How to Write a Business Plan

A business plan is an essential roadmap for business success. This living document generally projects 3-5 years ahead and outlines the route a company intends to take to grow revenues.

Your Business Plan should consist of these nine sections:

  1. Executive Summary – A snapshot of your business plan as a whole and touches on your company profile and goals.
  1. Company Description – Information on what you do, what differentiates your business from others, and the markets your business serves.
  1. Market Analysis – Before launching your business, it is essential for you to research your business industry, market and competitors.
  1. Organization & Management – Describe the organization and management structure for your business.
  1. Service or Product Line – What do you sell? How does it benefit your customers? What is the product lifecycle?
  1. Marketing & Sales – How do you plan to market your business? What is your sales strategy?
  1. Funding Request – This section includes the necessary information you should include in your plan if you are seeking funding for your business.
  1. Financial Projections – If you need funding, providing financial projections to back up your request is critical.
  1. Appendix – An appendix is optional, but a useful place to include information such as resumes, permits and leases.

This article describes the details of each of these nine sections.


1. Executive Summary

Your Executive Summary is a snapshot of your business plan as a whole and touches on your company profile and goals.

The Executive Summary is often considered the most important section of a business plan. This section briefly tells your reader where your company is, where you want to take it, and why your business idea will be successful. If you are seeking financing, the Executive Summary is also your first opportunity to grab a potential investor’s interest.

The Executive Summary should highlight the strengths of your overall plan and therefore be the last section you write. However, it usually appears first in your business plan document.

What to Include in Your Executive Summary

Below are several key points that your Executive Summary should include based on the stage of your business.

If You Are an Established Business

If you are an established business, be sure to include the following information:

  • The Mission Statement– This explains what your business is all about. It should be between several sentences and a paragraph.
  • Company Information –Include a short statement that covers when your business was formed, the names of the founders and their roles, your number of employees, and your business location(s).
  • Growth Highlights– Include examples of company growth, such as financial or market highlights (for example, “XYZ Firm increased profit margins and market share year-over-year since its foundation). Graphs and charts can be helpful in this section.
  • Your Products/Services —Briefly describe the products or services you provide.
  • Financial Information– If you are seeking financing, include any information about your current bank and investors.
  • Summarize future plans– Explain where you would like to take your business.

With the exception of the Mission Statement, all of the information in the Executive Summary should be covered in a concise fashion and kept to one page. The Executive Summary is the first part of your business plan many people will see, so each word should count.

If You Are a Startup or New Business

If you are just starting a business, you won’t have as much information as an established company. Instead, focus on your experience and background as well as the decisions that led you to start this particular enterprise.

Demonstrate that you have done thorough Market Analysis. Include information about a need or gap in your target market, and how your particular solutions can fill it. Convince the reader that you can succeed in your target market, then address your future plans.

Remember, your Executive Summary will be the last thing you write. So the first section of the business plan that you will tackle is the Company Description section.


2. Company Description

Your Company Description provides information on what you do, what differentiates your business from others, and the markets your business serves.

This section of your business plan provides a high-level review of the different elements of your business. This is akin to an extended elevator pitch and can help readers and potential investors quickly understand the goal of your business and its unique proposition.

What to Include in Your Company Description

  • Describe the nature of your business and list the marketplace needs that you are trying to satisfy.
  • Explain how your products and services meet these needs.
  • List the specific consumers, organizations or businesses that your company serves or will serve.
  • Explain the competitive advantages that you believe will make your business a success such as your location, expert personnel, efficient operations, or ability to bring value to your customers.

Next, you’ll need to move on to the Market Analysis section of your plan.


3. Market Analysis

Before launching your business, it is essential for you to research your business industry, market and competitors.

The Market Analysis section of your business plan should illustrate your industry and market knowledge as well as any of your research findings and conclusions. This section is usually presented after the Company Description.

What to Include in Your Market Analysis

Industry Description and Outlook – Describe your industry, including its current size and historic growth rate as well as other trends and characteristics (e.g., life cycle stage, projected growth rate). Next, list the major customer groups within your industry.

Information About Your Target Market – Narrow your target market to a manageable size. Many businesses make the mistake of trying to appeal to too many target markets. Research and include the following information about your market:

  • Distinguishing characteristics – What are the critical needs of your potential customers? Are those needs being met?  What are the demographics of the group and where are they located? Are there any seasonal or cyclical purchasing trends that may impact your business?
  • Size of the primary target market – In addition to the size of your market, what data can you include about the annual purchases your market makes in your industry? What is the forecasted market growth for this group?

How much market share can you gain? – What is the market share percentage and number of customers you expect to obtain in a defined geographic area? Explain the logic behind your calculation.

