Business advice


Stop sacrificing yourself on the corporate altar
December 31, 2007, 1:48 am
Filed under: Business Advice

We have all met work alcoholics at some point in our lives. We all know that lawyers work an awful amount of hours. They spend daytime in court and most of the night doing the research for what happened in court. No one has found a way to get around that issue.

Then, there are doctors who work non stop. Why someone invented the system for them working for several days in a row is beyond me. I certainly wouldn’t want an exhausted one treating me.

I have a friend who tutored California Toyota employees in English. From his conversations with them, he quickly learned that they barely ever went home. They had to make it to their next extravagant vacation, paid by the company, of course.

Well, it seems that in Japan, Toyota and other similar corporations take this to a new level. They overwork (they call it ‘free overtime) their employees to the extent they are dropping dead. This is happening so frequently, they now have a name for it: karoshi, which literally means “death by overwork.” It was recognized as a legal cause of death in the 1980s.

If the court finds in a family’s favor, the surviving members may receive a compensation of $20,000 a year from the government and sometimes up to $1M from the company involved. This is all discussed in a recent “Economist” article.

The article cites an example of a 30-year-old Toyota employee who dropped dead at work at 4 a.m. The man had worked 80 hours of overtime for the prior six months. He had recently commented to his wife that he was the happiest when he had time to rest. He left two children, aged three and one.

This is a travesty that is being played out at our point in corporate history. Workers are walking voluntarily to corporate slaughter. Those yearning to be partners in their law firms go along with the tradition. You don’t seeing anyone volunteering to stand up and say ‘we are going to do it different here.’

Free overtime has been imposed on salaried workers in this country for a very long time. Many employees felt as if they had gained status when they were no longer an hourly employee. It didn’t hit them until it was too late that the company now had the ability to call them into work anytime there was an emergency or something extra needed completing. My youngest son dealt with the salaried employee situation in a way that makes me stand up and shout. After having received general manager status in a very big fast food chain, he quickly tired of having to work additional hours for no extra money. Luckily, this company had a tuition reimbursement program. He had a goal for another profession. He stayed working for the ‘man’ long enough for them to pay for his two year college degree and quickly left thereafter.

Now, we need some publicity on this craziness in this country. In order for that to happen, someone has to have the guts to stand up and say no more.

A little reality check will also help. It used to be an honorable thing to be a loyal employee to any company, long hours or not. No sacrifice was too great for the ‘job.’ Companies are no longer loyal to their employees and are quick with the layoffs and downsizing.

In our day and age, the only thing extreme loyalty and hard work for a company is likely to get you is an early death.

For more examples of my work: http://www.bellbusinessreport.com

Laura Bell
writer@well.com

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Are rising prices just a fact of life?
December 26, 2007, 12:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I had been doing a lot of thinking about rising prices lately. I realized that low-end cars in today’s market cost as much as my first house. I took this dilemma to one of the social networking groups.

I was dismayed at the answers I received. It seemed to be a question which touched a lot nerves very quickly. I would say that close to 90 per cent concluded that rising prices was just an inevitable as changes in the weather.

What’s more many seemed convinced that if one did the ratios between what one earned and what one paid for housing between 1965 and the present they would get the same answers. I don’t think so. They wanted to convince themselves they were no worse off than folks in the 60s. All I can say is dream on.

In 1965 I was paying 20 per cent of my earnings on rent. In 1992, I was paying 40 per cent. I am currently paying 59 per cent.

Then, there was the issue about the cars. I had a dozen replies trying to convince me that one in 1965 had to work just as hard to buy a car than they do now. Of course, I was overlooking the facts that cars now have a higher value because of all the bells and whistles. Yeah right. It can take up to five years to pay off a car. My car note was $36 a month for two years. Read the numbers again if you are shocked. Car payments today are close to what we used to pay for rent.

