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Make the decision – be a leader

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=sailing+boat&iid=7204341″ src=”1/e/5/9/Outdoor_Sports_1706.jpg?adImageId=8930591&imageId=7204341″ width=”234″ height=”373″ /]Before you set sail it is probably a good idea to know where you’re going.  In fact, it is probably an even better idea to know if a sail boat will get you there faster or more comfortably than a train.  Or an airliner.  Or even an automobile.  Before you set sail you have to decide if sailing is the best use of your time.  You have to decide if leaving on a Tuesday is better than on a Thursday or if you should sail solo or with a friend.  Lots of decisions to make before heading out on a journey.

Business is not different than sailing in this regard.  Every business has a leader and the leader must make decisions regarding direction and timing.  Oh, he or she gets input from everything and everyone from the Farmers Almanac to the bookkeeper.  Shall you travel north next Tuesday? Well, only if the weather is good and the chores are done and you have the extra cash.

Leadership involves making decisions. And making a decision is the single most difficult task a leader must do.  Let’s look at a couple scenarios.

Scenario One: you and two buddies have a fantastic idea for a business.  You thought up a clever gizmo that will revolutionize the internet and your two friends have some money to throw in and some expertise.  One friend is great with numbers and the other is a super salesman.  However, the business dream is yours and mantle of leadership falls on you.  You get input from your friends and research you’ve done, but you have to decide:

  • what the business will look like
  • when to launch the business and where
  • what aspect of the gizmo to spend this year’s budget on
  • where to best use your sales efforts
  • how to spend your capital

None of these decisions is easy and the business will go nowhere until the decisions are made.  But it’s the making the decision process itself that causes the most stress and anguish.

Scenario Two: you and your buddies have been in business now for five years and are making an annual profit.  You are able to offer your employees good benefits and you were able to finally take a vacation.  One of the friends asks you: now what?  Now where do we go with this gizmo?  They are wanting to know if you want to take the next step of growth in the business through innovation and expansion into new markets.  There is risk involved.  What will happen if you take on the added expense of research and development and speculation?  What would happen if you don’t?  As the leader you have to decide:

  • how big you want your company to be
  • how diversified you want your product offerings to be
  • if the risk of expansion is worth the cost, time and effort

To be a good leader, you have to decide to lead.  What that means to a business is:

  • the leader holds the vision for the business – ‘this is who we are, what we stand for and what we look like’
  • the leader sets the direction – ‘this is where we are now and where we’re headed and hope to be in ten years’
  • the leader is willing to alter course – this could be necessary due to outside economic factors or due to rising opportunities
  • the leader is willing to make the decision to hold or fold [in this lies the interesting thought that maybe a business has a life span…when is it time to retire not just the human element, but the business itself? – that’s grist for a whole ‘nother post]

“…Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall….” Stephen R. Covey.

Even a home-based business person has to shoulder the daily decision of upon which wall to lean the ladder.  And sometimes those decisions just aren’t easy to make.  However, once made, it’s all management the rest of the way.

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Is your business on the Highway or the Byway?

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=highway+signs&iid=259699″ src=”0256/8cc02d39-2a22-43c0-ba77-ab28011c1391.jpg?adImageId=8890792&imageId=259699″ width=”234″ height=”158″ /]We all can admit that 2010 is going to be an uphill climb for businesses of all kinds and sizes.  Doesn’t matter if you are a solo-preneur or a global conglomerate with 20,000 employees…it’s an uphill climb.  And maybe now, this week, maybe even today, you decide on which road you will travel: the highway or the byway.

The highway is a main public road that connects one town or city with another.  It’s an artery connecting people one to another making commerce both possible and efficient.  The byway is a little out-of-the-way side road.  It is little traveled and isn’t really meant to be a commercial artery.

