Why it is time for an annual “checkup” for you and your company

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of where you are personally and professionally.  This can be checking in with your personal accountant to make sure you have withheld/paid enough taxes during the year or planning for deductions to planning for large corporate expenditures on things such as upcoming projects, planned corporate initiatives or planned equipment purchases.  But the one thing that is a constant is that we all should be doing this.

In the past I have mentioned why it is good to sit down with various professionals you or your company work with just to check-in, be they attorneys, accountants, insurance professionals, financial planners, investment professionals, etc.  The list depends on you and your business.

This does not have to be a formal appointment unless you think that is appropriate depending on the nature of the planned conversation. Instead, it can be you offering to buy them lunch or a drink.  The point is the better the professionals you work with know you, the more they are able to make recommendations aimed to benefit you or your company.

So don’t wait, start making plans today to meet with these people this year, or at least first thing next year. We all are busy this time of year, but if you take these actions it will help you now and in the future.

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Why you shouldn’t put your cell phone on the table at lunch or let it kill your creativity!

Putting your phone on the table at a meal sends the wrong message whether you are dining with someone you are looking to connect or network with, or when you are with your spouse or kids. It is the equivalent of telling whoever you are with that the people who text, email or call you are potentially and likely more important than they are.  If not, why would you leave open the possibility of having your phone interrupt the conversation and meal?

And yes, I acknowledge that phones and other devices have most of us hooked. We all are addicts. You know the feeling or thought: “Yes, I just checked for new emails and texts two minutes ago, but I may have missed one…I just can’t help myself.”

It really is all of us just filling any empty time by checking our phones or other devices. In the past we would have had to do things such as think, daydream, or stare out of the car window.  Now, I have a child who is a teen and barely knows directions because his face is buried in his phone anytime he is in a car.  Observing teens and their friends leads to the conclusion that they do not know how to enjoy a moment of quiet.

I have read what others think we should do. Don’t bring your phone into a business meeting. Turn off your phone at night. Makes rules about its use at the dinner table. Don’t check work email after a certain time. Great ideas, but hard to actually do.

That is why I am trying to follow my new, self-instituted rule of not placing my phone on the table when I am dining with someone.  It may seem like a small step, but you have to start somewhere.  And as a big believer in paying attention to those you are dining with, it definitely makes sense.

If any of you have ideas or rules that work and result in better face to face communication in your offices or homes, I would like to hear about them.

 

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Why you always must be prepared

In my world preparation is everything, whether for trial, a transaction, oral argument or the first meeting with a new client.  In your world there are equivalents where you can win or lose business based on your preparation or lack thereof.

I am heading into a trial in a few weeks and am in the process of preparing. While I think my client has a great chance of success at the trial based on the facts and evidence, I know that my level of preparation can greatly affect those chances and the ultimate outcome.  My goal always is to be as prepared as possible because it not only gives me the best chance for success, but also the best chance to not miss something that can help win the day.

In this situation with the trial my preparation is compensated, but in many situations I am preparing by spending my uncompensated time.  Why?  Because the more prepared you are the better the possible outcome.  If you think you are the only one your potential client, customer, etc. is speaking with, you are being naïve.  And even if they are not talking to someone else, the confidence you instill in them because of your preparation will give you a better opportunity to reach the outcome you seek.

Plus, it can turn those people into your cheerleaders too, which never hurts.

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What is the correct way? Why you need to find what works for you.

People have opinions.  And sometimes they actually are good to hear. Really.

It can be a good idea to bounce issues, ideas, etc. off of someone, whether a mentor, colleague, spouse.  But just because they tell you what works for them, or what they think will work, the best response is “Thanks, I am going to think about that.”  The reason for this is what works for one person may not work for another.

It can be simple things.  I use Outlook’s Calendar features to keep track of meeting, deadlines and anything else.  Others in my firm or who I know swear by the Tasks function.  You say tomato, I say tomato. I think you get the picture.

At the same time, ideas or processes from others can be helpful. I always am looking to create efficiencies or do things in a more organized or better way.  It is better to always be open to new idea and thoughts, but at the end of the day you have to think for yourself.

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Why you need to prepare for meetings

When new or potential clients ask me how we can make our first meeting as productive as possible it is an easy answer.  Prepare.  That means me too.  I ask them to look through all of the documents, emails and information they have that is relevant to their issues.  And I ask them to send me the operative contract, documents, emails and or an outline of the pertinent facts prior to the meeting.

This applies to you too.  You cannot prepare too much.  Knowledge is power.

If you are meeting with a salesperson, know what you need and have a plan.  This helps you order what you need, not make emotional decisions and keep the meeting on point.

If you are the salesman, know the company or person you are trying to sell.  Research.  It helps to keep notes about people, their companies, their families, etc. The personal touch is everything (but you need to be sincere and care, or you will hurt your cause).  Search the Internet, review your notes, or take whatever actions will help you be prepared for your meetings.  Knowledge and preparation make meetings go smoother, and better, and more productive.

By doing so you will help yourself, and help others.  Time is money is true.  Most people would like more money, and we all can use more time, so prepare as well as you can and you will have a better opportunities for more of both.

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What do you know? Why you should be the best at something!

