’t have 2-3 meetings to review project status and plan for future projects. We scrapped a lot of non-essential projects that were of little immediate impact or relevance to our core business and in doing so reduced our overhead needs while improving the efficiency of that which remained.

Pre-digesting the day. For me, it has often been very helpful to look at what I have planned for the day, week, month, etc. and break them down into the smallest pieces possible. Breaking down a week long project into hourly or daily mini-projects helps to decrease the distractions, remain focused and effective, provide a frequent and recurring sense of accomplishment that in and of itself is propulsion enough to move to the next task and repeat the cycle. A great approach to use is the project management method of Scrum. Google it, it is very helpful for project organization and management.

Be positive, focus on it and reinforce it for others. It isn’t hard to be sideswiped these days by bad news, difficult circumstances and tough choices and each has the potential to kill any positive attitude you had at the time. Everything happens for a reason and getting through the issue will likely make you stronger, wiser or both. Everyone around you is also going through similar times, so try to keep that in mind and project a helpful and positive attitude rather than spread any negativity that you might be feeling in your own life. It is very difficult to be creative and productive when you are dwelling on negative aspects of life and work.

Some other simple ways to help remain focused and effective all of the time…

  • Use a calendar with reminders. Outlook works for me, there are plenty of others out there such as Google calendar. Schedule your projects, tasks, due dates, reminders, and of course your appointments. Staying organized and on time helps to be focused and effective.
  • Daily to-do lists. I maintain a book or two of backlogged tasks, but each day I pick a few to work on and hopefully break apart into bite sized pieces I can complete that day. Crossing each one off is a confidence boost and positive reinforcement of being organized, focused and effective.
  • Step back and relax a bit. Not too much, but face into the monitor all day will wear you down. It is often easier to see and solve some problems and maintain mental organization by taking a step back and looking around, talking with peers and relaxing when possible.

A lot of this is simple stuff and common sense in general, but even as I write this I am reminded of how easy it is to become abosrbed in something, distracted by something else and end the day completely unproductive and perhaps more disorganized than when the day began. I often write this stuff as much for my own mental organization as I do for any other reason(s). Common sense seems to be lost these days anyway, too much going on, too fast a pace and not enough time to think in advance.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Last I checked I really didn’t like Tim Ferriss. Three things intertwine within this post.

  1. I’m warming up to Mr. Ferriss by giving him a second chance. Let’s not assume you get one.
  2. Perhaps determination was perceived as arrogance because I wasn’t engaged or paying enough attention to something deeper than my then current state of mind. Where else has this happened?
  3. Setting a record breaking pace is not likely the most efficient way to produce results. “Patience young grasshopper” is pretty good advice.

I was told that short blog posts were important if you want to keep readers engaged. See number 2 above.

This post stems from a sixteen minute video on TED, one of the better content sites out there in my opinion. Here is what got this started: Tim Ferriss: Smash fear, learn anything. This video along with many I’ve seen on TED blazes by and does not leave much time to analyze or digest what you’ve taken in. I find that many of them require multiple viewings or at least a glass of wine and some time to think.

Alright, to expand on the thoughts rolling around upstairs. I saw Mr. Ferriss at a trade show last year and walked out of his speech about 5 minutes into it. Why? He was unbelievably arrogant. So what if he’s done X and Y, he could be more humble about it. Arrogant people suck. That’s been my opinion of him for a while now, until tonight. While he may still come across as arrogant in this video, I have to admire what he has done and the determination he employed to reach his goals. More than likely it is envy on my part that he can focus, deconstruct and rebuilt successfully in a short attention span world. Telling someone that you know six languages fluently and that you have a world record in ball room dancing is going to come off as arrogant in my book no matter how you spin it, until the time is taken to contemplate how much work must have gone into achieving those results. It isn’t like he boastfully said he had a different car for each day of the week knowing full-well that daddy’s trust fund paid for them. In short, I wrote him off as an arrogant jerk and am happy to watch the video and receive some inspiration rather then irritation. While your first impression is nearly always the lasting impression, note that it is possible to warm up and change the way you are perceived.

Lastly, none of these accomplishments happened overnight but required focus and efficiency.Taking on a million projects and trying to get to the finish line as fast as possible has been fun on many occasions, but as he has accomplished his goals (or perhaps as I get older) the reality of the situation is that patience, determination and focused effort will (and does) yield far more steady and significant results. Determine the problem or fear, break it down and figure out its components, seek guidance from experts, devise a plan, execute and complete the project and enjoy your success. A slow motion approach may not help if you are trying to put out a fire, but when trying to fix, improve and build, it makes a lot of sense.

I’m not his pitch-man and merely wrote the post to clear my mind and share the TED website as I’d hope others would enjoy and recieve valuable knowledge.