There was a feature story in my newspaper’s business section this morning that showcased a small family business that I believe is on the highway.  To me, some of the signposts of being on the highway are:

  • a dream and passion for the business
  • determination to make the business work
  • great customer service
  • offering added value

The article by David Morrill, Contra Costa Times, is titled “Vacuum center owner on job 7 days a week,” [different title in online version].  In reading the article, I find that Mr. Raees Iqbal’s business, Western Vacuum & Sewing Center, is not only traveling on the highway, Mr. Iqbal carries all the signposts. [from the article]

  • a dream and passion for the business – “…‘It’s great to be able to offer something that every single house needs,’ he said. ‘We give them good dependable vacuum cleaners to help keep their homes clean….'”
  • a determination to make the business work – “…Raees Iqbal keeps the doors open seven days a week. And he works nearly every day…’Right now we are just trying to hang out here and make it work,” Iqbal said. “I’m going to do everything I can to keep it going….'”
  • great customer service – “…Iqbal knows his company needs to be on top of the industry. Every vacuum cleaner brand that comes in, he needs to be able to fix. If a customer needs a part, it has to be on the shelf.…”
  • offering added value – “…’We have to treat everybody like they’re VIP,’ he said….”

These signposts of being on the highway are no guarantee of success certainly.  They are, however, indicators that the business is making every effort to be alive and vibrant.  Just like Mr. Iqbal is quoted in Mr. Morrill’s story, he’s willing to do what he must to keep his business going.  The article is not a long or comprehensive one, but Mr. Morrill gave a pretty clear picture of one small business owner’s strategy for 2010:

  • be available to customers – keeping his store open 7 days a week is one way
  • provide needed services onsite – keeping up-to-date on his industry and keeping his shelves stocked with parts
  • have a customer-centered business – in his own words, “…treat everybody like they’re VIP….”
  • keep the dream alive – “‘…make sure that you are really passionate about what you want to do and have a whole lot of patience.…'”

Not to put too fine a point on it and turn this into nothing but flowery prose I think what’s important for all of us who own businesses and wish to remain in business this year is to determine what we’re going to be willing to do to stay on the highway and off the side roads: defining the dream and vision; knowing our industry and products and services inside and out; offering customers quality care and added value…and hanging in there.

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Let’s make Courtesy the Hallmark in Business for 2010

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=new+years+++ball+2010&iid=7442881″ src=”8/a/6/2/Ball_Drop_In_dc39.jpg?adImageId=8778463&imageId=7442881″ width=”234″ height=”351″ /]A hallmark is a distinctive characteristic or attribute.  Kind of like a stamp used on gold and silver coins to mark them for purity and excellence.  If you get a gold coin with this hallmark, then you know it’s pure.

Courtesy, in a simple definition, is a polite gesture.  You say “thanks” when someone picks up the coin you dropped on the floor at the cash register or you say “no, you go first” when approaching a door and the person next to you has their hands loaded with packages.  Simple courtesy.

Since we just finished the major shopping season of the year for 2009 and most of us braved the stores amid madding crowds I wonder if you can recall moments of simple courtesy?  How many business people extended courtesy when the crowds were at their crush-iest and most demanding?  And, did you return courtesy for courtesy?  One example I participated in was to allow a pedestrian to cross the lane in a busy shopping center…I could have just plowed ahead pretending not to see this woman standing there hoping for a break in traffic.  But I reasoned that if it were me, I sure would appreciate having a car stop so I could cross…so I stopped.  She not only acknowledged my effort at courtesy, she returned it by saying loudly, “thank you so much.”

Last year, 2009, wasn’t a fun year in business.  Not a jolly year for the economy.  Too many people suffered job loss and paycheck shrinkage.  2010 may not be much better.   What could be better, however, is our combined efforts at being kind one to another.

  • sales staff people could acknowledge shoppers with a smile and a “how is your day?”
  • counter staff people could say “thank you for your business” and “is there any other way I can be of service today?”
  • on-site managers could both be kind to the employees and the customers – give the employees much needed positive reinforcement such as “you did a great job on that report,” or “I appreciate how you handled that situation with that customer,” or even “is there anything I can do to make your job easier?” [in some cases this could be a better chair or new keyboard or some added training]; the on-site manager could come out of his or her office and help customers…in a retail setting, the manager does not get sales compensation and shouldn’t take anything away from the commission-earning sales staff, but maybe the manager could help to tidy up the sales counter or do a little stocking of shelves to help
  • business leaders could literally lead in this effort by making courtesy a hallmark of doing business this year: acknowledge that raises may not come this year and no one might get a bonus, but that doesn’t mean that positive reinforcement needs to dry up.  Business leaders could do everything within their current budget creatively to make their businesses a positive place to work for the employees and a positive place for customers and clients to do business
  • solo-preneurs [single person businesses and home-based business owners] can also adopt the hallmark of courtesy in their relations with clients, customers, suppliers and competitors

