Category Archives: financial crisis

Announcing Entrescape Online

There are a thousand good reasons to start your own business.  You may want more toys, need to build a college fund, or want to pay off debt.  You may just want to do it for the pure joy of accomplishment.  All are good reasons, but probably the best is to prepare for an uncertain future.  Rapidly changing technology can make your job obsolete almost overnight.  Companies gain and lose by the decisions of their leaders, which may not always be competent or have your best interests at heart. Last, the government has taken a radical lurch toward socialism.  Higher taxes for jobholders are a near-certainty.  Some predict consequences even more dire.

Some people I talk to think this is the time to hunker down.  I disagree.  Being frugal is fine, as far as it goes.  Investing your money is probably wiser than that jet ski right now, unless you make money riding a jet ski. Buying a used car makes sense, as does shopping around for the best deal on life’s other necessities.  None of these will save you, though, when income from your job stops coming in.

I think that this is the time to become an entrepreneur.  Forget the stereotype of the steely-jawed hero, silk scarf fluttering in the breeze or the socially-inept genius who invents the next Big Thing.  Think more in terms of the regular person, like you and me, who knows how to do some things better than other people do.  Ones who may want to hang on to that job while they build a side-stream of income.

Where to start?  Learning, that is where.  My dream is to help people who want to build a business learn how to do so easily and affordably.  Entrescape now offers a course in fundamentals for entrepreneurs.  More are being created and will be available over the coming months.  There is also a free guest login to the Entrescape community, where we will be providing a forum for questions and free limited access to course materials.  Visit us at entrescape.com and release your entrepreneurial spirit.

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Pension? What Pension?

I read something interesting yesterday in the Wall Street Journal.  Turns out that states are facing a $1 trillion gap between the money they have promised pensioners and the money they have set aside to pay them.  That does not count the massive investment losses they faced in the second half of 2008, from which they have not recovered.

Did I say “interesting?”  Let’s try “criminal.”  I, for one, have not believed states would be able to pay pensions for some time now.  Some third-grade math was all it took.  The zeros were a little hard to manage until I saw this neat little analogy on the national debt clock web site.  If you were to spend a dollar a second, it would take 12 days to spend a million dollars.  Now, how much time would it take to spend a trillion?  (I’ll wait for you while you calculate this.)

Back?  OK.  The first thing you found out was that your calculator does not work with that many digits.  If you are math-compulsive, you got out a piece of paper and started to work.  If not, you waited for my answer: 32,000.

YEARS!

In other words, don’t wait for that gap to be filled.  Ain’t gonna happen.  Here’s why.  If states start to go bankrupt, something that was unthinkable until now, the money obviously will not be there.  But the Feds!  They can save us!  After all, they can always honor their obligations–by printing more money.  There, my friends, is the real problem and a good reason to be worried about your retirement even if you are not a public employee.

Historically, printing more money has been the favored solution of governments when things go bad.  They say they won’t do that, but in the end they always do.  From Ancient Athens to Zimbabwe in 2008, the result is always the same–a swift and ugly currency crash wherein money becomes worthless overnight.  Zimbabwe’s inflation rate reached 98%…PER DAY.  That means it took slightly over 24 hours for prices to double.

There is only one solution at the national level, and that is for politicians to face up to the fact that they have promised way more than they can deliver and cut expenditures.  Whew, that was a good one.  I crack myself up every time I say it.

There are some things we can do, however.  It is sometimes said that the best attitude when going into battle is to pretend that you are already dead.  Do what I do and pretend that your retirement is already dead.  Figure out how to retire without it.  One person I heard of recently bought two haircut franchises even though she is years away from retirement.  Why?  Because people will probably buy haircuts even when they can’t afford luxuries.  And inflation?  Well, if we experience true hyperinflation, all bets are off, but she still stands a better chance than most because her prices will rise accordingly.  If none of this comes to pass, so much the better.  She will have her company retirement and her franchise income.