It seems that everyone is an expert on something, or is, at least, trying to position themselves as an expert. But are they?  Depends.

Some are.  Some, well you know.

You may wonder whether it is important to be an expert at something.  I believe it is.  It is how you differentiate yourself from others.  You may be thinking who you know is more important than what you know, but who you know gets you in the door while what you know keeps you there.

And it isn’t easy to become an expert.  It takes time and effort.  It is like investing in yourself.  Many of you will have heard of the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell has written about; It takes 10,000 of practice at something to become an expert.  The point is that nothing worth doing or knowing is simple and there is no fast road to expertise.

But if you put in the time and effort into something important or central to your career or business, others will notice.  So what do you know or do better than most others, or your competitors?  Or what do you want to know or do better than most others?  It is never too early or too late to figure this out and start putting in the hours now.  So, what do you know??

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Don’t be a Luddite

You may have heard the word.  One way it is used today is to describe people who refuse to embrace technology and want to stay grounded in the ways they know, i.e. the past.  This seems timely given Apple’s announcement yesterday of two new phones and soon to be released watch that seems equivalent to something from an old science fiction movie.

Today, in business, refusing to embrace technology is a mistake.  And this does not mean you have to purchase every new device that comes out, but that you have to find devices that work for you and allow you to be more efficient and serve your customers and clients better.

People are proud when they don’t have smart phones or use current technology in their business lives.  I understand this because I have caught flack in my personal life for years from friends and family for not being on Facebook.  For me it’s not about being proud to not be on Facebook, it’s about time.  But in my business I am open to try whatever I can to save time, use less paper, stay in better contact with my connections, access information faster, be better organized, etc.  And it is not about being left behind. It is about positioning myself to do my job better and better serve my clients.

We live in the 21st century. If you, your company, your employees are not utilizing the available tools you already are behind.  Scoff if you want, but lamenting the loss of the way business used to be done will get you nowhere and the past is never coming back.  You don’t have to like it, but you have to be somewhere on the learning curve of technology, riding the wave.  Don’t be left behind.

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Nothing is fair in love or contracts: know the playing field and rules of engagement

People deal in and like absolutes. By this I mean that for many people, if they see it in writing it must be true, and if in a contract, it must be easily enforceable.  This assumption is wrong.

In my world, everything is contracts: I am either negotiating and drafting contracts, or involved in lawsuits to enforce or defend entire contracts or specific contractual provisions.  If a party breaches a contract, the non-breaching party many times believes it is a simple and fast process to win a lawsuit and collect damages (i.e. money) or enforce the terms of the contract.  But a contract does not guarantee behavior, and is, at most, a guideline. If you think suing to get what you want is a sure solution, that the contract entitles you to win, you’re naïve on how litigation works.  Most people are naïve because of luckily not having experience with litigation. Hopefully, if that describes you, you remain in that bubble.

Even if you do, it is good to have a general understanding of the playing field and the rules of engagement: (1) the agreements and promises in a contract only are worth the paper they are written on and depend wholly on the substance of the other party to the contract, so try to deal with people you really trust; (2) lawsuits are not fast and it can take from a few months to a few years to obtain a judgment; and (3) the financial wherewithal of the other party may be different at the end of a lawsuit than it was at the beginning, i.e. winning a judgment is one thing, collecting on the judgment is another.

The best things you can do at the front end are to know who you are dealing with, whether an individual or a company, and conduct due diligence (information gathering and or analysis), if appropriate and possible, prior to signing a contract.  The due diligence may involve attorneys, accountants, engineers, appraisers, etc.  It may be you really taking the time to read every line of the proposed contract.  Protect yourself as best you can from the beginning because if an issue comes up, the only way to a fast resolution is through the parties agreeing to one.

 

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Think like an artist: Don’t think about money before you earn it

I recently read the following  line, which struck me: A businessman puts money first, an artist sees money as a byproduct.  It made me think about how so many people put money first, which means service is second, at best.  If you focus on service and quality instead of what you will be paid, there is a better chance money will follow.  And a better chance your customer or client will satisfied with the service or work you provided and refer work to you.

So does this mean think like an artist?  No.  Most of us are not creative in that way, which is not to say we are not creative within our business or professional space. Instead it means to think about the widget you are manufacturing or the code you are writing or the contract you are drafting.  Doing your best does not guaranty more work and wealth, but it does help you do a better job for whoever is paying you.

If you try this instead of thinking what you will be paid or what your client or customer’s money will buy you, you will do what you do so much better.  And think about how you would feel if your lawyer, doctor, contractor, etc. was focusing on the money first and what you are paying them for second…

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Back to School? Invest in yourself!

In Arizona, the majority of K through 12th grade students went back to school this week.  Here, in some circles and professions, it is as if this week marks the start of working hard through the end of the year, i.e. we coasted through the summer and now it is time to get back to work.

But “back to school” can mean many things.  Are you a lifetime learner always trying to improve?  Do you need to review something you already know to make sure you have it down?  Are you trying to learn something new to put into practice professionally or personally?  Or you can arbitrarily make it a time to put a new goal or two into place.

You don’t have to wait until the new year to make a resolution to start exercising, to work harder to meet the type of connections you want in business, etc. Commit to investing in yourself as we head straight towards the end of 2014!

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