• How to Get Stuff Done

    The thing I like about running [read: jogging slowly] is that everyone on the trail with you has the same goal and the same problems that you do. Finish without puking, cramping or asphyxiating. Finishing is relative to each individual. Maybe it’s just a mile, a hundred yard sprint or the last 0.2 miles after 26 before it. The real beauty in this system is what you get to think about while you’re running. All else being equal, you’re now free to let your mind wander; or just wonder.

    Today (Sunday) was one of those days for me. I put on my shoes and got back on the proverbial saddle. With a sizable storm front on the way, I knew I had to get to the trail and just run without worry, else I might get caught in the rain. When I was running regularly I started by using time based milestones. Run four minutes, walk two. Run five, walk two – or some combination of that. It got me moving but not with satisfying results. During the run, I’d constantly look at my watch as I searched for the last few seconds that signaled my stopping point. During the walking phase, I’d dread the last few seconds of the slower pace before I had to suck it up and hustle.

    Somewhere along the way I switched to a mile-marker based goal. I’d run say 3/4 of a mile and then walk the last quarter. The runs felt faster and less like a forced chore. To those of you that run regularly, it may come as no surprise that my speed and times improved remarkably. I think it’s a mentally tougher way to run until you get used to the pace and your stride. Time then becomes not a measure, but a marker. I can pick a shuffling speed and know with a fair amount of accuracy what my mile time is when I pass a distance marker. It’s a lot better way to gauge where you’re at because despite how long you’ve run, you still have to make the loop back to where you parked your truck.

    I think this anecdote can be applied to how we work as well. Americans, in general, are well known for working late hours to get things done. However worker bees joke about our nature to just punch the clock and leave when time dictates, rather than the completion of a milestone task. Sure, sometimes our real life sets the clock for us – leave at 5pm to pick up the kids, go to the ballet, you name it. This doesn’t mean that we can’t let our work throughout the day be task driven rather than time driven. Email? Answer ten of them (also, prioritize your emails by urgency and importance). Need to rip 100 board feet of hard maple? Finish it, then take a break when you’re done. Your sense of accomplishment will soar and you won’t have the hurdle of motivating yourself to start back up after you’ve cooled off halfway through.

    Another fantastic benefit, especially when you start out and everything you do is a learning experience, is that you are better able to track how long tasks take to accomplish. When you set out to run for 10 minutes, you may have an inkling that you’d like to travel one mile. As you approach the ten minute mark you’ll find yourself constantly looking at your watch and searching for the mile marker. Your mind shifts your pace to squeeze in that mile before time runs out. No, not the worst thing in the world to push yourself, but not a great way to figure out your natural stride. Business is often an endurance race, not a sprint, and you need to know how much you can get done without burning out in a fiery tempest.

    I think that this line of thinking was inspired by a book I’m currently reading written by Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk. The book is a bit “fluffy” but does paint a picture of the hard work necessary to get an enterprise off the ground. Elon seems to work until the job is done, yes, often to the point of sacrificing family and friends, yet he changed the banking industry, sends rockets to space and brought cool electric cars to market. Despite your feelings on it, I urge you to try this tactic for a week or so and see how your productivity changes. If you’re feeling really frisky, check out the book, available from Amazon.

    Lastly, don’t forget that your franchise, Texas state quarterly sales and use and personal income taxes are due within the next few weeks!!

  • Pay Yourself First

    The single hardest part of any business, big or small, new or old, has got to be how much to charge for your services. Too high, and you don’t win the job. Too low and you don’t last the year. You’ve got to be competitive as a new entity yet keep cash flow high enough that you can pay your overhead and afford yourself some much needed growth. For me, growth comes in hiring people and buying tools that make my job easier while allowing for more complex designs.

    Even if you’ve figured out the magic formula that balances all of those variables and you are running steadily in the black, you’ve now got to start thinking about the benefits that you lost when you left your corporate job and started entrepreneurship. Most notable of those, especially for me, is the loss of a formal retirement plan. Paying for that type of benefit is fully up to you, the business owner. You don’t have to, choosing instead to keep your cash in the business or even just use it to make ends meet.

    That’s when all of these financial gurus decided to coin the term “pay yourself first”. It’s a great idea, especially in theory. You need to save for the future, especially if your fledgling business isn’t a cash cow or likely subject for a multi-million dollar buyout by Asian investors (not applicable to furniture builders).

    As a risk taking entrepreneur, the thought of saving money and/or making money is appealing and you’re probably perking up right now. Pay myself? Money, for me? Well, yes. The most literal sense of that phrase is to set aside (hopefully using auto-draft) money for retirement before you pay suppliers, bills, rent – anything. This guarantees your future, especially since most bills have some kind of net 30 payment terms anyways (you shouldn’t use that, by the way).