What about the consumer? I’m not leaving them out either.  We’re all consumers, every one of us.  We all shop at the grocery store and gas station.  We all purchase food for our pets and visit our health care providers.  In every instance we can say “thank you for taking your time,” and “I appreciate your finding this,” and “yes, please” and even “no, thank you.”

Simple courtesy practiced and perfected by all of us on both sides of the business plate just might make this New Year a bit more pleasant for all.

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How to build Brand Trust

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”false” link=”term=sears&iid=6092209″ src=”3/d/5/b/Sears_Posts_2nd_6427.jpg?adImageId=7761923&imageId=6092209″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]Why do I begin this conversation with a photo of a Sears sign?  Because in this discussion, the Sears brand has been and still is, a trusted brand name in my family.  There are a few things that are iconic to my family generational-ly and the Sears Christmas catalog [their first Christmas catalog came out in 1933] is one, and the tool and appliance departments at the stores are another.  When my mom brought home the catalog early in the month every December, my sister and I would sit and devour it.  We’d mark the pages and leave it sitting around just where dad could see it.

The products that my parents and their parents purchased at Sears were trusted simply because they came from Sears.  My dad would not buy tools for his garage shop from any other vendor.  My grandmother and mom only bought their clothes from Sears.  Up until my mom passed away a few years ago, I was taking her on her monthly shopping trips to Sears.

So how can you and I – small and home-based business owners – build a brand that has this kind of trust attached to it?

I began exploring this question due to an article in the business section of my morning newspaper on November 10.  I had time that morning to read through more than just the front page of each section and on page four in the biz section that day was a big article titled, “PayPal could overshadow eBay” with a subhead: “Convenience, trust in the brand help build loyal following for online pay service.” [article by Rachel Metz, Associated Press-San Francisco].What jumped out at me in the subhead was the phrase “trust in the brand.” I believe this to be true of PayPal. I’m a home-based business owner and I do business through PayPal…in my etsy store I only accept PayPal.  I utilize PayPal as a way to pay for supplies through my mosaic tile supplier.  Why?  Because I’ve grown to trust PayPal.  Why?

  1. PayPal does what it says it will do
  2. I have never been sorry or inconvenienced by the service – from the article: “…PayPal doesn’t share your financial information with merchants. That brings peace of mind to people who might otherwise worry about shopping at a site they’ve never heard of….”
  3. PayPal offers enough services to meet my business needs

According to the article, “…As of the end of September, 78 million people had active PayPal accounts, up from 65 million a year ago….” What does this tell me about trust in the brand?  That people trust PayPal to be consistent: what you see, what you hear, what you read about PayPal is what you get…every time.

I thought some more about the question: how do you build brand trust? For answers I went to the experts who shared some valuable wisdom.  The key things I think they are saying is that your business and the way you do business needs to be consistent and transparent: what is seen, what is heard, and what is read about your business should be what your customer/client gets…every time.

The question I posed: How do you build brand trust?