Pricing and gross margin targets – Define your pricing structure, gross margin levels, and any discount that you plan to use.

When you include information about any of the market tests or research studies you have completed, be sure to focus only on the results of these tests. Any other details should be included in the Appendix.

Competitive Analysis – Your competitive analysis should identify your competition by product line or service and market segment. Assess the following characteristics of the competitive landscape:

  • Market share
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • How important is your target market to your competitors?
  • Are there any barriers that may hinder you as you enter the market?
  • What is your window of opportunity to enter the market?
  • Are there any indirect or secondary competitors who may impact your success?
  • What barriers to market are there (e.g., changing technology, high investment cost, lack of quality personnel)?

Regulatory Restrictions – Include any customer or governmental regulatory requirements affecting your business, and how you’ll comply. Also, cite any operational or cost impact the compliance process will have on your business.

Once you’ve completed this section, you can move on to the Organization & Management section of your business plan.


4. Organization & Management

Organization and Management should include:

  • Your company’s organizational structure
  • Details about the ownership of your company
  • Profiles of your management team
  • Qualifications of your board of directors

Who does what in your business? What is their background and why are you bringing them into the business as board members or employees? What are they responsible for? These may seem like unnecessary questions to answer in a one- or two-person organization, but the people reading your business plan want to know who’s in charge, so tell them. Give a detailed description of each division or department and its function.

What to Include in Your Organization & Management

  • Who’s on the board (if you have an advisory board)?
  • How you intend to keep them there?
  • What kind of salary and benefits package do you have for your people?
  • What incentives are you offering?
  • How about promotions?

Reassure your reader that the people you have on staff are more than just names on a letterhead.

Organizational Structure

A simple but effective way to lay out the structure of your company is to create an organizational chart with a narrative description. This will prove that you’re leaving nothing to chance, you’ve thought out exactly who is doing what, and there is someone in charge of every function of your company. Nothing will fall through the cracks, and nothing will be done three or four times over. To a potential investor or employee, that is very important.

Ownership Information

This section should also include the legal structure of your business along with the subsequent ownership information it relates to. Have you incorporated your business? If so, is it a C or S corporation? Or perhaps you have formed a partnership with someone. If so, is it a general or limited partnership? Or maybe you are a sole proprietor.

The following important ownership information should be incorporated into your business plan:

  • Names of owners
  • Percentage ownership
  • Extent of involvement with the company
  • Forms of ownership (i.e., common stock, preferred stock, general partner, limited partner)
  • Outstanding equity equivalents (i.e., options, warrants, convertible debt)
  • Common stock (i.e., authorized or issued)
  • Management Profiles
  • Experts agree that one of the strongest factors for success in any growth company is the ability and track record of its owner/management team, so let your reader know about the key people in your company and their backgrounds. Provide resumes that include the following information:
  • Name
  • Position (include brief position description along with primary duties)
  • Primary responsibilities and authority
  • Education
  • Unique experience and skills
  • Prior employment
  • Special skills
  • Past track record
  • Industry recognition
  • Community involvement
  • Number of years with company
  • Compensation basis and levels (make sure these are reasonable — not too high or too low)
  • Be sure you quantify achievements (e.g. “Managed a sales force of ten people,” “Managed a department of fifteen people,” “Increased revenue by 15 percent in the first six months,” “Expanded the retail outlets at the rate of two each year,” “Improved the customer service as rated by our customers from a 60 percent to a 90 percent rating”)

Also highlight how the people surrounding you complement your own skills. If you’re just starting out, show how each person’s unique experience will contribute to the success of your venture.

Board of Directors’ Qualifications

The major benefit of an unpaid advisory board is that it can provide expertise that your company cannot otherwise afford. A list of well-known, successful business owners/managers can go a long way toward enhancing your company’s credibility and perception of management expertise.

If you have a board of directors, be sure to gather the following information when developing the outline for your business plan:

  • Names
  • Positions on the board
  • Extent of involvement with company
  • Background
  • Historical and future contribution to the company’s success

Next, move on to the Service or Product Line section of your plan.


5. Service or Product Line

What do you sell? How does it benefit your customers? What is the product lifecycle?

Once you’ve completed the Organizational and Management section of your plan, the next part of your business plan is where you describe your service or product, emphasizing the benefits to potential and current customers. Focus on why your particular product will fill a need for your target customers.