Learn to make money in a side business or invest in things that stand at least some chance of surviving the coming earthquake.  If you think the politicians will save you, I have a business deal I’d like to discuss with you…

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Terry is constantly amazed at how little people learn from history.  He is also amazed at what he saw in New Orleans in 1976, but that’s another story.

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Start a Business NOW

There is one book you must read if you worry even a little about today’s economy.  The title is Empty Nest Egg: Why You Must Start Your Own Business NOW.  Yes, it’s my book, but if it weren’t, I would still recommend it.  Here’s why.

First, having a business to supplement your income is just plain common sense.  We all know that “things” happen.  Loss of a job, relocation of a spouse, and the child that arrived off-schedule make life interesting and scary.  Extra money never hurts.

Second, we may not have jobs if things don’t turn around soon.  You would think mine–being a university professor–would be about as stable as you can get.  Not so.  The State of Illinois is furloughing employees on some campuses to make up a budget shortfall.  I read recently that we rank second only to California in terms of how badly we have screwed up our budget.  Yours Truly is busy hoping for the best and planning for the worst.  You should too.

Third, there will come a point at which we are either no longer able or no longer willing to work.  My grandmother is 99 years old.  She is truly astonishing, getting around better than many 60-year-olds.  I kind of doubt she could get a job, though.  I remember her when she was my age, and it is a little unnerving to think how fast the intervening time has passed.  Retirement will hit us before we know it.

In my view, a time of reckoning is upon us all.  As a nation, we have chosen to pretend that we can spend without restraint, make the rest of the world behave, and protect everyone from everything.  The bill is coming due and our collectively disastrous decisions will come back to haunt us.  For those who continue to think a J-O-B is their only means of income, life may take a nasty turn.  For those who see the coming disruptions as an opportunity to prosper by starting a business, life may get much better.

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Terry practices what he preaches.  After he found out about the furloughs, he checked to see if Chippendales was hiring.  No such luck, so he writes books and teaches people how to start businesses in addition to being a professor.

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Social Network Nation

OK, I admit it.  I am a tech hound.  I love what technology has made possible for carbon-based life forms.  Within the last six months, I have made contact with friends I had not seen in over thirty years.  I have enriched my ability to teach by increasing communication with my students.  I have seen tasks that formerly would have taken hours reduced to seconds.  All of this courtesy of technology.

Those of you who read my other blog regularly know that I talk a lot about our upcoming economic conflagration.  Economic upheaval is distressing.  But, like a forest fire, what appears to be a catastrophe is from another perspective a cleansing.  Old growth is incinerated in favor of tender and fragile new shoots of life.  Animals whose homes were burned to a crisp often return to find a bounty of new food and water sources.

What does this have to do with social networking?  Social networking is the new growth straining to get out from under the dead cover of the old economy.  If (in my opinion, it is when) the forest fire comes, will you be one of the mammals that learns to thrive or one of the dinosaurs lying on its side, breathing its last gasps?

Here are some things to think about.  No matter what your line of work, whether you have a job or your own business, or whether you hug or curse your computer daily, think about how your network of friends and acquaintances works.  In other words, what makes your social network tick?  In my case, I was astonished that it was so easy to get, and stay, in touch with friends from long ago.  I learned things about them that had escaped me until now.  My life is richer because of it.  Moreover, they have introduced me to numerous other great people.

If you want to be prepared for the future, think about how all the things you do on Facebook and Twitter can serve as the foundation for generating more income.  Now, hold on.  Before you go spamming all your friends, think about why these networks work the way they do.  Why was it so easy to get in touch with so many people?  Why do people log on to Facebook regularly?  How many people are in your network?  If you worked at it, how many could be in it?

Next week, I will talk about your network “destination” and how to increase its value to others.  Until then, don’t get burnt!

———

Terry is not a dinosaur, but his mother-in-law might be.  He thinks you ought to check out the Entrescape community.

