Archive for Business Skills

I Finally Figured It Out

There have been many times in my life when I have thought, “if I could just go back and redo that with the knowledge and skills I have now, it would have been a lot easier.” I look at it as progress that I am making in my life, but usually I figure out how to do something really well right when it’s time to stop doing that thing.

In high school I refused to do an English assignment during my freshman year. It was to compare and contrast the written and movie versions of the story “A Man Called Horse.” I didn’t like the story, so I refused to do the assignment. Our teacher even gave us a chance at the end of the semester to make up any work we missed, and I still refused. Therefore, my first semester in high school I got a B+ in English. After that I never got less than an A-. I learned my lesson not to be stubborn, but it cost me the rank of valedictorian and the scholarship that went with that! Oh what I wouldn’t give to go back and write a compare and contrast essay of that dumb story.

As a missionary for my church I helped others to learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ and helped them improve their lives in other ways. The people of Argentina were so kind to us, and even when they weren’t interested in learning about our church they often would continue to invite us into their homes. In the last two months of my mission I finally figured out how to teach those who wanted to know about Christ and how to recognize when others were just being nice to us. I was able to create great relationships with those who were content with their current religion or lack thereof and still move on to find those that really wanted us to help them find spirituality in their lives. Before I came home to the United States I would have loved to have the extra six months that the guys get (girls have 18-month missions in my church and guys have 24-month missions, I’m not sure why, but that’s the system) to put into practice everything that I had learned. Scott was coming home from his mission at that same time though and wanted to get married ASAP, so I knew I couldn’t torture him by staying out of the country for six more months!

After Scott and I got married I started to watch how he studied, because he always got nearly the best grades in his classes. As an undergrad, I had done well in school, but it was not without quite a few late night study sessions. Scott, on the other hand, was always able to go to sleep by 11pm at the latest. The two key things he did were: 1. He read the textbook before the lecture was given on the material, even in subjects like math (in high school I never had to read a math text, and in college I never figured out that it was useful), and 2. he started the homework the day it was assigned and finished it long before it was due (I had always planned around the due dates and struggled to finish the work). These two things allowed him to take advantage of the professors’ and TAs’ help during lecture and office hours. I started doing this as a grad student, and I blew everyone in my class away. I had the best grades in almost all my classes and always had the work done weeks before anyone else. Again, if only I could back and do that as an undergrad.

Now I find myself raising a son and running a business. I wonder what there is to know that I have not yet learned. I know I will look back on this time and think, “if I had only known this one thing, life would have been so much easier.” It just goes to show that life is meant to be an uphill battle. If I can just get over the next challenge I will be even more ready for future challenges.

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do; not that the nature of the thing is changed, but our power to do is increased.” –Heber J. Grant

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Too Many Books

I recently read an article about going on an “information diet.” The fact that I can’t remember who wrote it, where I read it or many of the main points proves that I need to go one. The jist of it is that often we spend far too much time online and off reading, watching , consuming information and then doing what?…nothing. How many articles about financial advice do you need to read, before you put yourself on a budget, cut your credit card debt or make some wise investments? For most people, they never get beyond the information-consuming stage.

Recently I realized that I was in the middle of at least nine books. I was reading Despereaux in Spanish to my son, listening to Les Miserable on mp3, listening to Shadow of the Hegemon on CD with my husband, and reading Drawing on the Powers of Heaven, The Book of Mormon (in Spanish), The Engine of America, The Essential Online Solution, Babywise, and Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. I think there were actually more than that, but I can’t even remember them.

I think overwhelming myself with reading material was a result of not being in school. During the entire school year, I always had to focus on the reading material for my classes and could barely find time to read one book per quarter that was not school related. Now that has suddenly disappeared and I have all the time I want to read and go back to the library for more and more books.

Additionally, it seemed to take forever to finish any one book…this past weekend I finally finished three of them! I often feel obligated to finish a book I’m not enjoying, so I can post the review on this site and so that not all my reviews are super positive. However, I think that will end. Maybe I’ll just keep a list of books I started that weren’t worth finishing. Hehe.