  • “…You create a product, service, message, or name that’s simple and memorable.  You surround it with easy to understand differences and you consistently engage every corner of space online and off and then you do it next week and the next and . . ..” – thank you to John Jantsch – a marketing and digital technology coach, award winning social media publisher and author of Duct Tape Marketing  www.ducttapemarketing.com
  • “…When it comes to a small business building trust in their brand particularly online, the first thing they must do is approach it with the give-to-get principle.  Every relationship must be approached with the mindset, “how can I help?”   They will position themselves as a connector and expert in their industry…Perceived risk is the number one barrier for small businesses.  The more important thing a small business can do to build trust in their brand is to be clear about exactly what business they are in, keep their word and deliver on their brand promise….”  thank you to Melinda Emerson “SmallBizLady” Author, Become Your Own Boss in 12 Months; A Month-by-Month Guide to a Business that Works!  (Feb. 2010 Adams Media) www.succeedasyourownboss.com www.melindaemerson.com
  • “…I believe brand trust is about getting your organization’s message out frequently and consistently – and then following through. If the message and the user/customer experience do not match, trust is eroded. It’s like the old adage about saying one thing and doing another – customer/client service must reinforce the marketing/branding message for strong brand trust to be forged….” thank you to Jane K. Stimmler, The Marketing Edge
  • “…Following are two ways I recommend building brand trust: Have a suggestions/comments area on your business’ website– and a system in place for responding to all comments received in a timely manner.  If you know there are times you’ll have heavy traffic, have a standard email that gives an “estimated waiting time” for a personalized response.  ALWAYS RESPOND…Call with no news: very often people don’t call back because they don’t have the information you requested.  Making the time to call whether you have good news, no news, or bad news is a fast way to build brand trust….” thank you to Frances Cole Jones,   www.thewowfactor-thebook.com
  • “…I’d say the best way to build trust is with brutal honesty…I think brands do themselves the MOST good after a ‘drama’ of some kind – some kind of bad publicity. I recommend the sooner they come forward, and the more honestly they come forward the better.  There have been cases  where people have started Facebook groups or started tweeting relentlessly about brands that have stuffed up in some way or another and stupidly the brand has IGNORED all of the drama expecting it to ‘blow over’ – and of course with this kind of social media available – it DOESN’T!  So eventually after much delay they have no choice but to speak up, but by then it’s too little too late…I think brands have the most potential to win raving fans during times of trial and bad publicity – the more humbly they come forward and either say “we were wrong” or the like the better it is for them and their future sales....” thank you to Allison O’Neill author of  The Boss Benchmark www.thebossbenchmark.com
  • “…A satisfied customer is not a loyal customer by any means.  I build brand and customer trust by NOT expecting them to be loyal to me, but by being loyal to THEM!  I earn loyalty by giving it.  I do it one “D” at a time: Discover (what is important or of value to my customer), Decide (what their experience will look like), Deliver (what I set as their expectation) and Do It Again (it’s an ongoing process that changes and improves with feedback….” thank you to Chrysty Beverley Fortner www.linkedin.com/in/chrystybeverleyfortner www.chrystybfortner.wordpress.com

Here is what I think the above experts are telling me when it comes to building brand trust:

  1. give-to-get; this is very much like having a service mentality.  Instead of positioning your business in your own mind as “the customer is lucky to have this,” you position yourself as “how can I be of service?”  As businesses, as business owners, we need to remember there is no entitlement.  We are not entitled to have customers or clients simply because we hang out a shingle.  A customer may purchase once, but what will bring them back?
  2. consistency – this is a principle that says you treat every customer exactly the same; your products are of the same value and quality from one season to the next; your message, although worded to fit various occasions, says the same thing each and every time
  3. transparency – this is the “what you see is what you get” concept; your business is open and visible – your customers and clients [and competitors for that matter] can see what your business standards are by the way you do business, by what you say and put “out there” and by the way you treat your customers, clients and vendors [suppliers, even the FedEx delivery fellow]
  4. honesty, open and frequent communication – to me this means the right hand and the left hand are working in concert on the same tune; that your message and actions match; that you and your business are accountable for every message, product and service
  5. follow through – do what you say you are going to do or deliver…make no promises – rather, say what you stand for

My personal input on this question is that building brand trust takes time.  Do all of the above and over time your brand will stand the test of economy and fluctuating customer demand.  Also, I think it needs to begin with a leadership question: what exactly do I want my brand to be, to say, to be known for and trusted for?

 

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The value of having a blog on your business website

I think the time has come for home business owners to consider having an internet presence if they don’t already; and at the very least -but most important – should be a webpageSimply put a webpage “…is a document connected to the World Wide Web and viewable by anyone connected to the internet who has a web browser….”

Couldn’t be simpler, right? It’s akin to putting up a roadside sign promoting your business.  In the real world the roadside sign lets people who don’t normally travel in your neighborhood know your business exists.  If the sign is a good one, the sign will tell you what the business’ name is, what the business is about [produce, auto parts, tax preparation], where the business is located [address, phone number],  and when the business is open [times/days of operation].