When a market goes haywire, you do not have to sit still and do nothing. Recently the Hollywood writers’ strike has gotten a lot of press. It’s obvious that Hollywood writers for the most part are never happy. A small article caught my eye this past week. A number of them are negotiating with venture capitalists in an effort to by past the studios. If they get the financing, they will write and produce and put the movies directly on the Internet. This is a dramatic attempt at creating a new market and avoiding middlemen who became too cumbersome.

There is no way to get completely around food prices unless you happen to own a very profitable ranch. But, you can take extra care to shop at places that offer prices under the usual. There are 99 cents stores in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. They started in 1982 and are still expanding. In other states, there are Dollar Stores. (This is not an attempt to promote either) I have recently moved and am now shopping regularly at the 99 cents store again. It’s saving me about $50 a month.

When there is a demand for a product and a market doesn’t exist, or the one that does is a mess, the consumers will find a way to make it happen. Back in the days that the Central Committee controlled what was bought and sold in Russia, there was an ongoing black market for jeans. The demand was so high no one dared to put a thumbs down on the selling which was done out in the open on the sidewalks of Moscow.

If city governments decided enough was enough with the problem of traffic, they could make a good faith effort in making a big difference. All that it would take is an ordinance mandating all businesses within city limits allocated a good percentage of work to be done by telecommuting. Even customer support is now being handled by a few workers every week out of their home. There was once predictions that the freeway on the way to downtown Los Angeles would be so empty by the year 2000, you could walk down the middle of it.

If you know someone with a garden, you might find a way to save on vegetables and fruits. I can’t think of a better way to get kids working than showing them what can happen when working a garden.

There isn’t a market niche that push come to shove will not change if the prices go too high. (An example used in econ textbooks: if the man selling ice cream and soda at the beach on a hot day goes to high with his prices, someone will start collecting money and go to the store.) We need more aggressive consumers. Haven’t you had enough yet?

You can find more samples of my work at: http://www.bellbusinessreport.com

Laura Bell
writer@well.com

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Escalating food prices
December 20, 2007, 3:36 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The latest “Economist” issue has details of unheard of before prices. “In early September the world price of wheat rose to $400 a ton, the largest ever recorded.” In May, it was only $200. “The Economist’s food-price index is the highest since it began in 1845, having risen by a third in the past year.”

The article goes on to explain that such high prices usually occur when there have been droughts and we are living off our reserves, not this time. There is an increase in the wealth of China and India. This is causing a higher demand for meat. This also effects what has to happen in order to keep the animals ready for slaughter, an increase in the need for grains. You know the stuff they feed the animals. There is also an increase in the demand for corn because of the Ethanol issue.

They ranted on longer, but bottom line is their prediction is we are facing the end of ‘cheap food,” their wording.

Even though some countries are trying to protect their consumers by invoking price controls, this is not a long-term answer. The increase in demand for both meat and grains is depleting our reserves. We aren’t keeping up with the demand. A very bleak picture. Especially, if after depleting reserves, a few years of drought come along.

This all boils down to my suggestion of how one might still be able to bring in profit by owning real property despite the mess in that market. One of the side benefits to owning property is that is not only an investment but you also got a place to live out of the deal. How about considering buying a place where there is enough room to start a community garden. According to ask.com, there are 70 of them in the Denver area alone.

There are grants available for those wanting to start or keep one organized. There are even various associations to help with one’s various gardening needs.

I read one article where it illustrated the distribution of the food; most were for non profit needs. But there is nothing keeping you from launching one in keeping with your own goals. Of course, it would be a good idea to see if your particular city has any rules or ordinances regarding such gardens.

I can guarantee you that escalating food prices will continue. There is a bright side to the mess in the real estate. Consumers finally said enough is enough. Their actions say this when they refuse to continue to buy property at ridiculous prices. Thank goodness. Now that happened maybe the consumers will have enough gumption to try and do something about how they obtain their food, as in change their previous habits.

Growing your own food is time consuming and probably something most over tired folks don’t want to add their already full schedule. Let’s keep in that this could be a project that will generate non-stop cash flow. Our population is not going to stop wanting food. Whatever you produce is going to have an ongoing demand. It will be money in the bag, sort to speak.