So by putting myself on an information diet I am going to schedule a maximum amount of reading time per day or per week. Also, I am going to do more with the information I do gain. The ROI from the books I have been reading has been nill. I need to change that.

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The Essential Online Solution: The 5-Step Formula for Small Business Success – Rick Segel & Barbara Callan-Bogia

The Essential Online Solution: The 5-Step Formula for Small Business Success
Rick Segel and Barbara Callan-Bogia

This book has not been one of my favorites, but I cannot really figure out why. All of the advice about building a professional, effective website and spreading the buzz about your business seems good to me. There’s info on SEO, word of mouth marketing, banner ads and adwords and adsense. Maybe it’s just not that applicable to my situation at the moment.

The five steps to small business success according to Segel and Callan-Bogia are:

  1. Uncovering Possibilities – Which looks at online buying and selling as a while and how you can fit into that picture.
  2. Building Practical, Powerful, Professional Web Sites that WORK – How to initially build your site, make it more effective, and avoid common errors that detract from your site.
  3. Positioning You as the Source: Creating Expert Status – Using blogs and podcasting.
  4. Creating the Buzz with Clicks and Clends – Discusses how to position yourself online and how to use pay per click and viral advertising.
  5. Sell, Sell, Sell – Covers how to use eBay and other programs to get your business going.

The section critiquing different websites for positive and negative qualities is very helpful for someone who is not familiar with the internet. Even if you have done a moderate amount of online shopping however, you already should have a pretty good feel for what makes up a good website. Advice given is that your site needs to be user friendly, personalized, simple and straightforward. Many good examples of sites that have these characteristics are given. It would be nice to have some bad examples to look at, but out of courtesy to the owners of those sites, they are only described in the The Essential Online Solution, not named.
All in all, if you’re not pressed for time, there are some interesting things to learn from this book. However, it is not a quick read, at least for me it wasn’t, and you probably know a lot of the information in it already. To be fair, part of the reason it took me a while to read was that I kept reading things I probably should do to promote myself and things to apply to my websites. I would stop reading, thinking when I got the chance I would make sure to redo the CSS code on my quantum tutoring site to enhance my SEO or other things like that, but I was never motivated enough to actually do them and eventually I’d go back to just reading.

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The Engine of America – Hector V. Barreto

The Engine of America: The Secrets to Small Business Success from Entrepreneurs Who Have Made It!
Hector V. Barreto

The Engine of America: The Secrets to Small Business Success from Entrepreneurs Who Have Made It! was written by former Administrator of the US Small Business Administration, Hector V. Barreto. I found Barreto’s book inspiring and full of useful information. With the stories of some of the most successful small-business entrepreneurs, he teaches the keys to successfully start up a company or grow an existing one.

The Engine of America gives a lot of the same advice that you hear all the time about running and starting a business. Therefore, it is a great book for someone just starting out. Additionally, the advice, although repetitive for those entrepreneurs who have been in business a while, is given in a way that keeps you entertained. Stories of successful entrepreneurs remind us that anything can be done, and help us keep an optimistic point of view.

Barreto gives sound advice about studying to learn what you need to know and planning your business venture to increase likelihood of success. Then he addresses the need to take risks, but to take calculated risks rather than just a shot in the dark. One aspect of business I don’t think of a lot is employees. I am far from that point, but Barreto addresses how to share your vision with your employees and how the people around you are a critical key to your success.

A large portion of The Engine of America is dedicated to specific tools for success that every entrepreneur can benefit from. From how to contact SCORE for free advice from successful businesspeople to how the Small Business Administration (SBA) can help you obtain financing to what government programs are available to small businesses. From his insider’s point of view, Barreto helps unlock the mysterious process of dealing with government organizations and programs.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s an easy read, but it contains a wealth of useful information. I especially enjoyed the quoted advice from successful entrepreneurs such as Earl Graves, founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, and Tom Stemberg, founder of Staples.

You can read an excerpt of Chapter 4 Challenge the Conventional Wisdom or go to www.theengineofamerica.com for more information.