Your webpage roadside sign can tell passersby the same information plus much more.  It is the signage that introduces your business and it is the front door.  The web traveler who finds your business webpage will be able to see on the “home page” all the pertinent information much as the roadside sign does, but it also invites the person into the business.  Your site could be informational only, such as the example of the company for which my brother works – Delegata, or it can be its own storefront, such as the Oakland Chocolate Company.

I think one good addition to a business webpage is a blog. Again simply put, a blog is an ongoing, chronological conversation between the author and the reader.  Simply put.  So why have a blog on your business webpage?  Some of the value points include:

  • Interaction with customers and prospective customers – if you allow the comments feature on the blog posts, you can get feedback from your readers; be aware some of it might be negative, but all feedback has value.
  • Staying engaged with your business – having a blog on your business website brings you to your site on a regular basis; I think the value to that is (a) it allows you to keep the page(s) updated and (b) lets you see what your customers and readers see…over time you may want to tweak the site for better accessibility – always remember that there is global competition out there.
  • Product info and product/customer stories – you can use your blog to give customers/users helpful information about the products in a fuller way than simple catalog-like listings can give.  You can also relate helpful stories (the positive ones) that customers send you – sometimes a customer comes up with a unique use for a product that is worth sharing.
  • History of your business – people like to know the origins of a business – who started it, why and where; also, perhaps the history of the products or aspects of the products themselves.  Two really good examples of this are an interesting website I found while researching ancient mosaic art, Mosaics in Greece that has a page giving the history of mosaics…it’s short and sweet; and one at the Winsor & Newton website which has quite a bit of historical information.
  • Added value: a blog is a great place to give your customers and prospective customers added value such as: a) ideas for use of products – this could include recipes or hints and tips; b) industry trends and other information.

There is one caution about writing a blog – be careful of making unsubstantiated claims about your products or services.  A silly example: you have a home-based business selling vitamins.  You are an independent distributor and have a webpage to which you added a blog.  In a post you make claims for your vitamins, like they “cure” disease.  Unless you can provide research data and other “official” proof, making this kind of claim can get you in hot water.  My advice is to stick with the warm fuzzies about your products.  Rather than making claims, tell your readers why vitamins are important.  Give your readers information about nutrition and the benefits of taking care of yourself.

If you don’t have a website, you can get one at online sites such as GoDaddy.com – which by the way, has its own blog.  You can design your own site or hire it done.  Learning to blog just takes a bit of work.  One good resource is ProBlogger.com.

A tip: once you get your business webpage established and start your blog, “Twitter” each post…it will drive more traffic to your blog and more people will learn of your business.

 

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They call it “bling” I call it Personal Branding

I just love sitting in the morning with my cup of tea [I mix half and half peach tea with green tea and sweeten with honey], bowl of cereal [high in fiber with some sliced banana, strawberries and blueberries and sprinkled with some roasted flax seeds and whole roasted unsalted almonds…my cousin-in-law calls it killer cereal – meaning he likes it] and the morning newspaper.  I hope so much that this 21st century economy won’t kill the newspaper publishing industry.  I like to hold the pages and read the words and be able to carry the paper around from room-to-room; to be able to cut out and save something in my idea file.  I just really like the newspaper.

The other morning in the lifestyle section was a fashion article specific to what accessories teenagers wear and why they wear what they do.  Of the examples given in the article, a couple of the answers are perfect definitions for the term personal branding. The article was written by reporter Jessica Yadegaran, and of the interviewed teens, the answers I thought best fit were:

  • “…’It’s my trademark…’ [said by Cody Scrivano of Discovery Bay, CA]
  • “…Because it says something about who you are or what you’re into….'” [said by Tatiana Rizo also of Discovery Bay, CA]

For anyone in business, personal branding is as important as the brand of the product or service you represent and can be reflected in a variety of ways.  Branding can be tangible and intangible. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you have a direct selling business and represent a company that produces a line of cosmetics.  The packaging of the products will, of course, carry the name of the company and image logo [the brand] and all of the sales and promotional materials will carry the same name and image.  *In some instances, the name alone is the brand image…the typeface or font and perhaps a unique spelling of the word makes it the unique brand element.