What to Include in Your Service or Product Line

  • A Description of Your Product / Service
    Include information about the specific benefits of your product or service – from your customers’ perspective. You should also talk about your product or service’s ability to meet consumer needs, any advantages your product has over that of the competition, and the current development stage your product is in (e.g., idea, prototype).
  • Details About Your Product’s Life Cycle
    Be sure to include information about where your product or service is in its life cycle, as well as any factors that may influence its cycle in the future.
  • Intellectual Property
    If you have any existing, pending, or any anticipated copyright or patent filings, list them here. Also disclose whether any key aspects of a product may be classified as trade secrets. Last, include any information pertaining to existing legal agreements, such as nondisclosure or non-compete agreements.
  • Research and Development (R&D) Activities
    Outline any R&D activities that you are involved in or are planning. What results of future R&D activities do you expect? Be sure to analyze the R&D efforts of not only your own business, but also of others in your industry.

Next, move on to the Marketing & Sales section of your plan.


6. Marketing & Sales

How do you plan to market your business? What is your sales strategy?

Marketing is the process of creating customers, and customers are the lifeblood of your business. In this section, the first thing you want to do is define your marketing strategy. There is no single way to approach a marketing strategy; your strategy should be part of an ongoing business-evaluation process and unique to your company. However, there are common steps you can follow which will help you think through the direction and tactics you would like to use to drive sales and sustain customer loyalty.

What to Include in Your Marketing & Sales

An overall marketing strategy should include four different strategies:

  1. A market penetration strategy.
  2. A growth strategy. This strategy for building your business might include: an internal strategy such as how to increase your human resources, an acquisition strategy such as buying another business, a franchise strategy for branching out, a horizontal strategy where you would provide the same type of products to different users, or a vertical strategy where you would continue providing the same products but would offer them at different levels of the distribution chain.
  3. Channels of distribution strategy. Choices for distribution channels could include original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), an internal sales force, distributors, or retailers.
  4. Communication strategy. How are you going to reach your customers? Usually a combination of the following tactics works the best: promotions, advertising, public relations, personal selling, and printed materials such as brochures, catalogs, flyers, etc.

After you have developed a comprehensive marketing strategy, you can then define your sales strategy. This covers how you plan to actually sell your product.

Your overall sales strategy should include two primary elements:

  1. A sales force strategy. If you are going to have a sales force, do you plan to use internal or independent representatives? How many salespeople will you recruit for your sales force? What type of recruitment strategies will you use? How will you train your sales force? What about compensation for your sales force?
  2. Your sales activities. When you are defining your sales strategy, it is important that you break it down into activities. For instance, you need to identify your prospects. Once you have made a list of your prospects, you need to prioritize the contacts, selecting the leads with the highest potential to buy first. Next, identify the number of sales calls you will make over a certain period of time. From there, you need to determine the average number of sales calls you will need to make per sale, the average dollar size per sale, and the average dollar size per vendor.

Next, if you are seeking financing for your business, you’ll need to complete the next part of your plan – Funding Request.


7. Funding Request

If you are seeking funding for your business venture, use this section to outline your requirements.

What to Include in Your Funding Request

  • Your current funding requirement
  • Any future funding requirements over the next five years
  • How you intend to use the funds you receive: Is the Funding Request for capital expenditures? Working capital? Debt retirement? Acquisitions? Whatever it is, be sure to list it in this section.
  • Any strategic financial situational plans for the future, such as: a buyout, being acquired, debt repayment plan, or selling your business.  These areas are extremely important to a future creditor, since they will directly impact your ability to repay your loan(s).

When you are outlining your funding requirements, include the amount you want now and the amount you want in the future. Also include the time period that each request will cover, the type of funding you would like to have (e.g., equity, debt), and the terms that you would like to have applied.

To support your Funding Request you’ll also need to provide historical and prospective financial information in the Financial Projections section.


8. Financial Projections

If you need funding, providing Financial Projections to back up your request is critical.

You should develop the Financial Projections section after you’ve analyzed the market and set clear objectives. That’s when you can allocate resources efficiently.

What to Include in Your Financial Projections

  • Historical Financial Data
    If you own an established business, you will be requested to supply historical data related to your company’s performance. Most creditors request data for the last three to five years, depending on the length of time you have been in business.
    The historical financial data to include are your company’s income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements for each year you have been in business (usually for up to three to five years). Often, creditors are also interested in any collateral that you may have that could be used to ensure your loan, regardless of the stage of your business.
  • Prospective Financial Data
    All businesses, whether startup or growing, will be required to supply prospective financial data. Most of the time, creditors will want to see what you expect your company to be able to do within the next five years. Each year’s documents should include forecasted income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and capital expenditure budgets. For the first year, you should supply monthly or quarterly projections. After that, you can stretch it to quarterly and/or yearly projections for years two through five.
    Make sure that your projections match your Funding Requests; creditors will be on the lookout for inconsistencies. It’s much better if you catch mistakes before they do. If you have made assumptions in your projections, be sure to summarize what you have assumed. This way, the reader will not be left guessing.