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Diversify Your Knowledge, Not Just Your Stocks

Unemployment is its highest in 25 years.  Some say the picture is much worse and is being masked by changes in the way unemployment is measured.  No matter where each of us is on the political spectrum, or whom we blame, we have to agree that times are tough and getting tougher.

Financial advisors almost universally recommend a “diversified” portfolio of paper investments: stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.  Before I go on, let me remind the reader that I am neither a certified financial advisor nor do I play one on TV.  I encourage people to learn more so they can make up their own minds.  This traditional advice may have had some merits at one time.  A few people probably made it just fine with such a plan.  Times are different now, and there are a number of reason to expand your thinking.

First, paper assets such as stocks can bonk.  “Bonk” is a technical term for what happened last fall.  Stocks fell as much as 40%  People who thought they were diversified got clobbered as their entire portfolios dwindled to a fraction of their former worth.

Second, the “value” of the stock market and other similar investments is partly an illusion.  When we put our money into such instruments, we are usually planning to use the money later.  If that money only buys a fraction of what it did before, the fact that the market is “up” is true, but useless.

Third, and this may be the clinker, the market depends on levels of buying and selling.  Since people who are retiring usually get their spending money out of the market by selling their stocks, the value of those stocks can be depressed when the number of sellers increases.  We are about to face a massive amount of selling for that very reason.  Baby Boomers will soon be retiring in droves.

This leaves us with a problem.  How can each of us build a more stable kind of wealth–the kind that at least buffers the vagaries of the stock market?

Knowledge.

library

Learn all you can now about building supplementary income.  You will find that true diversification involves non-paper assets like real estate and precious metals.  You will learn why having a side business can help you build real, lasting value.  And, you will see that with some discipline and desire, you can survive the coming storm.

— Terry writes this blog because he loves you.  Well, maybe “love” is too strong a word, but he’s pretty sure he likes you.  At least he likes you well enough to encourage you to learn more about your finances.  Terry has not been on Oprah yet, but if he were, he would tell you to visit entrescape.com to learn out how to start your own business.

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What Are You Worth?

Are you paid what you are worth?  Most of us think not.  We also tend to look at other people who make more money than us and wonder if they are “worth” it.  Who hasn’t seen the news of a sports celebrity signing a multi-million dollar contract and thought, even if only for a moment, “that’s not fair?”

The rock-bottom truth is that when other people pay voluntarily for our services, we are paid exactly what we are worth.  Yes, the government does distort the market, subsidizing some who probably could not earn as much in the private sector.  It also imposes additional costs on some people/businesses, causing them to earn less than they would in a truly free market.  On the whole, though, our pay reflects our true worth.

This is a disturbing thought.  Once we accept the premise that we mostly get what we deserve, getting less than we think we should is an indictment of our own will and ability.  “Why doesn’t my boss pay me more?” becomes our mantra and a question without a good answer.  Yeah, why doesn’t he/she?

Know why?  Because you will work for that much.  Why should you be paid more?  Because you need it?  That is charity–certainly a nice thing to benefit from when you need it, but not the basis for an employment contract.  It is also not very convincing.  Here is another approach.

Ask for more.  I learned the power of this simple strategy years ago.  One time, I was recruited by a university.  They made an offer that I was ready to accept.  As a professional courtesy, I showed the offer to my present employer, never dreaming in a million years that they would match it.  Match it, they did, though, and I received a substantial raise.  Never again was I bashful about asking for what I was worth.  I knew I was worth it because someone else was willing to pay it.

Alas, though, even a substantial raise has its limits.  There is an upper bound to what I can ask for in my job.  Imagine me marching into the University President’s office and suggesting I should get what Eli Manning gets.  If I ever try that, it will be on April Fool’s Day.  That way, I can tell him it was all a big joke just before he has security remove me.

One’s own business has no such limits.  You decide how much to grow.  You decide how much is enough.  You decide how much to pay yourself.  Of course, you have to become worth whatever it is you want to earn.  The big difference is that you don’t have to share it with anyone.  If you work for someone else, you essentially pay for the privilege of earning a paycheck.  Part of the value you create is skimmed off the top.