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Back in Business

Enough about dentists already, right? I agree. Just for closure on the subject…I got one of the teeth looked at, and it turned out to only need a crown. Then I was referred to another (read “competent”) dentist who looked at the other two and determined that only one of those needed a root canal and there was nothing wrong with the other. Now I wonder if I ever really needed the crown I had done either. So that’s that. I will never go back to Western Dental.

As predicted my life has been crazy this past year. I had to put business and this blog on hold for a while, but we’re up and running again.

Sara has been able to do more on the business front this year than I have. She now has her own voice lessons and singing performances business. She currently works part time and studies full time at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. However, she has managed to create her business and teach lessons in her “free” time. She inspired me to write an article on creating a business for the sole purpose of creating employment for yourself, which I will do in the near future. She charges $30 an hour, so that beats earning minimum wage any day.

If you want a great looking website without all the hassle of learning to code in html and css, you can follow Sara’s example. She used a standard template for her website and customized it to fit her business.

If you want to create you own website from scratch, as I did for my new business, Quantum Tutoring, it can be a great learning experience. I recommend looking the this website for html and css code and this one for some useful style sheet examples. I knew nothing about creating, hosting or uploading a website two months ago. However, with a little help, I have been able to do just that. Just find a friend who knows about web hosting, and a bit about design, and then you’ll be able to do the fun, creative part.

In addition, I thought I’d try an experiment and create my own wikipedia page to see if it draws attention to me. I’m very new at this SEO (search engine optimization) stuff, so I’ll keep you posted on what happens. You can create your own wikipedia page here. Well, that experiment failed rapidly. Apparently Wikipedia has guys checking all the articles and they determined that I was not important enough for my own page. If you think you’re more important though, go ahead and give it a try.

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Dentist – Week 3

My day had not been going that great anyway, and I wasn’t really looking forward to going to the dentist for the third week in a row. Things started out looking brighter though. We only waited a few minutes until Scott was called in for x-rays. Shortly after, they called me in to start my cleaning. The dental hygienist looked at the chart, noticed I was pregnant, and I informed her of the letter. She read it, checked with her supervisor, and came back. She said they’d do a cleaning, but no x-rays unless I actually had a toothache. It had been too long since I had full x-rays done, so I asked why. “It’s not good for the baby,” she says. “Are you crazy! It’s not even a miniscule amount of tiny light particles hitting me in the head, you’re going to put two shields on me, so that’s a bunch of lead protecting a baby that could easily withstand a full dose of x-rays coming right towards it!” Okay, I didn’t say that, I just gritted my teeth and let her do a cleaning. She was also worried about bacteria getting in through my gums to hurt the baby, which frustrated me more.

So I really wanted some x-rays done, so I told her about a small spot that had been hurting. Really it only hurt once every couple of months, but it was an excuse. This time a different technician who was the most pleasant person there puts not two, but three shields on me. One shield was actually two in one, and he had the first on already, so he just went with it. Okay lovely 0.9 mm of lead protection. He takes the two x-rays and the doctor checks them out. Turned out that the small spot was really a giant cavity forming under an existing filling, which meant I needed a root canal done by a specialist. “Oh great a root canal. I’m glad they found that, seeing as how they were so willing to ensure that I get proper dental care. Stupid legal system making people afraid to get sued, so they won’t take an x-ray of a pregnant woman.”

I had relaxed somewhat, but told the dentist that it had been a while since my last x-rays, and if I have something as bad as a root canal that isn’t causing me pain at all, maybe I should have the other teeth checked. After some prodding, he sends me back to the technician, only not the nice one this time, and she puts two shields on me. Then nice techinician walks by and doesn’t notice that I have two shields on, thinks I have just one and grabs the two-in-one shield from before…so now I’ve got four shields. He jokes about it though and realizes it was a mistake, so it was just funny. So the lady takes a few more x-rays, trying to get more teeth in each one, so as to take fewer. I wait another 10 minutes so they can develop, and the dentist notices something that worries him. He sends me back for two more x-rays! Nice x-ray guy says they should have just taken the full set in the first place…seriously. Ten minutes for developing and the dentist decides that I have another root canal and a deep cavity that will probably end up being a root canal too! Man! I have to have three root canals, and they never would have known, because my teeth don’t hurt at all and they didn’t want to x-ray me!