As the company’s representative, you probably have business cards that carry your name along with the brand image/name of the company…this links you to the brand.  Handing out business cards linking you with your product is one way of personally branding yourself and your business.  So, tangible branding would include:

  • business cards
  • other promotional materials
  • decals or signage for your car
  • shirts,  jackets and caps with logos on them
  • bottle caps, pens, pencils, tote bags…there is a host of promotional items available to which you can put your identifying logo…your brand

When you carry and use these tangible items, you are branding yourself.  You are identifying yourself with this company and its products and/or services.

What about intangible personal branding?

I think in a way, the teenagers described above utilize accessorizing their wardrobe as a method of intangible branding.  You could say something like [and these examples are my invention], “That guy always wears three black leather bands.”  Or, “That young lady always favors turquoise-colored handbags.”  These are things, traits, or elements, that these people become identified with…they have personally branded themselves.  A business person can be intangibly branded – I believe – in some of these ways:

  • always giving superior customer service – your customers always feel as though they are important because you return their calls promptly; answer their inquiries promptly and completely as possible; get their product or service issues handled satisfactorily
  • have integrity – integrity is an intangible attribute that can reflect itself in tangible ways: being a good citizen lawfully; paying your taxes in full and on time; voting; playing fair; being a good neighbor, giving a helping hand where needed…both locally and globally; as well as integrity to and for your product or service: you provide “truth in advertising,” your claims are legal and truthful; you do what you say; you are your own best customer [if you won’t use your product or service, why should anyone you are trying to sell to?]

Personal branding is not just the logo on your business card…it’s also what you want to be known for.  As a business person, what would you like to be known for?

  • striving to meet your customers’ expectations for quality service
  • honesty and integrity
  • consistent quality and craftsmanship
  • on time delivery with orders that are complete

This could be a very long list.  Make a project for yourself to set aside some time to examine this idea of personal branding…if you were to describe it for yourself, what would it look like?

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3 “D” tools you bring to your business

If you have a home-based business your business toolbox probably contains such essentials as a telephone, computer, calculator, calendar/planner, business cards and promotional materials...even mundane tools like pens and pencils.  If your business is a home-based direct selling business you probably also have tools such as cds, dvds, [these as promotional giveaways and also for your own motivation and inspiration], a car; maybe even a sales-oriented placard for your car door or decal for the window.  And certainly you keep product on hand for demonstration and quick retail sale.  These are all fantastic tools and your business building would be handicapped without them.

There is, however, a more important dimension to your business toolbox: the 3 “D” tools that you bring to your business from within yourself:

  • Dreams
  • Drive
  • Determination

It can be argued that without these tools, your business will go nowhere.

1.  Dreams:  without your dreams…which you translate into a vision for your business and your reasons why you have the business…without your dreams you operate in a fog.  It is a truism that to know you’ve arrived somewhere, you have to have first determined you wanted to get there.  Or, put another way, if you don’t know where you’re going…you’ll get nowhere.  The sure goal you can achieve is the one you never set. You can’t go to the office supply store to purchase Dreams…these come from within you.  And your dreams are an essential 3 “D” tool for your business.

2.  Drive: the drive you bring to your business will cause you to sustain a forward motion to the realization of your dreams.  Without this important 3 “D” tool, your dreams will just sit there.  It is very much like putting your car in “drive” in order for the vehicle to move…it will sit in the driveway if the only setting is “park.”  Same is true of your business.  If you don’t pull Drive out of your internal toolbox, there will be no forward motion; you’ll end up being one of those who say “I want to want to succeed.”  Wanting to want to simply isn’t enough.

3.  Determination: This 3 “D” tool is the firm, fixed intention to arrive at a certain end or destination.  Determination married with Drive will allow you to achieve Dreams using the vehicle of your business. This tool says ‘I’m going to pay off my car loan this calendar year through the proceeds of my home-based business.’  Drive will take this intention and move it forward.  This goal is one part of your stated Dreams.

Be sure not to neglect the tools that reside within yourself when building and operating your business.  The tools you have inside add a dimensionality that no amount of technology can provide.   Technology needs to be operated and directed…the operator is you and the direction comes from you.

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