There is nothing wrong with this, morally or practically.  It would be kind of hard for an automobile assembly line worker to do what he/she does solo.  No one wants to pay for someone to screw on a lug nut–they want a car.  But for all its advantages, working for someone else limits our income.

Another disadvantage of working for someone else is the amount of taxes one pays.  Because it is easier for the government to collect from employees, those with jobs find a substantial portion of their income diverted to the government.  In fact, you never see that money–it is taken out of your paycheck.  The government knows that most people will not notice tax rates as much if they don’t have to write a check every month or every quarter.

Having one’s own business allows a significant proportion of expenses to be deducted.  The result is simple–you get to keep more of what you earn.  In a perverse way, government encourages us to have our own businesses, at least for now.

Growing a business can mean that you are no longer a prisoner of your “worth” as determined by your boss. Your worth is exactly what others are willing to pay for the value you provide.  It is something created by you and for you.  Enjoy making yourself worth your every dream.

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The Coming Storm

What do you do when a storm is coming? If you are tired of hiding in the nearest ditch as the winds howl overhead, you might think about building a shelter while the sun is shining.

The sun is shining right now, believe it or not. For all the turmoil in financial, housing, auto, and insurance markets, business is pretty much moving along as always. By turning on the cash spigot, the Federal Reserve has pushed back the clouds–for a time.

The storm that is brewing has not been tamed, however. This morning, we hear that the deficit reached a record $1.6 trillion for the year ending Sept. 30. Over the next ten years, our national debt will increase by $9 trillion. All this assumes that the health care program now under consideration will not add to the deficit. Mmmmmmm…yeah.

When will all this come crashing down? And when it does, where does that leave you and me? No one can tell for sure whether our economic world will end in fire or ice. Death by fire, hyperinflation, seems the most likely to me. However, to to paraphrase Robert Frost, death by deflation will suffice.

Our economic world revolves around billions, perhaps trillions, of transactions that occur every minute around the globe. We have bread at the bakery only because our local baker can predict the near future. It makes no sense to buy dough to make bread if the price of bread can rise or fall radically in a matter of days. It is impossible to hire employees not knowing whether their wages will even buy a pair of socks next week.

The shelter we all need is between our ears. Those who learn to be entrepreneurs while there is time will survive, even prosper, as the economy melts or freezes. The rest will likely succumb to the elements. Whether we see an inflationary or a deflationary storm, a few basic things can determine which camp you fall into.

First, get interested in your finances. Many of us were raised soon enough after the 60’s to inherit a disdain for material things. We view with suspicion those who focus on wealth, thinking them shallow and self-centered. Horsefeathers. Money is one human value among many, but one without which the others soon dry and wither.

Second, pay off any unproductive debt. Unproductive debt is the kind that costs you money but does not make you any. For example, that car you bought during the Cash for Clunkers program is unproductive debt. And don’t try to tell me it will save you money over your old car. Run the numbers and see. Credit cards fall into this category as well, unless they were used to finance a business or other investment that makes more than you are paying in interest. By the way, read your statements closely. Banks are doubling and tripling interest rates, even on people with perfect credit. Productive debt can become unproductive debt overnight.

Third, expand your investment horizons. The lazy person’s retirement strategy–chuck money into a retirement account and forget about it–does not work any more. Learn which investments hold up better during hard economic times. Find out why holding only stocks, bonds, and mutual funds is extremely risky.

Fourth, make more money and keep more of what you make. I don’t look for the government to back off on spending. Instead, I expect them to raise taxes to unprecedented levels as they try in vain to save the economy. What are the easiest taxes to get? That’s right. Your salary and mine. Having an extra source of income from a business allows you to shield a larger portion of income from taxation.

When darkness covers the land, it is going to require every bit of wisdom and fortitude we can muster. No matter what happens, though, we human beings need each other. Smart people who learn now will be able to look around the rubble and see limitless opportunities. Others will wallow in self-pity wondering what happened. Which one do you want to be?

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