I’m not sure if you can actually do root canals while pregnant. That’s starting to get a little serious, so now I do feel like I should talk to my doctor and find out if I should wait.

Lesson:

Get x-rays done as often as possible to be sure nothing is wrong. I brush and floss everyday like recommended, but have always had bad luck with my teeth. I guess it’s genetic or something.

When pregnant, talk to your doctor to make sure there is no problem with you having dental x-rays, cleaning and minor work like fillings. Then go to the dentist before you’re starting to show that you’re pregnant and never mention pregnant, baby, expecting or anything to anyone! Get the work done that your doctor approved for you, then ask him about more. I guess it would be a good idea to have a husband or friend present during your dental treatment. Then if there was an emergency he or she could tell the dentist that you are in fact pregnant.

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Dentist – Week 2

I called the 800 number to make an appointment, the receptionist made an appointment and she said she’d call back when she’d confirmed it with the local office. Two hours later I hadn’t received her call, so I called the 800 number receptionist again, and she said the local office never called her back. While I was on the line, she called the local office, said they had already confirmed me, but no one called her back. Now, how is the customer supposed to know that the appointment was confirmed if the local office calls neither the customer directly nor the 800 number lady so she can call the customer?

I show up again, this time with my husband, sign their sign-in sheet, and begin waiting. This is not a busy place mind you. There’s really no activity going on at all, no one else waiting there, no one in talking to the dentist, nothing. An hour later, after I’ve had my IQ lowered 50 points by daytime television, they call me in to start x-rays. Now there’s a reason I filled out the questionnaire the previous week. It was so someone could look at my medical history, ensure that everything was in order and know how to treat me. The receptionist wasn’t doing anything at the time, she could have glanced at it, seen that it says I’m pregnant, and check for the fax or ask me about it. Or the x-ray technician should look at it to see if there was some reason she shouldn’t x-ray me…like maybe because I was pregnant.

Anyway, they had mentioned something stupid about using two shields for x-raying pregnant women, so I ask the technician about this. She says, “Oh you’re pregnant, we can’t x-ray you!” “I know, that’s why my doctor faxed you a letter saying you could.” “It’s not here. We can’t do anything without that letter.” “What?! Fine.” Then my husband and I stand there while they look through their old faxes looking for the letter. Scott needed x-rays too, so since the technician was just sitting there watching the receptionist look at faxes, I suggested that he get his x-rays done in the mean time.

By this time it’s been nearly 2 hours, and Scott needed to get back to school, so we said forget it, and scheduled new appointments. I drove to the doctor and had them send the fax again and give me a copy to hand carry in. Then I called the local dentist office and confirmed that they received the fax.

Lesson:

I tend to assume people will do their job for the sake of keeping it. Scott says you generally have to push people along and tell them what to do every step of the way. I guess right when we got there I should have said, “Call me to let me know I have an appointment confirmed. Now look at my chart. Is there any issue there that must be resolved? Now, allow my husband to see an x-ray technician, because one is not busy currently. Thank you.”

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Dentist – Week 1

Okay, so I inform the 800 number receptionist that I’m pregnant and she says I should go to my appointment. When I get there they will give me a paper to fax to my doctor, which he faxes back saying I can take x-rays and get treatment, and I get moving on my dental work. Sweet, so I get to my appointment and inform the local receptionist of what 800 number lady told me. “Oh,you have to have your doctor fax us a letter,” she says. “I know, they said I get the letter from you and you fax it to them, the doctor signs it and I’m good to go.” She informs me that it has to come from the doctor first, so I give up and just spend time filling out their new patient information including a health questionnaire with about 100 questions on it, which I specifically mark YES to “Are you pregnant?” So I call my doctor and have them fax the letter.

Lesson:
Make sure the local office is on the same page as the national or regional office, and that both are aware of the company’s policies.

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Poor Customer Service and My General Frustrations with Going to the Dentist

I don’t think many people really enjoy going to the dentist, but I had come to believe that with the right dentist and their assistants it would be bearable. The worst part of going to the dentist should be the sound of the drill, or whatever else may be unpleasant about the procedure. There is a problem when scheduling an appointment, waiting at the office, and talking to the dental assistants, x-ray technicians and dentist are the parts you dread.