Finally, include a short analysis of your financial information. Include a ratio and trend analysis for all of your financial statements (both historical and prospective). Since pictures speak louder than words, you may want to add graphs of your trend analysis (especially if they are positive).

Next, you may want to include an Appendix to your plan. This can include items such as your credit history, resumes, letters of reference, and any additional information that a lender may request.


9. Appendix

An Appendix is optional, but a useful place to include information such as resumes, permits and leases.

The Appendix should be provided to readers on an as-needed basis. In other words, it should not be included with the main body of your business plan. Your plan is your communication tool; as such, it will be seen by a lot of people. Some of the information in the business section you will not want everyone to see, but specific individuals (such as creditors) may want access to this information to make lending decisions. Therefore, it is important to have the Appendix within easy reach.

What to Include in Your Appendix

  • Credit history (personal & business)
  • Resumes of key managers
  • Product pictures
  • Letters of reference
  • Details of market studies
  • Relevant magazine articles or book references
  • Licenses, permits or patents
  • Legal documents
  • Copies of leases
  • Building permits
  • Contracts
  • List of business consultants, including attorney and accountant

Any copies of your business plan should be controlled; keep a distribution record. This will allow you to update and maintain your business plan on an as-needed basis. Remember, too, that you should include a private placement disclaimer with your business plan if you plan to use it to raise capital.

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

How to Structure a Perfect LinkedIn Profile

how-to-structure-the-perfect-linkedin-profile

Published in: on September 14, 2016 at 6:28 am  Leave a Comment  

8 Entrepreneurial Skills for Kids

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Published in: on August 19, 2016 at 7:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

24 Famous People Who Struck It Rich After Age 40

Stan Lee Spider-ManFor the more neurotic among us, a birthday can be a reminder of how another year has passed and our loftiest aspirations have faded farther into the distance.

There are plenty of examples, however, of successful people across many industries who prove that you don’t need to have it all figured out by the time you turn 30.

We’ll take a look at some of them, from renowned fashion designer Vera Wang, who didn’t design her first dress until she was 40, to writer Harry Bernstein, who authored countless rejected books before getting his first hit at age 96.

Get inspired by those who show it’s never too late.

1. Stan Lee

Born: December 28, 1922

Stan Lee created his first hit comic, “The Fantastic Four,” just shy of his 39th birthday in 1961. In the next few years, he created the legendary Marvel Universe, whose characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men became American cultural icons.

2. Donald Fisher

Born: September 3, 1928

Donald Fisher was 40 and had no experience in retail when he and his wife, Doris, opened the first Gap store in San Francisco in 1969. The Gap’s clothes quickly became fashionable, and today it’s one of the world’s largest clothing chains.

3. Vera Wang

Born: June 27, 1949

Vera Wang was a figure skater and journalist before entering the fashion industry at age 40. Today she’s one of the world’s premier women’s designers.

4. Gary Heavin

Born: 1958

Gary Heavin was 40 when he opened the first Curves fitness center in 1992, which ended up becoming one of the fastest-growing franchises of the ’90s.

5. Robin Chase

Robin Chase cofounded Zipcar at age 42 in 2000. She left the company in 2011 and continues to build and advise startups, as well as serve as a member of the World Economic Forum.

6. Samuel L Jackson

Born: December 21, 1948

Samuel L Jackson has been a Hollywood staple for years now, but he’d had only bit parts before landing an award-winning role at age 43 in Spike Lee’s film “Jungle Fever” in 1991.

7. Sam Walton

Born: March 29, 1918

Sam Walton had a fairly successful retail management career in his 20s and 30s, but his path to astronomical success began at age 44, when he founded the first Walmart in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962.

8. Henry Ford

Born: July 30, 1863

Henry Ford was 45 when he created the revolutionary Model T car in 1908.

9. Jack Weil

Born: March 28, 1901

Jack Weil was 45 when he founded what became the most popular cowboy-wear brand, Rockmount Ranch Wear.  He remained its CEO until he died at the ripe old age of 107 in 2008.

10. Rodney Dangerfield

Born: November 22, 1921

Rodney Dangerfield is remembered as a legendary comedian, but he didn’t catch a break until he made a
hit appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” at age 46.

11. Momofuku Ando

Born: March 5, 1910

Momofuku Ando cemented his spot in junk food history when he invented instant ramen at age 48 in 1958.  He founded Nissin Food Products Co., Ltd.

12. Charles Darwin

Born: February 12, 1809

Charles Darwin spent most of his life as a naturalist who kept to himself, but in 1859 at age 50 his “On the Origin of Species” changed the scientific community forever.

13. Julia Child

Born: August 15, 1912

Julia Child worked in advertising and media before writing her first cookbook when she was 50, launching her career as a celebrity chef in 1961.