I realize that establishing a community garden is not something that can happen overnight. I did find quite a bit of information on the subject when I went to ask.com and typed, “how popular are community garden?”

If you feel like this is too much to do on your own, go to a local senior center, a library or other community groups and see how many you can recruit. It could be someone already has some land. It might turn out to be that someone knows where you can buy the land and you end forming a group/organization to make it happen.

If you are well off enough on your own to buy land, I highly suggest you giving this some consideration. This could be the project for 2008.

For further samples of my work: http://www.bellbusinessreport.com

Laura Bell
writer@well.com

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Year-end thoughts
December 14, 2007, 1:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I don’t put too much credence in the annual pontifications for the future. Despite the models they quote, numbers never tell the whole story.

The usual will include changes in the GDP (gross domestic product), the CPI (consumer price index), changes in unemployment, and the ups and downs of the housing industry along with the problems in the credit market.

The problem with these reports is no one ever factors in the variables. This past year has probably thrown more variables in the economy’s health since the beginning of the depression.

Areas to look out for include unemployment. We wouldn’t know for awhile as how much of this sector was contributed to by the crunch in the housing industry. I realize that real estate agents and brokers are self-employed. There is a long list of others who aren’t going to work if houses continue staying on the market. That includes construction workers, loan officers, appraisers, and real estate office support staff. So no matter how the unemployment numbers end up for the last quarter, there are variables that aren’t being reflected in the stats.

I just ran across a story which inferred that the credit card companies may also be raising their rates and attempting to dump their less valuable customers. If this is happens, heaven help us.

The economy niches that undergo this kind of annual scrutiny are important when trying to get a picture of what next. If the GDP is smaller, it means not as much was manufactured. Less being bought means folks are holding onto their money longer and can, if continued, create a liquidity crisis. When that happens, sales people come out with four barrels blasting willing to do anything to get your money.

Previously, movements in unemployment, CPI and/or GNP would generate predictions of recessions, slowdowns or fears of new inflation. My key idea is to say, well probably not. Don’t be so fast to jump to conclusions. If you see, for instance, that unemployment has risen higher than expected, look into what happened in various industries that contributed to it. As of now, that would be real estate and the Hollywood writers.

I am sure there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth about interest rates and various price rises.

In the near future there will also be predictions as to what presidential candidate will be best for the nation’s economy. Watch for Wall Street to react to early predictions. Don’t pay too much attention until it gets closer to the election.

What can you reasonably conclude for all these numbers? If the CPI rose, it means price rises are probably going to continue. The cost of getting loans will also go up. Increasing prices on your product line will probably work.

If unemployment is predicted to continue, it should give you a good idea that a) finding a job is going to be harder, but b) if you are looking to hire, it just might be easier than you thought.

You can gather guidelines for the upcoming year from these forecasts. However, predictions from this year’s year-end reports need to be taken with more care because of the credit crunch. If it truly spreads to the credit card arena, this next year is going to see a large downturn in the luxury goods niche. (Goods you would like to have, but can live without.) I am sure this will also fall over onto the durable goods niche. (These are goods that hopefully last longer than it takes you to pay for them.)

Don’t make any definitive decisions on the reported stats. Use them as a guideline. Don’t make any long term business decisions that you can’t get out of. Take a wait and see attitude about next year.

For samples of my work: http://www.bellbusinessreport.com

Laura Bell
writer@wel.com

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The Second Generation
December 12, 2007, 8:02 pm
Filed under: Blogroll, Business Advice

Got your business going? You then need to plan for the second generation.

We know that Bill Gates and company have a firm grip on that concept. Otherwise an operating system called Vista wouldn’t exist.

We are also aware all the cell phone companies are in the next generation race with all their might. They aren’t willing to allow someone else to beat them out with a new application. It has become an annual race. The techie media wait with baited breath to see what’s going to happen next.

Every business owner is not going to sell something as exciting as a new application for cell phones. It doesn’t matter. Once you are in a business and have a name for yourself, the world at whole is wondering what you are going to do next.

