Monday, October 30, 2006

'Mental Health' breaks and other weighty business matters

I spent part of last Friday morning out of my office. Sometimes, it is nice to get away from my desk, to run some errands, to have a change of scenery. I resolved several years ago to get away for a few hours, once a week or so, for regular 'mental health' breaks. I actually managed to do so for a short while, but am now back to just the occasional foray out into the real world. I'll have to work on that. It is not that I am indispensable, far from it. It is just that I get so focused on my various projects that I lose track of time and everything else.

It is important not to get into ruts, though. I love what I do for a living, but it is necessary to get a change of pace, to clear your mind, now and again. I need to do that more regularly.

It doesn't matter what you do when you seek these diversions. Sometimes, I run errands. Sometimes, I do some shopping for office supplies I need. I have even, a couple of times, simply gone for a drive.

I do some of my best thinking when I am driving. I head for open roads, but never major highways. I want to enjoy the scenery and to allow my mind to wander. Often, if there is something problematic on my mind, a solution crystallizes and I then I know how to deal with the issue. When the weather is nice, I sometimes take a stroll somewhere, usually where I won't be distracted by anyone.

I am an entrepreneur. I think up a business, get it moving, and then find good people to take care of the details, the daily grind, the nuts and bolts, the stuff that really makes things work. I set policy, stress impeccable business ethics, responsibility and respect. Then I get out of the way and let the employees and managers do their jobs. They do the rest. In order to get people to work effectively, you have to trust their judgement, give them responsibility, and even let them make the occasional mistake.

I am lucky. I know other business owners who never get a day off, never or rarely take a holiday, and who, as they get older, have no-one to take over from them when they can no longer do the job themselves. To make matters worse, many small business owners have everything tied up in their businesses and don't have much else in the way of resources to fund their retirement. Often, they are surprised that the business they built and operated for decades can't be sold, or at least can't be sold for what they think it is worth.

I decided twenty or more years ago that I needed good people to run my businesses. I was lucky and managed to find such people. It wasn't easy. Investing in good people makes good sense. If you have quality people who can run your business properly and profitably, then you as the business owner can afford to take some time off, and even eventually retire if you wish to. Chances are that the business will be able to support you in your retirement, if you have competent people working for you, and if you have cared for your customers and built a loyal clientele over the years you have been in business.

If, like me, you have no intention of ever retiring, you will at least still have the luxury of being able to take a holiday from time to time, or simply just taking the little 'mental health' breaks I discussed at the beginning of this post.

I know that the common perception is that all business people make a lot of money and have lots of cash and investments socked away for their retirement. That simply isn't true. For every fat cat out there, there are a bunch of scrawny alley cats who just scrape by, all for the privilege of being able to work for themselves. They don't have much in the way of assets, but they have their dignity and self-respect, knowing that they have always taken care of themselves and their families.

I have long advised business people which whom I have discussed these things to let go, to hand over some responsibilities to other people, and take some time to enjoy themselves. Many entrepreneurs can't seem to let go. They feel that they have to be in control all the time and that they need to micro-manage every detail of their business. They might have had a bad experience or two with dishonest or incompetent employees, and in self defence never relinquish day-to-day control. That is a mistake. I have been stolen from, defrauded, maligned, slandered and who knows what else by employees, many times. Sometimes it takes twenty bad experiences like these until the right individuals come along: individuals who are honest, ethical, dependable, hard-working and competent. They are out there. I know, I have found my bunch.

And that is why I can take my little breaks away from my office, why I can take on property development in Panama, and pretty much anything else I might wish to do. It was a long hard grind until I found my crew, but now it is sure worth it.


  1. Funny. As I've begun this modest little business of mine, I've thought more and more about how much more interesting it would be to find people to do what I am doing, and then find someone to manage those people and then, perhaps to give it all away, so that it's not my struggle or headache, but my toy to trade.

    I'm a long way from that, but maybe I should think about molding it into something I want to sell in the future.

    I've thought about that a lot with homes, about how my friends buy homes and fix them up, never with the intent to sell, always with the intent to live better and how they struggle, when they could improve here and there, sell and then have more to work with in regard to the final realization of their goal.

    My one friend keeps dumping money into her house and I keep saying, 'you've got a 25 year mortgage, you can't afford to keep draining your funds and increasing your line of credit, when there is no return except your own short-lived satisfaction manifesting in the drywall of the basement and the paint in the corridor. You need to flip it and then the money you make will pay for your new door and parking pad.

    It's like when I used to gamble on vlts.

    I'd take 20 dollars and my goal would be 30.

    If I lost - I quit.

    If I made the extra ten, I put the twenty back in my pocket and used the ten for a new goal.

    If I made ten more, I'd put my original ten in my pocket and use the next ten.

    Then, if I made ten more, I'd put five in my pocket and use the next fifteen to up my odds.

    VLT's aren't the way to go, let me tell you.

    But, I think my system had something in it.

    I enjoy your posts and what they bring to mind. And, you know, I never imagined you at the office every day, until now.

    My misconception was that successful business men were the ones who had had to work 60 hour weeks, living like they worked 20 and who eventually got rewarded by living like they worked a 40 hour week, but who actually only worked 20.

    lol! I guess I was wrong.

    In any case, it's good to be boss. You can go for a drive if you feel like it. And that is freedom is priceless.

  2. Actually, I am one of the very lucky ones. I 'retired' in 1988 by asking my top employee if she wanted to be general manager of, and take over the day-to-day operations of my businesses. She did, and I've never looked back. Rather than goof off or play golf, something I am temperamentally unsuited to, I spend my time doing things that are fun to me. I start new businesses. I write. I read. I go to the office every day. If I feel I need a break, I take one. My problem is not being able to take a break, but in tearing myself away from my desk. I enjoy what I do.

    In your case, I think you are on the right track. Training people to do the job, adding more customers, hiring more trainees, etc., works great if you have the patience and dtermination to develop your system and make a few mistakes along the way. One way to motivate people and to maintain consistent margins both, is to pay people as 'contractors' by giving them a fixed percentage of whatever you charge the customer. This won't work with office staff, but with the people who fix the computers, drive the delivery vehicle, clean the home, paint the house, whatver it is that your business entails, it is the way to go if possible.

    Your gambling model is pretty close to a system that would work in an entrepreneurial environment. The big thing in business is 'leverage.' You use OPM (other people's money) to enable you to expand quicker than you might otherwise be able to do with your own money exclusively.

    And yes, the freedom is priceless.

  3. Love the contracting idea. And, the OPM.

    And, the potential for freedom. :)