14. Jack Cover

Born: April 6, 1920

Jack Cover worked as a scientist for institutions like NASA and IBM before he became a successful entrepreneur at 50 for inventing the Taser gun in 1970.

15. Betty White

Born: January 17, 1922

Betty White is one of the most award-winning comedic actresses in history, but she didn’t become an icon until she joined the cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1973 at the age of 51.

16. Tim Zagat

Born: 1941

See 17.

17. Nina Zagat

Born: August 12, 1942

Tim and Nina Zagat were both 51-year-old lawyers when they published their first collection of restaurant reviews under the Zagat name in 1979. It eventually became a mark of culinary authority.

18. Taikichiro Mori

Born: March 1, 1904

Taikichiro Mori was an academic who became a real estate investor at age 51 when he founded Mori
Building Company. His brilliant investments made him the richest man in the world in 1992, when he had
a net worth of $13 billion (£8.3 billion).

19. Ray Croc

Born: October 5, 1902

Ray Kroc spent his career as a milkshake device salesman before buying McDonald’s at age 52 in 1954.  He grew it into the world’s biggest fast-food franchise.

20. Wally Blume

Wally Blume had a long career in the dairy business before starting his own ice cream company, Denali Flavors, at age 57 in 1995. The company reported revenue of $80 million (£51.6 million) in 2009.

21. Harland Sanders

Born: September 9, 1890

Harland Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders, was 62 when he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken in
1952. He sold the franchise business for $2 million (£1.2 million) 12 years later.

22. Laura Ingalls Wilder

Born: February 7, 1867

Laura Ingalls Wilder spent her later years writing semi-autobiographical stories using her educated daughter, Rose, as an editor. She published the first in the “Little House” books at age 65 in 1932.  They soon became children’s literary classics and the basis for TV show “Little House on the Prairie.”

23. Anna Mary Robertson Moses

Born: September 7, 1860

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, began her prolific painting career at 78. In 2006, one of her paintings sold for $1.2 million (£774,000)

24. Harry Bernstein

Born: May 30, 1910

Harry Bernstein spent a long life writing in obscurity but achieved notoriety at long last at age 96 for his 2007 memoir, “The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers.”

Published in: on June 27, 2015 at 5:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Famous Motivational Quotes to Start Your Day

  1. JeffersonDetermine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.
    — Thomas Jefferson
  2. Go for it now. The future is promised to no one.
    — Wayne Dyer
  3. If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.
    — Charles R. Swindoll
  4. If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.
    — Maya Angelou
  5. If you start by promising what you don’t even have yet, you’ll lose your desire to work towards getting it.
    — Paulo Coelho
  6. If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
    — Dale Carnegie
  7. It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
    — Aristotle
  8. Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.
    — Theodore Roosevelt
  9. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.
    — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  10. Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.
    — Helen Keller
  11. Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.
    — Thomas A. Edison
  12. Out of clutter, find Simplicity. From discord, find Harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies Opportunity.
    — Albert Einstein
  13. Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.
    — Tony Robbins
  14. The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.
    — Epictetus
  15. The quality of a man’s life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor.
    — Vince Lombardi
  16. The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.
    — Confucius
  17. We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery, guided each by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate. The world is all gates, all opportunities.
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson
  18. Well done is better than well said.
    — Benjamin Franklin
  19. What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.
    — Henry David Thoreau
  20. While intent is the seed of manifestation, action is the water that nourishes the seed. Your actions must reflect your goals in order to achieve true success.
    — Steve Maraboli
  21. With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.
    — Eleanor Roosevelt
  22. You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
    — C. S. Lewis
  23. Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.
    — Lou Holtz
Published in: on May 31, 2015 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

How to Avoid Burnout for Freelancer Developers

ScopeCreepAdequate Sleep

We often hear about developers who burn the candle at both ends by working on their apps at all hours of the night with zero sleep. But this is dangerous!

There’s nothing wrong with staying up a few hours later for work occasionally. However, if this becomes habitual, both your health and your quality of work will suffer.

Think you can work all night then double-up on your sleep and be OK? Not a chance. There’s no way around it: you need to sleep a consistent amount of hours every night.

Typical, it is recommended that you should get 7 hours of sleep per night, but every person is different. Find your perfect number, and stick to it, no excuses.

If you get your ideal amount of sleep every night before work, you’re going to feel fantastic, will stay productive, and will churn out consistent, quality work. It’s one of the key things freelance developers need to know, and once you find yourself churning out consistent work, you’re going to get a lot more done and will make less design mistakes in the long run.

Frequent Breaks

Further to the tip above, you will also need to take frequent, regular breaks during a workday. As you work, your mind becomes exhausted, your eyes are fatigued, your legs and back are stiff, and it’s harder to consistently work at an optimal level. While you may feel as if this interrupts your train of thought, it’s mandatory.