    How to do it

    It should be no surprise to you that I have an interesting twist on this little financial anecdote. Here’s why:

    When I submitted my first few proposals I essentially figured the cost of materials and a few hard money line items like a truck rental and delivery fees and then I just added as much money as I thought the client would let me get away with. A popular way to bid work is to double the material costs and then add in a small percentage. People say that at least guarantees that you won’t lose money. This is true – you won’t lose money and your checks won’t bounce, but you’re left with a pot of money that doesn’t reflect the time spent or thought to paying yourself first, a la retirement savings. Without a lot of experience it’s pretty tough to formulate a bid any other way. You don’t know how long things take, nor can you anticipate all of the ancillary costs that creep up.

    Lately, I pay myself first by estimating the work required for the proposed job and paying myself a fair wage for doing that work. Added to material costs and overhead is profit, resulting in a net proposed price. This way, I ensure that I can earn a basic living with adjustments made to gross profit margins. This model, while sounding simple, is a bit challenging to get the hang of. Not so surprisingly, it’s how proposals work for at least the good companies (I’ve worked for some where we just guessed). This line of thinking makes a lot of sense to me and really helps my bids to be competitive. I may have a decent amount of experience and used to charge close to $300/hr for engineering work but some days I’m a welder whose average shop rate is roughly $25/hr for GMAW work.

    You can’t be a competitive welder at $300/hr. I’m sorry, it just won’t work out. My trick is to break my work into three categories: design, welding and woodworking. I then estimate how long I’ll spend in wearing which hat and apply my hourly rate to the proposal price. You then get a base price that you add profit to. It’s much easier to negotiate your price (read “lower”) when you are just dealing with seeing your estimated profit change. You are still guaranteed that you will make a reasonable wage doing a reasonable task. Even better, you know you can hire a contractor to help you while you work on the next project. Pay yourself first. That money is then used to pay your bills, leaving profits for business and personal growth, just like you always wanted out of being your own boss.

     

    In other news – I’ve just started using an online accounting platform called Wave. It’s made for small businesses and uses a pretty neat business model. More to come as I get more time behind the wheel.

    In even more news, and as a follow-up to this post, I’m meeting with my banker to discuss creating a retirement plan for myself. It’s looking like small business plans are very, very favorable and might be something to consider.

  • Back to the Future

    My last post generated just the right amount of negative commentary for my tastes. Some people thought I was just poking a stick in their eye. Others thought that I wasn’t talking nonsense and was just reinforcing the framework of their lives. Either way, I leave you with this in conclusion: the only, in my opinion, good self help book is a how to book. If I ever feel that I need help I’ve never once considered emotional help but rather I look for the tools to help me climb that mountain. How to tie knots. How to make snow shoes. I don’t look up how to feel like a winner. You’ll feel like a winner on top of that summit. Now let’s talk about going back to the future. Continue Reading

  • [not] Self Help

    The irony isn’t lost on me that at the exact time I start to ponder, and get into discussions with others, regarding attitude and self help topics, the new year and it’s burdensome “new you” resolutions are upon us. Like most thought exercises, the kickoff came from a small talk comment that exploded into something more. Call it a rant; I call it philosophy. Continue Reading

  • firewood Toe-MAY-toe vs. Toe-MAH-toe

    The story begins like this: At a small, and no doubt Southern Baptist, church in the hills of Appalachians a fire and brimstone travelling revival preacher had come to save the masses. Continue Reading

  • Know What You Are (Not)

    One of the best, in my opinion, entrepreneurial books of all time was written by a guy that started out a lot like me. Dreaming big, starting small. He had a new concept and the drive to see it come to fruition. The book doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about business plans, marketing strategies or keeping the books. You see, this book is about brewing beer.

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  • On Travel and Occupying Your Time

    Tonight I’m headed overseas and thought that I’d like to share the few things I routinely do or bring with me when I take a trip overseas. As I’ve traveled more and more I tend to pack less and less. You probably notice that about yourself. Your first European trip you might have brought two outfits for every day. Your third trip saw you packing underwear and two t-shirts.

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  • Drop Some Knowledge

    Very often I am asked where I learned how to build furniture (or weld or build anything). Fortunately for us living in the Internet age you can all share in the love and knowledge. Books, videos, blogs – you name it – this woodworker is baring all.

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  • What You (Don’t) Need

    Way back, I wrote a little bit about my favorite notebook. The great thing about a notebook, and a blog too in some ways, is when you take a moment to open it to the beginning and look back at where you started. In mine, I like to not only record my ideas but what I was thinking or doing at the time too.

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  • (Un) Inspired

    It’s finally happened. Writer’s block. Blank slate. Alpha – no omega. Carpe nothing. I didn’t think this day would happen. I didn’t read, see or do anything that triggered a thought that caused the old lady to swallow the fly – perhaps I’ll die. So today, we’ll talk about being (un) inspired.

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