What comes next can refer to a new and improved version of your widget or just simply another application to the business you already have going. It boils down to expanding current sales. When it comes to the techie end of the world, it means convincing the folks to upgrade. All business is not going to be in the upgrading niche. However, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to plan for what you are going to do next.

I once knew a fairly successful computer guy who created personalized software for small business owners. The problem was he wasn’t able to take on a partner, which would have been necessary for expansion. A partner would have meant warranty policies sold to old and new customers. The way the business was configured it was next to impossible for expansion.

I heard the story from SCORE about a bakery owner who, in an attempt to shave costs, only hired non union drivers. The problem, they were only allowed to drive in the city or the union drivers would come down on them. The owner had planned to keep his business from growing.

Have a successful web design company? How about taking your knowledge to an adult education program and teach a class. Create your own CD that can be sold off your website. Folks are into ‘do-it-yourself’ projects. This way you would be bringing in cash flow from a niche you might never be able to penetrate.

Selling handmade baby products? Create a line for the toddler stage. That way you keep your original customers and open the doors for those who didn’t find you when their child was in the infant stage.

Planning for the next generation gives you a more than a better shot at staying in the game you started in your launch phase. Don’t fall victim to being so overwhelmed with this phase of your business that you fail to see what should happen next. If you can’t deal with the future planning, find a way to out-source it. We can’t forget that failing to plan is unfortunately planning to fail.

For more samples of my work: http://www.bellbusinessreport.com

Laura Bell
writer@well.com

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Montel Williams and profits
December 5, 2007, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Business Advice

In case you don’t take time out of your life to watch prime time television, Montel Williams is a spokesperson for the company who helps low-income people get their drugs, the Patients Assistance Program. It was put together by various drug companies.

There was a flurry of reports in the blogs and other news outlets who are crying for something to write about. A college newspaper reporter asked Williams during a publicity tour, if he, Williams, thought pharmaceutical companies would be as interested in research and development if their profits were limited/capped. Williams reacted in a cranky manner and is now at the middle of a controversy. It would be so nice if the gatekeepers knew what the story really was.

No company is going to be interested in research and development if their profits are limited. Why? It’s just economics. The only incentive for business owners to make better or different products is so they continue their business and make their stock holders happy.

Thanks to research and development in the pharmaceutical industry there is now more help for those with diabetes, a pill to diminish the effects of Alzheimer’s and those are just a couple of the breakthroughs during the last few years.

The question poised the college student is evidence of a complete misunderstanding by the general public about the place of profits in a market-based economy. No company would pursue research and development if they didn’t think they could reap the benefits.

Folks have forgotten the lesson of what happened in Russia under the older regime of the central market committee. Our good friends on 60 Minutes thought this event worthy of coverage some years back. The problem was that no one left on the farms after the change-over knew how to operate the machinery to get the milking done or deal with the crops. The information on how to manage these tasks was not passed onto the next generation. They weren’t interested because they knew it was a thankless task. Work the field and milk the cows and you still are only allowed to keep what the State dictates. Find a new and more efficient way to make this happen and you still only reap the same reward. The younger generation saw what was happening and decided they weren’t going to play.

The general population simply doesn’t understand that profits make the world of business go around. There is nothing inherently evil about profits. Let’s think about what happen if profits were capped or limited in anyway.

Companies would not expand. This would limit jobs and expansion of the gross national project. This boils down to there being less for everyone. There has to be profits at the top of the chain in order for the rest of us to benefit. Putting a cap on anyone’s profits would change the life we have known throughout the history of our country.

I am not saying that CEOs and other top execs don’t sometimes get away with outlandish rewards for their position, but capping profits is not the way to fix that problem. We don’t want the economy, or for that fact, any one industry to stand still. It would be disastrous to say the least. Humans need to be constantly reminded not to through the baby out with the bath water.

For more samples of my work go to: http://www.bellbusinessreport.com

Laura Bell
writer@well.com

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