Taking a 5-minute break every 25 minutes so that your quality of work doesn’t suffer throughout the day. Stand up, don’t look at a screen (mobile phone included!), stretch, walk around, and return to work. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Be Active

One of the most important things freelance developers need to know (and truthfully, everyone needs to know this tip) is that it’s vital that you are active in some regard. It can be as hardcore as weightlifting or as simple as a few Yoga exercises or going for a 30-minute jog; just be sure that you are active in some capacity. Being active results in an improved mind, self-esteem, and avoids burnout. Be active to be healthy, happy, and ready to take on the world every single day.

Eat Well

Most of us love eating unhealthy foods: burgers, pizza, nachos, burritos, etc. Yet, you can’t eat them all the time. As fun as they are to eat, chowing down on a bag of fries and an apple fritter every night for dinner is going to make you feel like Jabba the Hutt all the time; worst of all, this will severely affect your ability to perform work at an ideal level. Control your portion sizes! Eat well, and your work will benefit.

Have a Hobby

In other words, have something to do when you are not working! A lot of people have a problem with separating their work life from their personal life, and eventually the two become one. When this happens, you get people that know nothing but work, and it kills their personal lives.

Don’t get me wrong: making freelance apps is awesome, but it shouldn’t consume your life. Have a hobby that you can fall back on when you’re done for the day and need to unwind; the less it has in common with developing freelance apps, the better. For example, I know a freelance developer that uses carpentry as an escape. His quality of work remains at an optimal level and he gets to make awesome furniture. Find your perfect hobby, and use it to escape from your work.

Have Connections

When you feel burned out, lost, hopeless, or simply need some advice, you need to have someone to talk to when the going gets tough. Speak with your peers, other freelance developers, join a community of other freelance developers (Reddit is a great place to start), so you can vent when you need it. Having a line of support is the best way to avoid any kind of burnout, so be sure you have it!

There are many reasons why burnout occurs, but by doing the following above, you’re going to stamp it out before it even begins. Plus, you’ll feel great!

Published in: on May 14, 2015 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

How to be Successful at Work

ManagerHave a voice in your company

Leaders no longer have to be managers.  They have to be people who are passionate, knowledgeable, and comfortable with sharing (which is another key quality mentioned below). New collaborative technologies are empowering every single employee within an organization to share their passions, interests, ideas, and feedback. If you care about something you have the opportunity to become a leader and a known voice on that topic within your organization. However, this can’t happen if you don’t speak up. You can’t become a leader if you are afraid of sharing your voice and your opinions. This means using the new collaborative technologies that are available to you to get recognized within your company. Why be a employee when you can become a leader?

Embrace change

Employees have grown accustomed to doing things a certain way. They have used to the same technologies and the same processes for many years but that doesn’t mean that those technologies and ways of doing things are the best for our companies or for ourselves. Employees should be stepping forward together and embracing the change that is going to make their jobs and lives easier. As Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Share and help others

This was one of the key qualities for the modern manger but it’s also a key quality for the modern employee. Traditionally employees wanted to keep ideas to themselves to get credit for their own contributions. This model is no longer effective. With the emergence of collaborative tools, ideas and feedback can easily be traced back to individuals within an organization. Sharing not only benefits the team but it also benefits you as an employee. Your peers and managers will recognize your can-do attitude and ability to lend a helping hand. Sharing can take many forms; you can share your ideas, feedback, what you are working on, documents, or anything else that you choose to. By sharing, your team and neighboring departments will recognize your name. To be a modern employee you must become comfortable with sharing and helping others.

Be autonomous

Now that employees have the ability to work from anywhere at anytime, being self-directed is crucial. There is no longer a manager watching your every move and reminding you to “get back to work.” This a privilege but it’s also a responsibility. A great deal of trust is being placed on you to accomplish your tasks. As a modern employee you must be capable of executing on your deliverable whether you are in an office, cafe, or at home.

Filter and Focus

In today’s work environment we are pulled in many directions. We are on meetings while we check email, simultaneously tweeting, editing a document, and instant-messaging a colleague. With the proliferation of content and tools that coworkers and friends can “ping” us on it’s all too easy to lose focus. With emerging technology employees must remember to focus on what needs to get done. This means being able to put people and messages on hold. Information bombards employees from every direction which means employees need to become adept at filtering out and focusing on what’s crucial.

Published in: on August 29, 2013 at 5:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Think Like a Martial Artist in Your Workplace

SparringEven though you may or may not be a martial artist, the following lessons learned from the ancient martial art can boost your career in your workplace.