My school’s insurance policy requires me to go to Western Dental. Don’t get me wrong, the people you talk to after dialing their 800 number are great. They promptly set appointments, give you reminder calls, and call your local office to confirm the appointment with them. Although, they did also send reminder post cards that arrived the day of the appointment. Considering that my mail arrives at noon and that was when the appointment was, the system is somewhat ineffective.

Now, it’s the people at the local office that worry me. My first question is, if you are a dentist why would you not open your own practice rather than working for Western Dental? It seems that if you have to work for Western Dental, you are not a very good dentist. Though Kaiser Permanente health care runs on the same system – namely that the same company runs both the insurance and actually employs dentists or doctors to take care of you- and I don’t have a negative bias towards Kaiser. Maybe someone working for Western Dental could inform me. Maybe you just don’t want to deal with the trouble of running your own practice…I could see that I guess. Or maybe you just can’t keep customers around long enough because of your junky customer service, so you get a continuous supply through Western Dental.

Besides the quality of care, which so far hasn’t actually been bad, let me tell you my story and you see where someone was not concerned with customer service. Number one issue: I am pregnant. Everyone knows you’re not supposed to get x-rays when you are pregnant, right? Well here is what the American Pregnancy Association has to say. Besides that, I’m an engineer and I’ve studied my share of physics and can understand statistical data when given to me. I know that x-rays are actually just high-energy light…light’s pretty scary and all, but really that’s why you where a lead shield. Other sources I’ve read said also that if a woman has a medical problem, even if she’s pregnant you should just aim the x-ray right at the abdomen and take the x-ray. There is not much evidence that it will hurt the baby and it’s a small dose. So really, I’m not worried about the x-ray thing. And I tend to get frustrated when people repeat things they have no idea about just because it’s what everyone says.

I’ll keep you posted on this ongoing saga. Here’s a week-by-week playback of the terrible customer service I have received so far.

Week 1Week 2Week 3

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Priorities

As part of getting ready for a new quarter of school, I generally take a look at what I was doing the previous quarter in all aspects of my life and how each of those activities made me feel. I recommend this procedure to everyone. I generally have a tendency to take on about one too many things at a time. Sometimes I try to take one more class than I have time for; other times I try to be involved in too many organizations or sports. Recently, upon executing my quarterly evaluation, I decided that I had once again tried to do one too many things. I began feeling really nervous about this quarter whenever I thought about it during Christmas break, so I knew I needed to change something about my plan. Trying to keep up with this blog this quarter was unfortunately what needed to be removed from the list.

Last quarter I had many of my posts written from my free time over the summer. I had saved them up while we got the website up and running, and so last quarter I simply had to worry about writing less. I would still like to keep this going, but it’ll have to be on a more spur of the moment basis. For example, right now, I have a few minutes before my next class, but its not enough time to get any homework done, so I decided to write. Anyway, more about priorities:

I try to keep my priorities in line as follows:

  1. Family: Make sure my husband and I have everything we need and are doing what we need to be sure that we will be able to raise a happy, healthy family.
  2. Church/Religion: This ties in closely with family, but I think that a person needs to spend a good deal of time reflecting on their own spirituality, how they act towards others and how their behavior reflects the person they want to be.
  3. Education/Occupation: Here I have to make some choices on what is most important in the long run, but I look at what I need to be doing to make sure that I can be employed in the future in a job that I enjoy doing. This also includes helping my husband do the same thing, so that when we have children, I can stay home and make sure they are raised correctly.

Beyond that there’s not much more. Most of my life currently fits into those three categories, and as long as I keep them in that order, I am happy. If I take on too many responsibilities from a lower category which effect the higher categories, my life seems much more stressful and chaotic. Once, I get it back in order, things seem to smooth out. Also, I think I accomplish more by keeping my priorities in order. I seem to have more time for more things, than when my priorities are out of order.

Well, I have to run to class now. I’ll come back and spell-check this later!

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