Cultivate Your Reputation

Martial artists put a lot of effort into earning their peers’ respect.  Pay attention to your reputation in the workplace.  If you are respected in other areas of your organization, your boss is more likely to value you in the office.

Create Space by Redirecting

When an opponent’s offense threatens to overwhelm you in the sparring ring, you can gain control of the situation by turning his/her energy back.  The same is true on the job.  If your boss expects you to take on more work than you can handle, do a counter-attack by asking your boss about the work priorities.  For example, “Boss, the new project sounds good.  But, which of the five projects that I’m currently working on should I set aside to make room for the new request that you just asked me to take on?”

Accept that Energy Moves in Both Directions

Martial Arts focuses on give and take between opponents.  That is important in the workplace as well.  But how often do you give your boss feedback?  We don’t always think about communicating upward.  If it is done respectfully, it can replace a one-sided relationship with reciprocity.

Respect Thyself

People, whether they are sparring with us or supervising us, tend to follow our lead when deciding how to treat us.  Realizing the value of what you do and who you are is an empowering first step toward setting healthy boundaries in the workplace.

Learn to Say “No”

It is important to practice small skills like saying “no” or asking for a little more time or space when you need it.  This builds your confidence and teaches people around you that you understand boundaries and how to negotiate them.

Published in: on July 3, 2013 at 10:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

How To Work A Room At Social Events

office_talent1. Go with a purpose.

Remind yourself why you are there. You are using your precious time to network and to make some useful connections, so make sure you aren’t wasting energy. Set a couple of targets like: speak to three new people; or try to learn at least two new pieces of information or gossip.

2. Use inside contacts.

If you know the event organizer and he or she is around during the event, ask for an introduction to key people who you ought to meet there. Having a warm overture will make the process of networking easier. It will also save you the time of trying to find people who you don’t know.

3. Be a lone ranger.

If you’re attending the event with people you already know well, such as colleagues and friends, don’t fall into the trap of sticking together for the whole event. Talking to people who you already know will lessen your chances of meeting new ones. To extricate yourself, deliberately sit next to someone you don’t know during a talk or a meal that takes place during the event.

4. Get the lay of the land.

Observe group formations before choosing whom to approach. Look for people who are most likely to respond positively. These would be individuals standing alone who are waiting for someone to talk to, or groups of twos and threes that are open to new participants. You can see this in their body language: if they are facing outward, chances are they are having a casual conversation and would be happy for others to join in.

5. Be aware of your own body language.

Folding your arms in front of your body and looking at the floor forms a barrier between you and the other person and gives the impression that you don’t want to talk to them. In contrast, leaving your arms unfolded and maintaining eye contact will make them feel welcome.

6. Break the ice.

Don’t feel like you have to say something profound. Breaking the ice can be as simple as commenting on the venue, the program or the food; asking people where they’ve traveled  from or whether they’ve been to the event or place before; or expressing an interest in why they are attending.

7. Mind your handshake.

Most meetings start with a cordial handshake. Put out your full hand, avoiding the half-handed (and halfhearted) grip, which can feel like a cold fish. Shake firmly, but don’t make it a bone crusher. Maintain eye contact and smile as you greet your new potential contact.

8. Ask open-ended questions.

These are questions that ask who, what, where, when and how – as opposed to questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Your goal is to explore ideas and opinions and also to show your listening skills.

9. Go easy on the business cards.

Make each one count, rather than handing them out like a meaningless pamphlet. It’s not about volume–it’s about quality contacts. Be ready to hand out a business card if someone requests it or you think that you have a made a good solid new connection. Forcing it on someone who doesn’t seem to want it just makes you look desperate.

10. Be generous.

Offer to help where you can and don’t expect anything in return. Most people appreciate a favor and want to reciprocate. In time, your virtue may turn out to be its own reward.

Published in: on December 17, 2012 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  

IT Consultants – What to Charge Your Clients

Typical rates charged by a professional IT consultant or small consulting firm can range from $75 to $200 per hour or more.  So why are these rates so high?  There are many factors and where you live can be among them.

This article uses rates and common expenses found in a typical metropolitan area.  Your area may have different rates for certain things, such as rent, utilities, insurance, etc.

The math should hopefully be easy to follow, so you can adjust the numbers here to properly reflect your expected expenses and determine a reasonable rate for you in your area.

IT Consultant who works from Home

Let’s take a look at some reasonable expenses a full time IT consultant would likely have if they worked out of their home.

2,080 hours per Year?

If a consultant works 40 hour work weeks, that is 2,080 hours per year (52 weeks x 40 hours per week = 2,080 hours).

If we subtract the 6 major holidays that the consultant likely would not be able to find billable work because businesses are typically closed, that is 2,032 hours (6 days x 8 hours per day = 48 hours).

If we subtract the week that the consultant goes to training and the week that the consultant goes to a conference, that brings total working hours down to 1,952 hours.

We can subtract another week for a small vacation and another week worth of days for illness and family emergencies. So, we’re now down to 1,872 hours per year.

$21.90 per hour

In order to gross enough to cover the expenses of a work-from-home IT consultant – EXCLUDING any kind “salary” that would typically be used to cover personal expenses, like food, rent or mortgage, household supplies, etc, the consultant would need to bill at a MINIMUM $41,000 divided by 1,872 hours, or $21.90 per hour.

Not bad.  Most companies would not have a problem paying $21.90 per hour… but…

IT Consultant with an Office

For a consultant with an office, we can add a few more reasonable expenses:

Before any taxes, retirement contributions (including social security taxes), and any kind of salary has been paid, a consultant, to remain as effective and up-to-date as possible, needs to make at least $66,000.

$35.26 per hour

So, let’s adjust that hourly rate. $66,000 divided by 1,872 hours that can technically be billed since the consultant will be around equals $35.26 per hour. Notably higher… but still not THAT bad, right?

But wait! There’s more!

You need to consider that the consultant cannot reasonably bill 8 hours per day. There is travel time to and from clients and most clients (except during projects) will only need services for 2-4 hours, on average.

And with a break/fix service that many IT consultants offer, it’s virtually impossible to have 8 billable hours per day without having several unhappy clients who will no doubt leave you because you kept them waiting.

Typically, a consultant will bill 20-24 hours per week. That is 50-60% of their time assuming 8 hour work days. Thus, at best, only 60% of that 1,872 hours will actually be billable.

60% of 1,872 equals about 1,123 hours per year of actual billable time.

$58.77 per hour

So let’s recalculate… if we MUST gross $66,000 per year, and can only bill (typically) 1,123 hours each year, that means $66,000 divided by 1,123 equals $58.77 per hour.

As you can see, this is getting expensive. And remember, that is with no salary, retirement income, or taxes taken into consideration.

The average IT salary is probably around $40,000 for a general desktop technician who does not have the skills, knowledge, and experience to manage servers.

Systems Administrators and Network Architects can make $65,000 to $80,000 in many areas.

In order to make a reasonable living wage in most city and suburban areas, it would be reasonable for a consultant to expect an annual income of $66,000 per year.

$150 to $200 per hour

This effectively doubles that hourly rate and brings us to $117.54. Or about $120 per hour when rounding. And when you consider that top talent would want and need to make more, you can expect that rate to jump even higher – $150 to $200 per hour.

A GOOD Consultant

A GOOD consultant will provide you service and advice, indeed a GOOD consultant should be your trusted adviser in matters of technology. Keep in mind, a GOOD consultant:

  1. Can provide buying advice to ensure you purchase the correct equipment. Too often, I come across clients who have gone out to the local computer store or electronics department store and purchased an on-sale computer, only to discover it didn’t come with the appropriate software and operating system to work on their network. Now the client is stuck purchasing new software and losing valuable time installing and configuring it.
  2. Has experience (in most cases) troubleshooting similar systems – and experience will lead to a faster resolution in most cases. Faster resolutions mean lower costs.
  3. Has the training and practice to ensure they setup your system correct the first time. This means faster implementations which means fewer hours which means lower costs and lost productivity.
  4. By keeping current on new technologies can spot products and services that can improve how your business works, enable you to do things easier and possibly in new ways that can ultimately lead to greater income for your business.
  5. Helps keep your costs low even with a high hourly rate; costs should NOT be measured by the check you issue alone. Keep in mind that each hour your system is down is an hour of potentially lost productivity. It could be costing you sales or at the very least, keeping your workers (who you are paying) from doing their jobs.
  6. Insists you properly license your software. Improper software licensing (piracy) can become VERY expensive. Software publishers actively advertise rewards for leads to businesses violating software licensing. Your employees may like you today… but if you ever have to terminate an employee, that employee could report you. And the fines can be as much as $10,000 per illegal installation (maybe more). Sure, it’s cheaper to buy one copy of office and install it on 5 computers… UNTIL you get reported… then that $350 product could become a $40,350 product… instead of the $1,750 it should have been.

And if you’re an IT consultant who is NOT charging comparable rates, consider what it is costing you in terms of your ability to grow and support yourself and your family – now or when you have one.

Consider what could happen if you make one critical mistake and get sued and don’t have Errors and Omissions (E&O) insurance. Or what could happen if you are audited. Or what could happen if you lose one of your larger clients – possible through no fault of your own – such as they go bankrupt.

Consultants charging less are working in a house of cards that could collapse on themselves and their clients with no notice.

Published in: on June 3, 2012 at 3:35 am  Comments (1)